For those of you who've seen Avengers: Infinity War (including those who've watched it multiple times), you may feel like you're still coming to terms with the shockwaves unleashed by super villain Thanos (Josh Brolin).
The so-called 'Mad Titan' delivered on actor Brolin's promise of widespread devastation within the 10-year-old Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). While we continue to come to terms with what this means for Avengers 4 (released on 26th April 2019), we're taking this opportunity to celebrate the eight most gargantuan, most shocking and most awe-inspiring moments from one of 2018's biggest spectacles.
WARNING: MAJOR INFINITY WAR SPOILERS AHEAD
1. The death of Loki
We expected there to be deaths in Infinity War, but we didn't expect them right from the opening scene. Just as we say goodbye to Asgard's portal keeper Heimdall (Idris Elba) in the wake of the planet's destruction (seen in Thor: Ragnarok), an even more jaw-dropping moment arrives when Thanos dispatches trickster god Loki (Tom Hiddleston) – right in full view of his step-brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth).
Truthfully, Loki's story had been pretty played out in the three preceding Thor movies and Avengers Assemble. (Hiddleston hinted at his departure from the series in an interview earlier this year.) Nevertheless, we might have expected Loki's devilish abilities to have played a more prominent role in the narrative. The brutal execution of such an important MCU character within the first 10 minutes sends out a clear message: Thanos is no disposable baddie, but a grave threat who will singlehandedly change the landscape of this franchise.
2. Thor meets the Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians director James Gunn reportedly worked closely with Infinity War filmmakers the Russos to ensure the intergalactic misfits were done justice. As soon as they appear to the sound of soul classic 'Rubberband Man', it's as if they've never been away. And when they pick up our favourite ailing Asgardian god, it kick-starts some of the movie's funniest banter between hunky Thor and the ragtag Guardians.
Our favourite moment must be when the awed, irony-free Drax (Dave Bautista) admires Thor's chiselled biceps, explaining to a dismayed Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) that he is "a dude" whereas their new passenger is "a man... a muscly man". Is it to much to hope for more Guardians/Thor crossovers in future?
3. Captain America arrives in Edinburgh
Pursued by Thanos' vile foot-soldiers Corvus Glaive and Proxima Midnight, Vision (Paul Bettany) realises he lies right at the centre of the deadliest battle so far. Contained within his head is the Mind Stone, one of six Infinity Stones coveted by Thanos in his quest for ultimate power. And, how rude of the evil baddies, they gatecrash Vision's Scottish hideaway that he's enjoying with Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen).
Nevertheless, help is at hand when a shadowy figure deflects Midnight's spear to reveal themselves as none other than Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans). Grizzled and bearded following his break-up with Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War, it's terrific to see he still has support in the form of Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie). The surging strains of Alan Silvestri's Avengers theme, making its first substantial appearance in the movie, only add to the scene's spine-tingling sense of heroism.
4. Star-Lord argues with Iron Man
Oh, we've been waiting for this moment for a long time. Both Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Star-Lord have a way with quick-fire patter and acidic wit, so it was perhaps inevitable we would see their egos clash on screen before long. Initially, the latter's maverick tactics rub up badly against Stark's increasingly battle-hardened nature, particularly when Stark is conscious his vulnerable protege Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) has entered the fight against Thanos.
Nevertheless, the verbal jousting (we love that Stark has to use Star-Lord to coax the immovable Drax to engage) soon gives way to a closer bond. Well, there's nothing like a tyrannical, planet-destroying bad guy to unite people in the heat of battle. That only makes it all the more agonising when the aforementioned characters, along with Mantis (Pom Klementieff), find their attempts to subdue Thanos foiled as a result of Star-Lord's rage. And, of course, there's a very good reason why he feels like that...
5. Thanos kills Gamora
The most shocking death in the movie? It's certainly up there, if only because we're now wondering what will happen in Guardians Vol. 3 (released in 2020). It's hard to imagine the third Guardians movie proceeding without Gamora (Zoe Saldana)... but it's also hard to envisage how she'll rebound from her brutal execution at the hands of her step-father.
The twisted bond between these two characters, merely hinted at in the first Guardians, is perhaps the emotional backbone of Infinity War. It's also used to expose intriguing vulnerabilities in Thanos himself, as he realises there are horrific consequences in pursuing the Infinity Stones that not even he could have predicted. Having tracked down the elusive Soul Stone on the planet of Vormir (turns out it wasn't on Wakanda like some of us predicted), Thanos is compelled to make the most appalling sacrifice in order to achieve his aims. Extra points in this scene for the unexpected re-appearance of Captain America: The First Avenger villain Red Skull.
6. Thor arrives in Wakanda
T'Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) barely survived the insurgent threat to his African kingdom in his solo movie debut. Even so, that conflict is dwarfed by the invasive threat of Thanos' armies, an enormous battle erupting on the fields of Wakanda that allows the Russos to go hell for leather with visual spectacle. Shields and spears clash with animalistic, beastly enemies, and towering force fields are torn asunder as T'Challa and Captain America look to defend the kingdom at all costs.
It all looks somewhat hopeless... until Asgard's finest makes what is possibly his grandest MCU entrance so far, wielding his brand new axe forged on Nidavellir. Lighting up the battle field to Alan Silvestri's enormous choral forces, Thor's astonishing appearance is leavened that self-deprecating humour so beloved in the MCU. As Thor and Cap comment on each other's hair and beards, with teenage Groot (Vin Diesel) introduced along the way, it's pure geek nirvana.
7. Thanos kills half of all life in the universe
By the end of Infinity War our beleaguered Avengers have already been through so much. We already know what Thanos is capable of, but surely he wouldn't win... would he? The chilling moment where he uses the Time Stone to erase prior events and remove the Mind Stone, the sixth and final gem, from Vision's head was likely met with a chorus of 'nooos' in your cinema.
As the Infinity Gauntlet is activated, signalling universal doom, Silvestri's music dies away as we're faced with the profoundly eerie sight of half of our Avengers crumbling into nothingness. This includes Spider-Man – whose final words to Tony mark one of the movie's most upsetting moments – Black Panther, and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch).
It's official: this is a blockbuster movie where the bad guy wins, at least for the time being. It's one of the boldest moments in the MCU thus far, immediately igniting the internet with all manner of theories about how Avengers 4 will play out.
Does it all hinge on Strange's "one in a million" chance of the Avengers beating Thanos? Will the Time Stone be deployed to reverse proceedings? Or is it the case that everyone's spirits are harvested within the Soul Stone, leading to insurrection from within?
Either way, the shellshocked looks on the faces of Captain America (who we didn't expect to survive, let's be honest), Black Widow and others, say it all.
8. Captain Marvel is on her way
Thanos is so powerful, he even kills Samuel L. Jackson in this movie. Or, more accurately, he kills Jackson's character, former S.H.I.E.L.D. operative Nick Fury. The end credits sequence show that both Fury and fellow agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) are among the 50% selected for galactic destruction... but the former may have just saved the day.
Prior to crumbling into oblivion, Fury manages to send out a distress signal, signalled by the appearance of a logo that indicates the first tell-tale sign of Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel. An Air Force pilot whose genes have been spliced with alien DNA, Danvers is one of the most powerful characters in Marvel lore, and at the climax of Infinity War, we're faced with the delicious realisation that she's incoming to help the remaining Avengers in their battle against Thanos.
Before that of course, she gets her own origin story, one set in the 1990s that will act as an introduction to Brie Larson's take on the character.
Roll on 2019.