Written by Gaden Sousa.
(WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!!)
Last week I did something I haven’t done before. Something I was annoyed at myself for doing. I took a nap. A nap that resulted in me waking up 10 minutes before my Avengers: Infinity War session began. I was at my house—a 15-minute walk from the cinema.
I threw on clothes, grabbed a water bottle, and then half-sprinted-half-quickly-walked to the cinema. With barely any air left in my lungs, and a huge cough massing in the back of my throat, I got there with several minutes of ads before the film actually began. Which means, while I completely devastated my lungs and wouldn’t regain my normal breathing processes until a third of the way through Avengers: Infinity War, I had successfully made it to the film on time and could sit down and enjoy it. For the third time.
It’s important for you to know that I am a huge fan of everything comic books. I love the movies, the characters, the actual comic books. I love everything to do with them. It’s important to know this because I may be a tad biased in my opinions. But this isn’t a review. It’s a discussion about a film I really love.
So, where to begin? How about with everyone’s biggest complaint about this film: it has no emotional stakes—everyone dies but it’s all meaningless.
To elaborate, this is their full argument: everyone dies at the end of the film. Wow! I know, crazy. We know that Spiderman has a sequel in the works and Guardian’s of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is being written as I type. And we know that Black Panther will definitely have another movie as it’s now one of the highest grossing films ever. So, people’s biggest problem with this film is that we know all the characters that died have to come back. It would be stupid if they didn’t.
But the people that say that are missing this: any kind of death, permanent or otherwise, is still death. It still creates change. The characters that die in Avengers: Infinity War will come back (though I’m sure some others will die, and we will have some proper loss, and all shed some tears) but even when they do they’ll be changed. They’ll have died. That death will mean something because they will have been deeply affected by losing their life and changed again by coming back to life. It will allow the characters to grow.
We shouldn’t forget that the characters in this film don’t know what we do. Which means when Rocket Racoon is sobbing from Groot fading into ashes or Cap touches the ground where Bucky just was or (and this is the part that made me cry twice) Tony Stark holds the hand of a Peter Parker begging for life, these characters are feeling real emotions for the people they are really losing.
For the first time in a long time a Marvel film has emotional stakes that we feel. As we are worried for the characters we care so much about.
Here’s another thing to remember when talking about this film: it should be an absolute mess. The disparate tones and characters that populate the Marvel Universe should be coming together in a convoluted ball of nothingness and disappointment. Having the weird, comedy space opera of the Guardians of the Galaxy shouldn’t mix with the espionage spy thriller elements of Captain America or the political ideological themes and ideas in Black Panther.
On the battlefield in Wakanda, Groot—with 10 alien monsters skewered on his arm, turns to Cap and says ‘I am Groot’, without issing a beat Cap replies ‘I am Steve Rogers’. Just like that the two worlds coalesce into something new, something better.
To steal a friend’s analogy: this film plays like a mix tape of the best things from the MCU. You have the zany fun of Thor going on a space adventure, a tone straight from Guardian’s of the Galaxy or Thor: Ragnarok. You have the magic from Doctor Strange, the naïve hero out of his depth fighting for the neighbourhood from Spiderman: Homecoming, and so on with all the best parts.
All the heart and feeling and characters that have been built over 10 years all come perfectly together. Pulled tightly and focused properly by two incredible writers and two equally grand directors.
Sidenote: The direction across the board is excellent as the Russos treat this not as just some mindless form of entertainment but hold themselves to a higher standard and, in their own words, aim for ‘an emotional realism’. Which I think the film succeeds in delivering.
The cleverness of this film is that we can put aside our heroes for a little bit, we already know enough about them, and we can focus on a villain. A villain that makes us scared. That makes us fear for the people we love.
So, how about we talk about this villain: Thanos. Thanos is the driving force and the glue that holds and moves the film along. He doesn’t achieve this by being a moustache twirling bad guy; he’s the main character because he is made human. We are made to care about someone we should hate.
We spend much time with Thanos, with a huge portion devoted solely to building the relationship between him and Gamora, as well as flashbacks, and following him to get the soul stone. We start believing in his cause. We start to understand why he wants to kill half of the universe. It may be perverse. It may be ridiculous. But it also makes a bit of sense.
Thanos isn’t the bad guy who wants to kill everyone because he wants to kill everyone; he wants to help people. He sees his way as the only way to a better world.
Josh Brolin brings a gravitas and emotional weight to Thanos, becoming one of the few villains in the extensive library of Marvel films that we connect with and can see his point of view. He is in many ways the reason we care. He is the threat and we get to see what’s so dangerous about him. He is a villain that is fundamentally human.
If Thanos is the reason for the film and the person we feel most for, then Thor is the reason to continue the film and the counterpoint to Thanos.
Thor wishes to avenge his brother and thus has the emotional vendetta that’s needed to pull us through the film, as one of the only characters to have witnessed the cruelty of Thanos. A cruelty that he should have stopped—he is after-all the king of Asgard and all realms. Thor in many ways feels personally responsible for the pain being felt across the universe. In a scene with Rocket we actually see Thor cry. Or pretend like he’s not crying. I was immensely affected by this. He is scared. He’s seen the pain that Thanos can inflict and he doesn’t know if he’s up to it but he’s going to try anyway.
His arrival on the battlefield is a huge cheering moment for anyone who sees this film. The entirety of Thor’s arc is emotionally satisfying as he has a personal, affecting vendetta against Thanos and we watch, gripped by Hemsworth’s exceptional performance, to see it satisfied. And we slump in our chairs as all of his effort is useless. As even with his weapon embedded in Thanos’ chest he still fails.
Honestly, I could go on about this monumental movie all day. I could tell you about how excellent all these actors are in their respective roles and how ridiculously fun it is watching them hurl insults at each other and trade jabs and of course work together for the greater good. It’s a huge cultural achievement, as 10 years culminates in its most satisfying and darkest chapter.
Appreciate and notice the level of filmmaking quality that the Russos imbue into this film and the wit and skill it takes to plot and write such a huge film. Enjoy it for entertainment but also scrape below the surface and see what you can find. I promise you, you will not be disappointed.