The Grey ultimately isn't a movie about Liam Neeson punching a wolf. I think trailers and TV spots have been cut to make this look like "Taken with wolves", but it's pretty apparent early on that the Liam Neeson of The Grey isn't totally a Bryan Mills type-- close, but not quite. He's not indestructible and unstoppable. He has limitations, he has fears, he has significant and human weaknesses. Nothing about the picture suggests he's capable of taking down a wolf in single combat; in point of fact, the attack on Diaz shows that it takes all of the men working together to kill one wolf, and that wolf isn't the alpha. And Ottway knows all of this, and so his first instinct is to avoid contact with the wolves as much as possible, until the survivors are whittled down to Burke, Ottway, Hendrick, Diaz, and Talget and their combined desperation is enough to make Ottway think that killing the wolves "one by one" is a remotely actionable plan. It's not, and for me, it never is at any point.
The only thing that the survivors have on their side is a degree of ingenuity that lets them cross the ravine almost casualty-free, among other things. They don't have the numbers or the strength to repel an entire pack of hostile, threatened predators on their own turf. All that they can do is move forward, and eventually even that starts to become too much to ask-- so the film explores mildly metaphysical themes and mostly brings each man to some measure of catharsis about their faith, the people they love, and their own mortality.
When the film cut, I wanted to applaud. Carnahan, in doing so, dodged an immeasurably silly climax whose outcome is a foregone conclusion. Would it have been awesome to watch Neeson fight the alpha? Probably, but then again, Neeson could read me the fucking ingredients of the Cinnamon Burst Cheerios I eat in the morning and I'd be totally captivated. What happens to Ottway? Most likely, the alpha-- which is decidedly not starving and not freezing and not exhausted-- kills him. Maybe the alpha dies of its wounds thereafter. Maybe Ottway just wrecks the son of a bitch outright. But then he's surrounded by a pack of wolves in their den after he's just killed their alpha. As Tom Turkey might say, "REVENGE!" He dies. No matter what. I don't think we need to see any of that, because none of it's the point. The big payoff we're looking for is emotional, and it lies in his furious plea to a non-existent or apathetic deity and in the sequence where he looks through the wallets of each man aboard the plane before looking at his only picture of his wife and the letter he wrote to her. There's never much hope that Ottway will survive. There's never much hope that he'll triumph over the wolves. But there's hope for him to come to terms with his fate and with his emotional pain, which he does-- and he uses that as strength to gird himself for the last good fight he'll ever know.
Maybe we get to see that scene in a director's cut somewhere, and maybe it's as kickass as Neeson fighting a wolf should be, but it's not really necessary for the film's message at all. Full disclosure: I had no idea whatsoever that there'd be a post-credits scene, so I left the theater Tuesday night when the credits started rolling. If it's crucial to the film's climax, I find that absolutely frustrating, but I'm also willing to ignore whatever it is because I'm totally satisfied with the ending that I got.
TL;DR version: Big thumbs-up from me.