We’ve all been asking the same question about Avengers: Infinity War since we knew it was part of Marvel’s long game: How can you possibly fit this many beloved heroes into one feature-length film and actually do anything with them? Why would you inflict this on the world? But the pull of the crossover is strong, my friends. You’ll never know if you can make it work until you try.
And it did work. The crossover part, at least.
[Plentiful spoilers for Avengers: Infinity War.]
Despite the secrecy in which Marvel shrouded the movie, Infinity War is not a film built for shocking twists. It’s the darkest-before-the-dawn climax that leads to the mega victory. If you’ve been paying any attention at all to where these films are going, you know that we have another Avengers film incoming next year. This is essentially an Empire Strikes Back sojourn. We’re here to feel the pain before the real triumph occurs. With nearly twenty films under their belt, Marvel had to allow a villain to succeed for once, and it had better be Thanos after all the lead-up he’s gotten in every other film. We know he’s not going to win for long, but it doesn’t stop you from caring what happens to your super buddies in the interim because… well, they’re all just so darn likable.
There are some aggressively goofy plot things that get in the way of this movie. We don’t know enough about Thanos, and no one seems interested in giving us even the occasional throwaway line to help us understand where his resources and strength are coming from. Okay, so he had the Chitauri as an army and then Iron Man nuked them, so now he has space wheels and upside-down Star Destroyers and lizard-symbiotes? Where did they come from? How does a guy like Thanos recruit an army? Why are his acolytes so jacked up? Is it maybe space steroids? Species hardiness? Magic noodles? I’d believe a lot of stuff, but you have to give me something.
Then again, you’re not really here for Thanos, are you? He’s basically an excuse to get other people talking to one another. So let’s check in on everybody…
Doctor Strange: Despite not being a big fan of the Doctor Strange movie, I’m actually pleased with his usage in this film for one reason—visually, it is made clear that Strange is still learning, and has yet to find pure focus with his abilities. He has difficulty holding onto his projected weaponry, and the effort of constantly fighting wears him down. When he eventually hands over the Time Stone to Thanos, we can see the tremors in his hands and his exhaustion. Showing us that Strange doesn’t have full mastery yet makes sense of why he isn’t able to use the Eye of Agamotto to stop Thanos, and why their one path to victory involves not his survival, but Tony’s. Strange simply hasn’t leveled up enough to be an incredibly effective combatant.
Hulk: Bruce’s inability to turn into the Hulk in this film is part high comedy and also a smart way of benching one of your big hitters effectively. You can’t overuse Hulk or he gets boring, so having the big green guy hide away after getting smacked around by Thanos is the perfect excuse to give Bruce some time with his pals, so he can hug Tony and get schooled by Shuri and ask if the Avengers breaking up was like the Beatles breaking up. (Also, his continued friendship with Thor is too pure for this world.) But I would like to point out that Hulk is shown in the trailers during the battle in Wakanda. So either something changed in later reshoots, or we were deliberately misled.
Vision: I’m sorry, it’s just a little annoying when the relationship between Wanda and Vision in the last film was eight kinds of icky, but now we’re just told that a couple years have passed and they’ve been sneakily working on it, and now we’re supposed to buy them as a couple. On the other hand, Vision’s position in this film as someone with an Infinity Stone embedded in his head is well-handled, and the idea of whether or not he can exist separately from it is an interesting one.
Wanda: As I said above, not super into that shoehorned love story. On the other hand, this film finally acknowledged Wanda’s incredible power set and really allowed her to shine. You knew she had to be one of the people who vanished when Thanos won, though, because her abilities would make things too easy for everyone left behind. The moment where she is about to “die alone” at the hand of Proxima Midnight, and Natasha and Okoye show up to proclaim that “she’s not alone” was an easy sobbing point. The fact that Wanda still gets the chance to rescue herself only makes that solidarity with the female characters (previously only found in Black Panther) that much more moving.
Steve: Steve Rogers is ready to get to work, just as he promised Tony he would be, but you can see that the time in relative exile has taken its toll. Still, it’s really fun to watch him tell off Secretary Ross for thinking that he can stop them from tackling this potentially world-ending threat. Also, the moment he answers Groot with “I am Steve Rogers” you remember that Captain America is basically just a human golden retriever, bearded or not.
I have to pause a minute to talk about the fact that Steve gave Tony a special secret phone in which his number is just listed there with his name attached and, Steve. Steven, please. Sweetheart, anything could have happened to that phone and then someone could probably find you easily, there’s just your number in it right, you didn’t have to put the number under your name, didn’t Nat tell you that? This is like, spy stuff 101. Steve. (I would also like to talk about the fact that Tony has that phone on him literally all the time, and I’ll just dissolve in a puddle of feelings over Tony thinking that you never know when he might need to call Steve and ask him to come back.)
Natasha and Rhodey: Rhodey and Natasha clearly find all of this old hat no matter how high the heat gets turned up. Until the end, that is, when they’re both left standing there in shock among the survivors. There’s an easy vibe between Rhodey and Sam, who are both military men and both accustomed to air assault, and I wish we could see more of that in the future. And also more of Widow getting to interact with other women, which was so affirming it cannot be understated.
T’Challa: It’s amazing how after just one film, returning to Wakanda is such an incredible relief. Even knowing that the battle is only going to get worse from there, you feel so much safer once you arrive. This feeling of safety is perpetuated by T’Challa, who handles every situation with such serenity and poise that it seems as though nothing in the world could ever be wrong while he is talking. Everything in Wakanda seems to be going well post the events of Black Panther, even to the point of being on much stronger terms with the Jabari people, who step up to the battle without hesitation. Of course, that comfort provided by the King of Wakanda is abruptly lost at the end of the film.
Okoye and Shuri: They are both perfect, they can do literally nothing wrong ever. Watching Shuri make Bruce feel like an idiot was beautiful, watching Okoye kvetch about thinking that Wakanda opening up to the world would be more about the Olympics and Starbucks was probably one of the best parts of the movie. I am very upset that we don’t know what happened to Shuri, and so pleased that we got to watch Okoye fight alongside Black Widow and Wanda.
Bucky and Sam: Poor Buck. He was perfectly happy on that goat farm, but he was never going to be able to hold onto that forever. Still, he’s a lot happier and clear-headed, and his brief interaction with Sam makes it clear that their begrudging tolerance of one another has become an actual friendship. Sam himself doesn’t get a lot to do, but is his usual unshakable self. Knowing that Steve has currently lost both of them is pretty devastating to the heart.
Drax and Mantis: Drax and Mantis both provide much needed levity, and I’d argue that they’re both funnier here than they were in the GOTG films. (Drax’s crush on Thor will forever be my favorite thing.) We get just enough of both of them, and they are great at keeping the plot moving.
Rocket and Groot: Groot is a perfect teenager throughout the film without the cliché ever becoming annoying. Rocket’s unlikely friendship with Thor is a highlight of the movie, only solidified by the fact that he never corrects Thor calling him a “rabbit.” We can see how much Rocket rises to the occasion when he’s hanging out with people who respect him and treat him as an equal. (The whole friendship begins because Thor decides that Rocket must be the captain.) Also, watching Rocket get picked up on the battlefield by Bucky was probably Tumblr’s greatest wish come true.
Thor: A surprising MVP in this movie, everything Thor does is perfect. While he brings the comedy as he always does, it is backed all the while with an undercurrent of sorrow after losing his people and Loki in a particularly brutal fashion; Chris Hemsworth plays the hell out of it. Thor’s quest to create Stormbreaker is the best side plot of the film, particularly for getting Peter Dinklage’s Eitri in the bargain. Now that the god of thunder has a better understanding of his powers, his entrance is also arguably the most exciting of the entire film. Just Thor all around. Pirate Angel for the win.
Gamora: Gamora deserved better than what she got, as she makes lots of poor decisions in this film that she’s too smart to make for the sake of the plot. The first one is asking Quill to kill her if Thanos gets her; if it’s that important, ask everyone to do that, don’t play the whole “the person I love the most has to kill me” it’s not meaningful. Leading Thanos to the last stone is more understandable given her recent reconciliation with Nebula, but you can see her murder coming a mile away and it’s just insulting at that point.
Nebula: Nebula does what she does best here; be smart and sneaky and help put things in perspective. Thank goodness she’s around too, because someone has to stitch Tony Stark up and get him home.
Star-Lord: Least Valuable Player. It was nice to find that the screenwriters and the Russo Brothers seem to feel the same way that I do about Star-Lord, namely that he’s a big unfunny child who makes nothing but terrible choices and then blames everyone else for them. Really, guy? After everything that these people have gone through, you screw up their one change to get the Gauntlet because you can’t stop yourself from hitting Thanos for thirty damn seconds? You’re done. Get out.
Spider-Man: My heart. My heart is over. This precious baby did such a good job with his new suit, and his disparaging comments about Footloose, and his rescuing people while not being able to remember their names. He got knighted into the Avengers. He did his part, and he used his knowledge of Aliens for good. And of course, because this movie is designed to break us, of course he would be the only person who could talk while he was disintegrating. No matter how all this gets undone, I will never forgive this movie for that.
Tony Stark: Oof. I’ll start with the good, which is that I’ve been waiting from the beginning for them to incorporate the nanotech that Tony uses in the comics for the suit. (In that case, he uses the relative invulnerability granted to him by Extremis to house his suit in the hollows of his bones as nanobots, ugh, I love it so much.) That fight with Thanos as the suit compensated for every move, that was freaking dazzling. But they have to lose, which means that right after making a comment about maybe wanting to have a kid with Pepper, his surrogate kid dies in his arms. And that after all these films where Tony was continually blamed for everything that ever went wrong, the very thing that was giving him night terrors and causing him to make very bad decisions about robots is finally here, and it wins. And even though the next film is clearly going to involve Tony getting back to the rest of the Avengers to undo this mess, I can’t help but worry that the next step of this journey might be the one that kills him (and maybe Steve, too). And I don’t want it.
Characters who we did not see enough even though they showed up: Wong, Pepper, Ned, Eitri, M’Baku, Red Skull??? Just kidding, we did not need more Red Skull, but it was still hilarious to have him, and I always had wondered where the Tesseract sent him off to at the end of the first Cap film….
So much plot and devastation. So little time. So many thoughts to later coalesce. In the meantime, we can at least shout about our feelings.
Emily Asher-Perrin was over-prepared for her feels, but she still had a bunch leftover by the time the film was done. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.