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Every so often in superhero comics, a character will come along who is so ground-breakingly original, so instantly arresting, that they become an archetype. The obvious example is Superman. Supes shows up in 1938, and creates an entire genre. Every “Cape” type superhero follows in Superman’s footsteps, every “Cowl” has a bit of Batman (who, it must be said, got that bit from Zorro). Got an angsty teenage super-hero with real world problems the audience can relate to? Cut Stan Lee and Steve Ditko a check. When it comes to superheroes there are the archetypes, and the rest are copycats. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. As I mentioned before, Black Panther, Daredevil and Moon Knight are all derived from Batman but manage to put a different enough spin on the archetype to be great characters in their own right.
And the villains have their archetypes too. And no villain casts a longer shadow in comics than the master of Apokolips, DARKSEID.
Who is DARKSEID? Fool. DARKSEID is.
Jack Kirby spent much of his career in comics attempting to create a new American mythology with all new pantheons of gods and heroes. In DARKSEID, he created his Satan, a brooding, pitiless tyrant who can never truly be defeated because he is evil itself. DARKSEID is an archetype, and you don’t have to look far to find his descendants across all comic book companies big and small.
The most blatant (and admitted) rip off of DARKSEID is, of course, Marvel’s Thanos. He’s also the most interesting.
Whereas DARKSEID cares for nothing but himself, Thanos is usually depicted as something of a romantic, devoted utterly to the woman of his dreams. Unfortunately, the woman in question is Death itself whom Thanos tries to woo by eradicating as many of the living as possible. There is a kind of primordial mythic scope to that which I love. I mean, imagine you get transported thousands of years into the past and you got adopted by a local tribe and they asked you to tell them one of the stories of your people. And, as you crouch around the campfire, you tell the tale of the great giant Thanos who so loved death herself that he killed half of everything that lived to woo her, and still she spurned him.
That’s the kind of story cavemen would tell each other. It feels ancient and epic. It’s deep shit man.
And of course, that is the element that the producers of the MCU decided to do away with. Now, I’m on record as predicting that the whole MCU project was going to come a cropper because it was building to a final confrontation with Movie!Thanos and that he was a boring character, an awful villain and a terrible lover.
So. Here we are.
Yes, I was obviously wrong (uuuuugh what is this sensation I don’t like it) but, in my defence, I do still think that Guardians of the Galaxy completely mishandled Thanos. I just didn’t reckon with the Russo Brothers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely pulling out the mother of all salvage jobs. Cards on the table, Infinity War is by far my favourite Avengers movie and one of the best entries in the MCU thus far and, bizarrely, that’s mostly down to Thanos, the element I was most expecting to tank the entire endeavour.
How did they do it? Let’s take a look.
So, despite taking its name from the 1992 comic series of the same name, Infinity War is actually more based on The Infinity Gauntlet, the prequel to Infinity War which also featured Thanos and the Infinity Gems, not to be confused with The Infinity Crusade, which featured Thanos and the Infinity Gems or 2013 Infinity. Which featured Thanos and the Infinity Gems.
The movie begins immediately after Ragnarok ended, and Thanos and a cabal of alien heavies called the Black Order have just gone through the Asgardians like a dose of the salts. The leader of the Order, Ebony Maw, tells the Asgardians that they are super lucky to be killed by Thanos because he doesn’t just kill anybody you know. Incidentally, Maw is played by Irish actor Tom Vaughan Lawlor.
Thanos tells Thor to hand over the Tesseract and Thor tells them that they can’t because it was on Asgard and Asgard was blown up by a big fire demon, ya heard? But Loki sheepishly reveals that he did actually manage to grab the Tesseract on his way out when he was locking up and making sure the stove was off.
Thanos threatens to kill Thor unless Loki hands over the Tesseract and Loki calls his bluff, and then Thanos calls his bluff until, thoroughly out-bluffed, Loki caves and surrenders the shiny cube.
Hulk attacks Thanos and gets more brutally savaged than his stand-alone movies in the critical press and Loki, realising which way the wind is blowing, offers Thanos his undying allegiance. And promptly tries to stab him right in the weird…chin…ripple…things…
And, as his brother watches in horror, Thanos kills Loki.
Okay, not to sound morbid, but if a character death was any more satisfying than that I’d have to cook it breakfast afterward. I love this.
Firstly, as a statement of “Not Effin’ Around”, killing off the main villain and breakout star of Phase 1 is hard to top. Secondly, it gives Loki’s arc closure that simultaneously shows how far the God of Mischief has come, while still being perfectly true to his character.
Loki dies trying to save the brother he has finally come to love. But he does it by being a sneaky, lying bastich.
Heimdall uses the last of his power to send Hulk to Earth, and Thanos kills him for it, eliciting another big “NO!” from Thor who hasn’t had a day this bad since Christianity was introduced to Scandinavia. I mean, how could this possibly get any…
In Manhattan, Doctor Strange and Wong are somewhat surprised when Doctor Bruce Banner crashes through their roof and warns them that “Thanos is coming.”
So to recap; Loki and Heimdall killed, the Asgardians massacred, Hulk trounced and Thor presumably blown up. And that’s before the opening credits.
Okay, before we go any further we should probably remember that Captain Marvel is going to have Skrulls out the wazoo which means that some of the characters we see here have probably been replaced by little green men with goblin ears and chins you could keep your toast in. So, we should probably all be on the lookout for characters who are acting differently than normal. Cool? Alright, let’s check in with Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, the girl who left him because he was an unstable maniac and suddenly got back together with him because…
Anyway, Tony tells Pepper that he wants to have a baby with her and oh man…
He is so dead.
He is definitely dead. A moment’s silence please.
Anyway, before she can explain the her species can’t interbreed with humans, Doctor Strange emerges from a portal and tells Tony that he needs his help and Tony’s all “Oh hello, clone of me.”
Tony is shocked to see Bruce alive and in the pink as it were and he fills him in on Thanos’ whole Top Trump and says that they need to get the Avengers back together. Tony tells a shocked Banner that the Avengers broke up, like Queen in Bohemian Rhapsody instead of staying together and being the greatest, like Queen in real life.
Realising that the fate of the universe is more important than his pride (photo finish, but still) Tony is about to send Cap a “sorry” emoji when Ebon Maw and Cull Obsidian (you’re dark we get it) arrive in New York looking for the Time Stone, which, as you all know by now, dangles from the neck of Benedict Cumberbatch like an apple from the frond of a slender quaking aspen.
Wong, Iron Man and Doctor Strange face off against the aliens and Banner tries to Hulk out but can’t leading to the immortal Tony-line “Dude, you’re embaressing me in front of the wizards”. Hulk refuses to come out, presumably because he’s hurt that Banner has been cavorting with that Thor tramp behind his back.
Fortunately, Spider-man also happens to be in the neighbourhood and swings by to help and between the jigs and the reels Doc Strange gets captured by Ebon who takes him away on his spaceship but unbeknownst to him Iron Man has also snuck on board and unbeknownst to him Spider-Man has tagged along for the ride.
Meanwhile, in space.
The Guardians are flying through the cosmos with the power of seventies funk when they pick up a distress call from the Asgardians. They arrive to find the ship already blown up with seemingly no survivors except Thor who gets splattered across their windscreen like a particularly chiselled dragonfly.
They bring him on board and Star-Lord gets really self-conscious because everyone is cooing over Thor’s manliness and apparently Star-Lord is getting fat and stop…
Don’t you dare.
Chris Pratt has the kind of body that it is literally impossible to maintain unless a movie studio is paying you vast amounts of money to do nothing all day but train and eat grilled chicken and broccoli and now you’re trying to tell me he’s some kind of land whale you shut the hell up with that nonsense.
It’s not any supposed decline in Peter Quill’s physique that we need to discuss, but his intellect. Or, to put it another way, why Star-Lord no smart now?
Star-Lord has been depicted as many things in the two previous Guardians movies. Selfish. Immature. Insecure. Reckless. Immature. Arrogant. Immature. But never dumb. Or at least, never this dumb. Sure, he could make mistakes and be outsmarted, but he was also wily and cunning and had a real knack for lateral thinking.
Did Peter go for a space walk and forget to pack some oxygen because I swear this dude is operating on fewer brain cells than when last we met. Just everything in this scene. Like, the imitating Thor’s voice. I’ll admit, it made me chuckle but then you remember this is supposed to be a mentally normal human male and not a toddler.
Anyway, Thor wakes up and tells them that Thanos is looking for the Infinity Stones and that he’s massacred “half” of the Asgardians…
…and a plan is formed. Thor, Rocket and Teen Groot (the Worst Groot) set off for Nidavellir so that Thor can get the dwarves to build him a weapon that can kill Thanos. Rocket comes along because Thor likes the cut of Rocket’s jib and because Rocket loves crazy powerful weapons with a powerful and beneficent love. Meanwhile Quill, Gamora, Drax and Mantis head to Knowhere to get the Reality Stone from the Collector. Quill points out that giving the Reality Stone to the Collector was a really bad idea and Thor’s all “Look, lotta bad decisions were made in the Dark World, what’s done is done”.
Meanwhile, all the really serious Avengers are having a really serious mission with next to no jokes. Vision and Scarlet Witch are having a romantic getaway in Scotland (no lie, Ms Mouse and I stayed on that exact street one Edinburgh fringe long ago). They’re in love, despite being on different Avengers teams which is what makes it so naughty. That and the fact that he’s basically an Alexa who understands you the first time. They’re attacked by Proxima Midnight and Corvus Glaive, two of Thanos’ servants who are also married and I really respect couples who can work together and not bring all the massacring home with them. Vis and Wanda are saved by Black Widow, Falcon and Captain Sad-Beard and they all jet off to Avengers headquarters in upstate New York.
We get a flashback to how Gamora first met Thanos, when he was scouring her entire planet of half its inhabitants. In contrast to how Thanos has been depicted up until now, he actually comes across as very gentle and caring, even protecting Gamora from witnessing the massacre by distracting her with a gift; a jeweeled knife that “perfectly balanced, as all things should be”.
Now, we need to talk about Thanos’ plan which falls into the same category as Zemo’s from Civil War: it makes for great drama and emotional stakes but only if you don’t think about it too much. In fact, if this plan was any dumber Iowa would elect it to Congress.
To be clear, the movie wants you to believe that OUTER SPACE IS OVER POPULATED.
Overpopulation and dwindling resources are only a problem if you’re trapped on one planet and what kind of idiots would trash the only planet they had before figuring out a way to get to other…
Well regardless, virtually all the alien species we see in the Marvel universe have interstellar travel which means no one should have to fight over resources or space ever again because space is nothing but resources and space stretching out past infinity.
But even if you accept that Thanos is right about the basic problem, his solution is still nuttier than a squirrel smoothie because why use omnipotent power to half the number of people when you could just as easily double the amount of resources?
But whatever, it works as story if not as logic so let’s just move on. One thing I really like about Thanos is he doesn’t piss and moan about how nobody gets what he’s trying to do and how he’s really the hero. He doesn’t waste time trying to convince any of our heroes to see the rightness of his actions. He doesn’t care if they think he’s right or not. He knows he is, and that’s all that matters and theirs is something weirdly admirable about someone who doesn’t second guess themselves, even if their first guess is absolutely monstrous. I opened this review by noting that Thanos is a direct lift from DARKSEID but actually, do you know who he most reminds me of in this movie?
Thanos is, whether intentionally or not, a perfect deconstruction of Christopher Nolan’s Batman. Grim, relentless, super competent, utterly convinced in the rightness of his cause, prepared for any eventuality and absolutely, 100% guaranteed to win because it’s his story and everyone else is just a supporting character to be either defeated or to end up standing in awe of his greatness. But whereas Nolan celebrated that, Infinity War shows just how terrifying it would be to be on the receiving end.
In the present, on their way to Knowhere, Gamora makes Peter promise her that if Thanos ever captures her Peter won’t let him take her alive. Pete’s all “Okay, gonna need a bit more background info” and Gamora’s all “Nope, too dangerous, that’s all you’re getting” and Peter says “Yeah okay” and no, no dude. You are entitled to that information.
They arrive at Knowhere where Thanos has left the Collector in less than mint condition trying to find where he’s stashed the Aether. Gamora ambushes Big T and stone cold murders him. Huh. Okay, bit anti-climactic but…
Turns out Thanos already has the Aether and has already (presumably) killed the Collector and he was just using his reality-bending powers to mess with their heads because he’s such a merry wee prankster. He captures Gamora and she begs Peter to honour the incredibly unfair promise she extracted from him earlier. Peter, staring tearfully into Gamora’s eyes, tells her he loves her and pulls the trigger.
Thanos says “I like him” and vanishes with Gamora.
Meanwhile, in Avengers HQ, Rhodey, who’s been having severe buyer’s remorse about signing the Sokovia Accords, welcomes the serious Avengers back and introduces them to the returned Bruce Banner, which is awkward because Black Widow and Falcon have obviously been doing the nasty in his absence.
Because nothing helps with the healing process than a little exposition between friends, Banner explains what Thanos’ deal is while the guys fill him in on all the new superhero hotness, like Ant-Man, Spider-Man and the Wasp.
The group decide that they need to destroy the Mind stone to stop Thanos, which is a problem as Vision is using the Mind Stone as his mind. But Bruce says that they can totally just cut Vision’s personality out of there and he’ll be fine, exactly the same, you won’t even notice, good as new, better!, maybe some drooling and he’ll keep hearing the theme tune to Miami 5.0 on loop for the rest of his life but honestly, like 99.98% the same. But the group realise that the technology is beyond whitey science and they head to Wakanda.
Meanwhile, on board Ebon’s ship, Tony isn’t happy that Spider-Man came along on his space adventure (Tony, as my grandmother used to say, give a boy a space-suit and he’ll go to space. It’s an old Connemara proverb). But he puts Peter to work devising a strategy to rescue strange. Peter asks Tony if he’s seen that Alien movie where the alien gets sucked out into space.
Peter’s knowledge of ancient movies from the before times comes in handy yet again and they blast Maw into space. Trouble is, they’re still rocketing through space towards a rendezvous with Thanos. Strange wants to turn tail and head back to Earth but Tony wants to use the opportunity to catch Thanos with his pants down, seriously underestimating the power and cunning of Thanos and his pants. Strange tells Tony that if things go South he’ll sell Tony and Peter out in a hot second if it means saving the time stone and Tony’s all “okay, maybe some team-building exercises are in order. Fall and I’ll catch you.”
Meanwhile, Thanos finds Gamora in his throne room and she tells him that she always hated his chair.
She tells Thanos that being raised by him was a never-ending nightmare and he says “Well yeah, but Christmas was always fun, right?”
Oh yes. Thanos, despite raising Gamora to be his personal space-ninja assassin, always made sure to celebrate Christmas with her. Oh you don’t believe me? You think I’m making that up? Oh dear, if only I just happened to have a comic panel to hand from thirty years ago proving me right PSYCHE
Because it’s not a family reunion in the Thanos household without Nebula getting tortured, Thanos reveals to Gamora that he’s captured her sister and tortures her until Gamora finally reveals the location of the Soul Stone. It’s a heart wrenching scene, excellently building off the relationship between Nebula and Gamora established at the end of Guardians 2.
On the way to Nidavellir Rocket (of all people) decides that Thor needs to open up about his feelings and asks him if he’s okay.
There’s a scene in 2005’s Infinite Crisis where Batman is in the Batcave watching the crisis (which is infinite) unfold and things are so bad that he breaks down and has a full on panic attack. As a way of demonstrating the stakes, it was stunningly effective (I think Infinite Crisis was meh but that scene was awesome). How bad have things gotten? “Batman breathing into a paper bag and trying to find his happy place”-bad. Infinity War does something similar, if a little more understated, in this scene between Rocket and Thor where Thor is just smiling and talking about how he’s totally going to get a new weapon and defeat Thanos all the while stubbournly ignoring the fact that he has lost everything. I mean, let’s take a tally: Jane dumped him, Sif’s been exiled by Loki and is MIA, his father’s dead, his mother’s dead, his brother’s dead, his sister’s dead, Heimdall, Volstagg, Hogun and Fandral are all dead. His kingdom is destroyed. Half (um…) of his people have been slaughtered, he can never watch 3D movies again and he’s now floating in space telling his problems to a giant racoon.
And the worst thing is, it’s Thor. Captain America can brood for his country. Tony Stark is canned man-pain. But Thor? The happiest of happy warriors? Seeing him finally cracking is just heart-breaking. And Hemsworth, damn, I have run out of ways to describe how much I love the dude in this role.
Nebula manages to escape from Thanos’ torture chamber and gets a message to Mantis telling her to bring the Guardians to Titan. They arrive and meet up with Spider-Man, Iron Man and Doctor Strange. Tony takes charge and tries to come up with a plan to ambush Thanos. Peter asks the Guardians what their deal is and Mantis says “Kick names. Take ass.”
We now get what is almost certainly the greatest piece of acting in the entire MCU (hell, all of cinema) where Robert Downey Jnr perfectly and heart-breakingly conveys, with the subtlest facial expressions, Tony Stark’s dawning realisation of just how fucked this entire endeavour is.
Strange, for his part, has been scanning alternate futures to see if they have a snowball’s chance in hell and he gives them the bad news: Out of 14,000,605 possible futures, there’s one where they don’t get their asses handed to them.
Gamora and Thanos travel to the planet Vormir where the Soul Stone is hidden and there they meet the stone’s guardian, the Red Skull, who’s been trapped here since the end of Act 1. To get the Soul Stone, Skull tells Thanos that he must sacrifice the life of someone he truly loves and Gamora is overjoyed, thinking that the only person Thanos loves is himself.
Unfortunately, that’s not true.
Thanos loves Gamora. But, y’know, not enough to not throw her off a cliff in exchange for omnipotence. Now packing all but two of the Infinity Gems, Thanos travels to Titan where he gets ambushed by Tony and his Amazing Ass Takers. They almost almost manage to get the gauntlet off him but Star Lord screws up losing his shit when he learns that Gamora is dead and our heroes lose their one fleeting chance to defeat Thanos. Tony almost gets killed but Thanos spares him when Strange offers him the time stone in exchange for his life. Thanos leaves, and Tony is all “what the hell, brah?” but Strange tells him it was the only way.
So now it’s time for the Battle of Wakanda and as you’d expect by this point, it’s a belter. Every Avenger still on Earth standing shoulder to shoulder with the Winter Soldier, Black Panther and the entire armed forces of Wakanda including the Jabari, who have come down from the mountains and who must be just sweltering in all those furs.
The battle is full of great moments like Wanda finally cutting loose and showing how powerful she actually is, Thor arriving with a new axe called Storm-Bringer that he got in a sub-plot I didn’t recap because c’mon guys I’m only one mouse, Rocket eyeing up Bucky’s arm like a jewel thief and thousands of faceless mooks getting pulverized. Apparently these dudes are called Outiriders, and they’re Chitarui except even more dehumanised so they’re virtually guilt free.
Thanos arrives and Wanda is forced to kill Vision by destroying the stone.
And then Thanos just reverses time and takes the stone anyway.
MovieBob had a very good take on just why Thanos is so unsettling a villain. It’s because the heroes do everything right (with the obvious exception of the gibbering idiot Star Lord), and they still lose. They make smart plays, they sacrifice everything, they fight their hardest and it’s still not enough. Thanos can’t be beaten because the rules just don’t apply to him. Our heroes our just obstacles in someone else’s computer game and he has all the cheat codes.
The Infinity Gauntlet now complete, Thor lunges at Thanos and almost manages to kill him but it’s too late. Thanos snaps his fingers…and vanishes.
And, one by one, our heroes are winnowed.
We see each of them die, one after the other, and by the end of it you just feel like poor Steve Rogers, numbed and overwhelmed and utterly defeated.
And the movie ends with Thanos not boasting, or laughing maniacally at his triumph.
It ends with him looking out over a beautiful dawn with a gentle smile on his face.
A hero, who has gotten his happy ending.
And it’s terrifying.
Definitely my favourite Avengers movie and an excellent example of why the Top 5 in the rankings are now a Phase 3 only club. Like its predecessors, Avengers 3 is a wild ride, but unlike the last two it doesn’t feel like the filmic equivalent of a fireworks display. I expected it to be fun, I didn’t expect to still be thinking and talking about it months after it came out. Awesome stuff.
It bears little resemblance to the actual Infinity War, but that’s probably for the best as we’re spared the implacable evil of Magus, Adam Warlock’s evil future self.
But I have to give serious props to the screenwriters for solving the problem of how to keep narrative focus on so many different heroes by instead making Thanos the de facto hero. This subtly works to make him more of a terrifying threat than all the CGI in the world. The good guys simply can’t win because it’s not their story.
Our Heroic Heroes: 21/25
Okay so setting aside that structurally Thanos is the hero, who is the actual main good guy? Really tough to say but it’s probably the quintet of Thor, Tony, Quill, Strange and Gamora. Hemsworth is the best he’s ever been in this role but on the other end of the spectrum Peter Quill is just being written like a different character so I’m going to have to dock a few points just so I don’t have to put this movie ahead of Ragnarok. Because my heart couldn’t take that.
Our Nefarious Villain: 25/25
Outside of the horror genre, I can’t remember the last time a major Hollywood blockbuster had the stones to let the villain win so utterly (even Empire Strikes Back is more of a draw). Josh Brolin finally gets to sink his teeth into Thanos and prove all my fears unfounded.
Our Plucky Sidekicks: 25/25
The Loki Rule is in full effect.
Only one stinger for this movie (what is this, Soviet Russia?) but it’s a doozy. Nick Fury and Maria Hill are driving through New York when people start vanishing. As planes crash and the city descends into chaos, Fury pulls out a pager and sends a message to Captain Marvel is erased just before he can drop an MF bomb because Thanos may be a genocidal madman but he does not care for potty-mouth.
And the audience went
Hey, is that the first time I’ve used a Marvel gif for one of these? And the serpent eats its tail.
Hey was that Stan Lee?!
That was Stan Lee, berating the kids of Peter’s school bus for freaking out over one teensy alien spaceship like a bunch of little snowflakes.
Infinity Gem Counter: 6!!!!
And so at last we must retire the trusty infinity gem counter, it’s burden laid down. Starting next week we have a new category; “Do they seem skrully to you?”
Hey, what’s Thanos doing?
Oh, you know. Keeping busy.
FINAL SCORE: 95%
NEXT UPDATE: 29 November 2018
NEXT TIME: We return to the verdant animated fields of Middle-Earth for the Rankin Bass version of Return of the King.