Because I just can’t help myself when it comes to good movies, this review got a little out of control. And by a little out of control, I mean an over-ten-page in-depth analysis carefully looking at each scene and act in Infinity War. If this is your kind of discussion, I do hope you stick around for part two which will drop a bit later (perhaps even later today). If it’s not your thing, I hope this broadens your viewing experience. If this is really not your thing, I hope you like colorful pictures of the Marvel heroes.
I’m assuming you’re here because you’ve seen the movie, but I’m giving you one last chance to back out in the event that you haven’t. I’m also going to assume that you might have already read my spoiler-free review. I will not be discussing the characters as they are treated by the filmmakers here; rather, I will be focusing on how they are treated by the narrative. From this point forward, anything and everything about Avengers: Infinity War is fair game. Is that adequate warning? Let’s dive in.
From the beginning of Infinity War, it is clear that we are seeing something fresh and new in the form of Thanos, not just because he’s able to defeat both Thor and Hulk in hand-to-hand combat but because he represents one of the most compelling action movie villains we’ve seen in some time. Our collective awe at his ability to subjugate the Hulk with what appears to be relative ease — something that seems to have a lasting effect on the Hulk — gives way to shock and terror at the callousness with which he disposes of Heimdall (who is already injured) and of Loki, right in front of Thor. It’s unceremonious and serves to acclimate the audience quickly to the new rules by which Thanos will be playing. Though Thor survives the encounter (barely, and if I’m being honest, a bit coincidentally), we are still reeling from this brutal introduction when Tony Stark and Dr. Strange first appear. To say that Robert Downey Jr. is inseparable from Tony Stark at this point is an understatement, and his presence in the film is as heartwarming (thanks to his relationship with newer characters, such as Tom Holland’s Spider-Man) as it is expectedly quippy. Watching Tony Stark play off of Dr. Strange is good fun, and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange plays an excellent serious foil to Stark’s wisecracking genius (and Benedict Wong is as welcome as ever though, sadly, his screen time is limited to mere minutes).
As expected, the film is not short on action, and the audience is treated to an epic New York battle sequence between Ebony Maw and Cull Obsidian and Iron Man, Dr. Strange, and Spider-Man. The battle is visually stunning and introduces the MCU heroes to the Children of Thanos, who are their powerful equals and then some. The narrative also begins its multilayered approach from this point forward, following Iron Man and Spider-Man into space as they attempt to rescue Dr. Strange (and the Time Stone) from Ebony Maw. The film then shifts its focus to the Guardians of the Galaxy as they rescue Thor (an unexplained and convenient occurrence based on a “distress signal”), who is floating in space after the destruction of his Asgardian ship. There is some good banter between Thor and Star-Lord, made even funnier by Chris Pratt’s attempted emulation of Chris Hemsworth’s Thor voice. The moment is genuinely funny and exists within the context of the MCU, which is always preferred when compared to some of Tony Stark’s and Peter Parker’s pop culture-style references (although Stark’s “Squidward” comment towards the beginning of the movie is pretty hilarious in its own right).
But it’s Hemsworth’s Thor who comes across as the most compelling of the heroes as he deals with the losses he has accumulated from the end of Thor: Ragnarok to the beginning of Infinity War, shifting from the cocky confidence with which he was introduced towards the beginning of the MCU in 2011 to a more world weary (and even a bit depressing) persona. It’s a welcome shift in tone, made better by a similar (and unexpected) empathetic shift from Rocket as he helps steer this nearly broken hero into newfound confidence and power. If there’s a downside to this focus on Thor’s character, it’s that some of the others naturally get short-changed in the process. Star-Lord in particular is given little to do other than serve as a worried boyfriend to Zoe Saldana’s Gamora, another character who is given new and welcome depth by the narrative. Gamora struggles with how best to stop her adoptive father from destroying half of all life in the universe, a burden made even more dramatic by the revelation that Gamora knows the location of the Soul Stone and has withheld that information from Thanos. She makes Star-Lord swear to kill her if Thanos gets his hands on her, an ultimatum that doesn’t carry much weight because the relationship between Gamora and Star-Lord has never been well defined by the Guardians of the Galaxy films. We know they’re supposed to have feelings for each other, something that was pushed more to the forefront in Guardians of the Galaxy vol.2, but it never quite connects. It’s one thing to have feelings for someone, but it’s an entirely different thing to ask that person to kill you in order to protect the fate of the universe.
Which, ironically, is a perfect time to bring up the genuine and oftentimes heartbreaking relationship between Vision and Scarlet Witch. There’s a chemistry between Paul Bettany’s Vision and Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch that’s sorely missing from the Gamora/Star-Lord romance (despite both couples having roughly equal set up in terms of screen time). Vision’s synthetic construction isn’t an impediment to their relationship, perhaps a subtle nod to “love is love,” and the dynamic between the two is that of a couple that is powerfully attracted to one another but given little to no time to explore their feelings. Of course, when Proxima Midnight and Corvus Glaive (two more Children of Thanos) show up to acquire the Mind Stone, any chance for normality ends and the powerful Vision is shown being handily beaten by two ostensibly more powerful foes — that is, until Captain America shows up. Yes, it’s a great reveal despite being in the trailer, and it’s good fun to see Cap, Black Widow, and Falcon rescue Vision and Scarlet Witch, but you had better enjoy it because it’s just about all those three are given to do during the entire movie. Seriously.
It was inevitable that Infinity War would have to make sacrifices when it came to character screen time, but nowhere is that felt more strongly than in the second act. While Cap is reconciling the events of Civil War with War Machine and Secretary Ross (boring!), Star-Lord and Gamora along with Drax and Mantis attempt to beat Thanos to Knowhere and retrieve the Reality Stone from The Collector. Though they have a roundabout reason for doing so, it nevertheless seems foolish considering Thanos’s power and Gamora’s obvious reluctance to fall into her adoptive father’s hands — which she does anyway, necessitating Star-Lord to kill her. To his credit, he tries to kill her, but Thanos stops him and takes Gamora hostage. Fortunately, while the reasoning leading to this event is somewhat questionable, the relationship between Gamora and Thanos is one of the best in the movie and deserving of its substantial screen time.
Josh Brolin shines as Thanos, imbuing the CGI character’s voice with aggression and menace but communicating a vulnerability that makes his future sacrifice all the more believable. Had Thanos been a stereotypical summer blockbuster villain, determined to destroy half of the universe simply because he could, he would have been a serviceable foe for the heroes of the MCU; however, Thanos transcends the expected simplicity of such a villain and reveals a sense of purpose, surprising depth, and a commitment to his end game that is less fanatical than it is inhumanely logical. Thanos is faced with the supreme expression of this commitment when he must destroy a cherished life in order to obtain the Soul Stone, a fact presented to him by a welcome cameo from the Red Skull (here played by Ross Marquand because apparently Hugo Weaving is too cool for the MCU now). Thanos pauses to consider this revelation while Gamora declares his quest over because he has never loved anything, so it will be impossible for him to obtain the Soul Stone. Though the film tips its hand a bit too far (it becomes apparent that Gamora is mistaken rather quickly), it is Thanos’s tears (TEARS!) that fully cement his feelings, not to mention his resolute commitment to his cause, and reveal to the audience that Thanos’s biggest battle won’t be against the full might of the MCU’s heroes: it will be against himself. It’s a stunning moment that makes Gamora’s death far more impactful than just that of a known character being snuffed out. Her fall is the final step across the line for Thanos; there is no turning back, and there is nothing left to lose. From this point forward, his quest consumes him and is his sole purpose for existing.
And this makes the battle between Thanos and the heroes on Titan less than it could have been. Despite the fact that Iron Man, Dr. Strange, and Spider-Man have joined forces with Star-Lord, Drax, and Mantis by this point (not to mention Nebula, who will no doubt play a major role in the following Avengers film), there is never really a sense that they have a chance against Thanos. When he arrives on Titan, his home world that was destroyed by overpopulation, he only has the Time Stone and the Mind Stone left to obtain. In a bit of exposition with Dr. Strange, and before he’s attacked by the assembled heroes, Thanos describes the origin of his belief in universal balance forged by his experiences on Titan. The tone of Brolin’s voice here is resolute, if even a bit weary, and it carries the emotional weight of purpose. When Dr. Strange asks Thanos what he plans to do after he completes his mission, he simply replies that he hopes to rest and watch the sun come up. It’s this sort of characterization that helps the audience to understand (as much as is possible) the nature of a villain who plans to wipe out half of all life.
The following battle is epic and well shot, giving each hero his or her chance to play a role in the proceedings, culminating with Mantis entrancing Thanos with her powers and rendering him helpless. In order to create dramatic tension, the plot necessitates that we see a way out for the heroes, a possible win, something that is foretold by Dr. Strange when he tells Tony that they have a one in fourteen million chance of defeating Thanos, but because we haven’t yet reached Earth (and we know that the battle will eventually carry Thanos to Earth), that tension doesn’t quite hit home as strongly as it could have. Unfortunately, the plan is thwarted by Star-Lord who finds out that Thanos has murdered Gamora to obtain the Soul Stone. Star-Lord’s meltdown over the death of Gamora, which subsequently ruins the plan and could be blamed for the entire ending of the movie, is odd given the fact that he cautions Drax, whose family was also murdered by Thanos, against just such a plan-ruining attack earlier in the film when Gamora is taken hostage. Star-Lord’s anger feels more like an emotional justification for the romance between Star-Lord and Gamora than anything (See?! They really do love each other!), and it only serves to pin the blame for universal destruction on Star-Lord being unable to control himself. (This is also somewhat jarring because Chris Pratt is a loveable actor, and you don’t want it to be his fault that the entire plan collapses because of his emotional breakdown.)
Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t examine Dr. Strange’s knowledge of future events and how that relates to him essentially giving the Time Stone to Thanos at the end of the battle on Titan in exchange for Tony Stark’s life, an act that has direct consequences towards the end of the film. Much has been said about this scene and its possible ability to reverse the character deaths at the end of the film, and I would agree. Dr. Strange explicitly states earlier in the film that he will not give up the Time Stone for anything, including the lives of Tony Stark and/or Peter Parker. The fact that he clearly contradicts himself by literally bargaining for Tony’s life with the Time Stone seems to indicate that relinquishing the Time Stone was a necessary part of the one in fourteen million chance that they had against Thanos. The Russos play this very well, especially when it is revealed near the end of the film that Dr. Strange is one of the characters who loses his life. His death leaves the audience reeling since he alone knows the only path to victory; however, by having Dr. Strange die (and likely be aware that he will die once he views those possible futures), the narrative slyly creates a space in which the remaining heroes must operate without knowing if what they are doing is right or wrong. It’s sleight-of-hand storytelling at its very best, and it makes us all the more excited to see the next Avengers movie.
Hopefully, it also makes you all the more excited to read on. The second half of my review will drop later today or tomorrow, depending on how busy the blog is. I hope you enjoy the grand finale of what I believe to be one of the greatest summer blockbusters of all time.
Oh, and I promise I’ll try to control myself better in the next review (probably for Solo).
Nah, who am I kidding? That’ll probably be massive, too!