Countdown to Endgame #21: Infinity War Goes Dark

As The Avengers: Endgame approaches, Team Midnight has committed to watch all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films released to date in chronological (story) order: 22 films in 8 weeks. Follow along with us.

Friends, we made it! Avengers: Infinity War pulls characters together from across the vast expanses of the MCU and connects storylines that have been evolving through multiple series: the previous Avengers films of course – but also the Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor, and Captain Americas, as well as the Doctor Strange, Spider-Man and Black Panther stand-alones.

Thanos has been behind a few of the MCU villains of past stories (ex: Loki in The Avengers, Ronan in Guardians) and we know he is Gamora and Nebula’s father and the genocidal maniac who killed Drax’s family – but Infinity War is the first time we get to learn what he is really after.

Infinity stones have been central to many MCU stories – but in Infinity War, all six come together for the first time (remember that foreshadowing in Age of Ultron?). Before we get going, let’s recall where we last saw each, shall we?

  • The Space Stone / The Tesseract (blue) – Last seen in Asgard’s vault in Thor: Ragnarok before Asgard was destroyed
  • The Mind Stone / Loki’s Staff (yellow) – In Age of Ultron, Tony and Bruce used the mind stone to create Vision, one of earth’s Avengers
  • The Reality Stone / The Aether (red) – Last seen being delivered to The Collector by Lady Sif and her Asgardian warrior friends in the post-credits scene in The Dark World
  • The Power Stone / The Orb (purple) – Last seen in Guardians of the Galaxy, locked away now in the Nova Corps vaults on Xandar as far as we know
  • The Time Stone / The Eye of Agamotto (green) – Last seen in Doctor Strange, currently under the protection of the Doc at the New York sanctum

The sixth, the rumored Soul Stone (orange), we haven’t seen yet.

Hero: The Avengers, The Guardians, E’erybody

“It’s all been leading to this.

Tony Stark

Team Titan, defending the Time Stone

  • Tony Stark / Iron Man
  • Doctor Strange
  • Peter Parker / Spider-Man
  • Nebula
  • Mantis
  • Drax
  • Peter Quill / Star-Lord

Team Wakanda, defending the Mind Stone

  • Steve Rogers / Captain America
  • Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow
  • Bruce Banner / Hulk
  • Col. Rhodes / War Machine
  • King T’Challa / Black Panther
  • Vision
  • Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch
  • Sam Wilson / Falcon
  • Bucky Barnes / The Winter Soldier
  • Okoye
  • Shuri
  • M’Baku
©Marvel Studios 2018

Team Space, doing other important stuff

  • Thor
  • Gamora
  • Loki
  • Heimdall
  • Groot
  • Rocket Raccoon

Villain: Thanos

“This universe is finite, its resources, finite.

If life is left unchecked, life will cease to exist. It needs correcting.”

Referred to by some as the “Mad Titan,” Thanos is a powerful alien being who is obsessed with a truth he can’t unsee: that life, with its unstoppable will to replicate and survive, is on a collision course with extinction. He also believes that he knows the solution to this problem and has made it his purpose to act on it: to eliminate half of every population, chosen at random. He has enlisted the Chitauri army and an elite force of evil bad guys, The Black Order, to carry out his vision, planet by planet, throughout the universe…. Though his master plan is to wield the power of all six infinity stones, which would make his will manifest instantaneously.

Villain Complexity Rating: 5/5

At one point Thanos says to Tony Stark that “I, too, am cursed with knowledge” – an important window into his state of mind. Thanos is definitely ruthless, arrogant, and very likely unhinged by grief and isolation – but he isn’t an evil genocidal maniac, he’s not interested in power for personal gain, nor does he aspire to dominate and rule over others. He believes he understands a painful truth that others aren’t able or willing to see, and because this truth has been deeply felt in his own life, is willing to make incredibly hard, ugly choices in order to save living beings from their own inevitable demise. Thanos saw his home planet, Titan, devastated and destroyed by overpopulation, his own people driven to extinction. Though he horrifically slaughters half of the population of every planet he visits, he does so dispassionately, with a fierce commitment to fairness through randomization. He believes that the long-term impact for that place and those people will be positive: the elimination of poverty and hunger, balanced and thriving ecosystems, peace, harmony – and he has seen that come to pass at the places whose populations he has terrorized, such as Gamora’s home world.

Personifying the reckoning of life in a finite universe is a heavy burden, and Thanos clearly feels its weight. He is willing to bear the hatred of others and sacrifice everything and everyone he loves in order to achieve his purpose, so deep is his commitment to a fair, just, balanced, peaceful universe. Kind of sounds like the way we describe our heroes.

“What’s at Stake” Rating: 5/5

If Thanos obtains all six infinity stones, he will be powerful enough to eliminate half of all life in the universe with a snap of his fingers and he will do it, without hesitation.

What did our hero(es) learn?

Of course each hero’s story is a little different – but the unifying theme here is complete, utter, devastating failure. Even though every hero gives it everything they have – fighting harder than ever before, taking on challenges they’ve never had to face, and making incredibly courageous and heartbreaking sacrifices, they lose. They fail. And the consequences are an incomprehensible loss of life – loved ones, massive populations, hitting everyone close, everywhere in the universe.

Heroism Rating: 4.4/5

There are – we counted – 25 heroes in the mix here, so we doled out scores and figured out the average. Lots of folks are hitting character highs: Tony goes to outer space to fight Thanos with no guarantee of returning home, Wanda willingly kills her beloved Vision, Vision volunteers – immediately – to die, Thor relights a dying star, Gamora tries to kill herself again and again in order to prevent Thanos from achieving his goal. Not many, but a few really mess up: our dear Peter Quill, destroyed by grief and anger, starts punching Thanos in the face at the critical moment, which totally fs the team fighting Titan… and Hulk is too embarrassed, hurt, and scared to come out to fight in Wakanda, though he is desperately needed. Overall, though, folks are putting themselves out there in the middle of the most harm without hesitation, which makes their collective failure all the harder to take, in the end.

Visual Aesthetic/CGI Rating: 4.5/5

Infinity War looks great. The Russo Bros are masters at choreographing engaging combat sequences that have variable pacing, memorable character beats, and visual misdirection to mask CG trickery – which is especially important in this case, in which 80%* of the film’s runtime is fights. Infinity War also busts out some truly spectacular imagery: the sequence with the star-forge at Nidavellir, Vormir’s mythological desert/mountain/alter situation where Gamora meets her tragic end, Thanos’ post-finger-snap sunrise dreamscape, and of course – the haunting stillness that settles as so many beloved characters dissolve to ash and blow away. Most of the CG characters – especially Thanos – look amazing. We have some gripes about the way all-CG characters look in combat situations with real people – the Proxima Midnight (no relation) fight with Black Widow, Okoye, and Scarlet Witch is a good example of the kind of floaty pixar effect that can be distracting. And don’t the suit guys look a little strange when they take off their masks (like their heads are floating, detached from their cartoon bodies)? Overall, though, this is an impressive film – and the visuals add far more than they detract.

*Not an actual statistic

Heroic Cinema Saturation Index

Betsy Rating: 4.5/5

I have a love/hate relationship with Infinity War. It’s so brutal and tragic – so discouraging and hopeless – and so necessary to make this moment in the MCU work. When Thanos snapped Loki’s neck in the first 10 minutes and the camera zoomed in on his totally now for real dead face, I swear I said “Shit just got real” to myself in my head (while I turned dramatically to look at my spouse sitting next to me, as I slowly hung up my 2002 red Motorola Razr… ). I am Martin Lawrence. Justin is my Will Smith.

Ah-hem. Sorry.

Inifinity War is so bleak. Gamora kills her father AND THEN her father kills her. ALL OF THE PEOPLE OF ASGARD ARE DEAD. Two different sets of heroes in love have conversations about murdering each other to save the world, and one of them actually has to do it. And all that is BEFORE half of everyone who exists just dissolves into ash and blows away as the people who are left stare blankly ahead, trying to process the magnitude of their failure. Shit is dark AF.

So it’s kind of a little miracle that a movie this somber is also pretty funny. The whole sequence with Thor and the Guardians, for example, is amazing – in just 3 minutes, before Thor even says a word, we get to enjoy lip-syncing to “Rubberman,” get a face-full of Groot as an asshole teenager, Drax describes Thor as “if a pirate had a baby with an angel,” and Rocket tells Peter he’s “one sandwich away from fat.” You gotta pack in the fun when the stakes are this fucked up, I guess. I appreciate it.

It is also really satisfying to see a few characters who are usually kind of on the sidelines grow so much more badass and complex. For example: Wanda and Vision are both really amazing in Infinity War – in their tender, open-hearted connectedness to each other, in Vision’s clear-eyed willingness to die for the cause, in Wanda’s powerful ferocity in the Wakanda battle… and of course, when backed into a corner with no other way – her choice to destroy Vision in order to keep the Mind Stone from Thanos (and then his cruel reversal of her choice) is just heartbreaking. Doctor Strange gets to do some really cool wizard moves fighting Thanos on Titan… and of course, Gamora’s conviction, softness, strength, and intense but deeply conflicted love/hate for Thanos, who shaped her life with brutality, but is also the only father she has ever had. When she, that cliff… Ooof.

©Marvel Studios 2018

The major heroes also all have great moments… too many to name here. And it’s this, I think, that’s the magic of Infinity War. In a movie with SO MANY everything: characters, action sequences, locations, plot points, geez even infinity stones, every small moment you spend with a character has to accomplish a lot: catch you up on where they’ve been, locate them in the world of this epic conflict, raise the stakes, and set you up for the challenges they have yet to face (if they’re lucky enough to survive). These small moments – sometimes just a brief interaction, like “I am Groot” / “I am Steve Rogers” – welcome you again and again into the aliveness of this world, which is ultimately the reason – for me – that all the death that follows is so tragic.

And, unacceptable! Fix it, Endgame. It can’t end like this.

Justin’s Rating: 4.5/5

On paper, Infinity War isn’t the type of thing I usually go in for. I watch films for character development, relationships, and innovative structure above other things, and I usually have little patience for fan service. It’s part of the reason I have such an issue with Age of Ultron. But it’s clear from the jump that even though Infinity War is bringing together nearly all of earth’s and the galaxy’s mightiest heroes for a battle royale that dwarfs anything we’ve yet experienced in the MCU, it doesn’t have time to waste on nonsense like 10 MINUTE DRAGON RIDES or swapping amusing tales over drinks by a fire. No, this film hits the ground running like it has an epic conflict to resolve and maintains a fairly blistering pace throughout. It does manage some killer fan service on the downbeats, but this is not what we came here to do. Typically a plot/action heavy film like this isn’t really my bag either, unless we’re talking about some rate-busting excellence like Fury Road or The Raid, but Infinity War has something neither of those films has: Thanos. The Mad Titan is the perfect villain in a universe of films defined by its bad guys.

It’s flirting with inconceivable that a gigantic purple humanoid with a pruney fingertip chin who flashes his sparkly gauntlet around like a gangster with his pinky ring can pull off this level of gravitas, but when Josh Brolin brings Thanos’ complex and mighty wrath to bear on our universe, it works. I was concerned after that goofy ass grin he flashed during the credits of the first Avengers film, but it turns out I had nothing to worry about. Instead of huge and purple and goofy, Thanos is menacing and grotesque and cumbrously laden with grim responsibility. The motion capture on Brolin’s expressions is so expertly executed that this may be the first fully CG character I never find distracting (almost). Of course, the bulk of credit should go to the writing team, who deftly reshaped Thanos from the death-obsessed nihilist he is in the comics into a complicated, sad, almost sympathetic sociopath he is in the MCU. A villain motivated not by wealth or nihilism or really even control is brilliant because it almost makes his cause, at least in this case, into a righteous one. Now that’s interesting. I don’t say this too loudly in mixed company, but though I find his methods to be unsound, the guy has a point. Of course they do call him the Mad Titan for several reasons, the least of which is definitely not his inability to let go of this panaceaic notion that killing half of everything is a good idea. I bet that really sucks the air out of the room at parties.

As happy as I am with Thanos in Infinity War, I am so bummed with the Black Order. I was really looking forward to these creeps! They’re such good creeps! Sadly, there’s just not much room for them to breathe in this busy affair. Ebony Maw gets some good screen time and some great lines, but I guess I wanted a whole lot more Corvus Glaive. He’s the scary goblin guy with a penchant for sadistic acts and an enchanted weapon that grants him immortality. I really wish they’d done the three non-giant sized Children of Thanos with practical effects and makeup. As we’ve seen in the films leading up to this moment, digital characters, especially regular sized ones, look ok until you put them next to someone who’s actually there. I know it’s a hangup. I’ll probably never get over it.

If you read the top section or if you’re dedicated enough to have watched the last 7 or so films recently, you’ve got a good idea as to what Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and their counterparts are up to when Infinity War begins. Like I noted there’s plenty of great plot action happening, but my personal favorite thread is “Thor meets The Guardians and takes a field trip with Rocket and Groot.” Yeah, it’s packed with great funny moments, but that fuzzy little Raccoon just breaks my heart when he gets real. His attempt at giving Thor a captain’s pep talk about how to move on after your whole family and everyone you know has been murdered is weirdly affecting in its almost sardonic optimism, “Dead brother? Yeah, it can be annoying…” Rocket might be the most tortured and guarded character in the MCU, so I find even the slightest sympathetic gesture affecting coming from him. It kills me to imagine him finding out that all of his comrades have gone the way of Groot and so many others in the final act.By now everyone knows how this film ends, and I’m not one of those weird people who gets off on reading fan theories on reddit about how this is all going to play out in End Game. I have my theories I suppose, but I actually don’t want to think about it too much because I want to be surprised by how they resolve this tragic turn just like I was quite surprised at the way they ended this film. Brilliant stuff.

OVERALL: 4.7

If you haven’t seen Infinity War and you are planning to check out Endgame this weekend, you are going to be confused, my friend. Available to stream on Netflix or rent through Vudu or the Google Play/iTunes app stores.

And hey – we did it! 21 films in 8 weeks. And now, it’s showtime. Coming at you next with Endgame thoughts and spoilers. Get excited!

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s