Avengers: Infinity War has an ending that lands very differently depending on the age of the viewer.
[Warning: The following includes major spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War.]
In the final moments of Infinity War, half of the Marvel Cinematic Universe turns to dust. The magical genocide is supposed to feel like a shock in a series of movies that almost always end with the bad guy defeated. Technically half of all living things just blinked out of existence.
The Avengers movies work on two distinct levels for two very different audiences, and it’s that kind of meta-awareness of not only telling a good story but being aware of the industry in which that story is being told that helps Marvel dominate pop culture with such confidence. Adults aren’t watching these films the same way as children do, and we’re certainly not entertaining the idea that these characters are gone for good.
This is how the how movie plays to two different sets of eyes.
How adults see the end of Infinity War
Devoted MCU viewers likely noticed that the majority of the deaths in Infinity War’s final moments impacted newer characters, leaving most of the original Avengers behind. The twist can seem hollow if you know that Black Panther is getting a sequel. There’s also a Spider-Man: Homecoming 2 that will be released in 2019.
“The way Civil War, and the fact that he went to Leipzig Airport and then has to go back to school, informed Homecoming, the two Avengers films that precede [the sequel] will greatly inform, probably even more so, the next movie,” Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige told io9 in a recent interview.
That doesn’t really work if Peter Parker is dead. It’s almost like Marvel needs to set up a climactic moment when actors at the end of their contracts can leave the series, perhaps sacrificing themselves and paving the way for a younger generation of Avengers?
That scenario is likely, which means the mystery turns from if anyone is really dead to how will they bring back the characters we know are coming back. It’s still a fun riddle, but the stakes are much lower when you know that few of these heroes are gone for good.
Gamora, though? She’s dead. Maybe.
How children will see the end of Infinity War
They... killed Spider-Man. WHY WOULD THEY DO THAT?
It’s harder for children to separate what they see on screen and what they’re feeling at the time, which makes scene after scene of characters turning to dust a pretty intense experience. It’s interesting to read or hear about how kids dealt with it. This is a tweet one fan wrote about their 10-year-old nephew:
“How do you know that?” is a good question that’s hard to answer without digging into details that exist outside of the movie’s story. Even if they’re wearing Avengers pajamas to bed every night and showing up for every cartoon spinoff Marvel churns out, they’re not thinking about release dates and sequel contracts amidst the slow-death carnage. It’s about the moment in which the bad guy wins and kills all of their favorite characters.
Which isn’t that concerning, especially when almost all of us fondly remember the movies that all but traumatized us when we were younger. I still can’t watch Poltergeist without feeling like ghosts are real, and those memories of terror from my youth make up some of my favorite pop-culture memories.
The fact that some children are going to get upset by the desolation of the Marvel Universe at the end of Infinity War is, in a sort of twisted way, fun. I may have aged out of feeling real fear when it comes to fictional characters — everyone I love from comics has died and returned too many times to count — but watching the ending through the eyes of my children took me right back. Watching their confusion and fear helped me believe, for a second or two, that these people were dead. And movie death might be permanent.
This conversation is going to be very difference once we know what happens in the next film, or when you can watch them back to back with your kids. But for now ... we’re all in limbo, and there are no good answers for your children outside of conversations about how common this is in comic books. “We have to wait a whole year?” my eight year-old asked. “They probably need that time to find new Avengers.” It didn’t even occur to him that these characters may not be dead in the forever sense.
There were a lot of upset kids at the preview screening I attended the night before Infinity War’s release, and it’s hard to say “oh, they’ll be back” in a way that’s believable without also bringing up box office receipts as evidence some characters make too much money to die.
How an adult and a child talk about the ending of Infinity War
My teenage daughter had a million questions about the ending — all of them in-universe — and before I could catch myself I explained the timing on the sequels, how contracts work and that of course Spider-Man was coming back.
“But that doesn’t mean Peter Parker isn’t dead! It could be Miles Morales in the next one!” she said. Touché.
She wanted to talk about what happened on the screen, but I had a hard time separating the actual story from the business aspect of Marvel films. Tom Holland still owes movies to Marvel based on his multi-picture deal as Spider-Man, I told her. It only took me a second to realize my mistake, and begin to regret my strategy.
It felt like I was revealing the secret behind a magic trick, which are always less fun that the mystery of the illusion itself. I was living in a world of six-picture deals, and she still lived in the world where even the most popular superheroes can die, and that it’s very possible that Miles Morales may be the lead character in Spider-Man 2.
I wish I had let her stay there for a little while longer. It’s a lot more fun.