By now Infinity War is on track to possibly have the best opening of all time. No one is surprised, but people are walking out of the theater shook, and for good reason.
The spoiler-free review is: Oh man, that was amazing with all the fight scenes and effects and great character moments and whatnot. Casual viewers of Marvel films will be able to keep up, and anyone who’s seen at least half of the 19 Marvel films will also be fine. People who’ve never seen a Marvel movie will more than likely be entertained in between action set pieces and character building.
The spoilery discussion is below the cut.
Jen: The critique that everyone has had of Marvel films for the past decade is a weakness in the villains, with the exception of Loki. I would include Hela in that company because Cate Blanchett’s performance in Ragnarok was so effective, with James Spader as Ultron coming in third. [EDIT: It has come to my attention I completely forgot Killmonger. JESUS WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME THIS WEEK.]
And then Thanos showed up.
Part of what is most effective about Infinity War is the time and attention paid to developing Thanos as a villain. I’d be willing to estimate that he get nearly as much screen time, minute-for-minute, as the total Avengers, and those minutes are meticulously crafted. Not a gesture or a second of screen time is wasted, and Josh Brolin manages to be purple, ten feet tall, and incredibly evocative in his portrayal. Thanos rarely rages or raises his voice – he doesn’t have to. He speaks and even moves with self-assured serenity; not the assurance of a believer, but of that one who knows he is right. His ethos is simple – population control is the only hope for civilization, and so he chooses to act as an objective cull, wiping out rich, poor, young, and old, indiscriminately.
Upon introducing Thanos amidst the wreckage of the Asgardian refugee ship, we are immediately made aware that Thanos can physically take on the Hulk. That alone would set him up as a worthy opponent to the Avengers, but beyond his size and strength he is intelligent, ruthless, and commands the largest fighting force in the universe.
Achariya: The stakes were set immediately when Loki, who is teased in the trailers as betraying everyone, actually tries his best to save his brother by giving up the “tesseract” (the story of that is told in Thor 1), which is actually the space variety of the infinity stones. Then, Thanos kills him. Thanos is a smart villain because he understands that what makes superheroes tick is not threatening their own lives — they’d gladly die nobly to save the universe. It’s threatening the life of a person they love that gets them.
In the words of Captain America in this movie, “We don’t trade lives.” But that’s exactly the choice that Thanos keeps setting up. If there is any theme to this movie, it’s “What would you give up to save the universe?” For Thanos, the answer to that choice is immediate and direct: he’d give up everything and anything to save the universe, including what he loves best — his adopted daughter Gamora. In an effective and terrible penultimate scene, Thanos gains the soul stone by shoving his daughter off a cliff, right after she says, “Hah, you love nothing, so you’re defeated.”
Jen: What I found interesting in that scene is how each characters’ realization of what Thanos loved developed – Thanos realized immediately what and who he would have to sacrifice to gain the stone, but Gamora didn’t realize until it was too late.
Achariya: Good point. I’d quibble that you don’t really love someone if what you’re doing is shoving them off a cliff so that you can have power of life and death over the whole universe, but I guess it counted because Thanos gained the soul stone.
Jen: Not being familiar with the intricacies of the comic, I wondered if the scene toward the end, where Thanos is transported to a rose-colored world and confronts a young Gamora, meant that her soul was somehow tied to the soul stone and could wield some kind of influence over it. It’s been pointed out to me that we don’t know what role the soul stone plays. I also found myself respecting Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 a lot more – it was a fun movie and all, but it added layers to the sisters’ relationship so Gamora’s death had more emotional payoff.
Achariya: So after the initial scene where Thanos kills Loki, the plot of the movie splits into parts because the party is divided. The first thread follows Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy as they jet around space trying to figure out what actions they could take that are most effective against Thanos. As Thanos’s daughter, Gamora is one of the most important characters in this first movie, and perhaps that is why the main heft of the plot is carried by the Guardians.
Jen: I’m looking forward to seeing the effect Gamora’s death will have on Nebula – if Nebula doesn’t get a big confrontation with Thanos I will be very, very disappointed.
Another storyline is carried by Tony Stark, who gets to meet another towering egotist in Dr. Strange. Their exchanges are priceless, and some of the best parts of the movie. He is assisted by young Peter Parker, and eventually the three of them end up deep in space for a rendezvous with the Guardians and Thanos on his old home planet of Titan. One of the most interesting action sequences of the movie involves Stark, Parker, Strange, Mantis, Drax, and Star-Lord all attempting (nearly successfully) to wrestle Thanos into submission. The plot fails because of Star-Lord’s inability to put his emotions behind him when he learns of Gamora’s death. Honestly, this felt a bit weak to me, but the plot needed Thanos to win so win he did.
Jen: I thought it worked – Star-Lord is not heroic the way a lot of the other Avengers are; he’s the most average. His abilities are passive and he inherited them from Ego, he hasn’t worked for anything or practiced self-discipline the way other characters have, so it made sense to me that he would be the most fallible. Hawkeye and Black Widow are normal humans who have honed their skills to a superhuman point, but Star-Lord doesn’t even have that.
Achariya: I guess he is kind of dumb? Which is interesting, given that Star-Lord makes a great fuss out of being smart enough to have thought up the “wrestle the gauntlet off Thanos” plot.
So the last, and perhaps least attended to, storyline is the one that we saw the most of in the trailers — Captain America and his band of black-clad non-avengers help rescue Vision and Scarlet Witch from a few “children of Thanos” in, randomly, Scotland, where Vision and Wanda have been canoodling for a few years. Vision is kept alive by the mind stone, embedded on his forehead, and of course it’s this stone that Proxima Midnight and Cull Obsidian are after. For a nice breakdown of the badass children of Thanos, please go here.
After a quick stop through upstate New York to pick up Hulk, the non-avengers are off to Wakanda to see if the talented young Princess Shuri can remove the stone from Vision’s head without killing him (“We don’t trade lives!”). The answer is: yeah she can (and she gets in a good zinger at Bruce Banner in the process), if given time, but time is something they run out of right quick. Proxima and Cull are back with a huge army of raving beast things, and it takes all of Wakanda’s forces and then some to give Shuri time for her operation.
Somewhere in here we get to see Steve Rogers hug Bucky Barnes, and all is momentarily right with the world.
Jen: Bucky and Rocket during the firefight was a moment I never would have imagined and yet was so perfect.
Achariya: Thor has been off forging a new hammer at the hands of Eitri the enormous dwarf, with the assistance of Groot and Rocket. He opens the bifrost with his new hammer and steps back into the middle of battle in Wakanda, helping the forces enormously. One god of thunder is worth many thousands of eyeless mouth beasts. But then the bad guys roll out these enormous spiky war machines and the tables turn yet again…
Wanda, who is supposed to be protecting Vision, sees her friends in dire straights, and leaves him to go assist by turning the spiky war machines around. This leads to one of the many funny exchanges in the movie, where Okoye (leader of the Dora Milaje) says, “And why has she been up there this whole time?”
The second Wanda is gone, Cull heads straight to Vision and manages to get him out of Shuri’s operating room. After a ton of heroics, Wanda races back to Vision’s side as he lies panting in the grass and he talks her into killing him. Finally, one of the heroes makes the choice to trade lives! The stone and Vision are destroyed, and the good guys win.
Jen: This was moment I was completely fooled by – I found myself thinking ‘Well Thanos still has the gauntlet with all the other stones but maybe without the Mind Stone it’s not as powerful-OH WHOOPS FORGOT ABOUT THE TIME STONE.’
Achariya: But Wanda is eternally too late. With the time stone in place, Thanos steps out into Earth and calmly rewinds history to a place where the mind stone is still in one piece and digs it out of Vision’s head. This kills him, obviously, and like Loki and Gamora before him, we see him lying discarded like an old action figure while Thanos becomes all-powerful and almighty.
It’s interesting to me that the last thing Captain America says in the movie is “Oh God,” because it’s clear that there is no god in this universe except for Thanos, and he’s not a friend of Cap.
The final thing that happens in the movie is that half the world crumbles into ash, including all the avengers except the original ones. We are led to believe that this is because Thanos has “corrected the balance,” but I feel like there’s more to the story, here. After all, Dr. Strange saw one eventuality where Thanos was defeated, and his last words before crumbling was something like, “There was no other way…”
So where does that leave us for Movie 2, where they fix everything that got broken? Are all the vaped people hiding out in the soul stone?!
Jen: I’m liking your theory we discussed offline about Dr. Strange having created a alternate reality where all the ‘ashed’ people wound up. But I’m also thinking that if, in the event that someone could get the gauntlet away from Thanos, they could use the time function to reverse the universe to undo the great ashing. But who among the Avengers could wield the gauntlet? Does it harness the power so that anyone can wield the power of the stones? If not, the only person shown to hold an Infinity Stone and survive is Star-Lord. SO FAR…
NOTE: Further reading has made it clear to me the gauntlet WAS destroyed at the end of Infinity War, a point I’d forgotten. But there was an earlier version at the forge.
Feel free to chime in with theories, thoughts, opinions, facts, and/or rants.