Ten years of Marvel stories culminate in a battle of will and sacrifice in Avengers: Infinity War.
This review discusses key plot points of Avengers: Infinity War.
Avengers: Infinity War
Beginning with Iron Man, Marvel has brought the Avengers to the big screen over the past ten years. Through careful planning, Marvel introduced Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, and Thor to audiences and then brought them together as a team with Hawkeye and Black Widow in 2012’s The Avengers. That story introduced Thanos, a puppet master, that remained in the shadows through the second and third phase of Marvel movies as others did his bidding, and new allies to the Avengers were introduced in Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange. Finally, Thanos unleashed his armies and took the field in Avengers: Infinity War. In a movie where the word “Avengers” features prominently, it is the villain that features the most prominently in a battle that tests the will to sacrifice of its participants.
The best villains are more than the simple power mongers. Indeed, the best villains are the heroes of their own stories. In contrast, the generic villains are those that conquer without cause. Take Ronan from Guardians of the Galaxy. He was a largely a villain without a cause. Tasked by Thanos with retrieving one of the Infinity Stones, Ronan betrayed Thanos and kept the stone for himself and set off on a crusade against Xandar.
In Infinity War, Thanos is not about conquest. He is about balance. Thanos loves the beings of the galaxy and struggles with the issue of overpopulation and taxation on the universe’s finite resources. His home world of Titan has died from overpopulation and resource depletion issues. Thanos has a solution that would have prevented this problem. However, his solution called for the extermination of half the population. He considered this an act of mercy as those sacrificed would be chosen at random. What he calls mercy, the heroes call genocide. Still, he is the hero of his own story.
Thanos’ motivation varies considerably from the source material from which this story is drawn. In The Infinity Gauntlet, Mistress Death resurrected Thanos for the purpose of destroying half the life in the galaxy. She sought balance, and Thanos acquired the Infinity Gems, as they were known in the comics, for the purpose of winning her favor. Thanos worshiped Death and built monuments devoted to her. “She” did not reciprocate his feelings. An increasingly frustrated Thanos then lashed out against the galaxy and the Avengers and other heroes united behind Adam Warlock against him. The Thanos of Infinity War had a far more interesting motivation that put him on par with the likes of Loki and Erik Killmonger as Marvel’s most interesting villains.
Infinity War was not solely about the villain though. Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and many others unite in the fight against Thanos. Their allies include the sorcerer Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and the Guardians of the Galaxy.
Each of the heroes continues their adventures from their most recent movies in Infinity War. The Guardians are looking for more opportunities for profit and heroics following Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) are looking for a new home for the people, the Asgardians, after Thor Ragnarok when Thanos and the Black Guard attack. T’Challa, the Black Panther, is integrating Wakanda into the modern world after Black Panther. Captain America, Black Widow, and Falcon are negotiating their way in the world as fugitives following Captain America: Civil War while War Machine (Don Cheadle), Vision (Paul Betany), and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and other Avengers go about their lives. Dr. Strange and Spider-Man, both relatively recent additions to the Marvel cinematic universe, are also following up their adventures. Infinity War successfully integrates their stories in an impressive feat of continuity. It certainly helps that the likes of Kevin Feige produced every one of these movies.
It is a huge cast full of well known actors. As far as ensemble films go, this is about as big as it gets. With such a large cast, it would be easy to neglect key members of the team. Yet, the directors, Anthony and Joe Russo, handle nearly every character with the same amount of care and attention. The screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely keeps everyone involved, including many of the side characters from all eighteen movies. Of course not every superhero is included with Hawkeye and Ant-Man being the obvious exclusions from the movie (although they receive references in this movie).
The Will to Sacrifice on a Galactic Scale
The most obvious theme of Avengers: Infinity War is the will to sacrifice. Infinity War explores this theme through contrasting how Thanos and Avengers approach it. As mentioned earlier, Thanos seeks the restoration of balance in the galaxy. In pursuing this goal, Thanos conquers worlds and sacrifices half the population. He considers it an act of mercy contrary to the beliefs of the citizens of the galaxy. They see it as genocide. Most importantly, Thanos never hesitates. In a confrontation with Dr. Strange, he boasts that he is the only one with the will to fulfill this mission. The death he delivers to the galaxy is always impersonal. He maintains detachment. Achieving his goal proves to slow, and therefore, he seeks the Infinity Stones. With them he can eliminate half of all lives with a snap of his finger.
The Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and their allies stand opposed to this mass genocide (as they call it). Captain America explains to Vision that they won’t trade lives while fighting Thanos. The fight with Thanos puts this declaration to the test repeatedly throughout the film. Vision knows that without all of the stones, Thanos cannot complete the Infinity Gauntlet and fulfill his mission. Therefore, he instructs Scarlet Witch (with whom he now has a blossoming relationship) and the other Avengers they must destroy the Mind Stone that gives him life. Captain America and Scarlet Witch refuse. It isn’t until time runs out and Thanos and his Black Guard is on the precipice of taking the stone that Scarlet Witch relents and destroys the Mind Stone and Vision with it. However, by that time it is too late. Thanos has a way around that problem.
Similarly, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is the key to locating the Soul Stone. Adopted by Thanos as a child during a conquest of her home world, she becomes one of his most trusted lieutenants. Eventually, Thanos sends Gamora in search of the Soul Stone, which she locates on a distant world. Gamora then lies to Thanos and claims she never found it. She realized what he would do with the Soul Stone in his power. She also realizes that Thanos will seek her out for its location. She knows she cannot fall into Thanos’s hands and makes Peter Quill (a.k.a. Star-Lord, played by Chris Pratt), her boyfriend, promise to kill her should Thanos capture her. When Thanos finally captured Gamora, Peter couldn’t pull the trigger. After Gamora pleaded with him, he finally did, but nothing but bubbles emerged from his blaster. Thanos used the powers of the Infinity Gauntlet to disable his weapon.
Finally, Gamora had an opportunity to keep Thanos from the Soul Gem. All she had to do was not tell him where it was. However, Thanos tortured Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) until Gamora relented. Although she could demand a personal sacrifice from others to protect the galaxy, she couldn’t make the sacrifice herself.
Sacrifice of the Gods
Even the Asgardians, the gods of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, struggle with the will to sacrifice. Infinity War commences with Thanos’s attack on the ship carrying the surviving Asgardians to a new home. Thanos and his Black Guard have already won the fight. Thor lies helpless at Thanos’s feet, but Loki (technically not an Asgardian, but a prince all the same), stands defiant in the face of their attackers. Thanos knows he has the Tesseract, which contains the Space Stone. When given a choice between Thor’s life or the Tesseract, Loki first chooses to sacrifice Thor. However, he cannot go through with it. Unable to watch Thor suffer, Loki hands over the Tesseract before attempting an ill-fated assassination attempt. His will was not strong enough.
Of all the heroes, Thor displays some of the strongest acts of will in the movie. Perhaps it was because he had the least to lose. In Thor: The Dark World, Loki’s mother died at the hands of a dark elf. In Ragnarok, Surtur destroyed Thor’s home, Asgard, and his father, Odin, died. Infinity War saw the death of his brother and his best friend, Heimdall, plus the elimination of most, if not all, of his people. As he would tell Rocket, he had nothing left to lose. Unlike his allies, there was nothing holding him back from doing what needed to be done. Thor’s will was tested when Stormbreaker, his new axe, was forged and he nearly lost his life. He plunged ahead in his assault on Thanos. Ultimately, Tactics failed Thor. Not will.
A Villain’s Sacrifice
The ultimate contrast between Thanos and the heroes arrives when Thanos locates the Soul Gem. With Gamora in tow, Thanos learns he must sacrifice a soul, what he loves the most, in exchange for the stone. With tears in his eyes, Thanos closes on Gamora and throws her over the edge of a cliff with only the barest hesitation. He loved Gamorra the most, and their prior discussions aboard Thanos’s ship proved this true. The difference between Thanos and the heroes was their will to act. When it was time to act, the will of the heroes frequently faltered and they hesitated. Thanos didn’t. His unrelenting will granted him victory over the Avengers and their allies.
For example, after arriving on Titan, Thanos first encounters Dr. Strange. Thanos pronounces he had the will to solve the universe’s resource problem. In response, Dr. Strange counters that their will to resist was a match. Up to a point it was. Star-Lord’s plan worked, and Thanos was nearly helpless before the combined might of Dr. Strange, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Star-Lord, Mantis, Drax, and Nebula. At the last moment, Star-Lord’s will to finish the mission faltered. He had to know Gamora’s fate. When he wavered, the mission failed as Thanos recovered before the Infinity Gauntlet was removed.
Thanos’s mission was not without other sacrifices. The Black Guard, his children, perished. He regarded everyone in the galaxy as his children worthy of his mercy. Their deaths counted as well. After eliminating half the life in the galaxy, he finds himself elsewhere in a world with an orange sky (quite possibly the Soul World of the Soul Stone). There he finds a child incarnation of Gamora. She asks if he was successful. When he responds affirmatively, she asks what it cost. His answer: everything.
The Battle, but not the War
It is no secret that the story of Avengers: Infinity War doesn’t end with this movie. The fourth Avengers film is scheduled for a May 2019 release. The surprise of Infinity War arrives at the film’s conclusion. Thanos won. He collected all the Infinity Stones, snapped his fingers, and eliminated half the life in the galaxy. Included in this total were many of the heroes of the film, including Dr. Strange, Spider-Man, Black Panther, and most of the Guardians. This was a sacrifice in its own right. Dr. Strange used the Time Stone prior to Thanos’s arrival on Titan and viewed over 14 million potential outcomes. The Avengers won in only one scenario. Therefore, it seems likely that when Dr. Strange gave Thanos the Time Stone, he understood sacrifice the same way Thanos did. He had the will to see a plan through, and told Tony Stark it was the only way to win. The will to sacrifice is the key. It must be uncompromising and immediate. That is the path to victory.
The decision to end the biggest Marvel movie to date with a victory for the villain was a bold stroke. Regardless, it worked incredibly well. This may be the Marvel movie discussed in the same light as The Empire Strikes Back in Star Wars. As the movie ends, Thanos sits and contemplates what he accomplished, just as he said he would earlier in the movie. Even more surprising, Thanos was content with his achievement. This never was about galactic conquest. It was only ever about balance. Infinity War had huge shoes to fill. The original Avengers film was considered a feat, and it only assembled heroes from five movies across four franchises. By comparison, Infinity War is the collection of heroes and the culmination of stories from eighteen prior movies. It is an unqualified success. This movie took Marvel’s storytelling to another level.
Dennis Keithly is a graduate of the University of Missouri, North Texas attorney, husband, father of two, and co-host of Starships, Sabers, and Scoundrels. In addition to Star Wars, Dennis is a fan of science fiction, fantasy, and super heroes in general. When not engaged in fictional universes, Dennis is reading a good book or watching the NHL, football, or studying the NFL draft.