Hey, have you seen Avengers: Infinity War? No? Stop reading, get the hell out of this post, leave your work early, get tickets, and then come right back here. Go, and go soon, because holy fucking shit, once people see this film this weekend there is no way you’re going to avoid spoilers.
They did it! They did The Snap!
Okay, okay, let’s back up. Just for a second. I know all anybody wants to talk about is the ending. I honestly was not sure whether we’d get the snap in this movie, or if this one would be the heroes briefly holding off the Mad Titan, but man, they really committed to it. Look at this list:
Gamora. Heimdall. Loki. Black Panther. Falcon. Vision. Bucky. Star-Lord. Mantis. Drax. Groot. Scarlet Witch. Dr. Strange. Spider-Man.
They’re all dead. They’re gone.
“Mr. Stark, I don’t want to go.”
Fucking stab me right in the heart and rip it out.
Let’s just run through the big moments, then we can comb through the finer things, because good lord, this film felt like nothing but big moments stacking on top of each other until the screen mercifully and frustratingly cut to black after that final dastardly content smile on the sunset.
From the moment the “Marvel Studios” logo disappears, one thing is made plain to viewers—this movie is not waiting for you to catch up, and it’s damn sure not going to do it for you. It opens after Xandar has already been decimated and the last of the Asgardians are being slaughtered. We’re introduced to Thanos, the film’s protagonist, in a way. He’s stunningly large, carrying Thor around like a sack of potatoes, and they show early on with a quick-but-devastating UFC match with Hulk that Thanos has the brawn to back up his high-minded talk.
This is just the first of many times Marvel shows off their high-tech motion-capture final product, and man, Thanos looks good. The subtle smirks, squints, smiles, strains, tears, all of it looks realistic, at least within the context of the MCU. Josh Brolin’s performance is pitch-perfect—if Thanos were just a raving genocidal meathead, the movie would crumble beneath its star power and nonstop narrative. But in a movie that clearly values every second, they allow Brolin quite a bit of room to introduce us to the inner-workings of a character that’s only ever been on the MCU’s periphery, through both flashbacks and some expository dialogue with Gamora and Dr. Strange. His home planet, Titan, was overpopulated and everybody except him died, and since then he’s been going around trying to wipe out half of the universe’s population. The Infinity Gauntlet and the Infinity Stones are the quickest route to that end goal. Over the course of the film, his motivations aren’t perfectly crafted to the point that you cheer for him, but they root themselves as believable enough in your mind early on, so that when he does the things he does in the latter half of the film, you feel at least part of the weight he feels when he makes some fairly dramatic decisions.
Back to the Asgardians: Loki and Heimdall are toast, as far as I’m concerned. My coworker Eric Van Allen pointed out that you can’t really have Thor movies without Loki, but for some reason, even though they allude to a hopeless revival a couple times, my feeling is that Loki is gone for good. (If that’s the case, this movie just wiped out essentially everything Thor: Ragnorak set up for Thor’s future story lines.)
The New York battle sequence with Iron Man, Wong, Spider-Man, and Dr. Strange is fast-paced, hilarious, and entertaining. And given that we’d just seen Loki snuffed out, the hindsight knowledge that everyone makes it out of this fight alive wasn’t quite as clear while everyone was getting their ass kicked. (We’ll come back to the Hulk’s low-T issues in a bit.) The most important thing the fight did was give us some much needed quality time with Ebony Maw, the clear standout among the Black Order. The Black Order seem to be Thanos’s top-four warriors, all with different strengths—Maw moves things, Proxima Midnight is a good fighter and can telekinetically control weapons, Black Dwarf is basically a dumb, scaly version of Hulk, and Corvus Glaive is Midnight’s boy, and he has a glaive.
It’s unclear just what the upper limits on Maw’s powers are—he splits a car in half, seamlessly controls metal objects, bests Dr. Strange pretty quickly—but he’s the only one among the Order that’s really given any sort of opportunity to voice his role, which is that of a devoted acolyte. He talks about how it’s “salvation” to be killed by Thanos; the other members of the Order just seem to really enjoy the killin’ part. (I’m sure there was a romantic goodbye scene between Proxima Midnight and Corvus Glaive that didn’t make the cut, but without it, Proxima and Black Dwarf are just bodies for the Avengers to punch and do slightly cooler Finishing Kills with than the six-armed aliens.) Maw’s build-up is short-lived, though, because he gets pretty easily disposed of on the spaceship back to Titan.
In Scotland, Scarlet Witch and Vision are chilling under the radar, thinking about running away together (like I said, this movie is not spending any time on the family farm) before one of the best jump-scares of the MCU, with Glaive stabbing Vision through the gut out of nowhere. This fight is honestly small beans compared to everything else, but it’s necessary to set up Vision’s tragic story, intro the Disgraced Avengers, and also get us to Wakanda.
The Guardians-Thor meet-up was a natural choice given the direction Taika Waititi took Ragnarok, and the humor here felt natural. The whole part about Star-Lord trying to establish male dominance in front of Gamora was cheesy, sure, but the two Chrises are good enough actors that it was fun for the brief moment it lasted. The Rocket-Thor pairing worked a lot better, if only because they both seem to possess a more grounded understanding of the reaches of power possible in the universe. Star-Lord, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to quite comprehend it, even joking around when Gamora begs him to kill her should Thanos get his hands on her. It takes her forcing him to swear on his dead mother to get him to finally stop deflecting and start accepting the gravity of the war they find themselves in. Of course, when he tries to do so, and saves his life by impressing Thanos, it doesn’t even matter thanks to that little red stone—that whole Collector fake-out sequence was amazing. Given that we’d already said farewell to Loki, I sincerely thought that was the end of Mantis and Drax.
The Thanos-Gamora setup is obviously what the writers and directors were banking on as one of the pillars holding up this movie. Only providing a single flashback asked a lot of us, as we had to then infer from Gamora constantly hurling insults at the big purple fella that their relationship deteriorated after he won five-year-old Gamora over with a shiny switchblade. But Zoe Saldana is, thankfully, a skilled enough actor to convey all the middle, unseen history between then and now—Thanos took her, killed her parents, made her his daughter and main assassin before she ran into a half-human named Peter Quill.
Cards on the table, I didn’t instantly remember how the Red Skull could have ended up on Vormir (he fell through a wormhole when he tried to hold the Space Stone in the first Captain America), but there he was. Some more cards on the table: I did not think that was when Gamora was going to die. I thought Gamora and the Soul Stone would be last, in terms of how and when Thanos figured out what the ultimate secret to obtaining the stone was. I had also convinced myself there was no way she would take Thanos to the one place the Soul Stone was, but then it kind of made sense when she tried to convince him that his path was doomed to failure because he didn’t love anybody. Given that she insisted on having Quill kill her, I have to think that final grasp on the ledge was an act, and that she realized too late that Thanos would indeed instantly realize that he did love her. But nope. It was as simple as that—Gamora, the most fierce, calculated, morally emboldened of the Guardians is no more. Barring a giant undoing of the entire movie’s events (certainly not unfathomable given what happened in this one), Gamora is gone.
The battle on Titan is split up over a series of cuts between the initial assault on Wakanda and Thor’s smithying side-mission. And here’s where the most frustrating part of the movie comes: When Star-Lord breaks down, refuses to believe Thanos, and then punches him, everyone in my theater groaned and gasped, because it is totally believable if you’re invested in Quill’s character. Over the course of the two Guardians films and his role in this movie, Quill often fails to comprehend matters outside of his immediate sphere; he’s riding high from realizing he’s part-Celestial and being a respected galaxy-guarder—even after Thor tells him Xandar is gone, he continues trying to one-up him. It is made quite clear that he has neither of the dread and anxiety of Iron Man or the pragmatism of Dr. Strange, and in this instance, it costs the half the universe their lives.
The first half of the battle on Wakanda is both very cool and very Avengers, which is to say we never really have a fear of either the Black Order or the aliens besting our heroes—by this point, we know they’re setting the table for the titan. There are plenty of great action shots, and even when the point predictably comes where the music takes a darker turn and the alien army seems to be overwhelming our heroes, the payoff of Thor coming through with his new Groot-Axe somehow still works, because that’s just what happens when you have Chris Hemsworth and an unlimited special effects budget. Both the Axe Throw and the Big Slam rule hard, and neither are top-5 moments in this movie.
No, the real fun comes after Dr. Strange turns over the Time Stone to save Tony Stark’s life—for a split-second, I was prepping for the end of Iron Man—and Thanos makes for Earth. That final walk, from the waterfall to the cliff’s edge where Vision was in a crumpled heap, is handled beautifully. By this point, we know none of the heroes in the frame have a chance. The closest thing to hope we get is Captain America surprising the towering monstrous villain by holding him back for a moment, and even then, it’s barely been two seconds before Thanos disposes of him with a screen-shaking right hook. Despite his Civil War activities, Vision is a completely sympathetic character this film, and it pays off when you watch Thanos smirk and simply rewind time and kill him, again, by plucking that stone, and a glob of wires and cables, from his forehead. And even then, you think that is the worst of it. When Thor finally appears and sends his axe several inches into Thanos’s chest, you think that this may be the end of the titan. But the camera lingers a moment too long—the first twinge of those purple lips was enough to signal what was coming, but by then your breath is gone. Then, Snap.
Everybody in the theater said something as each character floated away (Black Panther elicited the loudest cries) but for 30 seconds, everyone sat motionless and silent as Iron Man held Peter Parker in his arms, as the kid from Queens slowly drifted away. That moment, that one where Spider-Man fades—shit, I don’t think I quite have the words for it, even almost a full day later. I knew they were milking it, and damnit I still couldn’t stand to watch it. That’s how you do the damn Snap.
Here are my nitpicks and assorted thoughts:
- The Black Order had no backstory, no motivations, and were basically just there to be people other than Thanos that our heroes could punch. Black Dwarf mumbles and grunts roughly three words; Proxima Midnight gets one line about how Black Widow stabbed her lover; and Corvus Glaive gets a good jump-scare and a couple decently frightening close-ups. That is largely it from this bunch, and while they make for some decent filler fighting, you can’t help but wonder if there wasn’t something more that could have been done here—then again, I’m not sure where you’d find the time to do so given this movie’s length and density.
- I could have used a bit more time on pre-apocalypse Titan. Again, I’m not sure where we’d find the minutes for this, but I thought the single flashback to Titan with Dr. Strange sold short his commitment to this whole mission of population control. The Gamora flashback was quick, but the movie committed a powerful actress to convincing us that her experience with him was hell, in large part because it was a one-way relationship. The Titan-Thanos backstory only has Thanos to lean on, and while it’s still moving, maybe just one more convincing shot of Thanos pleading with his planet elders to hear him out may have made the mission more palatable. That it was as acceptable as it ended up being is a credit to Brolin and the CGI wizards.
- Let’s talk about the banter, and this isn’t precisely a complaint. Infinity War is hands down the best in-theater experience Marvel’s put out. It’s grand, somber, insane, beautiful, and fun as hell. And a big part of that is because Marvel was able to handle each one of these characters so carefully and maintain the established tones and character quirks of each one. That’s naturally expressed via jokes and quips. So, if I have to shoehorn a very specific qualm in here, it’s that some jokes were too funny and made me and other people laugh a beat too long and miss a line. I will note that the Russos did a decent job of leaving laugh pauses, where we get a non-speaking shot of another character raising their eyebrows or laughing; I was just part of a particularly invested opening-night crowd, with one guy sitting near me that laughed at 100 percent full-volume for every fucking joke. Learn when to chuckle, my dude.
- I’m not sure how people who aren’t at least halfway invested in the MCU will consume this film. It’s got numerous beautiful landscapes and set pieces, a couple excellent fight sequences, more than its fair share of truly emotional farewells, and pretty tight subplots that lead us to that magic moment. But so much of the emotional heft came from the baggage I carried into this movie, and I have a hard time understanding what these stakes would mean to someone who really didn’t care much about Captain America or Star-Lord or Gamora or Spider-Man as characters. As long as someone is a general superhero movie fan, I think it’ll still land, but hoo boy, as a 10-year fan, that final 30 minutes had my palms gushing sweat.
- The “Iron Spider” suit and “Bleeding Edge” Iron Man suit both ruled very hard. I was curious how they were going to get nanotech from Wakanda into Stark’s hands, and they found a pretty slick way, melding together that info with the additional sting of realizing he’s ready to start a family and a life with Pepper Potts. Love the use of the extra spider legs and that we don’t have to spend any time exploring its new tricks.
- Hulk has some stuff to figure out, it seems. After Thanos gives Hulk the ass-whooping of the lifetime (I half-expected Jim Ross to make a cameo when Thanos slammed him), Hulk is no longer interested in fighting, or even coming out to play, telling Bruce Banner “No!” multiple times. I’m not sure where this is building to for Avengers 4, since we’re not getting a Hulk cameo in either Ant-Man or Captain Marvel. All of our heroes have lost someone they care about by the end of the movie; for Banner, that just happens to be the big green beast that’s now hiding inside him, refusing to come out.
- Hawkeye and Ant-Man are NOT in this movie! They’re under “house arrest,” according to Black Widow, who says they took a deal with the government after things died down from the Civil War debacle. So, expect Clint to show up on the family farm, either in Ant-Man & The Wasp or Avengers 4.
There are only a couple for-sure things moving forward:
- The Snap will go down as the single boldest decision Marvel’s committed to, narratively, in this entire 10-year run. Saying you are making a movie based on heavy source material is one thing in a reality where movies only get made if they can continue making you money—Captain America survived Civil War despite dying in the comic version. But to actually follow through with one of the most iconic comic book moments, that results in some of the most important (and yes, profitable) superheroes dying and not being resurrected in the same film, is a decision that’s earned, in part by having the source material as something to point to, and in part by making 18 preceding movies, of which the majority are fun and entertaining. Ending the movie with Thanos in a cabin on some random planet was a bold move that Marvel understood would not an acceptable cliffhanger if everything that preceded it didn’t earn it.
- Tony Stark is going to be fucked up. Part of Civil War and the entirety of Spiderman: Homecoming made very clear how Stark felt about using what is essentially a child soldier in this greater war he’s seen in both visions and dreams since he first fell back through the wormhole in 2012. Now, to have Spider-Man die in his arms, pleading with him like the child he is, just hours after he spoke to Pepper about wanting a child of their own, that’s it. That’s Stark’s worst nightmare in the fading flesh. I’m not sure what Avengers 4 holds for him, but expect to see a broken, unhinged Tony Stark hellbent on saving the universe and not himself.
- We’re absolutely still in the 1 in 14 million chance Dr. Strange told the team on Titan about. Everything from him telling Stark he’d risk “the kid’s life” and his life to protect the Stone, to his sudden willingness to turn over the Time Stone, to his parting message to Stark screams that The Snap was part of that larger plan.
- I have little idea what that larger plan is. All we have to go off of is the knowledge that Ant-Man & The Wasp is out in July and Captain Marvel is out next March—so, some combination of the quantum zone, the B.A.R.F technology, and Captain Marvel’s Kree connections will somehow lead us to beating Thanos. I’m sure those movies will fill in some gaps, but for once, I feel pretty clueless.
I’ve only watched every second of Avengers: Infinity War one time. My judgment is bound to change once I see it a second time and can pick it apart beat-by-beat; I’ll think of ideas of what the movie could have been, and formulate theories on how it could have better spent its time or built its characters. But for the first time, for the first full 2 hours and 40 minutes I spent starting at a massive screen watching what was basically three third acts, I couldn’t have been happier. It’s a cliché, but movies this daring and grand and beautiful are the reason people still go see them in theaters.
Infinity War’s floor is so high, that when you start to nitpick the film’s various pitfalls—Dinklage wasn’t really all that special; half of the Black Order were basically just walking punch machines; not enough time on pre-apocalypse Titan—you begin to realize just how impressive this film’s accomplishments are. This is a movie with 18 prequels and 30-some stars, none of whom feel cheated in terms of screen time, and more importantly, the quality of that screen time.
The main critique I’ve heard so far concerns the cliffhanger, but there’s just no way you could smash the collection of all the stones in half and still have a halfway decent film. The constant ramping up of the action and the stakes—Thanos threw a fucking moon at Iron Man!—and the commitment to the characters while not weakening the action or stakes made this movie’s ending absolutely perfect for me. For all that the MCU is (a movie-making, money-printing machine), if the trade-off for movies this fun requires that I have to go see another this summer and two more next year, then I’m all for it. “Thanos will return,” and I couldn’t be happier.
Avengers: Infinity War was a double-truck book fight come to life over the course of a full movie. It was colorful—no drab grey-blue palettes, here—it was well-acted, it was respectful of the source material, and it grounded itself in real stakes and balanced itself with a levity established in prior installments. It is a movie a younger me would have never expected to see made so perfectly, and it’s a movie even current-aged me could only halfway imagine.
As my girlfriend and I staggered out of the movie theater, shell-shocked and dazed from the most epic, wide-ranging, charging, heart-ripper of a MCU movie yet, we grasped for words to describe what we just saw. For whatever faults you have with the capitalistic film-making system or the marketing campaigns or the glut of superhero movies, all I can say is no other movie series has come close to making me feel that way. The day Marvel stops giving me that feeling, I’ll stop going. As best I can tell, based off Infinity War, that won’t be any time soon.