NOTE: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD FOR “AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR.”
IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM YET, DON’T READ THIS ARTICLE!
“Avengers: Infinity War” has been crushing the box office for two weeks now, garnering both widespread commercial and critical acclaim. Joe and Anthony Russo somehow condensed ten years and eighteen films worth of Marvel lore into one spectacle, leaving fans shocked by its ending. Now, it’s important to remember that “Infinity War” was only a part 1 in the similar sense that “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” was split into two parts. These two Avengers films create the ultimate finale to an impressive big-budget series. In the various plots throughout all of the MCU films, I believe “Infinity War” contained the most important arc for our heroes, and that final untitled “Avengers 4” will complete it in a truly unexpected way.
When they directed “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” the Russo brothers used Marvel’s most righteous hero, Steve Rogers, to murky the waters of good and evil. In the film, we learn that ever since Red Skull’s defeat in “The First Avenger”, S.H.I.E.L.D. has been slowly inflitrated by Hydra. Some of S.H.I.E.L.D’s top agents, including Alexander Pierce, were actually undercover Hydra agents. For the first time, Cap’s righteous sense of good and evil were challenged, and he began to question who he can trust in the modern age of surveillance. In the film, we see our heroes grasp the concept that evil is not necessarily so easy to destroy. However, when Cap realizes the truth, he says this to all uncompromised S.H.I.E.D. agents: “The price of freedom is high, always has been, and it’s a price I’m willing to pay. And if I’m the only one, then so be it, but I’m willing to bet I’m not.” With this line, the Russo’s reaffirm Cap’s righteous attitude to punch his way through evil in the name of freedom. More importantly, as Cap is in many ways the heart of the MCU (while some would argue Tony Stark is, I think he’s more the brain), the Russo’s use the heroic framework that so many Marvel movies have done before. Even in the face of constant adversity, a hero always stands for defeating evil in the name of the greater good.
In “Captain America: Civil War,” again directed by the Russo brothers, this heroic archetype was challenged when reality finally settled in. While we, the audience, marvel in awe at the Avengers fighting bad guys, we forget that entire cities are destroyed in the process. The government comes up with a solution, the Sokovia Accords: every superhero must register with the government. While Tony Stark is all for this as they should “be put in check,” Steve Rogers distrusts this act. To me, Cap’s distrust in the American system seemingly goes against the black-and-white views he held during his glory days in the 1940s. However, Cap’s sense of heroism had grown in “The Winter Soldier,” when he learned that not everything can be boiled down to good and evil. Suddenly, when Cap openly goes against the Sokovia Accords, he becomes viewed as a fugitive by many even though in his (and therefore our) eyes, he’s the hero. In “Civil War,” the Russo’s portray a hero as one with unwavering values and a willingness to sacrifice only themselves (and no one else) for the greater good.
Enter “Infinity War” with the biggest domestic and global box office opening of all time, and finally, the Russo’s made their point. To recap, the film ends with Thanos finally getting all the six infinity stones, snapping his fingers, and killing half of the universe. Black Panther, Dr. Strange, Star Lord, and (sadly) Spider-Man among others all perished in the finale. The ending was so shocking because no one expects the villain to win in the end.
There’s one line, however, that explains why they lost. As Cap put it, “We don’t trade lives.” The heroes’ unwillingness to trade lives is what costs our heroes everything in the film. Most of them wouldn’t allow their friends to die to save the universe, and many are unwilling to sacrifice themselves. Peter Quill, for one, always tries to find a way around and is extremely hesitant to kill Gamora when she’s captured by Thanos even though she made him swear on his mother that he would do it. Quill eventually pulls the trigger, but it’s too late as Thanos uses the Reality Stone to warp the bullets into bubbles. Tony Stark has lived his whole life trying to find a smart way around problems, hence his arsenal of Iron Man suits. This is what causes him to create Ultron in “Age of Ultron” and has been a staple of his character since his origin film. In “Infinity War,” Scarlet Witch doesn’t kill Vision until she’s absolutely forced to when Thanos appears with five of the stones.
The only ones who are willing to trade lives are Dr. Strange and Thor. Dr. Strange is the only one willing to sacrifice others for the Time Stone when he tells Tony that if it ever came to choosing between the Time Stone or Tony and Peter Parker, he wouldn’t hesitate to choose the stone. However, Strange himself is the one who ultimately sacrifices the Time Stone just to save Tony. Yes, he had a reason to do it because he saw a future where our heroes defeat Thanos, but he still wen’t back on his word. This makes Thor the only character in the film actually willing to die to kill Thanos. He burns himself nearly to death trying to forge Stormbreaker, his new hammer/axe.
If they had just killed Vision in the beginning by destroying the Mind Stone, the movie would be cut short followed by an end card reading “Written and Directed by George Lucas.” If Quill had killed Gamora right away, Thanos wouldn’t have gotten the Soul Stone because even if he had found the location, he wouldn’t be able to sacrifice the one person he truly loved.
Our heroes’ unwillingness to sacrifice themselves and others isn’t the only problem. When the group of heroes on Titan are confronted with Thanos and finally strap him down enough to take off the Infinity Gauntlet, Quill loses it after finding out Thanos killed Gamora and puts his own feelings and emotions above the greater good. In the context of a superhero movie where we’ve come to expect heroes putting themselves in harm’s way to save the world, Quil’s arrogant actions would anger a lot of audience members. However, this scene highlights the humanity in these characters. Quick side note, I think it’s funny foreshadowing that Quill explains he’s half human so the half of him that’s stupid is 100% of Tony Stark. Yet, it’s his humanity that causes his mistake.
This brings the final point: These aren’t heroes, true heroism is a myth to strive towards, but it’s not truly possible. Heroes will make mistakes that will cost them gravely, but it’s how they get back up that matters. Sometimes, a true hero will have to sacrifice the few to save the many. As Star Trek’s Spock put it: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Through their three entries in the MCU, Joe and Anthony Russo deconstructed what it means to be a superhero. First, they broke down the black-and-white sense of justice in “The Winter Soldier,” then they created an antagonist in trustworthy characters and blurred the lines between right and wrong even more in “Civil War.” Finally, in “Infinity War,” we see the consequences of our heroes’ unwillingness to make compromise. They don’t trade lives and they lose.
Interestingly, I think this mentality is what’s driving most modern franchises that revive something from the 60s-80s. We see it with the new “Star Wars” films too. In order for these big franchises to live on, we have to break the mold of what constitutes a superhero movie (or in the case of Star Wars, a Star Wars film). The superhero movies of the past (certainly many of the earlier MCU films) focused on heroes who push through all obstacles against impossible odds without anyone else getting harmed. Christopher Reeve’s Superman always made it out okay with Lois Lane in his arms. While civilians died during the Battle of New York in “The Avengers,” we don’t actually hear about it until “Civil War.” The Russo’s are committed to showing audiences that our heroes are vulnerable and make more mistakes than we think.
Maybe I’m talking myself in circles, and this article is just a giant ramble. If you’ve been here for a while, you already know this, but that’s the entire website so…
Then there’s “Avengers 4.” How will it all end? It’s fitting that the survivors of Thanos’s mass genocide were the six original Avengers (yes, we “don’t know” what happened to Hawkeye, but the dude’s alive). I think the team’s arc throughout the movie will be focused on strategy and the sacrifices they have to make to kill Thanos in what Doctor Strange called “the end game.” It’s probably not that far-fetched of an idea that they’re all going to die to reverse the events of “Infinity War.” Their sacrifices would allow the Russo’s to finally allow these characters to reach true super heroism, the central theme of the MCU. I guess we’ll just have to wait for a year to find out.
Those are my thoughts on “Avengers: Infinity War!” What do you think about this? Feel free to let me know in the comments section. Thanks!
If you like this article, be sure to check out our ranking of every MCU movie leading up to “Infinity War!”