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Avengers: Infinity War

Entry updated 27 February 2023. Tagged: Film.

Film (2018). Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (see The Walt Disney Company) presents a Marvel Studios production. Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo. Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on The Avengers by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee with story motifs incorporated from Marvel Comics' The Infinity Gauntlet (July-December 1991) written by Jim Starlin and Infinity (August-November 2013) written by Jonathan Hickman. Cast includes Dave Bautista, Paul Bettany, Chadwick Boseman, Josh Brolin, Don Cheadle, Carrie Coon, Bradley Cooper, Benedict Cumberbatch, Vin Diesel, Peter Dinklage, Robert Downey Jr, Winston Duke, Idris Elba, Chris Evans, Karen Gillan, Ariana Greenblatt, Danai Gurira, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Scarlett Johansson, Pom Klementieff, Anthony Mackie, Terry Notary, Elizabeth Olsen, Gwyneth Paltrow, Chris Pratt, Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, Michael James Shaw, Sebastian Stan, Benicio del Toro, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Benedict Wong and Letitia Wright. 149 minutes. Colour.

Marvel arch-Villain Thanos dissolves half of all life across the universe (see Eschatology) in the nineteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

"No resurrections this time," says Thanos (Brolin) as he dispatches Loki (Hiddleston) during the prologue of Avengers: Infinity War, a keystone to Disney's ongoing hegemony over the Cinema of the fantastic. Thanos's bon mot is a knowing reference (see Postmodernism and SF) not only to Loki's character arc in the MCU – "He's been dead before," Thor (Hemsworth) observes wryly on being rescued by the Guardians of the Galaxy following the clash– but also to the Comics and Mythology from which the Norse icon derives, not least because Superheroes always resurrect, whether as a new version of themselves or as a new person inside a refreshed Identity. This time, however, the big, bad guy (persuasively portrayed by Brolin via narrowed, malevolent eyes and computer-generated motion capture) embodies the Hero's journey, moving from homesickness (there is barely a character in the Marvel pantheon who is not trying to address some damage done to them in childhood), to sacrifice (Thanos must kill what he loves to move to the next stage in the development of the Superman), to death (heroes very often meet someone important to them in some kind of spirit world or Prison), and then rebirth (which in Thanos's case involves the restoration of his home moon of Titan to the bucolic splendour that preceded its overcrowding). "Titan was like most planets," Thanos tells Doctor Strange (Cumberbatch) some way into Infinity War: "Too many mouths and not enough to go around."

Marvel Studios (here represented by screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) has by this point in the development of the Marvel Cinematic Universe learnt that the more cogent the bad guy's argument, the more meaningful the good guys' reassertion of the status quo. Fantastika's transgressive force is relayed through sardonic one-liners, geopolitical punch-ups and the "levelling up" procedures of the Videogame.

Thanos and his lieutenants – Cull Obsidian (Notary, playing a character known as "Black Dwarf" in the Comics), Ebony Maw (Vaughan-Lawlor), Proxima Midnight (Coon) and Corvus Glaive (Shaw) – begin Infinity War by intercepting the Spaceship carrying refugees from the destruction of Asgard at the end of Thor: Ragnarok (2017). Thanos subdues Thor and hurls Hulk (Ruffalo) across space before murdering a sneakily recalcitrant Loki, thereby successfully making off with the Space Stone that was the Power Source for the Tesseract that fuelled the Invasion plot at the heart of The Avengers (2012). This forms one of the six infinity stones that Thanos requires for full mastery over the governing principles of the Marvel Multiverse. Ebony Maw captures Strange (who is using the Time Stone as a focus for his own Superpowers) during a confrontation at the Sanctum Sanctorum in New York (see Doctor Strange [2016] for more on the sanctums and the Cities to which they are connected) and is pursued by Iron Man (Downey Jr) and Spider-Man (Holland), who stow away aboard Maw's vessel at it leaves earth. A bout of fisticuffs in Edinburgh sees Proxima Midnight and Corvus Glaive ambush amorous runaways Scarlet Witch (Olsen) and Vision (Bettany) in pursuit of the Mind Stone inserted into Vision's forehead during Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015): World War Two veteran Captain America (Evans), along with loyal members of his faction of Avengers (see Captain America: Civil War (2016) for more on the cause of this schism) rescues Scarlet Witch and Vision and suggests they all travel to Wakanda (for which see Black Panther (2018)) in hope that Wakandan Scientist Shuri (Wright) has the Technology to remove the stone from Vision without destroying him in the process.

The action is relentless. Infinity War is by no means the first film in the MCU to contain sequences that operate almost as synopses of the film it might have been. Quickfire references to events elsewhere in the Shared Worlds of the MCU are fairly well balanced between the in-jokes of Fandom and the requirements of cinematic pacing but Infinity War switches between its coteries of protagonists with sometimes-confusing frequency: anyone unfamiliar with Marvel's contemporary saga must rely on spectacle and bombast to keep them entertained. Any interlude to the pageant is played for laughs: "It's like a pirate had a baby with an angel," says Drax the Destroyer (Bautista) of Thor when he and the other Guardians of the Galaxy retrieve the god from the remnants of his Asgardian spaceship. "Did you ever see that really old movie Aliens?" (see Aliens [1986]) asks Spider-Man of Iron Man when suggesting a plan to use the vacuum of space to rescue Doctor Strange from Ebony Maw's spaceship. The Humour hits more than it misses but the clash-of-egos theme wears a bit thin when applied constantly over the course of two and a half hours.

The exception to this is the pathos of the interplay between Thanos and adopted daughter Gamora (Saldana): their relationship lends much-needed dramatic weight both to Thanos's po-faced pursuit of the six infinity stones and, importantly, to the daring way in which Marvel decides to decimate its cast of Superheroes at the dénouement of Infinity War. A battle-scene worthy of the highest descriptive flights of Fantasy sees Thanos succeed (by using a version of Time in Reverse attendant to the Time Stone he has already taken from Doctor Strange) in filling all six slots in his Infinity Gauntlet and turning half of the universe's population to dust. Spider-Man, Black Panther (Boseman), Doctor Strange, Winter Soldier (Stan), Falcon (Mackie), Scarlet Witch and several of the Guardians of the Galaxy are blown like embers into the wind, leaving only the original five Avengers standing at the end of the film: Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Black Widow (Johansson) must take the fight to Thanos in the sequel to Infinity War. The manoeuvre brings to mind the solution Stephen King used to cure the organizational pile-up in his Post-Holocaust novel The Stand (1978; rev 1990), one to which the Horror writer refers to at some length in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000):

"What I saw was that the America in which The Stand took place might have been depopulated by the plague, but the world of my story had become dangerously overcrowded – a veritable Calcutta. The solution to where I was stuck, I saw, could be pretty much the same as the situation that got me going – an explosion instead of a plague, but still one quick, hard slash of the Gordian knot."

There are hints throughout Infinity War that the answer to the missing characters will be some form of Time Travel or excursion to other Dimensions; there are, after all, twenty or more films on the MCU slate, some of which project forward to the presence of missing characters, such as Black Panther. In Jim Starlin's Infinity Gauntlet (1991) storyline for Marvel Comics, those destroyed are banished to "Soul World", a Parallel World that exists inside the Soul Stone. The McGuffin of the Infinity Gauntlet and its six Infinity Stones – a vague allusion to the Septenary or "seven principles of man" of Theosophy – is, in effect, a deus ex machina to the MCU. "Before creation itself, there were six singularities," says the Collector (Del Toro) in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). "Then the universe exploded into existence and the remnants of this system were forged into concentrated ingots ... Infinity Stones." The only Avenger with the Cosmological perspective to comprehend this seems to be Doctor Strange. The character's visions of the future reveal that only in one of 14 million six hundred and five possible outcomes to the War with Thanos and his minions do the Avengers prevail. "There was no other way," says Doctor Strange to Iron Man as he crumbles to dust at the end of the movie, suggesting that perhaps (as in all superhero narratives) his death (and that of the other Avengers) is necessary to the rebirth of the association of superheroes, and to that of the life Thanos has removed from consensual reality. As a dramatic device, it works very well indeed.

The second half of the tale, Avengers: Endgame (2019) directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, solves the MCU dilemma self-created by the seeming termination of its motherlode rhizome of interlaced stories, through the use of Time Travel, as orchestrated by Doctor Strange, to rewind events, though with some changes, like the death of Tony Stark (who has resolved his family issues, as Americans are coded to do).

The tie-in novel Thanos: Titan Consumed (2018) is by Barry Lyga. [MD]


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