Life and Death (and Colors!) in Infinity Countdown 2

by Taylor Anderson

This article contains SPOILERS! If you haven’t read the issue, proceed at your own risk.

Life is literally defined by two things: birth and death. Sure, there’s a bunch of stuff that comes between those two milestones, but if you’re looking for something that all living things have in common, birth and death are pretty much it. Unsurprisingly, these two events have taken on a symbolic meaning for us humans. Ideas such as Yin and Yang, Light Side and Dark Side, Good and Evil, all stem from the dichotomy between the giving and extinguishing of life. It’s unsurprising, then, to see these two pillars of life make an appearance in Infinity Countdown 2. The grand scale of narrative presented is ripe for such grand themes as birth and death.

The Guardians of the Galaxy, the Nova Corps, the Raptors, and the Chitauri are all fighting for the Power Stone. The fight for the stone is a clusterfuck, and in the middle of it all, Eve Bakian gives birth to her child, a baby girl. At this point in the issue, the narrative transitions from this fight to Adam Warlock awakening on Earth, where Adam ruminates about how “death comes for us all.” Cheery stuff, for sure, but it’s slightly ironic that he says these things after practically waking from the dead. Still, death does permeate Adam’s side of the story, as his visit with Ultron well illustrates.

Adam’s part of this issue is tonally distinct from the chaos that comes before it, and I don’t think it’s a mistake that his death-centric narrative is introduced just as Eve gives birth. Given the link between birth and death, it makes for a natural transition device in this issue.

Getting back to Adam’s story, however, colorist Jordie Bellaire does a marvelous job handling the tonal shift — from birth to death — in this issue. Where the scenes with Eve and the guardians are full of neon reflecting the new life being born in the heat of battle, Adam’s are dark and grey reflecting his morbid preoccupations. This is especially true when Adam visits Ultron’s world only to find it dead, grey, and lifeless, save for killer robots. Not to be overlooked, Adam’s costume is still highlighted by bright reds and yellow. This makes sense. Even though he loves talking about death, Adam is trying to save life. In this sense, his bright colors, in the midst of dark grays, signals the tension and fight between life and death — a fight which this issue is all about.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

13 comments on “Life and Death (and Colors!) in Infinity Countdown 2

  1. I read that Infinity Countdown wasn’t originally planned, but that Duggan’s story got so big that he had to do this. Which I think hurts Countdown slightly, as the Gardener aspects feel meaningless and better addressed in the first book.

    But the rest is great, the crazy fun of the giant battle. And even better, the little moments found for really great character moments. Gamora giving her advice to Eve. Rich meeting his brother for the first time after coming back is ruined only by the choice to not show the payoff of Warbringer’s entrance in exchange for Adam Warlock, who is as boring and without feature as ever. While the contrasts of life and death are storng, and the transition from childbirth to Adam Warlock literally walking out of a tomb is a strong one, maybe it would have been better to tie everything about the Power Stone fight up here so it is done, and focus on the Adam Warlock stuff next issue? The Ultron stuff is wonderfully creepy and brilliantly done, it looks like Duggan is going to have a real handle on Ultron, even if he, like everyone else before him, has no idea what to do with Adam Warlock to make him interesting.

    Honestly, this comic started off so strong, but it is going to be interesting to see what happens as Adam Warlock gets more an more important. First issue was amazing, but this is one is very strong except for Adam Warlock himself. What happens when Adam Warlock actually gets more and more involved in the plot? The sad fact is, both in the context of Marvel stories as a whole and Duggan’s work in particular, Adam Warlock is an active threat to good storytelling. If Duggan has failed to write Adam Warlock so far, what will this mean for Infinity Countdown as a whole? Will the sheer quality of everything else be a sufficent counter to Adam Warlock?

    Because credit to everyone, especially Bellaire, for how well the Ultorn section is, it is a massive step down from what came before. We went from a sequence rich in character to one almost devoid of character

  2. So, I saw Avengers: Infinity War (no spoilers)…

    One of the Thanos quotes that we have had bombarded at us, every time we see the trailer in front of the movie. And every time again when we watch that trailer a million times on Youtube out of anticipation is
    “In time, you will know what it’s like to lose. To feel so desperately that you’re right. Yet to fail all the same. Dread it. Run from it. Destiny still arrives.”

    Destiny has arrived. Marvel Studies have failed. Big time. Avengers Infinity War is an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions.
    10 year of Marvel Studios, and they have consistently produced good, occasionally great, movies. They have rewritten the blockbuster playbook twice with Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, movies so influential that you could see their fingerprints on every movie around. And Black Panther (with a little help from the Last Jedi) looks to be doing that a third time. Even failures like Thor the Dark World are entertaining and watchable, if only for that hilarious climax. A big part of their success has been that even the worst movie is a good time. And then, this.

    I watched the very earliest screening in my country, with a theatre packed full. And while people laughed and cheered at certain moments, it felt much more muted than you’d expect. Nowhere near the cheers I heard in a similarly packed theatre for the first Avengers movie. In the interest of honesty, I will say that the woman next to me did cry during a scene at the end, but I’d also argue that it was because of the greater context of what that scene means because of other movies. Nothing in this movie sold it. A key part of Marvel’s success is that they create characters that you want to follow into other movies. And Infinity War is a movie you’d only want to watch because you are following them.

    Because this is a movie where maybe two characters worked, and only with massive reservations. With the worst villain in Marvel Studios history, that makes you miss the days of Maliketh the Accursed. And barely a functional scene in the entire movie.

    It would be easy to say that the movie is overstuffed. That’s the lazy way to explain it, but it isn’t the case. The fundamental structure isn’t exactly awful. And what structural issues there are, are more a problem of a story not rooted in character than it is a too large, unwieldy cast. Instead, it is just consistent incompetence from before the very first shot

    And I mean before. Even the Marvel Studios Logo shows everything go wrong. The trend of the disrupted production credit is a legitimate trope, building stakes by having the chaos and the horror of the events of the prologue leak into the production credit, generally through audio. And so, the majestic Marvel Studios credit doesn’t have Giacchino’s horns. They should have done something similar to what Spiderman Homecoming did, which replaced those horns with an arrangement of the 1960s Spiderman theme, but with that dramatic arrangement of the Avengers theme used in the trailers. Or do what Guardians of the Galaxy did in both movies, and place the prologue before the logo. Instead, they had the audio from the first scene over the top, to try and build about an intensity. A perfectly legitimate choice in many other movies, but alongside the grand, heroic Marvel theme, it is so out of place that it fails horribly. Not that the prologue itself is much better.

    Infinity War is bad. It is really, really bad. I am currently writing up a giant spoiler review, and I am 4000 words in. About 5% is positive. If I’m generous. It is shockingly terrible.

    I know everything has been building up to this, and everyone’s excited. I was. But just don’t bother. You’ll get a much better experience just skipping it

      • Honestly, we all have sexist and otherwise bigoted programming in our heads, and so I’d argue nearly everyone is. Personally, I may several instincts in my head that I have to constantly check myself because I know intellectually that they are sexist,racist, homophobic etc and I have to intellectually remind myself to constantly check myself and make sure I lead with my head and not those initial instincts. And that’s the stuff I know about, I bet you I have some sexist beliefs that I don’t know about. We are all sexist, because we all commit sexist acts. The goal is to try and be the least sexist as possible by doing everything you can to eradicate sexist beliefs. Which isn’t easy, as so much of it is cultural programming and we are ultimately the product of the culture we live in.

        And so, I would say that the long history of Starlin’s sexist writing, from early back in Infinity Gauntlet to much more recent work, is a sexist act. But I also would not use his bad writing to make a judgement on his character as a whole. He could be a great feminist in every other respect and just utterly terrible at writing women. Which would be admirable, even if he had clear rooms for improvement. Just as I wouldn’t call Geoff Johns a fascist, despite the fact that he keeps accidentally endorsing fascism in Doomsday Clock. Sometimes, the answer is just incompetence and imperfection.

        And I should note that my issues with Starlin’s writing of women are much larger than just Infinity Gauntlet. And my issues with Infinity Gauntlet are much larger than just the sexism. While the sexism of Infinity Gauntlet both closes off opportunities for improving the book and damages the climax, Infinity Gauntlet has much larger issues than just sexism. There are a lot of issues from a dramatic level that really hurt the book, like the lack of a strong lead character, that are much more influential in making INfinity Gauntlet a terrible story

        And I should make clear that my opinion on Avengers: Infinity War has nothing to do with my opinion on Infinity Gauntlet. While I don’t care for Infinity Gauntlet, I’ve loved Thanos in many other stories and greatly enjoyed many stories involving the Infinity Stones and the Gauntlet. My problem with Avengers Infinity War isn’t that it is like Infinity Gauntlet (in fact, the movie is really, really different from Infinity Gauntlet), it is that it is an exceptionally terrible movie where nearly every scene fails.

        In fact, I’ll make this clear. While Avengers: Infinity War is nowhere near as sexist as Infinity Gauntlet, Infinity Gauntlet is a much, much better story than Avengers: Infinity War. Infinity War would be much better if it was more like Infinity Gauntlet

        • Wow… I don’t expect somebody to say that Infinity War is worse than the source material that its loosely inspired considering the movie get good reception from critics and fans ( I might be wrong). Can you post your analysis on the movie quickly?. I want to read your thoughts on it.

        • The review is taking time, because it has to be massive. Hopefully, will get it finished on Saturday my time. And I was shocked by the reviews when they came out, since time differences meant I saw it before the review embargo was lifted. And the reviews are so vague, I can’t truly understand their opinions. Too afraid of spoilers.

          And Infinity Gauntlet suffers from a massive Adam Warlock problem. He is the closest the book has to a lead, and he is incredibly boring. Even worse, his role in the story is to make everything less entertaining. Every piece of drama, from the horrors Thanos unleashes to the impossibility of normal heroes facing a god, is ruined by have this godlike being dictate what everyone does to the point where thigns stop being interesting. If a story is about dramatic decisions, Adam Warlock exists to take away decisions. Thanos’ threat is immediately undercut by having Adam Warlock spend most of the narrative as the perfect counter. People don’t struggle against Thanos, they follow Adam Warlock’s orders. It just means that Adam Warlock is a vortex sucking all the drama out of the story.
          THis is made worse by the fact that Adam Warlock is a bad character, and his relationship with Thanos as dramatised by the book itself is essentially nonexistent. To the average character, Thanos is an unknown entity whose only meaning to them is undercut by Adam Warlock ruining everything. To Adam Warlock, any meaning Thanos has is nonexistant and so the story is completely lacking a strong relationship to anchor the narrative. Which is why killing Gamora and torturing Nebula is such a bad idea. They could have provided a deep relationship, but instead the only relationships the story has are between the generic Avenger and THanos and Adam Warlock and Thanos. Adam Warlock ruins both.
          Also, the story is far too in love with Thanos, and his redemption is awful. The way that a man who killed half the universe is so easily redeemed is terrible, especially the idea that Nebula is a greater threat than Thanos. Were it not for Adam Warlock, Thanos would be a decent villain in the first two acts. In the third act, Thanos is awful.
          What this means is that all you have left are action sequences, that are boring by themselves. There is half a decent moment, when Captain America walks towards Thanos (but only half, because the actual confrontation is banal and simple), and Thanos’ defeat is clever. But most of the action is let down by the fact that the best action sequences are part of the storytelling. Adam Warlock has already ruined that, which means most of the storytelling is essentially interchangeable superheroes punching
          Infinity Gauntlet is superhero comics without soul. A banal machine of an event with no substance and existing only superficially, until a third act turn where everything becomes terrible. SUperhero storytelling stripped of everything that makes superhero stories work

    • I want to begin by just discussing all the story threads coming into this movie. Because so many movies had contributed story points that were supposed to set up the drama of the movie, and I’m not talking about the Infinity Stones

      Bruce and Natasha ‘broke up’ messily in Avengers, Age of Ultron. This especially had nasty effects on Bruce throughout Thor Ragnarok. What will it mean for him to meet her again? We get a single shot that silently acknowledges it, but no development.
      Civil War had fractured the Avengers, split them in two. At the start of Infinity War, the Avengers had been divided in such a way that leaves Earth open and weak. A key part of Civil War was that going into Infinity War, one of the key dramatic problems is the Avengers’ own division. This is not a key part of Infinity War
      Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 had key themes about abuse. Specific to Infinity War, Gamora and Nebula’s abuse is deeply explored, setting up for Infinity War, where they would be reunited with their abuser. This is handled superficially and offensively
      Thor Ragnarok positioned Thor as king, then immediately endangered his people with the threat of Thanos in the post credit scene. How would Thor’s new role as King of an endangered people influence him? This is thrown away instantly.
      The two most important teams in the Marvel Universe, the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy, were going to meet. Neither had met each other, or even heard of each other. What would happen when the two groups met each other, and what would the dynamic be between teams? The words ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ aren’t mentioned once, and they are instead treated like Doctor Strange, a character with no special affiliation. The answer to ‘What happens when the Guardians meet the Avengers?’ is ‘Nothing Important’

      Now, Avengers Infinity War isn’t supposed to be the perfect follow up to every movie, but all of those points are things that specifically matter to the movie. These all mention dramatic questions that should turn up in Infinity War. They don’t.

      Though if we want to talk about how Infinity War does engage in the previous movie, let’s. It ignored every dramatic question about Thanos, the Avengers and the Guardians in this movie posed by previous ones, but it did take time to thematically refute the last four movies!
      Phase Three, after a really bumpy Phase Two, was home to some of Marvel’s deepest and most thematic movies. Three of the last four were among their deepest and best, and the other, Spiderman Homecoming, was very thematically interesting even if the movie was notably a weaker entry.
      Meanwhile, Infinity War refutes each one. Guardians of the Galaxy explores how there is no love in abuse, just ego, and maturation is a long, complex process where Peter doesn’t get the girl because he learnt a lesson. Infinity War wants us to side with the hurt feeling of an abuser who just has to continue his abuse, even though he loves Gamora so much. Meanwhile, Peter kisses Gamora despite the whole point of Vol 2 being that they both aren’t ready for a relationship with each other yet and shows them instead being happy with where they are.
      Peter Parker refutes the main idea of Spiderman Homecoming, loudly declaring that being a Friendly Neighbourhood Spiderman is less important than being an Avenger doing Avenger missions
      Thor Ragnarok forces Thor to take the mantle of responsibility and become king. He even loses his eye so that he would look like Odin and to show his change in outlook from hero to leader. The people he leads are totally exterminated by Thanos in the very first scene, despite being the one thing that would be out of character for THanos to do (Thanos is an awfully ill-defined character in this, with barely any substance or character, and he still does horrifically out of character stuff). Meanwhile, Rocket gives Thor a brand new eye that he has in his pocket, concluding the stripping of every major character change that Thor faces
      And Wakanda, which Black Panther showed the story of how it learnt to break from its ill-considered secretive ideals and open itself to the world. In Infinity War, Wakanda is depicted as a secretive and hidden nation that still hides.

      Although let’s be clear. Refuting the last four movies isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if it was done well (it wasn’t). And it also isn’t the most grievous sin, just the icing on the cake. And the fact that it ignores everything dramatic question about the very movie that the previous ones posed isn’t a good idea, but if it replaced it with its own dramatic questions, that wouldn’t be a problem. In fact, the first Avengers movie ignored all the dramatic questions of Phase One (what will it take for SHIELD to trust Tony as more than a consultant, what was the cost of breaking the Rainbow Bridge so that Thor was trapped away from Earth), but asked their own, better ones. Infinity War just decided not have any dramatic questions. But the fact that Infinity War failed so miserably here is a great higher level way to explore what went wrong, before going deep into the weeds. And a massive problem with Infinity War is despite so many movies setting it up with interesting dramatic questions, Infinity War lacks dramatic questions, dramatic throughline or any semblance of drama. No theme, no meaning, just ‘there is an awful bad guy that needs to be killed’. It is a movie so empty, that the only way to truly dissect what went wrong is to go deep into the plotlines and the production quality itself.

      So let’s try. Though it is hard, because as the movie has no dramatic throughlines, there isn’t exactly a centre that the movie is built around that acts as a starting point. The Wanda plotline is maybe the centre, on the strict procedural level – almost every plotline converges on Wakanda. But let’s start with Tony Stark’s plotline, because it is a meaningless filler plotline that also sets up problems in Wanda’s.

      And so, Heimdall lets Banner escape Thanos, leading him to crashing into Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum and warn him about Thanos. Strange and Wong, understanding the threat, summons Tony Stark. Tony is just about to call Steve Rogers, until a giant space ship appears, that only carries two guys. They land in New York, and they, alongside Peter Parker, have to defend Strange, who gets captured. And here, problems quickly arise. Firstly, the comedy
      Marvel’s use of comedy usually works fantastically, as it is used as a natural extension of the characters and stakes. Characters often joke because it is their natural defence mechanism in difficult situations, for example. Or because they are comfortable in the situation. Or it is because they are in situations that lead to outcomes that are funny. There are all sorts of jokes. And while they act to make the movies fun, they are generally also in line with what the film tries to do. In Infinity War, far too many jokes fail completely because they are so unnatural. Some could have worked, if they filmed it in a different way that fit the story (like Steve and Thor’s joke when meeting at the climax, which would have worked much better as combat repartee than by having them stand in the middle of a battle field). Other jokes are just repeating jokes from previous movies, often in worse or less effective ways (we get it! Peter Parker is Generation Z and thinks 80s classics are old. Find a new way to tell that joke! And Groot killing people with his arm is much funnier when properly set up like it was in the original movie. Oh, and I know Peter Quill is obsessed with the 70s and 80s, but he can reference different things from those times instead). And others are just tonally inappropriate. Trying to set up huge, world ending stakes are really hurt when you start the first proper fight with a giant erectile dysfunction joke. Yeah, you have to set up that Banner can’t turn into the Hulk (even though this plot goes nowhere and has no payoff) but there has to be a better way to handle it than stopping the story dead at the first dramatic peak in pacing for an extended erectile dysfunction joke (this isn’t helped by the fact that Thanos’ minions like to stand around not doing anything while heroes do their scenes, a recurring problem I’ll discuss more in the Thanos section). But far more of the comedy falls flat than a normal Marvel movie.
      After the fight, Strange is captured and Banner wanders off because he can’t Hulk out, to turn up in Wanda’s plotline later on (he actually picks up Tony’s phone with Steve Rogers’ phone number, dramatically declares he is going to call Steve Rogers, then never does). Wong wanders off, despite the fact that the Sorcerer Supreme and the Time Stone were captured and a few minutes ago Strange and Wong couldn’t stop talking about how oathbound they were to protect the Time Stone, for poorly dramatized reasons. Why not injure him, or something? And so Tony and Peter fly off into space and save Strange, and Peter gets into the suit from Homecoming that represents the future that Peter rejected to be a Friendly Neighbourhood Spiderman while rejecting being a Friendly Neighbourhood Spiderman. Doctor Strange says they need to return to Earth, but Tony is a bit unsure. He’s been worrying about this day for years – Thanos being the one who sent Loki and worsened all of Stark’s PTSD issues to the point of driving the plot of every Iron Man story post-Avengers means that he is panically trying to make sure he makes the right call in what almost feels like the start of a character arc, other than the fact that it doesn’t go anywhere because there are barely any functioning characters in this shitshow. Tony tells Strange that he’s panicking, and that he doesn’t know if the right move is to go back to Earth, or to go on to Titan to surprise Thanos. After his panicked declaration of confusion where he states clearly that he has no idea what to do, Doctor Strange goes ‘I agree. Let’s go to Titan’. I’m not kidding. Nothing makes sense in this movie, because characters barely make decisions on any good reasons, leading to confused nonsense like Doctor Strange agreeing to a plan that wasn’t even expressed with confidence.
      This means that instead of being on Earth, where we could explore the mending of the Tony/Steve dynamic or any of the rich drama that could come from that, Tony is instead on Titan, where he meets up with the Guardians (more on them later). There is a great opportunity to explore character dynamics by exploring how they put together to a plan and what perspectives are shown by their strategies (Tony’s fear of putting Strange and the Time Stone in Danger v Peter’s natural thief instincts v Strange’s belief in direct action, maybe?) Instead, Doctor Strange looks into the future with the Time Stone, sees one future where they win and they chose that strategy instead. No interesting character work. Instead, we see the worst fight scene in a movie blighted with terrible fight scenes (more on that with Thanos), Thanos gets the Time Stone and they are left abandoned on Titan, fulfilling ultimately a filler story. The ending, where Strange surrenders the Time Stone to Thanos to save Tony’s life, could have paid off Strange’s previous statement that he would value the Time Stone over anyone else’s life, except immediately after, he states that ‘We have entered the endgame’, suggesting it was all actually part of the plan and not a change in heart, not a payoff to his character arc.

      The only consequence is that after the space ship left with a captured Strange, and Tony and Peter stowed aboard, everyone on the news panics that Tony Stark is missing, despite no dramatized reason why they think it is that big of a deal or why they aren’t discussing a more reasonable explanation like ‘Tony is off fighting the aliens that just invaded and left’. This is a very, very stupid movie. Maybe the only real praise for this section is Robert Downey Jnr’s performance. Every actor does fine, but Robert Downey Jnr really does his best with thankless material. His work with Stark has really evolved, and you can feel the struggles with PTSD and the anxiety. He’s giving it his all, even if no one else behind the camera is.

      But this gets us to Wanda’s story! The closest thing this movie has to a storyline. It has a character, maybe two. It has a dramatic question – Is it right to sacrifice a life to save trillions. It has a beginning and a climax. It is almost a functional narrative. They are surrounded by awful supporting cast members and most of the story is distracted by those same awful supporting cast members. This is the closest thing the movie has to a central plotline, with all other stories converging here. But the problem is, it is substantial only compared to the rest of this movie.
      Wanda and the Vision have been sneaking away from their respective teams with couple of months to date. Their love is strong, to the point where the Vision is considering leaving Tony’s Avengers. This could have been a great way to tell a story about the fractured Avengers, but that doesn’t matter. But at least it gets us invested in their relationship. Which means that when Vision considers getting Wanda, whose Infinity Stone derived powers is the only thing that can destroy an Infinity Stone, to kill him to destroy the Mind Stone after Thanos’ minions try and kill him. Together, they could be interesting. But their first fight with Thanos’ men ends with them being saved by Steve Rogers’ Secret Avengers. And they are awful.
      Steve Rogers should be in an interesting place in this movie. After last movie, he lost his shield and abandoned America. His costume (costuming is hit and miss in this movie. Steve Rogers and Natasha are great, Thanos and Thor aren’t) has a blackened out star, suggesting a Steve Rogers disconnected from America, lost in a world that doesn’t accept him. This would be interesting, but it isn’t in the movie at all. He’s just there. He exists mostly to take up space from actual characters. He says generic good guy stuff and acts as the leader, taking away agency from Wanda and the Vision who are actually people. Meanwhile, Sam Wilson and Natasha are just background characters that might as well be wallpaper.
      They go to the Avengers facility in New York, but this doesn’t mean anything. Tony Stark has already left the planet and the news are panicking about him on the news having disappeared for no reason, so the dramatic possibilities of Steve returning here are kind of ruined. But Rhodey is still there. He’s no Stark, but he was on Stark’s side. Surely he could represent the idealogical split that the Avengers are struggling with? No. He’s given up on the strong political values he had around superhero regulation that he had last movie and has decided he was wrong so that nothing dramatic happens. With Tony off planet, Rhodey was the one character that could represent the schism between the heroes. Instead, he’s more wallpaper. And then there is Banner. As I said before, Banner can’t turn into the Hulk, because the Hulk refuses to come out after being beaten up so badly by Thanos. This goes nowhere, there is no payoff and Banner just has a bunch of scenes where he struggles to Hulk out. Instead, he takes a Hulkbuster armour and uses that instead. That could be interesting. Banner using a weapon designed to fight Banner? What does that mean to him? Or, in a movie that didn’t throw Tony Stark into a filler plotline and instead looked at the dramatic possibilities of Tony and Steve meeting after the events of Civil War, handing the Hulkbuster armour to Steve Rogers’ team could be an interesting way to show Tony’s attempts at healing the divide. Instead, Banner just rides it throughout the movie as a tool that has no story or character relevance, because the plot for some reason doesn’t want him to Hulk out even though the movie isn’t interested in giving Banner an actual arc about that.
      And so, in a discussion dominated too much by Banner and Steve Rogers, who are barely characters, they realise that it would be possible to destroy the Mind Stone without killing the Vision, by getting a genius to separate his mind from the Stone. Except Banner isn’t smart enough, so Steve suggests they go to Wakanda. While it makes sense that Steve is the one who knows about Shuri – he is the only Avenger with a preexisting relationship with Wakanda and Shuri, so it makes sense that he is the one who suggests it – this is problematic for a couple of reasons. Firstly, having Steve as both the leader and the guy wo suggests Wakanda gives him too much narrative power over the story, taking up all the space. This wouldn’t matter in a story where he was a character, or in a story where he had a stake in any of the dramatic throughlines or was anything but an empty suit, but this isn’t Infinity War. In Infinity War, he is empty and so all he does is crowd out the actual characters, Wanda and Vision.
      Also, introducing Wakanda that way means introducing Wakanda in the worst way possible. By making the reason to go to Wakanda purely procedural (as opposed to fan theories that thought the Soul Stone was there, which would mean the Wakandans had actual stakes in the game), all it does is add Black Panther’s cast as more wallpaper. Because their purpose is merely mechanical, they have no stakes in the game and just stand there as more empty bodies in a movie swarming with empty bodies. If you are going to have characters go to a new location for a specific purpose, you need to actually make sure that location has one real character that matters. Wakanda doesn’t. This is made worse by how it butchers Wakanda. I facepalmed when they repeated the ‘fly through the hologram’ entrance to Wakanda from the Black Panther movie, because Black Panther had T’Challa open his borders and reveal Wakanda to the world. Why are they still hiding? But that isn’t the only problem. Okoye, the voice of tradition in the Black Panther movie, is making jokes about how she wants Wakanda westernised. None of Black Panther’s cast should want to westernise Wakanda, the whole point of Wakanda is they don’t need anything from the world and instead open their borders to offer what they have. Jokes about getting a Starbucks is a betrayal of the point of Wakanda. Even worse, having the traditionalist say it is even worse. Shuri or Nakia would at least have the justification of being people actively invested with the world outside Wakanda. Meanwhile, M’Baku, who in Black had had a very complex relationship with T’Challa and never pretended to be comfortable with T’Challa, is now treating T’Challa like they are brothers. M’Baku should be somewhat abrasive toward T’Challa, a complex ally.
      And so, as the movie ends, everyone comes to Wakanda. Except Tony’s team and the Guardians, stuck on Titan for their own horrendous sequence. Some of the characters arrival makes no sense, but that’s Infinity War for you. The set up should work. Shuri is operating on the Vision, while Thanos’ army attacks. The Avengers have to defend Shuri, while Wanda has to wait by Vision side to destroy the Mind Stone as soon as she can. The dramatics here are simple. Avengers can’t hold the line, and Wanda is forces in the climax of the movie to choose whether to kill the Vision or let Thanos get the Mind Stone. And for once in this movie, they actually have a properly set up dramatic sequence. Shame about the film making. The directors clearly have no idea how to handle a battle of this size, and make what should feel big and epic seem small and overwhelming. This isn’t the cramped formations of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, and there never feels like there is that much of a threat. Even worse, the individual beats often fail, generally because of a faiure in set up. It should be easy. You show a threat, you demonstrate why it is a big deal, you have a payoff. They keep skipping the second half, and so you get these payoffs that look like they are supposed to represent moments like, say, Hulk punching the Leviathan in Avengers, but the threat is so vague that it doesn’t mean anything when the payoff happens. The most important one, and the worst, is when the armoured units arrive. The payoff is Wanda leaves her post to help the Avengers, in what is supposed to be a turning point in the story. But while the armoured units look threatening, the movie never establishes why these things are so threatening that they require Wanda. What can they do that War Machine and the Hulkbuster can’t handle? We never get to see. These problems create a terrible battle, made worse by the moments that should work, like the reveal that Corvus Glaive had snuck into the city and was waiting for Wanda to leave, being handled with such poor and generic cinematography that it doesn’t adequately sell the events.
      This all leads to Thanos turning up and turning the fight, and Wanda being forced to make the choice on whether to kill the Vision. This is the only actual dramatic throughline in the movie, and Wanda is one of about two actual characters in this disaster, and so this scene works on a purely functional level. We care about Wanda’s choice, and when she makes the choice it works dramatically. And in a better movie, the fact that Thanos uses the recently acquired Time Stone to reverse Wanda’s decision to kill Vision himself and claim the Mind Stone would be gutwrenching. But every part of Wanda’s story has been bungled. Crowded out by crappy characters like Steve Rogers and Banner, who literally have nothing to do all movie, and by awful fight scenes and a constant barrage of garbage, there isn’t enough to Wanda’s story to make this sing. This is the only sequence that actually has the parts the movie needs to work. Except it is missing the build-up. Missing the development. So you are left with the most superficial version of the story. There was too much garbage, and it hurt the one functional part of the story.

      And so we get to Thor. Thor gets the dubious honour of having the prologue, which starts the movie perfectly my screwing up the opening Marvel Studio Logo with stunning incompetence. Thor is Avengers Infinity War’s other character. The prologue isn’t fantastic. It does stupid shit that makes Thanos’ barely existing character inconsistent and Loki feels out of place in the scene (also, for a movie that likes to luxuriate in having every single character they can fit in, the lack of Valkyrie and Korg is very noticeable in this scene. Where were they in the fall of Asgard? Even worse, the website of my local cinema, for some reason, marked the Cast of Avengers Infinity War as ‘Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Tessa Thompson’ (with no other names). So was disappointing to not see Valkyrie). The good thing about Thor is that he actually gets motivation in this scene. Not only is all of Asgard destroyed, the specific murder of Loki by Thanos gives Thor clear motivation. Thor wants revenge, and he actually gets a payoff to that in the end of the movie.
      Though naturally, as great as it is that Thor is actually a character in this movie, it is hard to say that it isn’t disappointing that so much of it happens by going backwards. They keep his cocky, heroic arrogance that Waititi gave him in Ragnarok, but everything else is a shame. Why kill the Asgardians? I called Ragnarok’s post credit scene the worst Marvel has ever done. A big reason was because no one knew what that ship was. It didn’t start a conversation well. But it was also the worst possible way to end a movie whose actual ending was about opening a new page. Asgard finds a new beginning, and next thing that happens is Thanos commits genocide. Seeing Thor go backwards is disappointing. Hell, they even forget that Thor learned how to use his powers without his hammer. One of the best parts of Ragnarok was giving Thor lightning powers without his hammer – it was a visual spectacular. Here, Thor cannot use his powers until he gets a new weapon.
      And when the Guardians crash into Thor, more problems arise. The good thing about Thor in this movie he not only is he a character, he is an active character. Where Wanda has characterisation and an arc, she mostly gets dragged along by the plot because all the scenes that should have been hers were given to Steve Rogers instead. They know that Thor is the lead in his section. He has clear goals and objectives, and spends the entire movie following those objectives.
      Unfortunately, it is a filler mission. He goes off to a dwarven forge to get a new weapon forged, one powerful enough to kill Thanos. It is active, it is rooted in character. It also serves to essentially spin wheels. The only thing that happens in the side quest that in any way influence the main plot is the reveal that Thanos’ character is even more inconsistent than you think.
      His company isn’t much better. Rocket and Groot leave the Guardians to go with him. They have no idea what to do with Rocket, other than repeat the joke of people misidentifying what type of animal he is. Peter has a line that the reason Rocket goes with Thor instead of staying with the Guardians is that he is afraid of dying, which would be an interesting character arc if it went anywhere. Instead, it is brought up and goes nowhere. It is also suggested that Rocket’s arc is about learning leadership, having to responsibly manage the irresponsibly driven Thor. He gets a scene where he tries to do that (which ends with him giving Thor a new eye. Because of course the thematic importance of Thor losing an eye like his father isn’t important), except after that one scene, Rocket doesn’t do a single thing to manage Thor, no matter how irresponsible Thor is (I love being able to use words like irresponsible to describe Thor. How wonderful to talk about an actual character in this movie).
      Meanwhile, Groot is made up entirely of jokes from previous movies (god, seeing them try to do the ‘Groot kills lots of people then smiles’ joke hurt. Not just because it showed how much better Gunn did the same joke in the first Guardians movie through careful use of camera work, but also because while the joke worked for the first Groot, this Groot is a different character with different characterisation who doesn’t do things like that). Mostly, Groot is just repeating the Teen Groot joke from GOTGv2’s post credit scene over and over, but it isn’t as good as Groot’s room was essential to making that as funny as it was. But even worse, doing moody teenager jokes over and over makes Groot a very inactive character. I’ve described other characters as wallpaper, but they actually do things. They have lines and little jokes. Groot just stands in the background playing video games for most of the movie. In a Guardians movie, this may have worked, as the smaller cast would allow a more intimate exploration of Teen Groot and develop him more. But in a movie that was never going to give Groot time, it really kills his attempt at a character moment, because there is no build up. You know what, I think they could have made Groot’s character moment work. But it would require them to actually point the camera at him at select points to give him tiny individual beats you could turn into an arc. But Avenger Infinity War never has time to let the camera do anything like that to improve the story.
      This subplot, despite the fun of having a giant Peter Dinklage, is also blighted by a lack of imagination in visuals. Nidavellir is just dark at the start, and when Thor starts it up, they seem determined to keep it as uninteresting as possible. It looks like once Thor starts up the Forge, it would turn into that thing from the start of Game of Thrones. Instead, Nidavellir seems to go into the most boring iteration. This is a forge so large that it has a star in the middle. It should feel giant. Making the incredibly epic feel as small and insignificant as possible – that’s Infinity War’s cinematography in a nutshell. Why this was the first movie to be filmed entirely with IMAX cameras eludes me – what did they film that took advantage of IMAX?
      And so Thor, the best character in the movie, spends all of his time in a side quest in the purest sense of the word. No influence on the rest of the movie. And then he somehow, for no reason at all, knows that all the Avengers are in Wakanda. He has no reason for knowing what is happening there (hell, going there is totally unmotivated – at that point in the movie, he should want to go to Titan. Not only is that where Thanos, the guy he is obsessed with killing, is, it is also the only place he should know to go because Rocket presumably has some way to contact the Guardians). At least Thor’s new axe looks awesome.
      And at least when Thanos finally does appear in Wakanda, he gets a payoff to his arc. Not a great payoff. But at least he has one.

      And then there are the Guardians. The Guardians at first feel like a breath of fresh air in a movie desperately needing one. The comic dynamic with these characters almost works. Peter Quill is terrible in the movie, but there are actual moments that are legitimately fun.
      I’ve called many characters in this movie wallpaper. And it is worth making clear that wallpaper isn’t a bad thing, especially in a movie this large. No one expected Rhodey or Sam to be anything more than wallpaper. To exist, to make a joke or have a hero move every so often. The problem is that the movie has a lack of actual characters, a complete absence of functioning supporting characters and will go out of the way to introduce wallpaper (Bucky gets a big, heroic intro scene, then spends the rest of the movie as wallpaper). The wallpaper problem is that they have so much wallpaper when they should introduce characters.
      But Drax and Mantis are fantastic examples of wallpaper. Drax’s jokes and moments all work. He isn’t supposed to be important, and instead they let him just be a gem in all the shit. Meanwhile, Pom Klemtieff is working on completely another level. She is Marvel’s most gifted physical comedian, possibly the best physical actor. If you ever sitting through this ell of a movie, a great piece od advice is to see if Mantis is in the scene and just look at her instead. Even her standing generically is full of character. But the script gives Klemtieff so many opportunities to be utterly hilarious with her physical comedy. Many of the wallpaper characters feel like they are just there. They should all aspire to be more like Mantis. She takes every opportunity use her position to improve every scene she is in, and makes every joke she is given the best joke it could be. Unfortunately, she is betrayed by a camera that doesn’t give her enough attention when she’s being hilarious. Even jokes designed specifically for her don’t give her enough attention. I would have laughed at Mantis’ response to ‘put on our mean faces’ if she was given a wallpaper.
      Unfortunately, Mantis cannot save the Guardians section, because of Peter Quill. You have a similar problem with Rocket, where they don’t know what exactly they are doing. Peter’s intro emphasizes how his masculinity is threatened by Thor, which could work as a character arc, if they didn’t mess up the joke (why does Peter only start using his deep voice half way through the scene? The joke would be much funnier if he started the scene like that.
      But no, they actually seem to want to make it around his relationship with Gamora. This has many problems. Infinity War loves payoffs to things that haven’t been set up. Or pay offs to things that previous movies already paid off. And his kiss with Gamora was all about that. GOTGv2 was all about Peter and Gamora learning to mature enough from their experiences to be comfortable in each other’s company, despite both having wounds that made an actual relationship impossible. That was the entire point. Showing them kiss without further development just undercuts GOTGv2 (but did this movie understand that Peter and Gamora weren’t dating? Peter calls himself her booty call in a scene, which sounds really wrong. If Peter is dating Gamora, I don’t think he’d call himself that. Probably use the word lover or something. And if he wasn’t, he wouldn’t call himself that because it isn’t true nor has anything to do with what he wants to brag about at the moment. Basically, the line made no sense).
      Problem is, they don’t know what exactly about his relationship with Gamora it is about. Is it another iteration of Wanda’s story? Is it ‘Am I prepared to kill the one I love to stop Thanos? That would work, but it happens half way through the movie, and then he stops being anything but wallpaper until all of a sudden they try and use him again in the middle of the worst action sequence in superhero movie history and go for ‘Can I control myself, despite my love for Gamora?’. Two very different approaches that have nothing to do with each other, because Peter has no consistency. Meanwhile, he’s become noticeably less mature, losing essentially all of his heroic qualities. On Titan, for example, he shows none of the leadership qualities he shows in the Guardians movies. Remember his fight with Rocket at the start of GOTGv2? That fight wouldn’t have happened with this Peter Quill. Even worse, Pater’s two big character scenes (which each serve completely different character arcs) force him to be face to face with Thanos. And Thanos, as Marvel’s worst villain, is less of a dramatic threat than a threat to drama.
      And then, as I discussed before, the Guardians go to Titan, where the implications of the Guardians meeting the Avengers is ignored. Just wasted.

      And so, we come to Thanos, bubble enthusiast, and his family. Let’s start with the Black Order, and how awful they look. I heard someone ask why they were all designed to look like Steppenwolf from Justice League, which is kind of true. But I actually think Steppenwolf is better designed, if only because of those two large horns. There is much more of a sense of physicality to him than, say, Proxima Midnight. Steppenwolf is a bad design, but more convincing that Corvus Glaive or the Ebony Maw. But it isn’t just physicality. That could be excused. It is their look that is so bad.
      A key part of comics is inking, as the black lines let the colours pop. The strong blacks, both in the inking and the Black Order’s outfits, are essential to making them work. As are the strong blues or white in their designs. In Infinity War, they look generic and unmemorable. They were never going to be fan favourite characters, but they could have at least stood out and looked memorable…
      But then, CG characters is a weakness in Infinity War. Because Thanos is a disaster. Andy Serkis can do truly amazing work these days – he has been since Gollum. Comparing what Andy Serkis does with Caesar in Planet of the Apes makes Thanos an embarrassment. Between Brolin’s performance and the motion capture experts, Thanos is an embarrassment. As a physical threat in fight scenes, he just isn’t convincing enough to work as a villain the moment he’s outnumbered. He just feels weak and pathetic.
      But the bigger problem is Thanos in dramatic scenes. Which is a problem, as they really want to give him dramatic scenes. He looks stupid. I honestly laughed at Gamora’s death scene, because Thanos honestly looks so stupid. I think it was the only part of the movie I laughed at. Maybe, if the writing was up to the challenge, the CG would be forgivable. But it isn’t. And that’s not the only problem. Too many other dramatic scenes, like the Removing the Glove scene and getting struck by Thor, he looks drugged. If I was going to laugh at any other part of the movie, it would be Thanos’ drugged face whenever he tries to be dramatic.
      And then there are the Infinity Stones. In all honesty, Marvel probably made too many of the Infinity Stones too powerful in previous movies. The Power Stone and the Reality Stone were written to be so all powerful, that Thanos having one of them should be game over. But how Thanos actually uses the stones is just pathetic. Banner states at the start that because Thanos has two stones, he is already the most powerful person in the universe. You couldn’t tell. He uses the Power Stone to do middling energy blasts that are essentially forgettable, and uses the Space Stone, that previously summoned an army, as a personal teleporter. Imagine if instead of giving Thanos’ army dropships, that Thanos single handily summoned his giant armies in Wakanda. That would feel like a threat. As would making the Power Stone feel like it had actual power. At least the Power Stone is better used than the Reality Stone, which is used to create shitty PowerPoints and so that Thanos can enjoy his hobby of bubbles – possibly the only consistent character trait he has. And then there is the Soul Stone. The stone that was so powerful that it required a heavy cost in order to ensure whoever took it understood the power. Thanos never uses it (the Soul Stone scene when he uses the Gauntlet doesn’t count). You don’t introduce an item so powerful that it requires Thanos to pay a great cost, and have it not used. Otherwise, it might as well be cut.
      So as a physical threat, he’s constantly disappointing. So let’s go to my four part test for great villains. Thematic Appropriateness, fantastic performance, great plotting and emotional connection. Thanos scores a big, fat zero. I’ve already explained the performance issues, so terrible that he is actually laughable. The movie is devoid of actual themes, so Thanos would fail this one by default. But by being so incoherent himself, he would fail this even if the movie had themes. The plotting is terrible – wandering around to collect McGuffins is generally a bad thing as, like Thor, he is primarily being defined by being away from the main story. The only way to justify the plotting choice is to develop his relationship with his daughters, but that’s screwed up by Thanos being awful (alongside other things). An emotional connection is ruined by being a terribly written character with a shocking performance.
      And honestly, my test assumes that characterisation is coherent. And it isn’t, with Thanos. For example, his big idea is that, unlike the comics, he isn’t a genocidal maniac. Comics usually have two versions of Thanos, either in love with Death or Genocidal Nihilist. They made the choice to change Thanos a lot (which is a shame, as I would have loved Cate Blanchett to return so that Hela could take the place of Death). They go with the motivation that he is afraid of Malthusian disaster, and he believes that the murder of half the universe’s population is the only way to avoid Malthusian catastrophe. It is supposed to be the key idea to Thanos. He only ever kills half, because the whole point is that he thinks he is saving the universe by doing that. That’s why the Gamora flashback (that is edited in horribly in the middle of the first act in the worst scene transition in a movie full of bad scene transitions, when it obviously should have been the prologue) has Thanos kill only half of her people.
      Thanos commits two genocides in Infinity War. As in, total annihilation. First, he destroy the Asgardian Space Ship where the entire people of Asgard live. No more Asgardians. And then, we learn that Thanos killed all but one of the dwarves of Nidavellir. A second genocide, for the man who only ever kills half of the people of a world.
      But that isn’t the only problem with his motivation. He’s also terrible at expressing it. On Titan, he uses his favourite PowerPoint add-in, the Reality Stone, to try and give a speech to about why he’s right. Why overpopulation is such a threat, that it needs his intervention. He shows what Titan used to look like. A paradise world that was sparsely populated that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a city street that empty. As someone who used to live in London, it was laughable. And so, not only is Thanos completely inconsistent, when given the opportunity to dramatise his beliefs into something that matters, he completely fucks it up. Honestly, all that scene shows is why he is called the Mad Titan. Because it makes him look so stupid that something is wrong with him.
      And, and while we are talking about his plan, let’s talk about how there is no psychology behind Thanos’ plan. I said above that Malekith is better, and yeah, Malekith actually has a psychology. Everything about Malekith’s plan is based on the fact that the world has changed and he wants to go back to the way things used to be. He probably has a MAGA hat. His plan was to get the Reality Stone to rewrite reality to what it used to be. His plan is intimately linked to his psychology. Meanwhile, THanos is afraid of Malthusian disaster, and so… he wants to kill half the universe? That isn’t even a good solution to the problem – it just delays the inevitable. But the bigger problem here is why does he choose to kill? Why does he think murder is the best option? With the Infinity Gauntlet, he could terraform uninhabited worlds – tripling the number of habitable planets would do a much better job of solving Malthusian disaster than killing half the universe. There are so many solutions to Malthusian Disaster. Why does Thanos specifically choose murder? Malekith murders to get the Reality Stone that is necessary to return to his vision of the universe. Thanos has a ‘plot’, but he lacks any psychological reason to carry out the plot. There is no explanation for why he believes in his particular solution, because he isn’t a character.
      And this lack of psychology extends to his relationship to Gamora. There are many scenes that tell us he loves Gamora (more on why this is bullshit later). But they never show why. They have a flashback showing Thanos adopting Gamora, but no explanation of what, emotionally, makes him make that choice. Nor do future scenes show any emotional reason. Instead, Thanos just love her. Because he has no psychology. Underneath all the terrible design and the awful plan, there is no psychology to Thanos. Which is probably why the final shot of the movie is him smiling, despite coming immediately after seeing the daughter he supposedly loved in the Soul Stone. If THanos was an actual character, you would think he would frown. He did his job, at great personal cost. But Thanos has no psychology, so his actions don’t make sense.
      Another problem with Thanos is that, when not enjoying his great love of bubbles, his evil plans often involve standing around and doing nothing. A common criticism of Thanos’ appearances in previous movies was that was all that he did. It is a shame that this was the only characterisation of any character in the MCU that was brought over. Thanos and the Black Order love to do nothing more than stand around as passive participants of scenes so that others can do things. This is especially terrible with the Gamora’s capture scene. Other than the hilarious idea of Thanos pretending for hours to attack the Collector waiting for Gamora, the scene fails miserably because Thanos just stands there. Not only does the vision of Thanos standing there passively, while Gamora (having learned everything she knows from her dare old Dad) stands just as passively instead of trying to escape, you have this big scene where Thanos might as well not be involved. I think they were trying to do a ‘THanos is an abusive father’ thing here, by having Thanos give Peter a chance to ‘kill’ Gamora, but it falls flat as he is not an active participant in the scene. He should have been more involved, emotionally manipulating the two of them as psychological torture on Gamora. But I think that will involve a depiction of abuse that Infinity War doesn’t want to push.
      So let’s get to the ugly part. Infinity War sides with the abuser. Remember Nebula’s speech in Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2? Where she explains how Thanos would force Nebula and Gamora to fight? And then punish the loser? One of the best scenes in the MCU, and completely contradictory to Thanos in this movie. Thanos’ abuse in Infinity War is ‘look what you made me do’. It sides with the abuser’s excuse to justify their abuse. When Gamora is captured by Thanos, he shows very little controlling attitudes. He never tries to flex his power over her. The scene with the chair could have been fantastic, with Thanos ‘heavily suggesting’ that Gamora sits on the chair. A depiction of control built around making sure Gamora is exactly what he wants her to be. A scene where Thanos commands Gamora to sit in the chair, and Gamora does out of fair of what will happen if she doesn’t, would have been perfect. Instead, when Thanos is abusive, it is only because Gamora has wronged him. He has Nebula trapped and tortured in a room, but that was because she tried to kill him. And he tortures Nebula to force Gamora to tell him where the Soul Stone is. Thanos is only abusive because his daughters have actively wronged him. They brought the abuse on themselves. Abuse is, essentially, shown as Thanos’ reasonable response to being wronged.
      This gets worse as things develop, and they arrive at the Soul Stone’s location. Not only do we get to see the Red Skull redeemed, because apparently the Soul Stone is hidden in the New York Times’ Opinion Section, but the treatment of abuse gets even worse. Remember how Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2 treated abuse? Hint: the villain was literally called Ego. A key part of that movie was that abusers have no love for their victims. While there is redemption possible for bad fathers like Yondu, truly abusive personalities like Ego and the guy who is treated as equivalent to Ego, Thanos, have no love. This is the MCU’s perspective on abuse. It is also true. Gamora is right when she laughs at the idea that Thanos can’t get the Soul Stone as he loves nothing. Except, he then kills Gamora to get the stone. Because Infinity War agrees with abusers.
      And yeah, the scene is by far, and completely unintentionally, the funniest in the film. Thanos just looks so, so silly and the drama is so, so bad, that you can’t help but laugh. Not only is it a completely toxic perspective on abuse, it can’t even do that well.
      Oh, and let’s talk about Gamora for a bit. She is so passive in this movie, it hurts. The story makes clear that she is willing to die to stop Thanos from learning where the Soul Stone is. She asks Peter to kill her, and she tries to kill herself in the Soul Stone scene. And yet, when captured by Thanos, she doesn’t try to struggle, just hoping Peter will kill her. And in Thanos’ throne room, she does not attempt to escape or kill herself. For someone so worried about what would happen if Thanos recaptured her, she doesn’t seem to take much initiative when left alone in a Throne Room with a dagger. If she’s prepared to kill herself, why doesn’t she?
      And let’s talk about Nebula for a moment. Starting with her captured by Thanos is not the most interesting position for her to start in, because after GOTGv2 she should have been one of the most interesting elements in the story (Infinity War was always go to struggle with the fact that the final Thanos story should have been a Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Though I never expected it to be this bad). But it was a great way to keep her out of the way while the characters the Russo brothers wanted to have front and centre wasn’t crowded out by the one woman who has a better reason than anyone else to be the centre character (how I wish my local cinema was right when they said the main cast was Karen GIllan, Pom Klemtieff and Tessa Thompson. That would be a movie to watch). It was rooted in character while giving her an excuse to be offscreen. But they handle her terribly from there. Like her escape. After how long being imprisoned, why is it all of a sudden so easy for her to escape? Why not have Gamora help her escape, to give it meaning than have everything come down to convenience? And if she calls the Guardians to tell them to go to Titan, how did the Guardians beat Tony there, when Knowhere is in the Andromeda Galaxy and Titan is in the same solar system as Earth? (another tragedy with Nebula is Karen Gillan. She is one of Marvel’s best actresses, giving some of the stand out performances in the Guardians movies. But despite her immense talent, she goes on autopilot when given poor material. Which is a shame)
      And so, getting the Soul Stone means he then goes to Titan for the worst fight scene in Marvel’s history. As a general rule, Thanos doesn’t work as a physical threat to more than one person. And this is made worse by the need to give everyone hero moments. Lots and lots of ‘iconic’ moments for all of the Titan heroes that look good in a trailer, but serve to make Thanos’ meagre physical threat look even worse than it is. But it is the climax where things truly get awful. Mantis lands on Thanos to make him fall asleep (as much as I love Mantis, there needs to be a movie soon where her role in the fight isn’t ‘I can’t keep the Big Bad Evil Guy asleep’), while the other Avengers try and pull a glove off. It looks so stupid. So, so stupid. The basic image is one of inherent hilarity, everyone grappling over one guy (made worse by the fact that, again, Thanos just simply isn’t a convincing physical premise the moment that there is more than one person opposing him.) But it just compounds. Like the idea of removing a glove from an essentially helpless man being a great difficult task is just stupid. It feels like a joke out of a cartoon, which doesn’t fit the MCU’s generally realistic aesthetic (and yes, despite all the space aliens etc in the MCU, it uses a realistic aesthetic. Always has). Thanos usually has a problem of being too a slave to physics to be a physical threat, but this scene is so against the rules of physics that it is just rendered stupid. It is so artificial and awful that when, at the end of the sequence, the glove actually moves, it feels so forced that the drama that is supposed to be rendered from the sequence is laughable. Movies don’t have to be realistic, but they have to create a compelling illusion. Here, the stupidity and silliness of what is happening is just too obvious. One of the worst action beats I have ever seen.
      And that’s before we get to Thanos’ face. Because there is nothing that can be made worse than Thanos trying to emote. That is what makes this moment the second funniest moment in the movie (funniest is Gamora’s death, no question. Though Thanos’ face after Thor throws his axe at him is a close third. Basically, nothing is a bigger joke than an attempt at a dramatic scene with Thanos). In both this scene and the scene later when he’s struck by Thor’s axe, Thanos looks drugged. He’s more recreational drug user than cosmic threat. And then Peter Quill, who has an incoherent arc and lost all the maturity he has from him movies, screws it up. So the fight continues until Doctor Strange gives Thanos the Time Stone in exchange for saving Tony’s life. This could have worked as a payoff to a character arc, were it not because it is all part of the future Strange saw and not a character choice.
      And then Thanos comes to Earth, where he gets struck by Thor’s hammer in a weak payoff to Thor’s arc. But hey, it is a payoff, so we have to take the victories we can get. And with all the stones, he clicks his fingers and half the universe dies, including half of the Avengers. And so, you have to watch an interminablely long sequence where half of the cast of this movie disappear, a moment that could have been powerful or affecting were it not for the fact that these characters have been so stripped of all the things that made us fall in love with these characters in the first case that we just don’t care about them any more.

      And that’s the tragedy of Infinity War. Marvel took characters that they spent 18 movie building characters that we all fell in love with, and then stripped them of all the qualities that made us love them in the first place. The characters in Infinity War are not the characters we love, they are empty vessels that merely resemble those characters. Combine that with an atrociously done villain, and what is there? This is a Marvel movie with none of the things that make a Marvel movie work. Why did Marvel not put the characters we love in Infinity War? That’s why we go to the movies.
      And let’s be clear. The problem with Infinity War isn’t that it is overstuffed. Age of Ultron was overstuffed. That was a movie with so much stuff, they needed an extra 20 minutes just to fit it all in. Infinity War isn’t overstuffed. Because so many scenes are so vacuous and empty.
      Infinity War certainly required a tight script. The story had to be as lean as it could, fit as much into each moment as possible. But so did Ultron, and Ultron showed the struggles of a movie that couldn’t get its script lean enough for its runtime. Meanwhile, Infinity War didn’t even bother. It should have placed characters into the movie. It should have tried to give some proper dramatic questions for the story. It should have made each arc about something, and then tried to execute each of the five stories so they actually were about something. It should have tried to put something in. Instead, it is meaningless. It doesn’t matter.
      And it wouldn’t be too hard to fix. I was considering writing a section on how easy it would be to improve the movie with minimal changes to the actual plot, but this essay is over 10000 words so if I write it, I will write it at a later date.

      But there was something I want to discuss, here at the end. Something I remembered reading from Film Crit Hulk. Now, it is important context to know that Film Crit Hulk is a Hollywood insider, but because, like all good superheroes, he has a secret identity it is hard to know exactly how much he knows about Marvel Studios specifically. But he did say this, in his piece about Civil War:

      ‘AND SINCE THEN, MARVEL HAS FIGURED THIS WEIRD WAY OF MAKING SERVICEABLE MOVIES BY TAKING THE LESSONS OF THAT LAST ACT AND WORKING BACKWARD TO EMULATE IT AT ALL TIMES, BUT NOT DOING THE REAL WORK THAT GETS YOU THERE. MEANING IT HAS BECOME THE STUDIO’S WEIRD QUEST TO REMOVE THE ‘BAD SCENES” AKA THE SCENES AUDIENCES DON’T “LIKE” AND AS SUCH IT HAS INDOCTRINATED ONE OF THE WEIRDEST WORKING MODUS OPERANDIS HULK CAN THINK OF. THIS IS THE GENUINE PROCESS BTW: THEY PUT TOGETHER INOFFENSIVE CHARACTER-CENTRIC SCRIPTS WHERE NO ONE SEES THE HUGE STORY PROBLEMS ON THE PAGE (PEOPLE ARE BAD AT READING SCRIPTS ACROSS THE BOARD). THEY HIRE GREAT ACTORS. THEY PUT ACTION SCENES INTO SECOND UNIT HANDS. THEY SHOOT THE SUCKER THEN GET INTO THE EDIT. AND BECAUSE PEOPLE ARE BETTER WITH SEEING MOVIES THEN THEY ARE AT READING SCRIPTS, THEY THEN REALIZE THE STORY DOESN’T WORK. SO THEY RE-SHOOT HALF THE MOVIE (THIS IS ALL PLANNED BEFOREHAND) AND INCLUDE A LOT OF THE STUFF THEY THOUGHT THEY NEEDED IN THE FIRST PLACE TO MAKE IT WORK. THEY THEN TAILOR THE FINAL PRODUCT TO BE AS ROUND AND SAFE AS POSSIBLE. THE MOVIE IS THEN GREETED WITH EITHER WITH A SHRUG OR A HEARTY LAUGH AND A SLOW SLIDE INTO FORGETTING.’

      Marvel Studios have consistently made good movies with this process (though I’d argue it is unlikely that a good portion of Phase 3 were done like this). But if the Russos, who were veterans of Phase Two where this approach, apparently was dominant, used this approach to do Infinity War, then I don’t think Infinity War could ever work.
      Nothing is wrong with reshoots. In fact, I think it is a great thing because redrafting is one of the most valuable tools in a creator’s arsenal and seeing what is missing when you get to the edit bay and reshooting is a fantastic idea. But if a good portion of your reshoots are fixing story problems because you made a choice to remove all the ‘bad scenes’ early in the process and then realised you need to shoot them for the movie to work, then Infinity War was never going to work. Because Infinity War’s script needed to be tight, it needed to be written with the intent on having all of those important, character and story centric ‘bad scenes’ in the first draft so that you can spend the reshoots improving the movie. With so many characters and plotlines and so little time, reshoots would never fix those problems. You’d have to reshoot the entire movie, and reshoots aren’t designed for that (and then there are scheduling concerns, like the fact that a body double was needed for Doctor Strange in reshoots because Benedict Cumberbatch had scheduling issues). This stuff should have been in there from day one, so that reshoots could be used to fix all of those problems caused by trying. Instead, it seems like they just focused on the superficial aspects because that’s what they could fix in reshoots.

      But I may be wrong about the behind the scenes problems. But ultimately, the point is that Infinity War is meaningless. It has no drama, no characters, no story. It lacks substance, it lacks meaning. It is as empty and vapid as Marvel’s worst critics have always accused Marvel of being. And after every movie Marvel have done, this is a terrible payoff. I hope Avengers 4 is better. I want it to be better.

      But Infinity War is terrible. And no matter how good Avengers 4 is, it won’t change the fact that Infinity War was a disaster from start to finish

      • While I don’t watch the movie yet (might never happen) I think you might be over-thinking about Thanos’s arc and motivation. I think he is similar to the comic version, just with different motivations. I don’t think that the directors should follow the source material too closely, just change some stuff while keep the core intact. So I disagree with your opinion about Thanos.

        • The change in motivations are a major chnage to Thanos. Almost everything death related is gone. He is almost a champion of life. It makes him completely unlike comic book Thanos in all but the most superficial features. You can’t say movie Thanos isn’t like comic Thanos because Comic Thanos wouldn’t have tried to save Titan.

          And so he is completely different from the source material. Which isn’t a bad thing, as all of Marvel’s best villains are wildly different from the comics. Zemo, Ego, Vulture and Killmonger are wildly different, just like Thanos.

          The difference is that Thanos is awful. The problem with Thanos isn’t that Thanos isn’t like the comics.

          The problem is that that Thanos has no character, just a goal. A goal he can’t even go five minutes without breaking. And his psychology, if he has one, is not in this movie

          And that his design doesn’t work cinematically, the writing with respect to what he does do is terrible, the performance doesn’t work and he makes every scene worse by his inclusion.

          It isn’t a question about fidelity to the source material. That doesn’t matter. The problem is that Thanos is awful

  3. “Infinity Gauntlet suffers from a massive Adam Warlock problem. He is the closest the book has to a lead, and he is incredibly boring. Even worse, his role in the story is to make everything less entertaining. Every piece of drama, from the horrors Thanos unleashes to the impossibility of normal heroes facing a god, is ruined by have this godlike being dictate what everyone does to the point where things stop being interesting. ”

    I don’t always agree with Matt, but I don’t know if truer words have ever been written. I am tremendously unexcited about any possibility of Adam Warlock in the MCU.

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