I wasn’t originally planning to write a review of Infinity War. I didn’t see it until Wednesday and by then it seemed that the moment had passed. But after reading several reviews and some rumination on the movie, I have a few thoughts. And that is what this will be, less a review and more me laying out a few thoughts.
Major SPOILERS throughout. Since this is a spoiler “review,” feel free to discuss any spoilers in the comments, including ones I don’t address in my post.
I have three thoughts. Four if you count “this was a really good movie overall and probably my fifth favorite MCU movie” as a thought.
If Captain America: Civil War was really an Avengers movie (it was), then Avengers: Infinity War is really a Thor movie.* It isn’t an Avengers movie because the Avengers are never assembled (Iron Man and Spider-Man are already in SPAAAACE by the time the others assemble in Wakanda). The story, too, is bigger than them. The Avengers don’t have any greater role than Dr. Strange or the Guardians of the Galaxy. Iron Man plays a very significant role, but the other primary Avenger, Captain America, is reduced to playing a second-tier role. I agree with Adam Whitehead that Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Thanos, Gamora, and Thor are the main characters. Well, almost. Because, if this isn’t Thanos’ movie (more on that next), it is Thor’s. Infinity War is a direct sequel to Civil War, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and Thor: Raganrok. Thor losing his hammer and gaining his new lightning directly affect the story in Infinity War. The only character actively moving against Thanos instead of just reacting is Thor. The entire movie sets up a final confrontation between Thor and Thanos (taken from us in a twist that I thought was effective, but YMMV).
Thor is positioned squarely against Thanos, but then Thanos dominates every other plot thread as well. You can fairly say that Infinity War is a supervillain movie and that it is Thanos’ movie. There are a few things you cannot fairly say. Thanos’ actions and motivations are not “understandable.” They are understandable in that there are people walking the earth today who will openly claim—without basis, mind you—that there are too many people, although they usually stop short of the end implication. But it isn’t understandable. It’s crazy. And that, I think, is why Thanos works as a villain. He is so clearly mad, and it is terrifying, because he has the power to put his insanity to bloody effect. He is a monster and he does monstrous things. One of the weirder ideas to take hold in popular culture is that a villain, to be effective, must have understandable motivations. One, there are ample examples to the contrary. My favorite example being The Judge from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, who is so chilling exactly because he is inexplicable (he is also clearly supernatural, which means that McCarthy has written two SF novels). Two, this reflects moral relativism nonsense (“One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”). Which leads to even people like Anthony at SuperversiveSF bizarrely redefining the word “monster” so that it doesn’t apply to Thanos.
It is okay if your villains are morally incoherent! It is not okay if your heroes are. And that is the fundamental flaw of Infinity War, the one thing that keeps it from being a great movie (well, that and the fact that it is only half a movie). The issue pops up four separate times, so it has to be intentional.
It’s setup almost immediately by the conversation between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts. How dare Iron Man risk his life defending the world when it might leave his lover alone? (So Hollywood definitely thinks every police officer, firefighter, and soldier in America is an asshole, huh? Yeah, that isn’t surprising.) After this setup, at least three times characters are given the chance to put duty above self.
Vision is willing to give up his life if it means denying Thanos the Mind Stone. His fellow Avengers are insistent that they not do so, shortly after risking their lives to stop Thanos’ henchmen from seizing the Mind Stone. Gamora leads Nebula to the Soul Stone rather than see Thanos continue to hurt Nebula. Doctor Strange hands over the Time Stone to Thanos to save Iron Man’s life, saying, “It was the only way.” They do all of this despite (1) repeatedly being willing to put their lives on the line in combat and (2) Thanos’ well known goal of wiping out half the life in the universe. Which he does. Good job saving Vision, Nebula, and Iron Man: trillions upon trillions are dead now. Vision winds up dead anyway. Nebula lives but Gamora dies. Nebula and Iron Man live, but they just as easily could have died at the end as anyone else. Heroic sacrifice is one of the most powerful tropes in fiction; Infinity War doesn’t just seem not to get that, it seems to actively think the opposite is preferable. (Of course much of this could be undone by the second half of the movie, as the deaths themselves surely will be.)
*By the way, I said before seeing it that the three “must-watch” movies in anticipation of Infinity War were Guardians of the Galaxy 1, Captain America: Civil War, and Thor: Ragnarok. The third was the one where I went a little out of a limb. I feel completely vindicated now.
Thoughts? Disagreements? Feel free to spew your nonsense below.