in Retrospecticus, Review

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Original Review: Some Kind of Movie – Ep. 9: Why is Gamora? (unrated)

Well, the reviews for Endgame are out and it sounds good. I wouldn’t know, I’m scared to actually read any of them, because it’s hard to write critically about a film without revealing plot details and those are something I’m trying to avoid. But it does have me thinking about this year we’ve had and whether the climactic moment of Infinity War should have been more than a cliffhanger setting up this year’s part two.

Two MCU movies came out between Infinity War and Endgame, both of which take place before “The Snap.” It’s likely that some shenanigans – the Quantum Realm, Infinity Stones, whatever – will enable the Avengers to bring back the half of the universe that Thanos erased at the end of Infinity War. Maybe even some of the other heroes that died too. Which means that Endgame will be the only opportunity we have to see the consequences of the Avengers losing.

In the previous two Avengers movies, the price of failure was obvious. In New York, they were trying to save innocent civilians who were caught in the middle of an alien invasion. Similarly, in Sokovia, they were trying to evacuate the city before Ultron could blow it up or drop it back on the Earth, causing worldwide extinction. When they fight Thanos on Titan and Wakanda, they’re trying to stop a big purple man from acquiring jewelry.

The third phase of the MCU is about broadening the franchise’s scope. There is only one scene of the Avengers helping civilians in Infinity War, Stark and the others tend to a couple people in New York as they go to investigate the spaceship that his just shown up. After that, the fighting begins and one of the most densely-populated places on the planet appears to be empty. Everywhere else they fight Thanos feels the same way: we don’t see any of the Asgardian commoners, Knowhere has already been decimated before the Guardians arrive, Titan is a dead world, and this movie has even less interest than Black Panther in showing Wakandan civilians, making it feel like the entire population is warriors. Where are the people the Avengers are fighting for?

When Wong explains what the Infinity Stones are, it’s actually the third time we’ve heard this speech. Odin first told Thor and Jane what the Stones were in The Dark World, then the Collector told the Guardians of the Galaxy in their first movie. Despite these fuckin’ things being in so many of the movies, most of the time, they were just MacGuffins the villains were trying to use to their own ends. Really only Thor and Doctor Strange care about the Stones, and, outside of them, only Tony and the Guardians are personally invested in stopping Thanos. Everyone else is more or less just along for the ride.

This bothers me most with Captain America, Falcon, and Black Widow. We haven’t seen these three since they went on the run at the end of Civil War (apparently Cap didn’t bust Hawkeye and Ant-Man out, because they cut a deal), but all we’re told is that “the hotels weren’t exactly five star.” Were they secretly avenging for the past couple years? Were they just on the run, Incredible Hulk style? The movie must find these details irrelevant, all it does is have them show up to fight. Since common people are almost never put directly in danger, you have to accept that they’re there and they’re fighting merely because it’s the right thing to do. Just how Civil War had most the Avengers but focused on Tony and Steve, Infinity War has its eyes on Thanos.

Thanos is not the protagonist of Infinity War, but the plot swirls around him. For whatever reason, he’s decided the time is now to get all the Infinity Stones, and everyone is forced to put their lives on hold and try their best to stop him. So whatever Cap and the others were doing before doesn’t matter. Poor Thor, who lost his whole Realm, loses what little he had left. His journey into becoming worthy of being king becomes irrelevant, and he turns back into a cruel soldier who wants to get the biggest weapon imaginable so he can personally kill the baddest guy. Even the characters who had the most invested in stopping Thanos, Gamora and Nebula, are victims to his relentlessness.

We already knew that Thanos liked to adopt children to fight for him and the terrible damage that did to Gamora and Nebula, who have both dedicated their lives to killing their father. Infinity War introduces four additional children of Thanos, but makes little effort to turn them into actual characters. Instead of making them colorful, dynamic personalities the filmmakers instead opted to make them four dull, computer generated henchmen. In my mind, they’re just grey blurs who never even interact with their traitorous sisters. Gamora and Nebula themselves both very straightforwardly try to kill Thanos by stabbing him and ramming into him, respectively, and are then subjected to more of his torture. All must bow to Thanos’ will.

Thanos is a great villain because he has strong convictions that he’s willing to make enormous sacrifices to realize. You can tell he respects the Avengers and doesn’t necessarily want to kill them – he deliberately spares Drax and Mantis by restoring them after dicing them into pieces with the Reality Stone. But he’s also insane. He kills others mercilessly, sometimes not even following his half the population rule, like on Nidavellir, where he killed all the dwarves save Eitri, whose hands he turned to metal. That his first instinct is to use omnipotent, unlimited power to kill half of life in the universe tells you everything you need to know about how bad his brain is.

So I don’t get the “Thanos did nothing wrong” movement except for the fact that Infinity War does not present a strong counterpoint. No one gets to actually stand up to Thanos’ flawed ideas, they just fight him. Steve Rogers, the heart of the team, the man who could best show Thanos the error of his ways, never says a word to the guy. He just gets punched by him. The movie feels like it’s Thanos versus the Avengers when it should have been Thanos versus life.

Infinity War is set in a desolate universe and all Thanos wants to do is make it lonelier. Without giving the Avengers anyone to directly save, maybe it would have been better to let “The Snap” be the status quo for a while? Maybe by showing how people tried to move on, how the world became a fundamentally broken place, it would remind us why Thanos needed to be stopped in the first place. And maybe that’s exactly the first act of Endgame anyway and I shouldn’t worry about these things.

Anyway, it all led to this and there are plenty of great character moments and action scenes in Infinity War. I love that over these last 10 years we’ve seen Tony’s Iron Man armor evolve from something slow, heavy, and clunky (remember when he was afraid of running out of power and being trapped in the suit?) to nanotechnology that envelops him like a liquid and allows him to summon incredible weapons as if out of nowhere. After all, magic and science are one and the same, right Thor? Speaking of magic, hot damn is Doctor Strange’s one-on-one with Thanos legit! More please. I also don’t mind that they’ve given up on figuring out Scarlet Witch’s powers and just made her super good at telekinesis now, that’s fine. Okoye’s “why was she up there all this time” is one of the funnier lines in the movie.

On the other hand, I’m disappointed how lame Vision has gotten over the sequels. I think it’s supposed to be him becoming more human, but the main thing he does in Civil War is shoot down Rhodey on accident, and in Infinity War he just gets stabbed all the time. Dude was supposed to be a badass, he lifted Thor’s hammer! T’Challa also just seems to be here to help his buddies, which is a far cry from the guy we just saw prove himself as a king and a warrior. Once again, I think we’re really lucky Black Panther is as spectacular as it is, because he was otherwise not going to get much love from the greater MCU.

Speaking of, where does Endgame go from here? The biggest hint we have comes from Doctor Strange, who said he saw the one possible future where the Avengers win. The Sorcerer Supreme then surrenders the Time Stone to Thanos to save Tony’s life, after explicitly saying earlier that he would choose protecting the Stone over the others earlier. So Iron Man is important to this. Not exactly a big surprise… We’ll see.

MCU Power Rankings: Spending this much time considering the underlying hollowness of Infinity War has definitely taken a toll on my appreciation of it. This was one of my favorite movies last year, but now that I’ve seen it four times, I’m not even sure I like it more than Black Panther?