Written by David Holland
How is it possible that we are here already? I realize that “The most ambitious crossover ever” has become a meme, but it’s not wrong. This movie is the culmination of a cinematic universe that took 10 years to create, and involves characters of different tones and different genres. No matter what, that deserves credit. I have some criticisms of Infinity War, but it definitely has ambition and delivers on powerful moments. It could have been an unwieldy ensemble mess, but it balances the star power to create an intense, if tragic, story.
This is what the whole MCU has been leading toward. Iron Man gave us a taste of the Avengers, and the Avengers’ post-credits sequence introduced us to Thanos. After watching Avengers for the first time, I immediately went home and Googled two questions:
1. “Who was in the Avengers post credits scene?” (Obviously that led to the answer “Thanos”)
2. “Thanos comic story arc”
This second search led me to the “Infinity Gauntlet”, which I bought that day, so please indulge me for introducing my next thought with a three word phrase I have tried to use very sparingly in this series: *In the comics* (ugh, even saying it made me feel pretentious) Thanos is driven by a desire for death. Not death in a metaphysical sense, he is romantically in love with the personification of Death and kills half of all life in the universe to impress her. Death, by the way, is not interested and can you really blame her?
In the film version Thanos tries to justify his galactic sociopathy by claiming that fewer sentient beings will stave off overpopulation and all of the migration, civil wars, displacement, and ecological disasters that accompany it. I know the internet asked why Thanos didn’t simply double the resources in the universe instead of halving the people in it, but I don’t think it’s worth engaging in that question. This may come as a shock, but it turns out people with malevolent intentions will mask their malice in soaring rhetoric so that they can convince themselves they aren’t evil.
The Russo brothers, who directed “Captain America: Civil War, have returned to helm this installment and its sequel, “Avengers: Endgame”. As far as casting, it would be faster to list the people who aren’t in this movie: Hawkeye, Valkyrie, and everyone from Ant-Man. Pretty much everyone else returns for Infinity War, leaving the Russo brothers with the colossal task of balancing a massive ensemble of A-list stars involving not one but TWO former Sherlock Holmes.
How Does it Hold Up?
I can’t remember exactly where I heard this quotation, I believe it was George Lucas talking about the original “Star War” trilogy. He was talking about “Empire Strikes Back” and said something along the lines of “A trilogy is a three act play. In the First Act you bring all of your characters together. In the Second Act you put them in a situation they could never get out of. Then in Act Three they get out of it.” The first two Avengers movies could be considered the First Act of this play, which makes “Infinity War” the one where everything goes wrong. And boy, howdy does it go wrong.
I want to start with what I liked about this movie, which is a lot. “Infinity War”, probably more than any other Marvel movie (including “Endgame”) must balance a massive ensemble. For much of the film we are following a variety of storylines – Team Titan (Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, eventually 1/2 of Guardians), Team Protect Vision (Captain America, Black Widow, Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Vision, eventually all of Wakanda), Team Stormbreaker (Thor and the other Guardians), with lots of overlap. There is a lot of action and the Avengers’ various powers blend seamlessly. Doctor Strange has clearly leveled up, and his battle with Thanos is really cool. We get classic Marvel comedy/banter and very well done fight scenes. I really enjoy Thor’s quest for the Thanos-killing weapon and his arrival in the last fight to Banner’s shouts of “You guys are screwed now!” I keep coming back to the crossover aspect of this movie we are seeing characters from movies with different tones and themes encounter each other and those encounters are handled smoothly and believably.
Ok, now we have to deal with Thanos. On Vormir Thanos is told that he must kill what he loves most in order to get the Soul Stone. Gamorra relishes the irony, since Thanos loves nothing, but the Mad Titan turns to her with sadness, believing he must kill her. Let’s be clear about Thanos’ relationship with his “children”. He slaughtered half the population of Gamorra’s home planet, kidnapped her, and forced her into a life of warmongering servitude on penalty of torture. Gamorra speaks the truth: “This isn’t love.” But when Thanos kills her… he gets the stone? So it was love just because he thought it was? Thanos’ relationship with Gamorra is based on power and abuse. It is NOT love. It would have made more sense if after Gamorra died, Thanos did not get the stone and was confronted with the realization that he truly does not love anything, and then he had to get the stone some other way. I realize that this is a set up for the Black Widow/Hawkeye moment in Endgame, but letting an abuser define the terms of “love” isn’t worth the payoff. I also understand wanting to create a sympathetic villain. This isn’t the way to do it. It is a disservice to the whole idea of love.
Gamorra’s death at Thanos’ hand is a devastating moment, but we get no time to process it as an audience. That moment through The Snap is too fast-paced to give us a chance to deal with a loss that was allowed to breathe. Let me call back to “Empire Strikes Back” again. In “Empire” we see the Rebels lose at Hoth, Lando’s betrayal, Han’s torture and imprisonment in carbonite, and Luke’s abandonment of his Jedi training and subsequent loss to Vader. But these events are spaced out. Each of the heroes’ losses is given time to breathe so that we can process them too. And even after all of their failures, the movie ends with Lando’s redemption, the heroes’ escape, and their determination to rescue Han. In “Infinity War” everything starts out terrible on the Asgardian refugee ship, gets worse for two and half hours, and then ends. Even a moment at the end in which Steve Rogers pledges that the Avengers will do everything they can to undo what just happened would be helpful. As it is, you finish the movie impressed with the big dramatic fights but feeling a hollow sort of “Oh. Okay then.”
We went into this movie knowing that there would be another (Originally “Infinity War Part 2”, eventually called “Endgame”). So we knew that the good guys would lose, or that they at least wouldn’t win. There is a certain march of inevitability as we watch Thanos gather stone after stone, reveling in his newfound powers with each one he collects. Captain America, ever the conscience of the group, rejects Visions Spock-like plan to destroy the Mind Stone, thereby sacrificing himself and preventing Thanos from gathering all six. We even learn that the stone could be carefully extracted from him, and Shuri makes a desperate attempt.
This review has gone on way longer than most of my other ones so let me wrap it up pretty quickly. I’m not against a movie in which the good guys lose, I knew that would happen going into this movie. And I think it is worth showing the desperate fight in the face of defeat. Everything that is good about “Infinity War” is summarized by one of the last moments as Thanos closes in on Vision to claim the final Infinity Stone. The Avengers throw everything they have at him in desperation, and one of the last to make a stand is not Iron Man, Doctor Strange, or Hulk, the heaviest hitters with the most impressive powers. It’s Steve Rogers, the conscience, Mr. “I Could Do This All Day”. Of course he fails, he’s fighting a purple mountain with godhood on his hand. But he stands anyway, and at its best that is the lesson of “Infinity War”.