Earlier this year, the writers of at Marvel Studios – the corporation responsible for the massive franchise that has gained love around the world and has earned several billion dollars at this point – teased that their latest outing, Avengers: Infinity War, would have deaths in it.
Logically, such a thing would be inevitable considering the main antagonist, Thanos, wants to wipe out half the life in the whole universe. With such a drive, and especially considering this is only Part I, with Avengers: Untitled coming out next year, there would absolutely have to be deaths in this film.
In discussing this theme with my students this week, we ran through the cast and debated which ones would be joining The Warriors Three and Odin in Valhalla. Are you ready? You are about to get the most impressive rundown of talent that Hollywood has ever seen. At the root of this is the simple question: Who will die? Tony Stark / Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner / Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Steve Rogers / Captain America (Chris Evans), Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), James Rhodes / War Machine (Don Cheadle), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Peter Parker / Spider-Man (Tom Holland), T’Challa / Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Vision (Paul Bettany), Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Sam Wilson / Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Bucky Barnes / Winter Soldier / White Wolf (Sebastian Stan), Heimdall (Idris Elba), Okoye (Danai Gurira), Eitri (Peter Dinklage), Wong (Benedict Wong), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Drax (Dave Bautista), Groot (Vin Diesel , voice), Rocket (Bradley Cooper, voice), Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), Peter Quill / Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), and The Collector (Benicio Del Toro). Whew! And all of these people are up against the Big Bad, Thanos the ‘Mad’ Titan (Josh Brolin). To accomplish his goal, Thanos wants to complete his collection of ultra-rare stones that will give him utter mastery over Time, Space, Reality, Power, Mind, and Soul, and in doing so, would attain the power of a God. Not a “puny god” like Thor or Loki, but a universe-changing God. Get your tissues ready, because after 18 prequels, you’re bound to have some kind of emotional investment in these characters whether you want it or not.
Surprisingly, Thanos’ motivations in this film take a pretty major departure from the comics. In the comics, (as I mentioned previously ), he was in love with the avatar of death and his motivation was to earn her love and affection. In Infinity War, Thanos’ motivation rides the zeitgeist of certain modern movements whose focus is far less the Capitalist standard for personal acquisition and personal glory and far more a focus on sustainability. He wants to kill off half the universe because the universe is finite and has limited resources. Quite the ironic twist that a movie called the INFINITY War should focus so much on the FINITY of existence, especially as the driving force almost makes its grape-faced antagonist sympathetic.
Going into this with full knowledge of how massive an undertaking this film is, with its incredible cast, and the need for each character to have their own arc within it; I wholly expected that Thanos’ motivations and characterization would be cut out. With so much of Infinity Gauntlet focused on Thanos’ exploration of his powers, his love for Mistress Death and his peculiar entourage, I went into this film expecting just a one-dimensional villain. I was very pleased to see that my concern was in vain. The people telling these tales are professionals, man. If they’re able to give everyone their story arc, why would Thanos be left out of the mix?
Along with the impressive array of arcs within this film, there are also Easter Eggs that would give the Easter Bunny a run for his money. And you know what? I’m not going to spoil anything. Go watch the movie. Pick out those eggs for yourself. Some of you will notice the subtle callbacks to previous movies. Some of you will see images and panels come right off the page of the comics in a bombastic explosion of creativity that you honestly never thought you could ever see on the big screen. There are even the callbacks to the film, itself. Wait… that’s called a story arc. Never mind.
To help build this all up, the Directors Anthony and Joe Russo employ emotional tones that fit in well with the previous films. When the Guardians appear, you feel like you’re watching “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3.” When Strange comes into play, you can’t help but marvel at how far he has come since the last film, and nod in appreciation of this film, “Dr. Strange: Sorcerer Supreme.” When Captain America makes his entrance, you know that you’re watching a whole new Bourne meets The A-Team in “Captain America: The Secret Avengers.” Wakanda and all its glorious entourage have barely missed a day, especially considering Black Panther is still in the cinema. There is such consistency within these various elements that once the characters come together, you almost do a double-take to remind yourself that you’re not watching a new Dr. Strange film, or a new Captain America movie, but instead, have come to see the sum of all the parts.
And it is glorious.
It is not perfect, especially as it ignores so much of the rest of the universe in its process. Potentially major concepts are swept aside with only a single line of reference, and in doing so, throws the story straight into the lives of the major characters. Moreover, this is hindered by what might well have become the single most present cliché following that fateful line in Empire Strikes Back: the familial connection to the villain. Guardians Gamora and Nebula are daughters of the Mad Titan, but thankfully, rather than leaving their connection to Thanos a pseudo-vicarious one, it embraces it in almost horrifying ways. Indeed, the means with which the Russo brothers deal with this familial connection almost completes their coup d’état of genres: and give us horror where before we’ve seen spy, thriller, buddy comedy, mystery, heist, and straight-up action. One potential problem with Infinity War is the fact that it is essentially a collection of a dozen mini-movies. If it were in any less capable hands, it would feel almost schizophrenic in nature. Yet, the Russos are their own best critics and checkers. Because there are two entities working together, almost as one, they have a built-in Beta Reader, one who can second-guess and streamline any potential mistakes that might be being made.
Of course, I can’t credit this to just them. Previous directors James Gunn and Jon Favreau lent their weight in the Executive Producer roles, and along with mastermind Kevin Feige, Anthony and Joe Russo had a lot of help. With all these creative brains course-correcting, it is no wonder that so much consistency is maintained all throughout. Best of all, so much of what they throw out at us actually hits us right in the feels. Especially once the bodies start hitting the floor.
So what, then, is Avengers: Infinity War? It is everything that a nerd such as me could ever want in a movie. Peel back the remarkable visual spectacle and you will find a beating heart of the purest love of the source material. There are real consequences and real stakes within the story, and you never know whether reality is really what it seems, but you can be certain that each individual character will be consistent to themselves. The Tony Stark of Iron Man from a decade ago is still very much present despite the changes and the balance he has found in his life. Star Lord is still an “A-hole” who suffers from massive separation anxiety. And Cap? He is still the last one there, showing the world that he can be counted on to do this all day.
In my youth, I fell in love with these characters and this world. Thanos utterly fascinated me, and the comic The Infinity Gauntlet blew my mind with its artistic exploration and the depth of possibility inherent in the six Infinity Gems (Reality, Mind, Soul, Power, Space, and Time). The collection of heroes that came together to battle him was massive and all the more heroic for the fact that there was no possible way that they could defeat Thanos. Avengers: Infinity War brought all of that to a whole new medium, and in a way that I could never have possibly dreamed of. I fell in love with these people all over again.
Congratulations, Marvel. You have outdone yourselves. Thank you.
The Queen has spoken.
Ok. I’m not done. Simply because I practically had a fangasm at this spectacular nod to one of my all-time favorite films. Easter Egg.
- My latest novel. “The book rocked.”
- Images copyright Marvel Studios