“There’s your kick in the nuts.”
Avengers: Infinity War is the year’s biggest blockbuster — just barely ahead of Black Panther — and it’s a deserved position as it brings together dozens of characters from the previous 18 films for a royal rumble the likes of which the big screen have never seen. It’s not labeled as such, but the film is part one in a two-part Avengers tale that was filmed back-to-back and wraps up next year as closure to this phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s a pretty great experience with thrills, chills, and laughs — just not in that order.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for…
Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Commentators: Joe and Anthony Russo (directors), Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (writers)
1. It was decided late in post-production to have Kenneth Branagh voice the opening distress call over the destroyed ship’s radio.
2. The film opens in medias res in part because there was so much story to tell. “It’s so jam-packed with stuff you have to use even the opening credits to tell story.”
3. “We wanted to keep the plot very simple with simple MacGuffins because we have so many characters in the movie.” They go on to say that more plot — or a complicated one — would take away from character time.
4. The opening ship is indeed the one at the end of Thor Ragnarok. It has lost its color and whimsy because this is a much darker story.
5. This script was begun in January of 2016 which was before Thor Ragnarok was written meaning this opening scene changed a bunch.
6. Viewing the film as Thanos’ “hero’s journey” was the only way they could figure out how to fit everyone in.
7. The early fight between Thanos (Josh Brolin) and Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is meant to show that he’s flat-out unbeatable in a one-on-one clash.
8. Heimdall’s (Idris Elba) last ditch effort to save the Hulk by opening the rainbow bridge is a callback of sorts to The Avengers when Thor commented that Odin had used all of his “dark magic” to get him home and some viewers complained that was a cheat. “You just saw where the dark magic came from — straight out of Heimdall.”
9. The opening ship destruction doesn’t mean the Asgardians are extinct outside of Thor. “Several” have escaped including Valkyrie.
10. “I wouldn’t say no to a tuna melt,” has been a part of the script since the earliest drafts.
11. They know everyone wanted to hear Tony Stark/Iron-Man (Robert Downey Jr.) say “No shit Sherlock” to Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), but it was too meta and obvious even for them.
12. Had they created the Infinity Stones in a vacuum they would have gone with fewer than six as that’s far more MacGuffins than they’d prefer to be juggling.
13. Early drafts featured scenes with Thanos attacking the planet Xandar, but they decided it would have been redundant and repetitive. They instead narrowed the focus to make every stone acquisition as more affecting and character-based.
14. The single shot of Stark and the others exiting the doorway to find the street in chaos at 17:31 was shot entirely on the Pinewoods Studios lot (with the aid of green screen, obviously).
15. Some viewers have speculated that it’s fear on Banner’s part that prevents his transformation into the Hulk, but it’s actually the Hulk who’s grown tired of playing hero.
16. Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) is inspired in part by Mephistopheles from the original comic storylines.
17. The bit with Maw and the amulet at 23:13 is a nod to Raiders of the Lost Ark. Similarly, Maw’s “death” later was considered in various ways before they decided to just end it quick — like when Indy shot the big sword-wielding dude — rather than show a drawn-out fight.
18. They’re not sure what the actual elapsed time covered in the film is, but they estimate it to be under two days.
19. “Space” at 27:26 is poking fun at their own penchant for title cards.
20. They loved the idea of pairing Thor (Chris Hemsworth) with Rocket (Bradley Cooper) because the former is vulnerable emotionally and the latter is a cynical hard-ass. “One of our favorite scenes in the movie is Rocket and Thor in the pod having a heart to heart conversation with each other.”
21. Thor’s journey is set up as competing with Thanos’, and knowing that audiences will (perhaps subconsciously) predict that Thor will get his Thanos-killing weapon and then succeed at killing Thanos is what fuels them to give viewers the opposite.
22. Ten years and twenty movies is a lot for viewers to take in and remember, so when it comes to the Infinity Stones they made a point of reminding people what they do. “Pretty much every time he [Thanos] gets a stone he uses it in the next scene.”
23. The scene where Thanos pulls a Cube on Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) is a nod to Jim Starlin’s run of Infinity Gauntlet comics.
24. The Avengers compound in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) and Captain America: Civil War (2016) was intentionally de-saturated color-wise to take the comic book out of the movies and move closer to the real world. Here, though, they’re embracing more cosmic locations and color.
25. Early Infinity War test screenings before Black Panther opened saw little reaction to the Wakanda introduction here, but later screenings saw huge cheers and a much bigger response at the appearance of T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman). The studio was equally unconvinced early on regarding setting the third act in Wakanda so soon after Black Panther did the same thing, but they were more than thrilled by the choice once that film became a monster hit.
26. The Nidavellir sequence with the forge went through multiple variations including one involving dragons before they settled on Eitri (Peter Dinklage) the King of the Dwarves who would explain how Thanos had forced him to make the gauntlet.
27. The scene featuring a handful of Avengers and a few of the Guardians meeting, fighting, and talking was the first they filmed. “This was us for the first time trying to figure out the tonal composition and balance between Avengers and Guardians.”
28. They don’t comment as to why Thanos teleports to the base of Vormir’s mountain and then trudges up it as opposed to simply teleporting directly to the top. My guess is that he wanted to spend more time with his daughter before tossing her to her doom.
29. They were thrilled to bring Red Skull back as the idea of where he might have gone after The First Avenger was so tantalizing. “He’s the first one ever to be obsessed with the Infinity Stones,” so it felt like a natural fit for this moment.
30. The filmmakers were unaware of the war chants heard in Black Panther as they hadn’t seen the film yet, but when the shared actors arrived on set here they started yelling “Wakanda forever!” on their own. “It was blood-curdingly cool.”
31. One of them refers to Thanos’ Outriders — the murderous horde spilling from his ships for the Wakanda fight — as hounds, and that leads them to share the “space dogs story.” An audience member referred to them that way after a test screening, so they added it to Rocket’s dialogue as he’s shooting at them.
32. Dinklage has commented publicly that the new ax his character crafts for Thor could possibly control the Bifrost bridge. “In theory,” says one, but they don’t officially confirm. So we’ll count that as a yes.
33. The gauntlet is almost too powerful, so in order to make it believable that our heroes (or anyone really) could hold their own against Thanos even for a short while required some physical rules. First up was the idea that he had to make a fist in order to use the gauntlet, so the heroes simply need to hold his hand open and remove the Power Glove.
34. Yes, those are the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak that Strange is using to hold one of Thanos’ arms. Duh.
35. The bit where Black Panther punches Cull Obsidian (Terry Notary) at 1:53:19 is an iconic moment from the comics where the bad guy goes under the name Black Dwarf.
36. An earlier draft held off Captain America’s (Chris Evans) first appearance in the film until the tackle at 1:57:52. “They called us insane.” They quickly realized that they have two movies to tell these characters’ story and add that Cap has a much bigger role in the next film.
37. “A lot of fans were upset with Starlord’s (Chris Pratt) choice in this movie,” they say before excusing his behavior as very human. “You’re just putting characters in positions that act like humans. He’s had a tough life. It’s utterly understandable. He made an emotional decision.” I’ve been hearing this argument since the film opened and still don’t buy it. It’s necessary for this particular story they’re telling, sure, because that’s the choice they made, but having both Starlord and Nebula (Karen Gillan) stand idly by while others struggle to remove the gauntlet is just poor writing. They excuse his action, but three movies in his immaturity is growing tiresome. The trend continues as they blame Thor’s own misjudgment regarding his attempt at killing Thanos — had he aimed for Thanos’ head or simply got on with it instead of talking he might have won — on his action being “very human and understandable” as he chooses to talk smack instead of finishing the job.
38. Yes, that is Soul World that Thanos transports to after snapping his fingers. Duh.
39. Meeting young Gamora in Soul World is an opportunity for one last meeting with that which he gave up, “a spiritual representation of his daughter,” but maybe she actually exists inside the stone?
40. They suggest that while ending the film on Thanos’ snap would have been a cliffhanger, but showing what comes next makes it a tragedy. (I’d argue it’s a tragic cliffhanger.)
41. On the page, Spider-Man’s (Tom Holland) turn to ashes came quickly, but on the day they kept pushing the emotion of the father/son relationship by dragging it out several seconds more. They told Holland that he didn’t want to go and was using all of his strength to fight it.
42. There’s a symmetry between Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) early comment to Thanos that he’ll never be a god to Cap’s ending words “Oh god.”
43. A scarecrow made of Thanos’ armor is briefly visible at 2:16:59.
44. In addition to playing Cull Obsidian, Notary also served as a movement advisor to everyone who played a CG character. “And a memorable day where he played Dr. Strange’s cape.”
45. They skipped the typical mid-credits bonus scene because they wanted audiences to sit with this dark ending.
46. Surprising no one, Sam Jackson said the entire final line — “Mother fucker” — on each take of his end credits scene, and each time the crew would burst out laughing.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“Moral of this story is never have the Russos redecorate your house.”
“Part of what we wanted to do out of the gate was unsettle you.”
“Thanos has a long memory.”
“We have difficulty with characters who are too powerful.”
“I know all these people will jump on the grenade, but will they throw somebody else on the grenade?”
“For eagle-eyed viewers, Tobias Funke is part of the MCU.”
“I think a lot of people assume that Rocket had put it up his ass to get it out.”
“What is a dark moment for a person who bathes in darkness all the time? It’s losing the one thing he loves.”
“A lot of fans were upset with Starlord’s choice in this movie.”
“In a traditional commercial ending, this could have been the end of the movie.”
“As monumental as this moment is in cinema, my primary memory is Josh Brolin with a huge chest-piece that made him look like one of the Fruit of the Loom guys.”
“One of the most amazing things about these credits is that if you look through them long enough you will eventually find your own name.”
Avengers: Infinity War is a lot of movie, and even with some minor quibbles you’d be hard-pressed to give the filmmakers much guff about it. You get a lot of bang for your buck, and their commentary track is equally packed with insight, technical detail, and anecdotes. Highly recommended for Marvel fans.
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