By Navin Rana
Published: May 9th, 2018
*There are NO spoilers in this review.
For the last few years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has occupied the center of the pop culture zeitgeist. It is a force to be reckoned with because of its continual focus on the hero. However, this singular focus has led to problems within the Marvel framework.
Studio head Kevin Feige has notoriously stated that he doesn’t want the villains to outshine the heroes. This exact sentiment and the subsequent underdevelopment of antagonists have been detrimental to the majority of the eighteen films in the Marvel canon thus far. For example, 2013’s Thor: The Dark World is an enjoyable yet oft-forgotten work because most movie-goers can describe neither the primary antagonist nor his plan.
Even if the villains are memorable, they all share similar goals. Everyone seems to want world domination over everything else. While other studios copy the Marvel formula to create their own cinematic universe, the rubric of the underwhelming villain is omnipresent. Steppenwolf from Justice League (2017), Dr. Doom from Fantastic Four (2015) and the Mummy from her eponymous 2017 film all lack purpose.
However, Marvel Studios has recently changed their ways. Erik Killmonger in Black Panther (2018) was a complex antagonist that was just as compelling as the protagonist, T’Challah. Their conflict addressed the realities black identity and reconciliation with the past.
In Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos—the villain of all people—is clearly the best facet of the movie. Since 2012, when Thanos was first teased in Avengers, he has been presented as a force that can bring about the destruction of humanity, even though there was no proof of his might or his reasoning. This film clearly presents Thanos as a threat from the outset and provides details of his backstory to explain the logic of his plan. It would be quite reasonable to call Thanos the most sympathetic character of the film. During his hunt for the infinity stones, he has moments that are more emotional than those in The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy.
Infinity War is, by every conceivable definition, Thanos’ movie. He is the only character with a pronounced theme created by Alan Silvestri; he is the only character with agency in the story; he is the only character with a narrative arc. Thanos’s musical theme is absolutely haunting and stands alone in his presence. While the Avengers theme and Guardians of the Galaxy themes are incorporated into the score, the cues exist as smaller parts of larger moments and do not get the time to fully develop. The story of Thanos, to me personally, is significantly much more engaging than that of the Avengers because he is allowed to make choices that define his character at the end of the film. However, all the heroes presented—expect maybe Thor, Gamora and Dr. Strange—simply react to the situations at hand.
While Thanos is the best portion of the movie, the directing Russo Brothers provide unforgettable battle sequences, reward people who have followed the whole of the MCU and somehow present a coherent narrative with close to 75 characters. They were even able to embed a sense of depth in the material by elegantly playing with the values of sacrifice within the frameworks of both utilitarian and deontological ethics. Although a greater theoretical conversation on the film must be withheld for a time when spoilers are not a concern.
Ultimately, Avengers: Infinity War satiates the appetite for a fantastic film while stoking the flames of intrigue for the untitled Avengers 4.