Film Review | Avengers: Infinity War
Producers: Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Pictures
Runtime: 134 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
EE Critic Score: …
Avengers: Infinity War is the nineteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the third film in the Avengers sub-franchise, and, ostensibly, the most ambitious cross-over event in history. It stars nearly every recurring character in the MCU (Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye and the Ant-Man characters do not make an appearance, though they are mentioned) as they face off against Thanos, the villain who has been working in the background of several MCU films.
The film picks up where the post-credits scene of Thor: Ragnarok left off, with Thanos (Josh Brolin) attacking the survivors of Asgard. He and several followers have defeated Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Heimdall (Idris Elba), and the other Asgardians.
Thanos, as has been shown in previous films, has set out to collect the Infinity Stones, powerful artifacts controlling Space, Reality, Time, Power, Soul, and Mind. He has already gained the Power Stone, which he uses to repel an attack by the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). He demands of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) the Tesseract, which houses the Space Stone. Loki gives it to him, then is killed after attempting to stab Thanos.
In a last act before his own death, Heimdall uses his power to summon the Bifrost to send the Hulk to earth, landing him in Greenwich Village, New York. There, he reverts to Bruce Banner, who is found by sorcerors Dr. Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Wong (Benedict Wong). Banner tells them that Thanos is coming to Earth to retrieve the two Infinity Stones kept there, the Mind Stone in the forehead of Vision (Paul Bettany) and the Time Stone in Strange’s “Eye of Agamotto” pendant.
Strange and Wong retrieve Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) to enlist his aid. Stark is dismissive of the two, not knowing who they are, but does begin to listen when he is reunited with Banner, who had been missing since the battle with Ultron. Banner tells of how Thanos is a bloodthirsty conqueror, set on gaining the Infinity Stones to aid in subjugating the universe.
Two of Thanos’s lieutenants, telekinesis practitioner Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) and armored giant Cull Obsidian (Terry Notary) arrive in New York, attacking the city with their space ship to draw Strange forward to stop them. Strange, Wong, and Stark (wearing a new nano-tech Iron Man suit) are joined by Peter Parker, the Spider-Man (Tom Holland), who saw the ship from his school bus. Banner finds himself unable to transform into the Hulk, and spends most of the battle hiding in a park.
Strange manages to take Obsidian out of the fight, teleporting him to a far-off mountain range, but he is subdued by Maw and taken aboard the space ship, as an enchantment over the Eye of Agamotto prevents it from being removed from his person. Spider-Man webs onto the side of the spaceship, which begins its exit from the atmosphere. Stark, summons the Iron Spider suit, a more armored version of Spider-Man’s costume with auxilliary robotic legs and, more importantly, an onboard life-support system to provide air, to Parker.
Two other of Thanos’s “Children”, Proxima Midnight (Carrie Coon) and Corvus Glaive (Michael James Shaw) arrive in Scotland to retrieve the Mind Stone. Vision and Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) had been living there undercover since the disbandment of the Avengers. Glaive is able to use his sword to pin Vision down, preventing him from phasing away. Vision and the Scarlet Witch are rescued by ex-Avengers Captain America (Chris Evens), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Falcon (Anthony Mackie). Glaive is wounded, and he and Midnight make their escape empty-handed.
With Stark reported missing following the attack on New York, the ex-Avengers make a truce with Stark’s military liason James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle). After hearing from Banner of Thanos, the re-assembled Avengers set off for Wakanda, where they hope the Mind Stone may be separated from Vision, so that Maximoff can destroy it with her similar powers.
Meanwhile, Thor is recovered by the Guardians of the Galaxy: Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Rocket the Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel, with motion capture work by Terry Notary). Gamora, who was adopted as a daughter by Thanos and raised abusively to be his heir, is able to elaborate on his plans. He hopes to kill half of all life, to preserve resources for the other half, preventing the famine and war that destroyed his own people from happening on other worlds.
Thor, Rocket, and Groot travel to Nidevellir, the forge where Mjolnir was made, to get a weapon able to kill Thanos. They find it all but destroyed. The mighty dwarf Eitri (Peter Dinklage) tells them that Thanos had arrived earlier, demanding that a gauntlet be made capable of wielding all six Infinity Stones at once. Thor is able to get the forge running again, and Eitri makes an ax, called Stormbreaker, able to both channel Thor’s power and to summon the Bifrost.
The other Guardians of the Galaxy travel to Knowhere, the home of The Collector (Benicio del Toro), who possesses the Reality Stone. Gamora says that only she knows the location of the Soul Stone, so if Thanos captures her, she wants Quill to kill her. Upon arriving in Knowhere, Gamora finds Thanos and runs him through with her sword. It is revealed, however, that Thanos had already obtained the Reality Stone, and that his defeat was merely an illusion produced by it. He turns Quill’s laser gun into a bubble blower to prevent him from killing Gamora, then teleports himself and her away with the power of the Space Stone.
Thanos reveals that he knows that Gamora knows where the Soul Stone is, information he got from the torture of the cyborg Nebula (Karen Gillian). He gets the information from Gamora, and the two travel to Vormir, where the Soul Stone is to be found. There, they encounter the Red Skull (Ross Marquand, taking over the role from Hugo Weaving), who was cursed to guard the Soul Stone following his death by the power of the Tesseract. He tells Thanos that he must sacrifice the life of someone dear to him to obtain the Soul Stone. Thanos sacrifices Gamora, who, at least in his own mind, was his dearest child. This is good enough for the Red Skull, who gives Thanos the Soul Stone.
Meanwhile, in Wakanda, Shuri (Letitia Wright) says she should be able to remove the Mind Stone from Vision, but it will take time. Proxima Midnight and Cul Obsidian arrive soon after outside the Wakandan barrier with an army of monsters. Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) leads Wakanda’s armies against them. The Avengers, including a recovered Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), aid them, with Banner piloting Stark’s Hulkbuster armor, as he is still unable to transform into the Hulk, who has been traumatized by his defeat by Thanos. Thor, Rocket, and Groot arrive mid-battle, but Corvus Glaive successfully infiltrates Shuri’s workshop, attacking Vision.
Having defeated Ebony Maw aboard his spacecraft, Stark, Parker, and Strange travel to Thanos’s homeworld, Titan. There they meet with Quill, Mantis, and Drax, who have come in hopes of rescuing Gamora. When Thanos arrives, they team together to subdue him, hoping to get the Infinity Gauntlet off of his hand. When Mantis uses her telepathy to find that Thanos mourned Gamora’s death, Quill attacks him in a blind rage. Thanos is thus able to break free, and defeat them all. Strange, who had used the time stone to see the possible futures in hopes of finding which path leads to their victory, gives up the Time Stone, telling Stark that it’s the only way. Thanos departs for Wakanda.
With Shuri’s plan failed, Vision tells Maximoff that she must destroy the Mind Stone anyway, even though doing so will likely kill him. She does so, but when Thanos arrives he simply uses the time stone to reverse her action. He takes the Mind Stone, completing his collection. Thor attacks him, putting Stormbreaker through Thanos’s chest. Thanos snaps his gauntleted fingers, and disappears into a portal.
Over the course of the next several minutes, many of the Avengers and Wakandans disintegrate. Black Panther, the Scarlet Witch, Falcon, Groot, and Bucky Barnes all are killed as Thanos’s plan comes to fruition. On Titan, Dr. Strange, Quill, Drax, Mantis, and Spider-Man also turn to dust, leaving Iron Man and Nebula alone on the dead world
In a post-credits scene, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hil (Cobie Smulders) are in a vehicular crash with another car which is seemingly empty. The people in the street start disappearing, including Hill. Before disintegrating himself, Fury sends out a distress signal. His communication device is shown displaying the emblem of Captain Marvel.
I ultimately found the experience of watching this film a bit hollow, and it took me some time to decide why, exactly. The film isn’t unambitious, and it isn’t unsuccessful in its execution. There are many worse movies which I’ve liked much more than this. The story here is mostly well paced; the scenes wherein Thor makes his new axe take up more than their reasonable share of the running time, but the other story-lines kept trading off between each other well. The action scenes were exiting and well-varied. Alan Silvestri has returned for the score, which is done well. The performances are good.
I initially thought that, as was the case in Avengers: Age of Ultron, the problem was that the villain, while memorable, hadn’t been done well enough to carry his end of the film. But no, Thanos lives up the hype that has been building since his first appearance at the end of 2012’s The Avengers. Josh Brolin gives a Serkis-tier mo-cap performance as the Mad Titan. From the first scene, wherein Thanos beats the Hulk in a straight-forward fistfight with the aid of only a single Infinity Stone, the threat he posed to the Avengers was set firmly at a very high level.
In my past few MCU reviews, I’ve spoken about how more recent Marvel villains have benefitted from having a clearly stated, relatable motivation for their actions. That’s pretty clearly what’s been done with the changes from the Thanos of the comics. That Thanos sought to offer half the universe as an offering to Mistress Death, a female manifestation of death, whose suitor he hoped to become. I thought Hela’s appearance in last fall’s Thor: Ragnarok might be leading into Thanos’s arrival, as she was also a female manifestation of death, but, no, the film’s writers have attempted a different, more grounded motivating force for Thanos’s mass murder: Malthusian philosophy.
Thomas Malthus was a late 18th-, early 19th-century British economist and philosopher who stated that the world was heading toward a crisis as human population grew at a faster rate than the production of human necessities, correctly predicting that the American Indians would be driven to near-extinction by the expansion of the United States and incorrectly predicting that the overall human population would, one-way-or-another, soon plateau for lack of food. (His full Essay on the Principle of Population can be found here; a relevant excerpt can be read, in a more comfortable format, here.) His already rather dark outlook on the world has influenced later people, such as Stanford biology professor Paul Ehrlich, to argue that the human population (>7 billion and rising as of the time of this writing) should be curtailed, by direct or indirect means.
Now, Thanos is a big purple space alien, so it’s unlikely that he has read Malthus, but the core idea is the same. His proposed solution is quite extreme, as it involves the killing of healthy, living adults, a step to far for even very extreme Malthusians, but Thanos sees unmatched justice in randomly picking victims. His assertion that the living half of the universe would enjoy greater prosperity is probably true (See: post-Black Death Europe, post World War I or II United States, for examples of aftermaths of high-death, low-property damage events) , though the dead half might dispute his conception of mercy.
A criticism of Thanos’s plan that I’ve seen in several places involves the fact that, with the Infinity Gauntlet, he can as easily double resources as halve the population, which would achieve the same outcome without the genocidal death rate. And why I can understand why Thanos doesn’t realize this: he sought to cull the population before he sought the Infinity Stones, and once he did seek the Stones, implementing his grisly solution had probably replaced solving the problem as the main priority in his mind. This sort of monomania is not at all uncommon in policy makers. But it does speak to what I’ve found to be the underlying issue with Thanos: unlike the Vulture or Killmonger, who had legitimate grievances shared by many audience members, Thanos is working from a premise not held by many people. Overpopulation is not really a pressing issue. Poverty in the modern era is considerably more complicated than “too many mouths, not enough food”. We only have Thanos’ word for what happened on Titan, and that’s not worth much, really, when we’re dealing with someone deluded enough to warrant the title “The Mad Titan”. Thanos does not connect to the audience the way he’s intended to; he’s just too evil to be sympathetic.
That said, Thanos isn’t really the problem with this film, as much as the story surrounding him and our many, many heroes. Namely, that it is the first half of a story, which won’t be continued until next year. I can’t enjoy watching the first half of something unless I have the second half to follow it up with. But I have to wait, which means I have to wait to review the story until then. For now, I give Avengers: Infinity War an incomplete.
TO BE CONCLUDED SUMMER 2019