Ten years ago, after watching the last credits roll on Iron Man, I saw SHIELD director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) emerge from the shadows of Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) mansion to mention the Avengers Initiative. Six years ago, I walked out of a screening of The Avengers and thought, “Well, that was okay, but I don’t get what all the hype was about.” Last night, as Avengers: Infinity War faded to black, my mouth hung open and I literally couldn’t process what I had just seen.
What a difference a decade can make.
I don’t really know why I avoided following the Marvel Cinematic Universe—
I had thoroughly enjoyed Iron Man—but it was something I just didn’t latch onto. When I commented on this to the Mysterious Mr. C, he began explaining what Marvel Studios was attempting to do (i.e., “the most ambitious crossover event in history”). Intrigued, I subsequently saw all of the movies that led up to The Avengers, often peppering C with questions about the continuity and how things were or weren’t different from the comic books. We’ve seen every film in the series since, often on opening weekend and occasionally dressing up for the show.
Last night was no different as I broke out my new Infinity Stone bracelet from Sunni Blake. Yet after going through at least two stages of grief in the car on the way home, I begged C to get it off my wrist, tears streaming down my face. After watching Infinity War, and seeing the damage caused by the stones, there was a heaviness to the bracelet that hadn’t been there before.
Similarly, I struggled to hold C’s hand as we walked to the car because I could almost feel him turning to ash and floating away from me—a random victim of Thanos’s (Josh Brolin) awesome power. At the same time, I curled up extremely close to him as we fell asleep because I needed to be reassured that he was truly there.
They were all extremely odd sensations since I know Infinity War is just a movie. But after 10 years of investing my heart and soul into these characters, their loss felt so real. Of course I knew people were going to die. There are always casualties in war and, more practically, contracts are coming to an end. But the people who disintegrated weren’t the ones I expected, which made the seeming randomness of it all even more heartbreaking.
Yet as I raged in the car, I was also amazed by what Marvel Studios had accomplished. I mean, I don’t think I’ve reacted this viscerally to a movie since watching The Exorcist in 6th grade, when I came home and immediately made my mom move her Ouija board to the basement. I also stopped wearing a certain nightgown because it reminded me too much of Regan’s. Everything about that day is burned into my memory and I’m sure Infinity War will stick with me for a while too.
In fact, all of the MCU will.
There’s a scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron, where the city of Sokovia is falling from the sky and the titular villain (James Spader) tells Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) that if she doesn’t leave, she’ll die. Having just felt her twin brother Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) fall in a hail of bullets, she comments, “I just did. Do you know how it felt?” After ripping out the machinery living in Ultron’s chest, she tells him, “It felt like that.”
As I think about Infinity War and continue to process my feelings (a more traditional review will follow on Wednesday), I keep thinking about that scene. I’ve spent nearly a third of my life rooting for these characters, watching them grow, and wanting to see them save the day and have the happy endings they deserve. Within the space of 2.5 hours, many of those futures were cruelly stripped away, and yes, it felt just like that.