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Avengers Infinity War: How to Kill Suspense

(a.k.a. “The Future Has Already Been Written”)

*Spoilers for Disney’s Marvel’s The Avengers 3: Infinity War below*

Avengers: Infinity War (AIW, pronounced “ewww”) is a fine enough ensemble superhero film that ends on what is supposed to be a massive cliffhanger. Thanos does “The Snap”, and kills off half the universe, his power now complete and unstoppable with all of the Infinity Stones. We’re supposed to be left slack-jawed, wondering how on Earth are Earth’s Mightiest Heroes supposed to come back from THAT-

But we don’t.

A few minutes beforehand, Thanos takes possession of the Eye of Agamotto from Dr. Strange, which in this universe is serving as the Time Stone. It’s a big moment- Strange is giving up something of cosmic importance in order to save his friend.

But before that, we see Strange’s power to see the future through the Time Stone:


I went forward in time…to view alternate futures. To see all the possible outcomes of the coming conflict.


How many did you see?


Fourteen million, six hundred, and five.


How many did we win?



In order for this moment to be effective, we have to believe in Strange’s power of prediction- i.e., we have to believe there is only one way the Avengers can win. If we do, it’s a chilling moment: victory has almost no chance of happening.

But a moment’s consideration robs the beat, and the rest of the story, of its power. If Strange can understand the future at such a precise level, it means that he knows EXACTLY what he needs to do for the Avengers to win out. Suspense and drama are built around characters making choices without us as the audience knowing what’s going to happen- will they or won’t they, will Luke turn his targeting computer back on, will Frodo succumb to the ring’s power or not. But Strange just stated in large glowing letters that he knows EXACTLY what’s going to happen.

[Side note: this could be prevented if Strange turned to the screen and said, “Look, I can see all these futures, but I don’t know what causes them or what agency I have in causing future A to happen instead of Future B”, but it would mean that his dramatic line about only winning in one future wouldn’t work]

And if that’s the case, then everything he does will bring the “winning” future to fruition. It’s hard to have any kind of dramatic tension between good and evil when good has a cheat sheet and evil does not. Being able to see the future is a game breaker for drama, and not in a good way, along with unbounded telepathy and being able to bring stuff back from the dead. In order to make it work, you have to slap some limits on the power, or awkwardly forget that it ever existed later on (I’m looking at you, Abrams-verse Star Trek…)

This is less of a problem with standalone work, but is a common issue with ongoing franchises. In order to up the stakes, an easy fix is to raise the power level of the people involved…but this makes it harder and harder to keep everything consistent and consistently interesting for the audience.