40 for 40 – #22. Avengers: Infinity War
After ten years and more than a dozen movies, #22 deserves a spot in the 40 for 40 for sheer audaciousness, alone.
But also because it’s a good film. A very good film. In fact, a great film.
One that took the hopes and dreams of multiple generations, and delivered with honours.
And a snap…
#22. Avengers: Infinity War (2018) Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt. Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is without question, the grandest, most daring and of course, successful franchise of movies in the history of Hollywood.
It began in 2008 with Iron Man, originally a film that comic book nerds planned on tiding themselves over with until The Dark Knight would be released a couple of months later. The Incredible Hulk followed that same year. Iron Man 2 dropped the ball somewhat, before solid first-time entries for Thor and Captain America paved the way for their pre-planned team up, 2012’s The Avengers.
The success of that film opened the floodgates for Marvel, who immediately continued their quest for world box-office domination by giving us even more cinematic entries in their newly-established universe.
While Iron Man 3 divided audiences with its twist, and Thor: The Dark World disappointed many, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy delivered big time. A mediocre Age of Ultron was met with some fan criticism, but when Marvel managed to make Ant-Man a household name, it was clear they’d become an unstoppable Juggernaut (no pun intended).
Captain America: Civil War hit it big with audiences and critics alike; while Doctor Strange finally introduced magic into the fold. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 expanded Marvel’s cosmic storytelling abilities, Spider-Man finally returned to Marvel with Homecoming, Thor was given a new lease on life with Ragnarok, and Black Panther exceeded all expectations to give Marvel a potential new face of the franchise heading into the future.
Through this entire series of interconnected films, one villain has been slowly brought closer and closer to the forefront: Thanos (Josh Brolin) and his quest for the Infinity Stones. We knew we’d finally get to see the purple Titan square off against Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in Infinity War, but after eighteen films and ten years, fans held their collective breath and waited for Anthony and Joe Russo to deliver what was anticipated to be the biggest Marvel film of them all.
Would they deliver? Could they deliver?
In short: yes. They did it. They really did it.
That was my reaction upon first watching Avengers: Infinity War. The Russo brothers and Marvel Studios had managed to not only meet expectations, but surpass them. The movie delivered on two fronts; it lived up to the hype and turned out to be the best Marvel movie of all (so far).
My main take away from the movie was just how well it portrays its source material. In the comics, whenever there’s a big-time, all-out crossover event, the books don’t take the time to explain who each and every character is, or the individual events that lead them there. You either know what’s going on, or you’re expected to go back and catch up. Infinity War is exactly that. The cinematic equivalent to a big, crossover comic event.
The movie also impresses with its ability to weave between several interlocking story arcs, spanning several solo franchises. For instance, Hulk / Bruce Banner begins the film alongside Thor, is then sent to New York to banter with Iron Man, Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, and ultimately winds up in Wakanda with Captain America and Black Panther. Thor also crosses the cosmos several times to interact with the Guardians of the Galaxy (most of whom find a way to also meet Iron Man, Spidey and Strange) before arriving in Wakanda, himself.
Besides Ant-Man and Hawkeye, every major MCU character turns up in this one, and the Russos have managed to do them all… *ahem* … justice.
Many fans are critical of Marvel’s movie villains, the truly great ones being the exception rather than the rule. Infinity War does away with any such notion of a ‘villain problem’ with Thanos. Excellent CGI and a riveting performance by Josh Brolin merge to create not only a wonderful comic-book-movie bad guy, but one of the most nuanced and multifaceted villains of all time.
It has been stated before, but this really is Thanos’s movie. The film kicks off straight after Ragnarok, when Thor and Loki are confronted by the Titan’s imposing spacecraft and his ‘children’, collectively known by comic readers as The Black Order.
Like Thanos, his underlings are also better than most.
Creepy Ebony Maw is a great henchman. In another superhero film, he could have been a main event antagonist in his own right. Sinister and powerful, topped off by an obvious, devious intellect.
Cull Obsidian is the perfect brute and Proxima Midnight has the right amount of cruel arrogance that we want to see her defeated immediately. When she does receive her comeuppance, it triggers one of the best scenes in the movie, as Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) teams up with Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) in an all-out female superhero-showdown.
Corvus Glaive is the only underwhelming one of the four. His role doesn’t seem unique enough compared to the rest of the Order, but three out of four ain’t bad.
Having Thanos already in possession of the Power Stone is a bold move. He’s also already defeated Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and wiped out half of the Asgardians. His immense strength is then shown by easily overpowering the Hulk and ending Heimdall (Idris Elba), before further breaking the hearts of the audience by murdering Loki (Tom Hiddleston). It’s a short but (bitter)sweet appearance from Hiddleston this time, as the God of Mischief attempts one trick too many, and is brutally dispatched.
Loki’s death is pretty ruthless. As Thanos completely toys with him and removes all doubt of any possible ‘resurrection’, the movie immediately sets its tone. Thanos means business and no one is safe.
Heimdall and Loki’s deaths also add to the litany of personal tragedies bestowed upon Thor in this cinematic series. As well as losing Loki, Thor has now lost his mother, his father, his sister, his home of Asgard and half its people. This gives Thor the perfect motivation to go after and kill Thanos. Not to mention, as he says, he has, “Nothing more to lose…”
These early character moments are indicative of almost every character in Infinity War. The movie is full of meetings, character development and interactions we never thought we’d see, yet in hindsight, make perfect sense. Each character gets the spotlight at some point and a chance to really shine.
Despite the character work, no time is wasted. The only superfluous scene is the one where Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) are running in the park, discussing Tony’s dream about having a child, which if my theory is correct for the next movie, isn’t a superfluous scene at all, rather it’s a case of subtle foreshadowing. More on that later…
In any case, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) appears, recruits Tony and away we go.
I was never really too impressed with the Doctor Strange film. I like it; I just wasn’t enthralled by it. I thought it could have been more. However, Infinity War does for Strange what Avengers did for the Hulk. It turned a so-so character into a must see hero.
I love Strange in this film, much more so than his own solo outing, and if they were to announce another Doctor Strange film, I am seriously onboard.
Doctor Strange being the outright keeper of the Time Stone really helps his character. His authority and decisiveness carries more weight now than it did in his own movie. He’s seasoned and (almost) all-powerful. Cumberbatch also seems to have settled into the U.S. accent a little more.
Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner takes up the mantle of audience stand-in for his first few scenes, having to be brought up to speed about the Infinity Stones, recent major events in the MCU like the Iron Man / Captain America falling out (and how there’s an Ant-Man and a Spider-Man), for audience members who may not be one hundred percent caught up with the past eighteen films.
The Russos have said otherwise, but I don’t buy it. I’m adamant Hulk does not return and hides away within Banner for the rest of the movie, simply because… he’s afraid. Hulk has never been so soundly beaten before as he was at the hands of Thanos, and such a defeat has clearly affected his confidence in what I see as a great piece of writing for a character whose main offering is usually just to ‘smash’.
Tony’s need to be Iron Man (to protect Pepper and the world) is brought up yet again as one of Tony’s many flaws. It’s also the basis for his protective stance when it comes to everyone’s favourite friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, Peter Parker (Tom Holland).
In any other movie, the Iron Man / Spider-Man / Doctor Strange battle against Maw and Obsidian would be a major set piece, or even the climax, itself. In Infinity War, it’s simply a tease of greater things to come.
Tony and Peter on Maw’s spaceship is probably the strongest character work between them to date (beside the heart-breaking finale). Peter’s face when Tony ‘knights’ him as an official Avenger speaks volumes. And Peter’s quip about how it’s Tony’s fault he’s there onboard since he ‘enables’ Peter’s hero-antics by supplying him with Spider-suits, plants the seeds for Tony’s crippling, grief-ridden guilt that we’ll see later on.
It’s also fun to see Tony and Strange butt heads, since they’re essentially the same person. Had either taken a different path, Strange could very well have ended up with a robotic suit and Tony may have learned to be the Master of the Mystic Arts.
They say every movie has a love story. Infinity War has two. The first is unconventional, to say the least.
In the comics, the romance between Vision and Scarlet Witch has been portrayed in a variety of ways, some clearly better than others. Infinity War has trumped them all, delivering the most poignant (and tragic) love story in the MCU, surpassing anything from the original source material.
Ninety percent of that is down to the performances of Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany. Despite their characters’ fantastical natures, they convey a very real, emotional tone, one plagued with a sense of dread ever since Vision first had that sought-after Mind Stone implanted in his head.
Olsen (who has now ditched Wanda’s Sokovian accent) plays Scarlet Witch as a real woman, one who just so happens to have inexplicable superpowers, in love with a gentle and kind man who also just so happens to be a synthetic humanoid life form.
Bettany and Olsen share excellent on-screen chemistry, and Bettany infuses Vision with the right amount of stoic selflessness. When it becomes clear that Wanda must destroy him to save the universe, it tears your heart out, a gut-punch surpassed only by the moment Thanos undoes Wanda’s sacrifice to claim the Mind Stone and destroy Vision a second time.
Seeing Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) with a new persona in this movie continues his personal arc in the best way. He gave up his shield at the end of Civil War, and he’s removed the iconic star from the chest of his combat uniform. He knows he may technically be on the wrong side of all he once stood for (the government, the Stars and Stripes), but times change, and as he tells General Ross (William Hurt), “I’m not looking for forgiveness. We’re here to fight.”
While Steve’s role is not as large as many would expect in a typical Avengers film, in this case, it is certainly an instance of quality over quantity. His short-lived stand-off against Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet gives us the perfect snapshot of Captain America. Steadfast in his determination and standing up for what’s right, no matter the odds.
Bucky (Sebastian Stan), Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and War Machine (Don Cheadle) fill out the supporting cast as the military-styled back up to the Wakandan forces, but Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) seems a little wasted (looking back with billion-dollar-hindsight).
Like Steve Rogers, T’Challa is assigned the role of plot device, supplying the safe haven (for a while) and back up armed forces to assist the Avengers. But that doesn’t mean his smaller role is any less important. Far from it. T’Challa’s charge into battle alongside Rogers kicks off the Wakandan battle, reminding audiences that these two really are a cut above all the rest.
In a movie with so many ‘heavy’ moments, one aspect where Infinity War truly thrives is its humour. The movie is genuinely funny.
Marvel has often been criticised for going to broad with its tone, not allowing audiences to sit with a serious moment for more than a few seconds before delivering a punch-line. In some cases, I agree. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was especially guilty of laughing ‘at itself’, almost telling the audience ‘this is funny’ by having its characters chuckle at their own jokes like a modern day sitcom laugh track.
But Infinity War gets it right.
Most of the humour obviously stems from known commodities like Iron Man or Spider-Man, and yes… the Guardians. But unlike their second film, the Guardians are reigned in a little. Yes, they are funny. Yes, they remain true to their characters, but the film doesn’t beat you over the head with too many self-referential or ’meta’, too-cool-for-school jokes.
Dave Bautista as Drax continues to prove his comedic chops aren’t some random fluke. Mantis (Pom Klementieff) is as charming and awkward as ever. Groot (Vin Diesel) is now a petulant teenager and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) is… well, Rocket is Rocket.
As I mentioned earlier, the character of Thor was rejuvenated by Taika Waititi and Ragnarok, an all-out comedy that changed the way people looked at Thor and shook up his status quo. While I enjoyed that film, I still think it went a little overboard in making Thor too much of a humorous character.
Infinity War pulls back a little. It mostly presents Thor in a more earnest manner, but still continues the work done by Waititi to allow Chris Hemsworth a chance to show his natural charisma.
Thor’s interactions with the Guardians, in particular his macho showdown with Star-Lord, is wonderful, giving us a genuinely-entertaining scene while managing to spout exposition and further the plot by splitting the group into teams in the hope of stopping Thanos.
Now, while most of the Guardians’ moments in the film are highlighted by their usual humorous sensibilities, Infinity War isn’t afraid to get serious with their characters either.
The second romantic storyline of the movie involves Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana). It mirrors that of Wanda and Vision, both in emotion and tragic outcome. When Gamora forces Star-Lord to ‘kill’ her in order to protect the universe from Thanos, Quill reluctantly goes through with it, thwarted only by the mad Titan and his Reality Stone-induced bubbles.
For a character like Peter Quill, whose back-story began with the loss of his mother, continued with the deaths of both his real father, Ego (Kurt Russell) and surrogate dad, Yondu (Michael Rooker), Gamora became his new emotional anchor. Like his mother and both his fathers, Gamora is eventually lost, and Quill is forced to face reality without her, undoubtedly causing the biggest blunder of the film by bashing Thanos out of his Mantis-induced trance.
Like Loki, Gamora’s death was a big one. The biggest, perhaps. The Russos have been praised for the film’s action, character development and all-round spectacle, and rightly so. But they also took a huge chance by killing off Gamora.
Yet, it paid off.
Thanos’s sacrifice to secure the Soul Stone (from a returning Red Skull) is a stunning turn for a villain in any movie, let alone a comic book ‘popcorn’ one. Not only do we see Gamora die, but her demise floats through the rest of the film like an incorporeal ghost, affecting all those who loved her; Star-Lord, Nebula (Karen Gillan) and even her killer… Thanos.
Her death reinforces his motivations. For the first time in the story, we see how Thanos truly has the courage of his own convictions. He really does believe what he’s doing is right and will give up anything for what he sees as the greater good.
Marvel movies have always had great visual effects. The various Iron Man suits, Asgard, characters like Rocket, Groot and Hulk, as well as Ant-Man’s size fluctuations and the Quantum Realm, not to mention almost all of Spidey’s web-slinging fun and Doctor Strange’s travels through various planes of existence.
Infinity War moves the CGI and all-round special effects to the next level. Besides bringing Thanos to life and slight improvements to the already-stellar CGI characters, this movie’s visuals are incredible.
Perhaps the greatest example of this is Doctor Strange’s one-on-one battle with Thanos. It truly is an example of when an ‘immovable object meets an unstoppable force’ in all its comic book / sci-fi / mystical glory.
Thanos uses each of his already-collected Stones specifically. You can see each individual colour being activated, depending on his actions. There is no simple ‘hand-waving magic’ going on. It’s all been thought out in detail, and there for eager eyes to see.
Alan Silvestri (Back to the Future, Predator) returns to provide the movie with another epic score. Two massive scenes come to mind when thinking about the film’s music. The first is Captain America’s entry into the film (with Black Widow and Falcon) to assist Wanda and Vision. The other is Thor’s return to Earth with Rocket and Groot via his new, Bifröst-enabled weapon, Stormbreaker, building to his declaration, “Bring… me… Thanos!”
Both of these moments are highlighted by Silvestri’s rousing score, bringing the film to another level yet again.
Avengers: Infinity War was well-received by fans, critics and even some unfunny podcasters, but the one thing… the main thing everyone left the theatre talking about, was the Snap.
It actually happened. Thanos captured all six of the Infinity Stones, snapped his fingers and erased half the universe from existence. In most movies, the big-bad villain would be defeated in the nick of time, saving the universe from his evil intentions only seconds before he could claim victory. This movies teases that overused trope, and for a second, as Thor plunges Stormbreaker into his enemy’s torso, even I thought the Russos were telling the truth about Infinity War being a single, stand alone movie.
I should have known better. The Russos had much more than a simple, by-the-numbers story in mind. The Snap was just the beginning.
My initial shock at losing Bucky was undone by watching Black Panther go next. Immediately, my mind said, “No way he’s gone for good. There’s way too much money to be made from Black Panther 2…”
But then, as more and more heroes faded away, I became lost in the story once more. Falcon, Wanda, Star-Lord, Drax, Mantis, Strange – all vanished before our eyes. I thought Groot’s tearful goodbye to Rocket was surely the gut-punching clincher, but then the movie said, “Hold my beer…” and we heard those seven tear-jerking words…
“Mr. Stark… I don’t feel so good…”
Pre-warned by his Spider-sense and temporarily held back by his healing abilities, Peter Parker’s eventual ‘death’ drove a stake though the audience’s heart. It hurt, as Tom Holland proved he is going to be a bigger star than he already is with his (apparently ad-libbed) delivery.
His panic reminds you that despite being ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’, he’s still just a kid, a frightened kid, desperate not to disappoint his mentor, Tony.
Downey Jr. nails it in this scene as well. For three movies (Civil War, Homecoming and now, Infinity War), we’ve watched the father/son dynamic flourish between Tony and Peter. We’ve seen Tony’s reluctance to encourage Peter’s superhero ways morph into proud acknowledgement and understanding.
But then, Peter is erased from existence, reduced to nothing more than ash in Tony’s arms. Tony grieves like a father. His words come back to haunt him and he is utterly devastated.
Personally, with all the speculation about Hollywood contracts and how much longer Downey Jr. is willing to play Tony, this ending plays into my theory on how Marvel will write out their now-flagship cinematic character.
Peter’s death could be what finally forces him out of being Iron Man. It might make him reconsider the hero business and want to finally settle down with Pepper, not as a larger than life superhero, but an ordinary man. A true partner.
The Snap also gives us one final peek into the character of Thanos. Having achieved his goal; collecting the Infinity Stones and using them to remove half of all life from the universe, he finally rests. But not before being confronted by the vision (or ghost?) of young Gamora, questioning his morality one last time.
Only then, in a depiction reminiscent of Michael Corleone at the end of Godfather II, does Thanos sit to ponder his work… and contemplate all he’s done.
What’s most interesting to me is how at no point does Thanos glorify his actions. He talks about his quest as though it simply needs to be done, and he is the only one willing to do so (and seemingly handle the guilt that goes along with it).
This is another reason why Thanos is such an interesting and complex character. He isn’t trying to conquer the world. He doesn’t particularly wish any ill will on our heroes, unless they get in his way. He isn’t trying to strike it rich, and he certainly isn’t out revenge or personal glory. I can’t wait to see his return, as the end credits tease.
So what’s next? Where do the Avengers go from here?
We all know in our hearts that the erased Avengers will return. We know Spider-Man has a new movie on the way. Black Panther made a billion dollars. Studios don’t often kill off the Golden Goose.
I find it interesting that all the ‘original’, 2012 Avengers survived the Snap. Does that mean the next movie is going to give us the OG team (plus Ant-Man) for one final blaze of glory?
Maybe. Time will tell.
Until then, I’ll rewatch and enjoy this movie for what it is. An ambitious, brisk-paced and brilliant all-out comic book adventure film. It’s funny, sad and serious, all at the same time, and as heart-breaking as it is heart-warming.
Put simply: Marvellous.
Rating: 5 out of 5 (or is that 6?) Infinity Stones.
Favourite Moment: Doctor Strange Vs Thanos.
Honourable Mention: “Mr. Stark, I don’t feel so good…”
Next week: #21 – “That’s my family, Kay. It’s not me…”
If you’re itching for even more Infinity War goodness, check out Episode 46 of our podcast!
And once you’re done collecting Infinity Stones, make sure you grab an Unfunny Nerd Tangent shirt! If you snap your fingers, Mon Milfma will remove half of all your worries!
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