AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and Sympathetic Villains (SPOILERS)

So, I saw AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR this weekend because of course I did (I mean, with a cursory knowledge of my tastes you know I would be all over this.)  Short, non-spoiler version of this: I really enjoyed it.

Also, I’m kind of in marvel (ha!) at it.  Because it’s an incredible technical achievement, on every level of filmmaking craft.  Given that so many elements were likely filmed in isolation– I imagine Chris Hemsworth barely saw any of the other actors, and the Big Battle probably had a number of elements that were never in the same room– it’s amazing how well it all comes together.  I mean, filmmaking is already painting individual pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and hoping it makes something beautiful when it comes together.  This movie is like cutting each piece individually, then painting them, and then trying to even make the pieces fit.  It’s a miracle for that alone.

But I think it really works.

Time for spoilers.  Bail now if you need to.

It also breaks your heart, and really doesn’t even give you a sliver of relief.  And that’s by design.  I mean, Thanos wins, and even though we have a strong contingent of our heroes still standing, it’s still just bereft of hope, and you sit through the credits waiting for them to give you that little bit of something.  The first set of credits ends and you’re expecting the usual mid-credits tease, like having Hawkeye show up and go, “All right, I’ve got a plan, and it’s a longshot– but that’s what I do best.”  But, no.

And that’s because this movie isn’t the Avengers’ movie.  It’s Thanos’s.  He’s the consistent character threaded throughout, he’s the one who is given the most development.

And most important: he believes he’s the hero of this story.  He believes he has to do this, no matter the cost, and the movie makes it very clear that it really is a cost for him.  When he kills Gamora to get the Soul Stone, that’s real– it has to be or it wouldn’t work– and Brolin (and the Motion Capture animation team) does a fantastic job conveying his grief and grim determination toward his terrible mission.

But the movie supports this Thanos-as-protagonist read, by giving him the sit-and-watch-the-sunset moment at the end, by having the final bit of the movie read “THANOS WILL RETURN”.

It wants you to feel for him, even as his mission tears your heart out.

And, oh, does it.  I contend that part of why he needs all six stones to do it is because the Soul Stone adds the element that makes it hurt.  The Soul Stone makes it so it isn’t just people dying or floating to ash all at once, but doing so in a way that they’re aware it’s happening, and then aware it’s happening to them, and with a timing that makes it all the more painful.  I mean, just the ones on Titan: First Mantis (that’s sad), then Drax (also sad), then Quill (sad, but you also screwed up, so that’s a shame).  That’s three out of seven, so it could stop there.  Then Doctor Strange, and that really hurts, because part of your brain tells you that if anyone can fix this, it’s him, so now you’re losing hope. And your brain goes, “OK, that’s more than half the people there, so it’s done.”

And then they take Peter Parker.  And he goes full David Tenant “I don’t want to go” and falls into Tony’s arms before disappearing.  And if that sequence isn’t the most beautifully calculated break-your-heart moment, I don’t know what is.

I think there’s something brilliant in how the filmmakers know that we know A. there’s another movie next year to be the back half and B. we know that things will be fixed because Comics, Everybody!  (And because most of the “dead” people have sequel movies announced.)  So they don’t have to give us more than that.

They know they can have the villain win, and let it sit with that, and instead focus the movie on having him earn it.

Our heroes will get him, though.  Tony said it himself, back in the first Avengers movie: If they can’t protect the Earth, you can be damn well sure they’ll avenge it.


  1. I have several theories as to how it will be resolved. The biggest question I have about the movie internally is “when” .

  2. Thank you for this spoiler-filled review. I needed that, going in, so I can prepare myself. (Even if it all gets reversed in the next movie.) It’s interesting that you think this is Thanos’s movie, as Black Panther was Killmonger’s movie. The shift in focus away from heroes and toward conflicted, relatable villains is interesting and certainly makes for good cinema — one of my favorite villains of all time is Nuada from Hellboy II. Do you see this trend reflected in books? Recs? (I mean, other than the terrible-people-doing-terrible-things-to-each-other shadenfreude books like Gone Girl.)

  3. At first, I was like “Bucky died! And he just reconnected with Cap.”

    “Scarlet Witch? With Vision gone, I guess her story line ran its course.”

    “Falcon is gone? Oh well, he was always more of a supporting character, anyway.”

    “Oh, no T’challa is dea– OK, I’m calling bullshit. I know a Black Panther sequel is on the way.”

    “Starlord is dead? No way, not with a Guardians 3 in the works.”

    “Peter Parker? You’re not going to convince me that Marvel finally got the rights back to Spider-Man just so they could kill him off.”

    All of the deaths preceeding that moment raised the stakes (Loki, Gamora, Vision, etc.) but all the deaths after that carried no weight for me. The only time I thought of Dr. Who was while wondering what kind of “timey-wimey” pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo they’re going to use to unkill all of those characters. I’m really not complaining. I enjoyed the movie, I just didn’t experience the emotional reaction a lot of people reported.

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