As Thanos solemnly sits down and watches the sun set on his desolate home planet of Titan, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has finally corrected its one glaring flaw: finally, they’ve crafted a great and terrifying villain.
A giant purple monster played by Josh Brolin via motion capture, Thanos hasn’t exactly inspired awe in cameos and minor turns in previous MCU movies, including the Guardians of the Galaxy films that fleshed out some of his backstory.
But he’s front-and-center in Avengers: Infinity War, and despite the two dozen other superheroes that surround him competing for screen time, he’s the one character that gets a real and meaningful arc. We see Thanos kill and maim but also smile, reason, ruminate and even mourn during the the course of the movie, a first for the Marvel films and a rare take in any major blockbuster.
In a movie rumored to involve the deaths of multiple major characters, you wouldn’t expect Infinity War’s most emotional moment to involve this breaking down in tears. But it is. He’s not the usual comic book space invader – he’s a tragic figure given the level of thought and care that the Star Wars films gave to Darth Vader.
But after witnessing the destruction of his own planet by overpopulation, Thanos wants to eliminate half of all life across the entire universe, and completely at random.
That’s bad. And it’s something he can do with a snap of his fingers if he collects all of the Infinity Stones, of which he already has two at the outset of Infinity War.
So it’s up to superheroes across the galaxies to stop him – two of which on Earth, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Vision (Paul Bettany), are currently in possession of two of the remaining Stones. And thus, the stage is set for a showdown. Or four.
With no less than 23 characters adorning the poster for Avengers: Infinity War, worry was that too many ingredients would spoil the broth, and that not enough of the them would be worked into the story in meaningful ways.
That’s partially true. A lot of the major characters here, including Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), and War Machine (Don Cheadle), despite sufficient screen time, have little to do besides battling waves of Thanos’ minions.
Ironically, while directors Joe and Anthony Russo had previously spent a lot of time with many of these characters in the previous two Captain America movies, here they primarily serve as war fodder.
And despite their home serving as one of Infinity War’s primary locations, so do Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and other Wakandians like Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Okoye (Danai Gurira).
Too much of Infinity War, in fact, is devoted to mindless action; the least-involving thing about any of these movies is watching near-immortal beings pummel themselves or punch through armies of non-human monsters, and we get a conservative 45 minutes of that here.
But many other characters have well-structured storylines that evolve throughout the film. Strange, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) share some nice scenes aboard one of Thanos’ ships and on Titan; I especially liked the tearful culmination of the relationship between Tony Stark and Peter Parker, which was built up over the course of Captain America: Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming.
Picking up where Thor: Ragnarok left off, the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) are involved in a quest to make a Thanos-destroying weapon with Eitri (Peter Dinklage) the last survivor of the forge planet Nidavellir. Vision and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) get a nice storyline, though the particulars of their relationship are left to our imagination.
And every member of the Guardians of the Galaxy – Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana, Drax, Mantis (Pom Klementieff) Rocket Racoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), and even Nebula (Karen Gillan) – get in some thoughtful character moments, perhaps as a result of the involvement of Guardians director James Gunn, who served as produced here.
But it’s Brolin’s Thanos who looms large over the film, and Thanos who dominates the unconventional and unexpected storyline. And as the movie reaches a bold and even shocking conclusion, Infinity War becomes that rare entry in the MCU machine that works best as a standalone entry, and goes to places the other films, or any other comic book movies, haven’t dared to approach.
Before a press screening of Infinity War, a short clip asks journalists not to spoil the big moments in the film. And this Avengers outing has long been rumored to feature numerous character deaths.
But here’s the thing: characters are never really dead in comic books or their adaptations, and if Superman dies in one movie you can expect him to be back in the next. Avengers: Infinity War features a device that can literally turn back time, and is used at numerous times throughout the movie. And fans, rightly so, are likely to call foul when something like that is used to erase the events of this movie in a future film.
But Infinity War mines real emotion from its big scenes, and gets its mileage not from audience reaction shock value that a major character has suddenly been killed, but by how those deaths affect the other characters in the movie.
It might not stay that way, but Infinity War is certainly the most eventful addition to the MCU, the most audacious and unconventional and one of the most thoughtful. And in Thanos, fans finally have a great villain to look forward to when the next Avengers entry releases in 2019.