Avengers: Infinity War
Anthony & Joe Russo
Avengers: Infinity War and its follow up Endgame represented the largest undertaking in Hollywood history. How to wrap up stories and character arcs from a decade’s worth of movies?
ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Marvel’s heroes band together to stop Thanos, a gigantic purple being determined to gather six Infinity Stones and use them to wipe out half of life with a snap of his fingers.
Avengers: Infinity War offers far too many characters to describe individually. The point of the movie is that you know who they are and what they can do. You’ve seen their movies, now see them together.
Events in the movie are slow to unroll. We meet Thanos (Josh Brolin) and his cronies first, moments after the end of Thor: Ragnarok, where he’s killed most of the Asgardians and captures one of the Infinity Stones from Loki (Tom Hiddleston). (Thanos arrives with the purple Power Stone already on his gauntlet.)
Earth’s mightiest heroes are scattered across the galaxy as the movie unfolds, and much of the runtime is spent gathering them to the places they need to be. Captain America, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Falcon, and Iron Patriot (Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany in human form for a minute, Anthony Mackie, and Don Cheadle, respectively) meet up first in Edinburgh and then at The Avengers headquarters in upstate New York. From there they fly to Wakanda to meet Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) et al.
Meanwhile, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) returns to Earth to warn Iron Man, Dr. Strange, and Wong, (Robert Downey Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch, and Benedict Wong, respectively) that “Thanos is coming!” Sure is, buddy, and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) knows it as well. He has strong sense abilities, remember?
Double meanwhile, out in “SPACE,” are the Guardians of the Galaxy, including Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket Raccoon, brooding teenage Groot, Drax, and Mantis (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, and Pom Klementieff, respectively). They collect an at-death’s-door Thor (Chris Hemsworth).
As soon as they’ve banded together they break off again, once Thanos launches his assault on Earth, where two Stones are located. Iron Man and Spider-Man head to space, chasing an incapacitated Dr. Strange, keeper of the Time Stone. Thor and Rocket break from the Guardians’ ship to make Thor a new weapon of immense power while the remaining Guardians eventually join Stark, Parker, and Strange on Thanos’s home planet Titan.
Like I said, plenty of gathering. The Avengers series in general and its final two films specifically were an unprecedented shot to assemble more major characters and major actors in a movie than ever before. Avengers: Infinity War (and Endgame) seek to wrap up dozens of stories from dozens of movies spanning the previous decade. The Russo brothers had to summon their own heroics to make this movie (and the next one) succeed.
As Nebula might say, they did it.
The number of named characters boggles the mind, and to make it work the movie has to have them interact in the ways we come to expect. Infinity War works partly on its own, and mostly because of the work that came before it, and it’s the characters that achieve its success.
Iron Man and Captain America, the figurative heads of two Avengers factions that splintered during the course of Captain America: Civil War, are still at odds with each other, though they don’t meet in Infinity War. All parties are reacting to Thanos, and their efforts bring them to two locations: Titan and Wakanda.
With all these characters, some must rise above the others in screentime. Gamora is the most important character on the hero side. She’s in a good place when she first appears, even singing to a rock song. Honest-to-God singing.
Gamora is Thanos’s favorite daughter, and we see their first meeting in a flashback. Thanos arrived on her planet to practice his art of killing half the population. Gamora is not scared to meet the author of her planet’s chaos, and Thanos takes to her, gifting a dual knife to her, a weapon perfectly balanced.
It’s that knife the adult Gamora clutches as she plans to trick and kill Thanos in Knowhere, home of The Collector and the red Reality Stone. Gamora makes Peter Quill promise to kill her if necessary. “I know something he doesn’t,” she says. “Trust me, and possibly kill me.”
Gamora and the other Guardians try to ambush her adoptive father, but he’s several steps and Stones ahead of them. Thanos captures Gamora and, after some light torture, takes her to Vormir, the center of the cosmos, to acquire the yellow Soul Stone.
Gamora’s tragedy is in freely walking to her fate. The audience gains a growing dread that she will not survive this journey. Thanos, who knows a little about these Stones, probably understood all the time he would sacrifice the only person in the universe he calls, “Daughter.” “A soul for a soul,” the Stone’s administrative assistant Red Skull declares. Thanos pushes Gamora over the edge, and yet another woman dies so a man will not ignore his destiny.
The Soul Stone is interesting. It requires a sacrifice. Thanos brings his beloved to kill her, but the Stone is more demanding and petulant than even God in Genesis, who stays Abraham’s hand when he is moments from killing his son.
I’ll point out some good moments and bad regarding the heroes.
- Vision tells Captain America, “One life cannot stand in the way of defeating [Thanos].” Cap responds, “We don’t trade lives.”
- “If you want to stand in our way,” Cap says to Secretary Ross, “we’ll fight you, too. I’m not looking for forgiveness.”
- Dr. Strange and Tony Stark have huge egos that clash from moment one, with Strange calling Stark a douchebag, which is a funny thing for a wizard to say. Strange also says that he would not hesitate to sacrifice Stark, Parker, or anyone if it meant protecting the green Time Stone, as he has sworn to do.
- Spider-Man gets a significant suit upgrade courtesy his sugar uncle Stark. It even has an Insta-kill feature.
- Thor, recently able to harness lightning, absorbs the brunt force of a star’s energy. Part of Groot becomes the handle for the new ax. Thor has suffered most in the Avengers universe, a fact he explains to the Guardians. He has watched his brother, evil sister, mother, and father die in a few short years. His girlfriend could be anywhere. His entire world and society were recently destroyed. After 1,500 years of life, “I’m only alive because fate wants me alive,” he says. Before setting off to the star forge to gain a new weapon he says, “If I’m wrong, what more could I lose?”
- Gamora’s death. She was the most interesting Guardian.
- Mark Ruffalo seems high the entire movie. He can’t do comedy and is supposed to sell us the “Hulk won’t come out to play” storyline.
- Any time Peter Quill speaks. I can’t stand this guy. “Even frat bros can reform,” seems to be the Russo brothers’ selling point for Star-Lord. He calls himself Gamora’s “long-term booty call” while Thanos has her in his clutches, then he botches the plan to take off his gauntlet and ruins half the universe. Fuck this guy so hard. He’s the leader of the Guardians but is easily its worst character.
- Not enough Captain America. He’s my favorite, but you can’t please everyone in a movie this epic.
It’s Thanos. He’s bad. The Mad Titan hails from Titan and has a history deeper than what’s shown in Infinity War. He claims his planet was overcrowded and desperate for a change. He offered to randomly kill one half of the population. His people thought him insane and ignored him. The society destroyed itself. He proved prophetic, so he claims.
Thanos wants to expand his great society to the entire universe by using the Infinity Stones to wipe away half of life with the snap of his fingers. (Thanos appears to mean half of sentientlife, because we don’t see any plants disappear when he achieves his goal.)
Thanos has worked behind the scenes since The Avengers six years before. We finally see what he can do from the opening of Infinity War, which begins with an attack on the ship carrying all surviving Asgardians. We see the aftermath, with most of them dead and Thanos hoping to take from Loki the blue Space Stone housed inside the Tesseract. In a few minutes we learn Thanos is as strong as the Hulk, able to crush the Tesseract and hold it the Stone with his bare hand, and eager to kill Loki and Heimdall.
From there it’s across the galaxy for Thanos. We have much catching up to do, as he does with his two daughters Gamora and Nebula (Karen Gillan). By threatening to kill those they love, Thanos extracts information about the location of certain stones. He fools Loki and kills him; he does the same with his adoptive daughter Gamora.
The Soul Stone, we learn, demands a terrible price. Thanos understands he must kill Gamora in a scene that’s meant to be heartbreaking, and it is, but also predictable and bland. How many women must die for men to achieve their goals?
Thanos’s physical strength is a large reason for his power. He goes toe to toe with Hulk, which has never happened. He throws Avengers like dolls. He’s twice the height of humans, and he seems to be of a species of his like, though they are all dead now?
Brolin helps make Thanos a fascinating character; he is the best cast of the movie. Does life across the galaxy suffer so much? Thanos thinks so, and when you see his home planet you understand. Whatever happened to it, even the gravity is ruined on Titan. Did its people do that? The movie does not say.
Thanos is crazy and with grandiose plans, but his relationships with his adoptive daughters makes him a better character. We know Gamora as a just person. We know Nebula as an insane person, but who wouldn’t be after being turned into a machine? Both these women are characters we like and root for, and Thanos loves them. He kills Gamora to achieve his end, and he knows Nebula might be killed by his Snap. He does it anyway.
Like I said, it’s a long time before the primary characters are marshalled into place. Thanos has two Stones after a few minutes of runtime, and he needs to get four more. He gains the Reality Stone easily and the Soul Stone after killing his daughter, Gamora. The final two Stones require the most effort in Infinity War.
Thanos returns to his decimated home world Titan to capture the Time Stone, helpfully brought by Dr. Strange after the latter crashes there. Also present are Iron Man, Spider-Man, and the Guardians minus the dead Gamora and Rocket and Groot, who flew Thor to the star forge. Once they establish being on the same side, they hatch a plan.
The key here is Dr. Strange. Using the Time Stone, he flashes through 14,000,605 possible futures regarding Thanos and acquiring all six Stones. Strange says Thanos wins all of them, except one.
That tidy prediction is swept away for a time, because here comes Thanos, now able to zap himself to any place he wants. There’s some chit chat. Thanos has heard of Tony Stark, another fact forgotten soon after.
Thanos explains his reasons a bit. On Titan were “too many mouths, not enough to go around.” He proposed a “random” culling of half the population. His people, surprisingly only to him, called him insane. He started his plot to acquire the Stones, searching the galaxy for them, using his Black Order and his tortured daughters Gamora and Nebula to help him, as we’ve learned from other movies. All to “watch the sun rise on a grateful universe.”
Not if the heroes have their say. The plan is simple: steal the gauntlet. But Thanos is big and strong, and during the long fight sequence they struggle to take it. For all their respective powers–Dr. Strange can create portals, Iron Man has lasers shooting from everywhere–they rely on the mind-bending skills of Mantis. After the fight starts, and many have landed their blows, Mantis leaps onto Thanos and uses her empathic skills to dull his thinking. The other guys hold various limbs to slow him. Iron Man and __ try to pry the gauntlet free.
Star Lord shows up, gets all cocky about his plan, and blows it. Mantis says Thanos feels great pain. Star Lord realizes that Gamora didn’t show up with him, and he freaks out, bashing Thanos’s face and breaking Mantis’s power over him.
Thanos gets real mad. All the heroes are beaten soundly. Spider-Man webs around the floating junk to save them while Iron Man battles Thanos. Thanos, in one of the movie’s signature scenes, drops a moon on him. Iron Man, for his part, makes Thanos bleed. His suit practically disintegrates. Thanos ends up stabbing Iron Man with part of said suit. “You have my respect, Stark,” Thanos says. “I hope they remember you.”
It’s here that Infinity War seems to unravel. At least it makes you go “Hmm.” Dr. Strange offers Thanos the Time Stone if he will spare Stark. You might recall Strange saying he definitely would not do that. You might also recall that he foresaw only one chance to beat Thanos. Hmm, indeed. Stay tuned. Thanos takes the Time Stone and teleports to Earth.
A great swath of Infinity War is CGI, of course. Thanos is the one thing they had to get right, and they did. Brolin’s face shows up beneath the purple and the striped jaw, and it works. We need those humanized moments to make us understand and fear Thanos more. Those moments succeed. They don’t always work in fight scenes, especially when the heroes are doing their power moves. Thanos punching Hulk looks fake, and that detracts, but what can they do? The Russos are playing with the cards they were dealt, but instead of poker they are playing war; you’d rather have an ace, but sometimes you have a five, and it’s enough.
The effects garnered Infinity War an Oscar nomination for Best Effects, a feat few Marvel movies have achieved. The movie deserved it. Thanos dropped a moon on Tony!
Most of the characters in Infinity War are heroes, but some are more sidekicks than others. Spider-Man, (I refuse to show up) Hulk, Drax, Bucky, and so many others are in a few scenes. When the star of the number three all time box office champ Black Panther is relegated to supporting character status, you know you have a stacked cast.
Four creatures, bled of color, assist Thanos. The Black Order consists of ___. The clear creepshow here is Ebony Maw, who is the first character to speak on screen. He walks through the Asgardian dead on their ship and tells them they have “the privilege of being saved by the great Titan” as they are dying.
Maw descends to Earth soon after to bless humans for their imminent cleansing. Yeah, creepy AF, much scarier than Thanos, and nearly as powerful. This guy can manipulate matter with ease, sending everyday items streaking toward heroes like missiles.
Proxima Midnight is the only female in the crew. She battles Black Widow, Okoye (Danai Gurira), and Scarlet Witch during the Battle of Wakanda, and spews good lines. When the heroes tell her that Thanos will have only dust and blood, she tells them, “We have blood to spare.” Damn. Gives me the willies. The other two Black Order members get got without being memorable.
It’s hard to do stunts when half the characters can fly, shoot lasers, teleport, or more than one of those things. Sometimes, though, a battle is just two sides running at each other, and that’s what we get at the Battle of Wakanda.
Once Thanos gets the Time Stone, he is only one orange Mind Stone removed from snapping away half of all creatures. His fight on Titan coincides with his Black Order attacking Wakanda, and it is epic shit.
Vision is in Wakanda so Shuri (Letitia Wright) can study the Mind Stone and destroy it without killing Vision. The Black Order descends on Wakanda to take the Stone, and whatever happens to Vision is none of their concern.
Several gigantic spaceships thud into the ground and shake the nation. Wakanda’s force field covers the place with a protective dome, and the enemy cannot breach it.
Black Panther leads his people alongside Captain America, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan,with a new vibranium arm), Black Widow, Banner, Okoye, and more. Scarlet Witch is with Vision in surgery as a last line of defense.
Black Panther, Cap, and Black Widow approach the edge of the dome to speak with Proxima Midnight (the woman) and ___ (the big one). “Where’s your other friend?” Black Widow asks tauntingly.
“You are in Wakanda now,” Black Panther says. He tells Proxima that Thanos will get nothing but blood and dust. (How foretelling.) Proxima delivers the line of the movie. “We have blood to spare.” Chilling.
Those spaceships open and out pour thousands of six-limbed monsters, ones we’ve seen attack New York at the end of The Avengers, sprinting through the trees and into the force field. They don’t care if their limbs are sawed off. Still they come, like a DDOS attack on the force field, enough to break through.
Falcon and Iron Patriot patrol the skies and gun down several aliens. Black Panther has a bright idea, to open part of the shield to lure the aliens in and concentrate fire on them. It’s a solid plan, and it starts the general charge of the human fighters.
Cap and Black Panther, imbued with special strength, outrun the other humans and meet the aliens in a creek. From then on it’s mostly chaos in the battlefield. The aliens are maws of muscled arms and every fist fight is about speed. It’s muddled down there, as in most battles, and it would be a problem but for the characters we love are fighting.
The Black Order have better weapons. The ground shakes again as a five-wheeled tunneling device bursts from beneath the ground, breaks apart, and whizzes about the battlefield like forty-foot buzzsaws run amok.
Scarlet Witch chooses this moment to abandon Vision. She uses her mind lasers to prevent the saws from killing all her friends. Okoye jokes, “She was up there the whole time?” Yes, and she needed to stay there, because another Black Order member (the quiet guy) enters the room to attack. Scarlet Witch might have stopped him, but the Wakandan guards are much less powerful. Vision can’t do much but escape.
Now we are treated to a great fight. Proxima wants revenge for the earlier attack in Edinburgh. She faces down Black Widow and taunts her for being alone. “You’re not alone,” Black Widow says. YAS, queen! We get a three-on-one all-lady brawl.
The other member of the Black Order poking around attacks Vision after Scarlet Witch bails on the surgery. Shuri is there to fight back, but she’s overmatched. It’s Bruce Banner, wearing the Hulkbuster suit, using a disembodied arm to blast the big bad guy into the force field dome.
All of this is prelude to the coolest moment of the movie. Until now we’ve forgotten about Thor and his star-absorption scenes from a few minutes ago. Now’s the time to cash in on that.
Thor thunders into the battlefield and blows up whole ships, showing that he could handle most of the battle, and all this was pointless.
Where does the endgame begin? Dr. Strange says it’s after giving Thanos the Time Stone. I agree. Thanos teleports to Earth, specifically Wakanda, where the final Infinity Stone is housed on Vision’s head.
One last hope for half of life rests with Wanda Maximoff now. Her mind powers are the only chance to destroy the Stone and prevent Thanos from snapping his fingers. He’ll still have five Stones to do as he wishes across the universe, but not six. But if the sixth is destroyed, he’ll have all the stones still. From this description you can deduce that the plan is desperate and probably won’t make a difference.
The next few minutes are tasteful, dramatic, gut-wrenching, and concise enough to leave you wrecked. It’s hard to peel oneself off one’s seat after it.
Thanos appears in Wakanda a few yards from where Wanda is trying to kill her boyfriend, or at least part of him. “You can never hurt me,” Vision says. The Avengers+ rush toward Big Purple to attack him one at a time, but they do little.
The movie shows Thanos walk in slow motion as Black Panther, Iron Patriot, Bucky, and more run at him and are tossed aside like pesky kittens. Captain America catches a punch from the gauntlet, enough to slow his roll, and Thanos looks at him with confusion. He didn’t expect anyone could do that now.
Thanos tosses Cap aside as well and reaches Wanda. She diverts one arm to shoot red mind lasers at Thanos and keeps the other arm focused on destroying the Stone. She does. Scarlet Witch destroys the Mind Stone. Thanos comforts her, “I understand, my child,” he says, about sacrificing the ones you love to reach a goal. He did the same a few hours ago.
The problem is, Thanos has the Time Stone now and can go full Cher on any situation. He can turn back time. Thanos runs it back to a few seconds ago, before the Stone’s destruction, and plucks it from Vision’s forehead. Vision is tossed aside, probably dead.
Thanos has the Infinity Stones now.
Life is not over yet, because here comes Thor’s ax, flying into Thanos’s chest. Thor swoops in to taunt him. “I told you you’d die for that,” he says, regarding killing Heimdall way back in the beginning of the movie.
Thanos, looking OK for having an ax protruding from his chest, taunts back. “You should have gone for the head.”
Thanos does The Snap.
He’s transported to a placeless shallow pool, where he greets a young Gamora. The child asks him if he achieved his goal. “What did it cost?” Thanos answers, “Everything.”
Back on Wakanda, the gauntlet is broken, and somehow Thanos is sent to another world to smile at the sun rising on a grateful universe.
The Russo Brothers nailed it. No music, as each character turns to dust. First is Bucky, who crumbles before his friend Steve Rogers, who kneels to feel the detritus that was his buddy seconds ago.
We watch several others disintegrate. Scarlet Witch and Black Panther vanish. Groot and Falcon vanish, too. On Titan we see Drax and Star Lord disappear. Spider-Man tells Tony he feels funny, then he clutches his mentor and whimpers that he doesn’t want to go. He vanishes. Dr. Strange, who gave Thanos the Time Stone, says, “There was no other way,” before he vanishes.
Each character’s vanishing falls with a heavy blow. Black Panther and Spider-Man were the saddest, for me. It’s as powerful as any moment in the MCU to that point.
Nebula, watching her worst nightmare come true, laments. “He did it,” she says, with the finality of someone who has seen her life’s goal fail utterly.
Thanos, a farmer now on some planet, smiles at his work and the movie ends.
Infinity War juggles so many characters that it’s easy to ignore its most difficult feat: making you laugh.
“Earth is closed today,” Stark tells two members of the Black Order. Tony also converses with Dr. Strange’s cloak.
Stark has a flip phone specifically for calling Steve Rogers.
Rocket calls Groot a “total d-hole.” And the Guardians think Thor is a pirate angel. Drax calls Peter a dude while Thor is a man. The team wonders if Kevin Bacon could be an Avenger.
I believe they cast the right tone for the penultimate Avengers movie, matching levity with gravity. Someone once said: comedy = tragedy + time. Tragedy is part of comedy. Why not have both in one movie?
Wakanda is the sight of the major battle, but it’s on the nation’s periphery, in its fields and forest. A fine place for a battle. Imagine what four years of trench warfare would do to Wakanda.
With so many characters spread throughout the galaxy, we get plenty of settings. Titan comes through with an orange hue. Massive structures float in its sky thanks to wonky gravity.
Edinburgh and New York are cities about as different as they can be, but the antagonists explore their spaces in short battles with Thanos’s lieutenants.
Color plays important roles in all Marvel movies, and the palate helps evoke place in Infinity War more than most others. Watching green? That’s the Battle of Wakanda. Orange is Titan, of course, deep blue is somewhere in space, and the gray of concrete means you’re seeing punches thrown in New York.
When the fate of half the universe is at stake, Earth’s petty problems seem miniscule. And they are. The heroes spend most of their energy fighting Thanos, with little knowledge of how to stop him, only that they should.
I’ve said my piece about Gamora dying, but I won’t dock the movie for it.
- Tony had a vivid dream about having a daughter named Morgan with Pepper. File that one away.
- Iron Man has nanotech sweatshirts now. Can it be washed like normal?
- Steve Rogers’s phone has an Atlanta area code. I know they made the movie in Georgia, but would Steve live there?
- I’m anti-Star Lord, but to his credit he did pull the trigger at Gamora as she made him promise. The gun shot bubbles, but he didn’t know it would.
- The music disappointed me. The Avengers theme is terrific, but they sped it up too fast.
Summary (43/68): 63%
What plays as the first of a two-part movie is hard to judge without seeing the ending. Let’s try anyway.
Avengers: Infinity War coherently corrals characters from countless movies and franchises into a single force fighting the galaxy’s greatest villain to date.
This movie could not possibly work without the films that preceded it. It works. We know who its characters are and what they can do. Only the villain needs elaborating. Thankfully, Thanos is a good villain. Without one this movie would never have worked.
Infinity War is an excellent start to the end.