The Conundrum of Love in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

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The most important character dynamics in the movie also happen to be the most frustrating to grapple with.

Spoilers for ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ ahead

To anybody who has watched more than one film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the standard operating procedure of its general structure should be evident. Origin stories tell the weightier material best while the team-up movies tend to be much lighter fare. To go into an Avengers film and expect multitudes of character development would thus be setting oneself up for disappointment. But when an Avengers movie needs to be emotional, as is the case of Avengers: Infinity War, what is normally a logical presumption proves to be tricky.

There is so much riding on Infinity War thanks to years of build-up. Thanos finally makes a substantial appearance, so something consequential has to happen to several beloved characters. He’s loomed over the MCU for too long, and there needs to be some kind of payoff…right? Out of all the characters, Gamora and Nebula have the biggest stake in this fight, given that they are Thanos’s “children.” However messed up the dynamic, there is familial history in there to explore. Or at least, that’s what Infinity War would have us believe.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Zoe Saldana, who plays Gamora, dishes on her character’s fate as she confronts a complicated relationship with a parental figure that she was basically forced to have. It’s a frustrating arc that results in Gamora’s demise, which feels much more untimely — and perhaps final — than any of the other deaths in Infinity War.

Of the narrative significance of Thanos and Gamora’s relationship, Saldana says:

“In order for you to understand the degree of evil that lies within the core of Thanos, you have to circle in on his own children.”

In a way, this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Prior to the events of Infinity War, the Guardians of the Galaxy films imply that Thanos’s “children” are just a means to an end for him. Those movies also posit that not all of his kids are made equal; Thanos states outright in the first Guardians that Gamora is his “favorite daughter.” That said, this obviously doesn’t mean that Thanos actually loves Gamora, despite the fact that Infinity War seems to want us to buy that.

Stripping back the lengthy action sequences and the numerous subplots in Infinity War, the film’s core ethos is clear: the Avengers have always been stronger together, and that bond is fueled by a sense of actual love for one another. It might be more implicitly stated, but those feelings of camaraderie are there. Thanos comes into the picture and wrecks that, which is all well and good. However, the movie also tries to frame him as a character with the capacity to love, doing so through his relationship with Gamora.

The notion that Infinity War might be intentionally misleading in this regard is not lost on me. To ask viewers to magically believe that Thanos cares about Gamora in the slightest without any prior set-up is a tall order; we see their story through a series of flashbacks, but these scenes certainly don’t paint him in the best light. Thanos’s mission to attain one of the Infinity Stones by losing such a love plays out too easily as well. But because the film’s plot progression is contingent on love, how could he not feel it?

Instead, a more powerful instance of love in Infinity War comes from Gamora’s relationship with Star-Lord/Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). Finally, after two films that effectively tease out their dynamic, their joint arc is officially validated. Sadly, as even Saldana herself points out, they never had enough time:

“I did like that emotional beat between Star-Lord and Gamora, because in the ‘Guardians’ world, she’s the Abbott to his Costello. He’s such a humorous character that lives off of telling everyone that he doesn’t take anything seriously. And she’s the exact opposite: She’s uptight, she’s grumpy. So we get to see this kind of levity but also this sincere and genuine commitment that they have for each other that we haven’t seen in the other movies.

“I love the fact that [‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ director] James Gunn has always protected Gamora and Quill’s relationship. But I thought it was really wonderful for audiences to see [in ‘Infinity War’] that the show that they put on [when other people are around] is not really what happens behind closed doors. That they really love each other, that they really listen to each other. That he actually is capable of making a promise and keeping it.”

The fact that Quill and Gamora never could explore their relationship in an open way is, in theory, heartbreaking. In actuality, watching them together in Infinity War feels more like a shame. Their most tender scenes have to be spliced together in a film with so many disparate focal points that it’s hard not to dull any of the emotional beats, even without the presence of a time- and reality-bending force. Thankfully, Quill and Gamora’s relationship is actually thoroughly believable and provides a necessary emotional weight to the loss of Gamora. Until, of course, we get to the part of the movie where Quill himself is also dusted and as our own Ciara Wardlow explains, death ultimately just feels like an illusion and it’s hard to decide when to care about certain characters.

Where does that leave Gamora, now supposedly gone in order for Thanos to complete his gauntlet of doom? Can we trust that she’s dead? Even entertaining the idea of bringing her back feels like a cheap cop-out after all the strife the film (tried to) put her through, so I would sadly have to hope that she doesn’t return. Saldana herself does signal an end to her run in the MCU too, despite the fact that she’s cagey about an appearance in Avengers 4: “I’m so grateful, this run has been amazing… I loved being a part of this unforgettable journey.”

At the end of the day, should Gamora truly be dead, the character certainly did not have a long enough run, and her premature end is especially frustrating because of a character arc that feels unfulfilled. The Guardians movies aren’t solely about her, and her stoic nature makes the process of in-depth character analyses more difficult despite an increasingly personal arc in Vol. 2. There will always be sadness over a character that could have been. Still, to center Gamora’s supposed final hurrah on a relationship that doesn’t feel thoroughly genuine and one that was never given the space to really flourish feels extra unsettling and disagreeable.

Sheryl Oh: @sherhorowitz Often chugging tea and thinking about horror movies. Particularly loves writing stuff and things with a feminist bent here at Film School Rejects.