All the spoilers ahead. All of them.
I have to hand it to the writers. They knew that the audience was anticipating the deaths of some of the bigger marquee characters, so they went ahead and killed off a big chunk of the cast, leaving most of the big names like Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor to anchor next year' "Avengers." Of course, we know there are Spider-man and Black Panther sequels coming, so it's hard to really feel bad about the whole massacre. Clearly, the deaths are only temporary. I wouldn't even count Gamora and Loki out at this point.
That makes it very difficult to care about the stakes of the cliffhanger, especially as few of the characters give us much reason to be invested in their fates. This is where "Infinity Wars" leans very heavily on the audience's familiarity with the past movies. Why else would we be bothered by the deaths of Bucky and Sam? Or even Black Panther? Actually, looking at the characters who are remaining, it's pretty clear that the Russo brothers are clearing the board of the newer heroes to allow a final hurrah for the original Avengers team before the next phase of the Marvel universe. There probably will be a meaningful death or two next year, but I wouldn't' be surprised if there weren't, and we just end on Tony's wedding extravaganza.
But, assuming that you're a kid in the audience who isn't privy to the meta stuff, "Infinity Wars" looks pretty daring. It's hard to think of another major superhero film that's ended on such a downer since "The Empire Strikes Back." And unlike the recent "The Last Jedi," you really get the impact of the heroes failing over and over again because the narrative is so simple and laid out so clearly. I was predicting the movie to end with Thanos with a completed Infinity Gauntlet snapping his fingers, but seeing the actual aftermath leaves more to chew on until next season - I mean, next year. I really have to hand it to the Russo brothers for juggling so many characters, places, and plot points, keeping the whole works moving along briskly for the entire 160 minute run time.
The downside, of course, is that the whole movie feels very slick and superficial, even though there are some hugely emotional scenes that play out. There is easily enough material here for three full features, or a season of a television show. While some characters like Gamora and Bruce Banner have arcs, and Thanos is pointedly the most humanized of the whole lot, it's frustrating to see so many characters who have so little to do here. It's the little interpersonal moments, like Starlord feeling insecure next to Thor, and Tony Stark in full parent mode with Peter Parker, that are the most entertaining and that I would have loved to see more of. The fun of having a big crossover is seeing all these different characters interact and intermingle in new combinations. That doesn't happen here nearly as much as it should.
I imagine that a miniseries or extended edition format would be necessary to really do this story justice. Maybe then there would be room to really get into how Wanda and Vision's relationship works, or the full trauma of Thanos's past. Because while all the spectacle is well and good, and the scope of the big battles and CGI destruction is suitably epic, it feels like the movie dropped the ball a bit when it came to telling its characters' stories, and it didn't have to. Of course, the big caveat is that the stories aren't finished. There are several things set up, like Banner's difficulties with Hulk, that haven't paid off yet. And with nearly all the Guardians on ice, the focus will be shifting to different characters for the next movie.
Part of the problem, of course, comes down to the nature of the Marvel universe films. They're never really going to be finished, the interesting character stuff will largely happen offscreen, and the next "Avengers" installment is going to be used as a jumping off point for more movies. I suppose it's best to just enjoy the films for the shallow, familiar, noisy pleasures they provide, and appreciate the occasional fun bits of dialogue, and memorable characters. Robert Downey Jr. continues to be incredibly charismatic and interesting to watch, Thor has been greatly improving with each appearance, Elizabeth Olsen sells a lot of heartache, Josh Brolin brought a lot of menace to Thanos, and Tom Holland remains the best Spider-man.
Oh well. I'll definitely be watching the next one to see how it all turns out. I suppose that's really all you need to know.