Warning: This column contains major spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War ...
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is a strange phenomenon: not only did it lead the way on the modern shared universe film trend, it actually did it well – attaining decent critical success and raking in mammoth box office takings.
With the climactic Avengers: Infinity War being unleashed, drawing together an array of heroes from across the Marvel Universe, there is a divide in critical opinion.
There's a tendency to deride the MCU for its general safeness and lack of artistic vision, or as a tool to rake in buckets of cash for the companies involved - critic Matthew Zoller Seitz famously referred to the series as "movie-flavoured products".
Yet some of these criticisms seem less valid in the face of Marvel's latest phase, which has allowed filmmakers like Taika Waititi and Ryan Coogler to put their personal stamp on the universe with Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther respectively.
Personally, I'm a fan of the films. True, a lot of them don't break the mold in any deeply significant way, but I also find there are underappreciated depths to earlier gems like Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and the Captain America series.
Undoubtedly, Infinity War is imperfect. A film under the weight of so much expectation, designed to draw together an entire universe and also stand as a film in its own right was always going to have a few elements that don't work for every viewer.
It is not a film designed for the uninitiated. It feeds off of histories and character arcs built up in the unprecedented 18-film run that came before it, meaning there isn't a huge amount of growth or development to individual characters (but more than some are claiming). Arguably, that's not what the film is attempting to achieve.
I'm a big believer in evaluating work by gauging whether it succeeds at what it's trying to do, not what the viewer may want it to do. To this end, I'd argue, Infinity War succeeds.
An initial watch, for those who have taken in the majority of the series thus far, is a uniquely stressful experience, regularly subverting expectations. Perhaps the most common criticism of the film is that the ballsiness of its extensive bloodbath comes with the promise of a part two – its made pretty clear that all of this is not the end for heroes as vital to the future of the franchise as Spiderman, Doctor Strange and Black Panther.
It's a recurring criticism we find in bisected work like the final two Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games films – the argument being that because we know the story isn't over, the film is robbed of emotional stakes.
There's some validity to this, but it also unveils how we so often value plot mechanics over character, when the grief of the ending of Infinity War is not just for the characters killed off, but for the ones left behind.
In a truly cruel twist of fate, the survivors are, for the most part, original recipe Avengers, the ones consistently shown to bear loss the most and carry the responsibility of their actions heaviest.
Tony Stark's arc throughout the series has been one that moves from conscience-less warboy to regret-filled, PTSD-suffering veteran. To rob this character of virtually everything he loves – including his surrogate son Peter Parker – is an especially dark turn.
Similarly, remaining heroes like Steve Rogers, Thor and Rocket Raccoon find the people they rely on, love and try to protect all gone by the end of the film. That's a tough pill to swallow, even if we know the story isn't yet over. It's the same reason we despair when Han is frozen in carbonite in Empire Strikes Back – it's the point of hopelessness, even though we know the eventual victory is sure to come.
Is Infinity War going to deliver for all comers? Probably not. For those who have been with the series to the end of the line, however, it is a devastatingly powerful point of no return.