Dread it. Run from it. Destiny arrives all the same. Merely minutes after fleeing from an exploding homeworld, the Mighty Thor (Chris Hemsworth) rests crumpled on the fiery floor of the Asgardian refugee vessel Statesman. The last time we saw him in the mid-credits stinger of Thor: Ragnarok, Odinson and his mischievous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) were debating the logic of returning to an Earth barely recovered from the Battle of New York. It turns out that their mythological bravado was all for naught. Loki’s former puppet master, The Mad Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) is done sitting on the sidelines and has already begun his collection of the Marvel MacGuffins offscreen when his cronies decimated Xandar in the retrieval of The Power Stone.
With one elemental crystal locked firmly into a knuckle of his Infinity Gauntlet, Thanos and his Black Order raiding party have ripped the Stateman to shreds. We see no sign of Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Taika Waititi), Meik, or the rescued stragglers of Asgard. The presumption is that many escaped during the initial melee, and eagle-eyed viewers place their hope in spotting The Grandmaster’s pleasure craft drifting away during a few brief exterior shots. Such wishful desire is fleeting to the viewer as Thanos drags the limp body of Thor towards his brother.
The last ten years of the MCU have revealed Loki to be a likable yet untrustworthy cohort. However, whether he’s played the outright villain or reluctant ally, the motivation of the petulant child stems from painful daddy issues and sibling jealousy. With Odin in Valhalla and Thor facing obliteration under the Gauntlet, Loki must admit his bond to the Asgardians who stole him from Jotunheim. If they were to perish first, Loki would have nothing to cling to in this realm or any other. His confident proclamation of “We have a Hulk” brings his character arc full circle, effectively sealing his fate while we’re cheering the symmetry of the moment. The pummeled becomes the pummeler. Taika Waititi would find a LOL in this action, but Joe Russo and Anthony Russo only deal in highs before plunging us into catastrophic lows.
Loki’s conviction, as well as our own, deflates when Thanos flogs the strongest Avenger and Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) restrains Thor with scraps of the crumbling Statesman. Heimdall (Idris Elba) calls upon the Allfathers to use his dark magic to transport an unconscious Hulk to Earth, and a speedy impaling is his reward. Loki offers his services as an experienced guide, but it’s only a ruse to get within stabbing distance of the Titan. Using the Space Stone, Thanos freezes the trickster mid-thrust and only has a smile as a response to Loki’s dismissive “You’ll never be a god” slander. A light squeeze snaps Loki’s neck, and the baby frost giant turns blue.
Avengers: Infinity War opens with a horrible beat. Thor crawls upon his brother’s corpse, the ship erupts, and Thanos continues on his merry way to gather the rest of the Infinity Stones. The Hulk smashes through the ceiling of Doctor Strange’s sanctum never to make an appearance in the movie again, leaving puny Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to utter a word of warning. Thanos is coming, break out the dustbuster.
That’s how superhero movies work, right? A threat unlike any other is introduced, the heroes gather their forces, find their courage, and conquer by the climax. Avengers: Endgame may very well resolve in such a fashion, but the Russo Brothers wanted their heroes and their audience to stew in defeat. Infinity War sets up the usual blockbuster stepping stones, spends the majority of its runtime establishing how the Avengers will prevail, but when the killing blow is finally delivered it’s a few inches south of the target. The last words uttered by Captain America (Chris Evans), “Oh god” are a slap to the lifeless face of Loki. A god is seen in the final shot of the film, and he grins.
The first words Thanos utters in Infinity War indicate a grotesque inevitability we never experience during summer movie season. “I know what it’s like to lose,” he explains. “To feel so desperately that you’re right, yet to fail nonetheless.” He’s spent a lifetime trying to prevent other planets from experiencing the environmental cataclysm that occurred on Titan, and he refuses to release the cold arithmetic that arrived in his mind during that crisis. We need to be less. If we reduce our numbers, we increase our chances of survival. Defeat is essential to victory.
He’s got a point. We love our heroes when we see them rise from the darkest depths. To satisfy ten+ years of marvelous triumphs, and provide a villain that could test the limits of The Avengers, the Russos could not just kill a few B-list and C-list characters. Infinity War opens on the unceremonious murder of their most charismatic rogue and ends on the eradication of Spider-Man and Black Panther?!?! Yo. Sure. Peter Parker and T’Challa are box office gold and the second they faded into oblivion we knew that the next film would bring them back in some manner. You either roll your eyes at that capitalistic inevitability, or you ball like a baby. Those that are in the spirit of the narrative suffer alongside the few protagonists left living. As Thanos warned at the start, such loss turns our legs to jelly, and our exit out of the theater was more stumble than popcorn movie stride.
Failure is a vital ingredient to the appeal of the Marvel Universe. We began our journey with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) pulling himself from the grips of death, weaponizing his mind into a suit of armor, and redirecting his talents towards altruism as a monument to Yinson’s sacrifice in the cave. The Iron Man franchise is a constant series of personal adjustments where Stark must reconcile with past mistakes both recent and old, leading to the ideological fissure of Captain America: Civil War. His very human missteps ground him to a reality we all experience so that the fantastical blue beams of light lasering through the city actually mean something.
The others are no different. Steve Rogers was a selfless welp who devoted himself to a life of service only to wake up decades later and discover he would betray his ethics for the one friend who was always there for him at the end of the line. Peter Parker (Tom Holland) spent the remaining days of his life making up for an unforgivable sin that caused his Uncle’s death. Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) dare not speak of the red on her ledger; she hopes that her time on The Avengers can equal some compensation. Although, that didn’t stop her from betraying Banner’s trust by physically forcing the Hulk to emerge in Age of Ultron.
The instant one of these folks makes progress is also the second they trip. Avengers: Infinity War sets Thor in place to deliver the single most magnificent crowd-pleasing scene of the whole film. Twelve minutes into the movie, the Asgardian is left with nothing. His brother is dead. His father is dead. His mother is dead. He just killed his evil half-sister. He lost an eye. Jane Foster dumped him. He saved his people only to lose them. He is the king of nothing, and he deserves some delicious revenge.
Thor’s magnificent pirate angel body is rescued from the abyss by the Guardians of the Galaxy, and he convinces Rocket Raccoon and Groot to travel to Nidavellir where they can construct a god-killing weapon in the heart of a star. Thor’s majority portion of the Infinity War script is tasked with establishing the possibility of a victory over Thanos. The Mad Titan may have the Infinity Gauntlet, but the Mighty Thor has Stormbreaker. One magical MacGuffin can take down another magical MacGuffin.
Sure, you bet, if Thor wasn’t so consumed with tasting every last morsel of that revenge.
Thor rides into Wakanda upon the Rainbow Bridge like a proper savior. Stormbreaker whips through the horde of Outrider aliens, reducing them to chunks of limbs. He charges against Thanos’ army screaming for blood. Banner pops his head out from the Hulkbuster armor, exhilarated to see his gladiator pal back in the fray. Their fighting chance has arrived, and our spirits are lifted with the rest of the team.
Of course, they don’t know what Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) does. Out of 14,000,605 possible futures, there is only one in which The Avengers succeed and it does not involve Thor’s unquenched anger. Thanos clicks the final Infinity Stone into his Gauntlet, but it’s not too late for Thor to elicit some Stormbreaker payback. We witness the might of both weapons as the Gauntlet strains to halt Stormbreaker’s flight fruitlessly. The ax lands deeps inside Thanos’ chest, and Thor touches down so that he can drive it further into the villain’s gaping cavity. The Asgardian believes he’s delivering the final words Thanos will ever hear when he grunts, “I told you…you’d die for that.” Working through a tremendous amount of pain, Thanos has a rebuttal, “You should have aimed for the head.” Snap. Game over.
While the crunch of sternum beneath Stormbreaker must have been pleasing at the moment, the expression of failure that ripples across Thor’s face as half his allies ash away is damnation personified. Quick action was required here, not personal satisfaction. In succumbing to base emotion, Thor is responsible for the death of his friends. All that time on Nidavellir wasted. That three-shot hero moment with Rocket and Goot? A lie.
There are other culpable parties in Avengers: Infinity War. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) could have kept his head cool and not lashed out in rage upon hearing of Gamora’s death effectively shattering Mantis’ hold on Thanos. Doctor Strange could have destroyed the Time Stone before battling Ebony Maw on the streets of New York. Captain America could have accepted The Vision’s sacrifice play when offered. Thor’s thirst for retribution feels egregious, but as is the case with these other fatal choices, it stems from character and beautifully reflects the imperfections that make Marvel heroes stand apart from others.
What separates Infinity War from past MCU excursions is that it allows The Avengers to wallow in defeat beyond the three-act structure. The Russos allot for setup and confrontation, but the typical valiant resolution is left for Avengers: Endgame. Unless your name is Thanos and you’re appreciating a grateful universe from your front porch. The 22nd entry in the franchise needs to resolve the failings of our champions so that they can continue to find new ways to fail in Phases Four, Five, Six, and Seven.
What Avengers: Infinity War Contributes to the MCU:
- Soul World – As described by The Red Skull on Vormir, “Soul holds a special place among the Infinity Stones. You might say, it is a certain wisdom.” To achieve that sacred knowledge, Thanos must trade a life for a life and grimly executes his daughter Gamora to obtain it. When Thanos snaps his fingers uniting all six stones and completes his mission, he is transported to a dreamy red world where his daughter asks him what this victory cost. Many speculate that this is the pocket dimension contained within the Stone known as The Soul World. Many adventures have happened within, and it is responsible for the resurrection of several characters. Yes, it’s another way to undo a critical death from Infinity War.
- The Red Skull’s Whereabouts – There he is! On Vormir! While the rest of the Marvel Universe galivanted about, The Red Skull was stranded on a distant planet doomed to guide others to an Infinity Stone he could never possibly possess. Hugo Weaving may not have wanted anything to do with this character but thank goodness the Russos scrounged up Ross Marquand to slip effortlessly into the Stonekeeper’s shoes.
- Stormbreaker – Thor lost Mjolnir in Thor: Ragnarok, but thanks to Eitri, the star forge of Nidavellir, and a sacrificial limb from Groot, Odinson gains a classic implement of mythological war. In the comics, Odin commissioned the weapon for the alien idol worshiper Beta Ray Bill, who proved himself worthy of Mjolnir. The MCU’s Stormbreaker is radically different thanks to its connections to Groot, but its appearance hopefully means that Beta Ray Bill can’t be too far behind. He’s a perfect oddball addition to The Revengers of Thor 4.
- Outriders – When Chitauri soldiers have too much of a will of their own to succeed against The Avengers, Thanos gathers the mindless Outriders to bleed for him. Vicious beasts bred for killing. Expect to see more of their savage kind in Avengers: Endgame.
What Avengers: Infinity War Withholds from the MCU:
- Half the Universe – Before the great dusting, Infinity War already slaughtered several MCU favorites. Goodbye Loki, Heimdall, Gamora, and a shy Hulk. Then Thor misses Thanos’ noggin, and his dark balance is leveled. No more Bucky, Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Black Panther, Groot, Star-Lord, Mantis, Drax, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, and millions of faceless others. Ant-Man better have a solid map to those Time Vortexes inside the Quantum Realm or Disney will be out billions of dollars.
- The Black Order – Straight from Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers comics, these henchman of Thanos are a rough lot. Yet, by credits end they’re all promptly dispatched. The Titan certainly has more children to feed into the battlefield, but I’m seriously going to miss Ebony Maw.
Infinity Wars by Gerry Duggan and Mike Deodato Jr – There are so many great Thanos comic books out there, and I suggest you read my Top Ten list from a few weeks back to fully appreciate the Mad Titan. That being said, this recent mini-series should be of interest as well. When the Infinity Stones reappear across the cosmos, a race to collect them ignites. Many look to the classic Infinity Gauntlet and Infinity War storylines for answers as to how Avengers: Endgame will wrap up Thanos’ narrative, but considering this is the most recent Marvel comic line to tackle that question, you may want to start here instead. It’s a weird one in which the fabric of reality is ripped and mutated, and the result is all manner of amalgam characters you will not recognize. That’s half its charm.
Read more from our series on the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- Day One – Iron Man is Marvel’s Villain Problem
- Day Two – The Real Civil War Began in The Incredible Hulk
- Day Three – You Can Count on Iron Man 2 to Pleasure Itself
- Day Four – The Marvel Cinematic Universe Finds its Worth in The Mighty Thor
- Day Five – Captain America is the First Selfless Avenger
- Day Six – The Avengers is Burdened with Glorious Purpose
- Day Seven – Iron Man 3 Illustrates How Subtelty Has Had its Day in the MCU
- Day Eight – Wait! Maybe Thor: The Dark World is Marvel’s Villain Problem
- Day Nine – Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the Brutality of Bromance
- Day Ten – Guardians of the Galaxy Takes the Hand of the MCU and Discovers an Awesome Mix
- Day Eleven – Avengers: Age of Ultron Pits Old Testament Against New Testament
- Day Twelve – Ant-Man Returns the Heart to the Marvel Cinematic Universe
- Day Thirteen – Captain America: Civil War and the Unforgivable Sin of Steve Rogers
- Day Fourteen – Doctor Strange and the Bargaining of Self
- Day Fifteen – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Charts the Border Between A-Hole and 100% A Dick
- Day Sixteen – Maintaining the Shame of Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming
- Day Seventeen – The Redefinition of Character in Thor: Ragnarok
- Day Eighteen – Black Panther and the Tragedy of Gatekeeping