Marvel actually did it. The reigning king of planet blockbuster crammed 30-plus superheroes into a single sardine tin of a movie. Did it work, though? Was it any good? Compete staff writer Maddy Myers, Kotaku social media editor Seung Park, and I sat down to discuss the lengthy punchfest’s ample highs and lows.
Nathan Grayson: Alright, time to talk about Avengers: Infinity Thor, the latest in Marvel’s successful Thor movie franchise. Let’s get right into it: Maddy and Seung, did any of the deaths do it for you? Do you feel like the movie had actual stakes, or was it all smoke and mirrors?
Seung Park: Hi Nathan! Wow, what a question to start things off. I think the deaths in this movie can be divided into two parts: Stone-related deaths, and normal deaths. The former being all of the Avengers that turned to ash in the end (Black Panther, Spidey, and the like) and the latter being the other deaths that happened during the course of the story. My gut feeling is that everyone who died before that grand finale will stay dead, so I don’t think we’ll be seeing Loki or Heimdall back in the Marvel cinematic universe anytime soon.
Now, you could potentially put Gamora into this category, but I have a pet theory that Gamora was actually absorbed into the Soul Stone when Thanos pushed her over the edge (in what was possibly the most emotional part of the movie). That last flashback Thanos had when he snapped his fingers and chatted with kid Gamora for a bit? That was actually Gamora. Still alive, somewhere. Possibly trapped in the Soul Stone (which we don’t really know how it works, quite yet).
Maddy Myers: Remember at the end of the Harry Potter books when there’s a huge battle and an itemized list of characters that die right in a row? This felt similar to that, in the sense that I felt a total emotional disconnect from the supposed stakes during the last few minutes of the film. Except that the key difference is that the promise of Infinity War Part 2, as well as the upcoming slate of Marvel film properties, guarantees that most of these characters will be alive again anyway.
So, I feel emotionally disconnected from the supposed dire consequences of this film, but I’m not mad or disappointed. I know a lot of people left the cinema feeling mad or ripped off. And I get that.
I do feel kind of sorry for the Russo brothers for catching that audience flack, though. I feel like they got asked to do something impossible with this movie, and a lot of its pacing problems and the lack of emotional payoff can be traced back to the fact that it got divided into two movies partway through development and also the fact that there are 26 dang characters.
I agree with Seung that the pre-stone deaths probably matter. But... do they? If you introduce a character who has a time machine and a reality-altering machine in his hand, then... anything can happen, right? Which is either fun, or just a sign that nothing matters, or maybe both.
Nathan: Right, at this point it’s comic books on fast-forward, which means they both introduced the looming specter of death and killed death in a single movie. We pretty much KNOW a lot of these heroes will be back at the end of the second Infinity War, which saps some of the authenticity from the adjacent “real” deaths, which themselves might not even be real! It didn’t help that the “fake” deaths happened to characters who deserved better (Black Panther, Falcon, Bucky, etc). By the end, I recognized that the “real” stakes of the movie were anything but, and the only thing keeping me emotionally involved was the idea that characters were allegedly vulnerable this time. To me, it all felt like a hypothetical Dragon Ball Z arc in which the villain actually got all the dragon balls and made their wish. The very existence of the dragon balls or other omnipotent collectible device means there aren’t really rules anymore, and any of this can be reversed.
Seung: Wow, I very much disagree with you, Maddy. I think Infinity War absolutely had an emotional payoff, and then some. Because at the end of the day, the protagonist of this movie aren’t the Avengers—it’s Thanos! He is the one that gets the story moving, he’s the one with a stated goal and even a bit of a hero’s journey, and the Avengers are only there to be foils to his quest to bring balance to the universe. I think when you look at the movie from that perspective, you definitely get some sort of closure. (Although I will never argue that Infinity War’s ending isn’t a cliffhanger, because, well, it totally is.)
Maddy: I worry about the potential goodwill lost if Infinity War Part 2's narrative pulls the equivalent of “it was all a dream,” but maybe no one will mind? I won’t be angry if that happens, but only because I expect it. I have some theories about how it could work, mostly to do with Doctor Strange handing over the time stone in exchange for Tony Stark’s life—an action that he explicitly warned Tony he would not do. I don’t blame Tony for not being suspicious, given that Tony’s own ego would lead him to believe that everyone wants to save him. But I think Strange is pulling some timey-wimey shit right there, and that’ll be the moment that Part 2 circles back to, somehow.
Nathan: While I don’t agree with Seung’s full takeaway (I also think the movie fell pretty flat, emotionally), I do think he’s right in designating Thanos as the main character. He had some really good scenes, and the stuff with Gamora sealed it in that he showed he was willing to make the sacrifice everybody else would have to deal with if he succeeded. I think he also saw himself in characters like Star-Lord and Scarlet Witch, both of whom were ready to kill their friends for the greater good. That bit where Star-Lord tried to shoot Gamora, and Thanos teleported both of them away while saying, “I like you” springs to mind.
Thanos is a character who builds his own fucked up family (Gamora, Nebula, etc) while tearing other people’s families apart. He’s a monster, but a compelling one. It’s clear that he does recognize the cost of what he’s doing. He empathizes with the sacrifices others are making, especially when it’s clear that they understand why they’re doing it. The movie also smartly contrasts that with a bunch of other heroes, who categorically refuse to make sacrifices and, well, things don’t really work out for them.
That said, if looked at from a top-down view, Thanos is kinda just a worse version of Killmonger from Black Panther, with a story that’s less personal and interesting because the scope is so astronomically wide that it turns our primitive human brains to Infinity Gauntlet ash. I feel like Thanos would’ve grabbed me a lot more if Killmonger hadn’t done the whole “kill a lot of people for the greater good” shtick—in a way that acknowledged huge societal problems, no less!—just one movie ago. Thanos, for all the single stray tears he shed over the burden he placed on his own craggy shoulders, felt kinda forced. Killmonger worked so well because he was barely even a degree of separation away from the real world, and his emotions felt raw and real. Now, suddenly, we’re back to impossible, incalculable fantasy land, and the impact feels dulled by the existence of a recent and superior story.
Maddy: For the record, I feel neutral about the ending, but I think we’d be remiss not to acknowledge the fact that a lot of people felt pissed off about it. I think the only reason I didn’t feel mad is because I’ve read way too many comic books and I’m used to characters dying and coming back in the following issue. Infinity War feels very comics-y, even moreso than the crossover movies that have come before it.
I think I enjoyed the movie overall more than most people. It has a lot of cute jokes, Spider-Man is just darling, and I had no trouble finishing all of my popcorn. Some of the serious moments hit for me, too. I liked the duality between Peter Quill trying to kill Gamora to save the universe and Scarlet Witch trying to kill the Vision to save the universe. It was the same scene, but gender-swapped, and in both cases, Thanos still wins.
Seung: Oh, I absolutely adored it. To me, this was the culmination of everything Marvel Studios has built up over the past decade, and they knocked it out of the park. The moment where the movie really got me, emotionally, was in the last two minutes after Thanos has already snapped his fingers and everyone’s gone. You see those who are left standing in shock, slowly coming to terms with the situation. Then Steve Rogers drops to his knees and mutters, “Oh God.”
And you’re hit with the realization: the Avengers lost. For the first time. It wasn’t even a fair fight; Thanos swooped down and basically made Earth’s Mightiest Heroes his bitches. There was an especially poignant moment when Scarlet Witch kills Vision—a relationship developed over the course of three movies—to keep the Infinity Stone out of Thanos’ hands, and he simply rewinds time to get it. It’s trivial to him. As someone who watched these characters develop over the course of a decade, to see the payoff in such devastating ways was worth the admission price alone.
Nathan: OK, I hate to keep being the hater here, but here is a question: does anybody actually give a shit about The Vision? He got so much screen time, but he just, like, sucked and died repeatedly. Our entire emotional connection to him was built around another character, Scarlet Witch. The movie spent so much of its run-time telling (not showing) us that we should care about him. I did not find him compelling at all. I actually laughed when he suffered two horrible deaths in the span of a minute.
Seung: I did find it kind of strange that his powers seemed to have gotten nerfed (to use the technical term) in Infinity War. I mean, here is an all-powerful android capable of shooting laser beams from his forehead and he gets taken down by two of Thanos’ goons. What? Yes, I get they’re the Black Order, but still. Vision should’ve put up more of a fight.
I also agree he’s one of the less interesting characters in the canon, which is why I kind of went into this movie fully expecting he would die. I did appreciate how his relationship with Scarlet Witch—something we’ve only seen hints of in previous movies—was more fleshed out here, but overall, his death didn’t really strike me as much as some of the others did.
Spider-Man’s death, though... man... that got a tear out of me. It’s even more touching when you realize the kid’s got Spidey sense, so he knew full well he was about to die.
Nathan: Legit, Spider-Man’s death was the best in the movie. But Tom Holland is just extremely talented, so he sold it really well—especially with Tony Stark, basically his dad, watching in silent horror.
Maddy: The Vision in the comics is one of my favorite characters of all time, which means that I’m much more endeared to him in the movies than I should be. The movies don’t have time to develop his relationship with Scarlet Witch, and it’s a damn shame, because it’s one of the cutest relationships in the comics! Anyway, spoilers for the comics I guess, but Vision regularly gets powered down and reconstructed in various forms, so his “death” seems unlikely to have any lasting ramifications here either — especially since it seems likely that Shuri’s still kicking and she already made some headway on rewiring his head. With those specs, maybe she could just build a whole new Vision out of stronger better faster Wakandan materials. And no one but me will be happy to see that, I guess, but I’m a real Vision stan, so whatever.
Also, if our readers want to enjoy an old Marvel storyline in which the Vision gets taken over by an evil AI and has to eventually rip a power crystal out of his own head because the AI was convincing him that he should become the supreme logical robot leader of the world, there are some pages here. Going into this movie, I secretly hoped they would do that storyline with Vision, somehow. It’s probably the closest storyline to “Vision has a bad powerful crystal in his head” that Marvel has done, since in the comics, he doesn’t have the infinity stone in his head. Mostly I’m just trying to show people that the Vision isn’t always a boring bad character. Normally, he’s supposed to be a commentary on the nature of humanity! Dang it!
Nathan: OK, let’s talk about some good things: Thor. Even though I find the Guardians of the Galaxy kinda tedious these days (their entire bickering-based comedic structure necessitates that they don’t grow and change too much, especially in the case of Peter Quill, who’s just intolerably stupid at this point), I thought Thor’s side quest with Rocket and Groot was really fun and good. Thor’s dynamic with Rocket was the right mix of funny and poignant, and his thinly-veiled willingness to embrace death after losing everybody he loved was convincing and, at times, kinda heart-wrenching. Thor was one of the only characters in the movie who got to be, well, a character—you know, with an arc that actually happened in the movie and stuff.
Maddy: I loved Rocket’s moment of trying to “be the captain.” Insofar as this movie has a theme, I think that’s it. It’s not exactly new for superhero movies to be about begrudging patriarchs (Tony Stark to Spidey, Thanos to Gamora, etc) but my favorite reluctant patriarch here is Rocket fathering angry teen Groot, and then also assuming the dadly role of “captain” by counseling Thor about his grief. Put more crotchety raccoons into stories about masculinity and fatherhood, and I’ll be on board.
I’ve also seen people say, both jokingly and seriously, that Rocket is the closest thing Marvel has to a queer character and... I’m with ‘em. Don’t ask me to explain it. Just trust my gaydar on this, folks. Oh, also, speaking of queer characters, I saw someone say that Valkyrie was among the dead bodies at the beginning of the movie on the ship and I know I said I wasn’t angry about this movie, but if they did that, then I’m angry. Retroactively. At all of it.
Nathan: I was wondering about that! They can’t kill her this soon, right?
Seung: I think Valkyrie is safe, as well as Korg and Miek.
Maddy: They aren’t allowed to kill her before she even gets a girlfriend! Played by Janelle Monae!
Seung: In the opening radio distress signal, they mention that “half of the ship is dead.”
Nathan: “The other half is doing great, actually, and one of them will date Janelle Monae in the future.” Yeah, I remember that part now.
Seung: [chuckles sensibly]
Maddy: Another thought: Even if everyone in this movie is somehow actually dead, that means Shuri could take on the mantle of Black Panther (which she does in the comics when T’Challa’s not around) and, perhaps, Miles Morales could step up as Spidey for a bit. If that’s somehow the Spider-Man 2 and Black Panther 2 that we’re about to get... and then maybe those original characters get resurrected later, since they’re both huge cash infusions for Marvel Studios? That would be okay with me. I would go to those movies.
Seung: Woah woah woah, back up there Maddy. If T’challa is actually dead, it is clearly M’baku who inherits the throne. M’baku, in his vegetarian badassness.
Nathan: Marvel, please let Maddy Myers of compete dot deadspin dot kotaku dot com run your movie empire for a bit, thank you.
Maddy: I’m just saying. I have a lot of ideas.
Seung: Can I just point out the best part of the movie real quick? When Marvel turned up the fan service dial to 11? Red. Skull.
Nathan: The best part was the nazi???
Maddy: Hahaha. Strong take, Seung!
Seung: I’m... actually half serious! OK, maybe a little less than half but y’know, balance and all that.
Maddy: It was suitably creepy. I enjoyed the surprise of having him there, too.
Seung: As someone who’s been debating for the better part of a decade regarding “WTF happened to the Red Skull??” It was such a great moment to finally close the lid on that particular speculation.
Maddy: Although, my favorite part is still Spider-Man, followed by Rocket, but it’s Spider-Man. How is the baby Spider-Man boy so good? I already said this. I just feel like it’s worth saying it again. Also I’m trying to end this on a good note, and the best possible note is the tiny baby Spider-Man who thinks Aliens is an old movie. Bless Tom Holland for making the delivery of that joke work so well, when it has no right to.
Nathan: So, to sum up, did y’all like it, or did you leave the theater with a bitter taste in your mouth? And— wait, what’s happening? Where did my hands go, and why am I suddenly overcome by an urge to tease a Captain Marvel movie? Oh noooooooooooooooooo
THE KOTAKU STAFF WILL RETURN NEXT SUMMER