Warning: The following contains spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War
There's a lot of heroes in Avengers: Infinity War but some are more equal than others, with the newer Avengers definitely getting a short shrift. The beginning of the end for the original Avengers line-up in the MCU, the film is really part 1 of a transition point, where the likes of Iron Man and Captain America begin to bow out for newer heroes such as Black Panther and Spider-Man to really take charge of the franchise. Or, at least, that's what we expected to happen – instead, Infinity War gives some of the pop culture monolith's future headliners a disappointing amount to do while the old guard absorb the spotlight.
Naturally, it's important for the stars that have defined Marvel's movies here to have a good swansong. Robert Downey. Jr. and the two Chrises have been instrumental in these films becoming what they are, and for many Infinity War is about saying goodbye to these character-defining performances after a decade. That's not in dispute. But in saying that, as their story ends, it's as important for the franchise to endear audiences to those that will be populating these crossovers in years to come. The likes of Sam Wilson, Valkyrie, T'Challa and Rhodey will, presumably, be part of Phase 4 and beyond's new Avengers, yet in the biggest outing of the franchise, they all get little-to-no screen-time.
T'Challa's limited role is especially curious given the box office-conquering success of Black Panther. Being both Marvel's biggest solo film and the direct prequel to Infinity War, one would think Avengers 3 would lean more into the Wakandan fervor, but alas it seems T'Challa is a victim of Marvel's own conservative estimations. It was, of course, impossible to know Black Panther would prove to be such a record-breaker when making Avengers: Infinity War, but that only explains, not excuses, the decision. T'Challa's fade-away at the end is given less screentime than the likes of Bucky or Scarlet Witch.
For the others, their relegation to very-co-star-status feels similarly wasteful. The Falcon and War Machine were barely in Avengers: Age of Ultron and very much followed the lead of their respective sides in Captain America: Civil War. Bucky Barnes is seen by many as the next in line to adopt the shield of Captain America, not that you'd know that with his two lines of dialogue and gunplay with Rocket Raccoon. At least they get some action, Valkyrie, one of Thor: Ragnarok's biggest stars, isn't even mentioned. None of them get any truly meaty character development. This problem goes for several longer-standing faces too, but can be felt most with this set we're meant to be invested in going forward.
Of course, it's the ending of Avengers: Infinity War where things reach their peak. When Thanos succeeds, most of these fledgling stars are disappeared by the power of the Infinity Gauntlet; conveniently, the first Avengers line-up survives the random genocide while most anyone else fade away into nothingness. Setting the stage for the reconciliation between Steve and Tony and original six's final showdown is necessary, and it's definitely possible the untitled Avengers 4 will rebalance the scales, but that's small comfort for now.
We know Marvel will live beyond Phase 4 and that doesn't get presented here. Avengers 4 having a roster that felt completely ramshackle and put-together would have increased tension and given someone lesser known characters time to shine.