If you’re still shook after watching Avengers: Infinity War, don’t worry - you’re not alone.
*Warning: spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War to follow*
While the common discussions ahead of the film generally centred around which of the dozens of superheroes would die, few could have predicted the bloodbath (or… “dustbath”?) to which we were subjected.
Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) all disappeared in a poof of dust when Thanos (Josh Brolin), bestowed with control over the universe upon acquiring all six Infinity stones, clicked his fingers and eradicated half of the population. Spider-Man (Tom Holland), a teenage boy, went the same way, but in a more excruciatingly drawn-out fashion, begging for his life in Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr) arms.
It was a truly heartbreaking end to the film, which makes it feel all the more strange to herald this move as the Russo brothers’ greatest trick of all.
However, by allowing the purple-headed villain to succeed in his plan and wander off into a vista-filled retirement, they’ve seemingly solved the biggest problem they faced in Infinity War: that they've let too many cooks into an already jam-packed kitchen.
Everyone feared that the number of characters could derail the narrative of Marvel's mega blockbuster. Avengers 2 and Captain America: Civil War were already bursting at the seams. Sacrifices for Infinity War were inevitable: beloved heroes like T'Challa and Falcon were on the fringes throughout the film, and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye and Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man didn’t make the cut at all.
And yet, somehow, the Russo brothers managed to bring it all together, delivering a massively overpacked film – and making it fun. The majority of the heroes on show had their fair share of screen time, and fan favourites including Iron Man, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Thor and Rocket will all feel very "seen".
And then, brilliantly, they took it all away with a snap of Thanos's fingers. Which leaves us... where exactly?
Well, we're left with a crew of a similar size to the original Avengers movie directed by Joss Whedon, which looking back seems luxuriously roomy by comparison.
In Avengers 4, the Russo brothers will be able to focus on core favourites – Thor, Iron Man, Black Widow and The Hulk all avoided The Great Dusting – and, in all probability, introduce a couple of old pals (it’s probably time for Hawkeye to come out of retirement) and at least one new one (Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel) without fear of over-saturation.
Most importantly, by ending Infinity War in the way they did, the Russos managed to cut the team in half in a way that doesn’t feel cheap or absurd. In fact, the deaths of main characters – permanent or not – added an emotional heft to the film without really ruling out what we all suspect: that most of the characters will be brought back to life in one way or another a little further down the line. Peter Parker's anguished departure will live long in the memory, even as we await the web-slinger's return in the already-announced Spider-Man: Homecoming 2.
So, three cheers for the Russo brothers: one for pulling off "the most ambitious crossover event in history", and the other two for killing their darlings and setting us up for a terribly exciting, bloat-free sequel.
Avengers: Infinity War is out in UK cinemas now