Avengers: Infinity War
“Avengers: Infinity War is an exercise in extreme toxic masculinity.”
Title: Avengers: Infinity War
Directors: Anthony Russo 👨🏼🇺🇸 and Joe Russo 👨🏼🇺🇸
Writers: Screenplay by Christopher Markus 👨🏼🇺🇸 and Stephen McFeely 👨🏼🇺🇸, based on the comics by Stan Lee 👨🏼🇺🇸 and Jack Kirby 👨🏼🇺🇸
Reviewed by Monique 👩🏾🇺🇸
I’m of two minds about this movie. As Charles Dickens so famously wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
Infinity War achieves the seemingly impossible feat of melding together a huge cast of characters, a long MCU filmography, and multiple worlds into one epic story. It’s mostly enjoyable to see the characters, many of whom are fan favorites, interacting with each other. Marvel has also upped its game with Thanos, one of the most compelling Marvel villains since Black Panther’s Killmonger. While Thanos’ reasoning for wanting half of humanity dead doesn’t completely make sense (unlike Killmonger’s motives, which are rooted in familial trauma and societal neglect), Josh Brolin still succeeds in making Thanos as multilayered as possible by choosing to root his characterization of Thanos in his love for his daughter Gamora. Infinity War has been described by screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely as Thanos’ hero’s journey, and this focus on having the villain finally achieve his goal makes Infinity War feel completely different. Whereas other Marvel films seem like child’s play, this one wants you to come away changed.
So what’s not to love? Well, for all its focus on death and destruction—including the sudden evaporations of many of our favorite heroes, including Falcon, nearly all of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Bucky, Scarlet Witch, Agent Hill, Nick Fury, and two of the deepest cuts of all, Black Panther and Spider-Man—we know many of the deaths won’t matter in the long run. It’d be one thing if they all died for real. Then the statement made by Markus about us accepting the deaths so we can “be able to move on to the next stage of grief” would have some weight behind it. But we all know that most, if not all of these characters, are going to be back by the end of Avengers 4, especially since moviegoers are savvy enough to know that Black Panther, Spider-Man, and Guardians of the Galaxy all have upcoming sequels.
The fact that we know characters will be back undercuts the emotional resonance that the film wants to have. Yes, the images of fan favorites turning to dust is arresting and plays on your emotions. But when we know these are likely reversible, what’s the point? As much as Markus and McFeely want us to treat their deaths as real, their statements are disingenuous at best. We’ve already seen how much death has been undone in the MCU, or in any comic book universe, really. And their statements also forget that many MCU fans already know the lore behind the films. The comic book storylines that Infinity War is based on gives many clues as to how Avengers 4 will play out—for example, Adam Warlock, who was mentioned at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, could work with the Avengers and help save everyone from being trapped in the Soul Stone, especially since the stone is where his spirit resides. But even if things don’t follow canon, there are enough leaks about time travel, Ant-Man’s ability to travel to the quantum realm, and Tony Stark’s B.A.R.F. technology from Captain America: Civil War to suggest that order will be restored. Finally, let’s not forget about the role that Captain Marvel, the last person Nick Fury contacted before disintegrating, could play in saving the universe. Nor can we discount Doctor Strange’s motives for giving up the Time Stone to Thanos. Strange sees all 14 million alternate endings of the war, in which the team loses in every ending except for one. Before he disappears, he mysteriously says that the ending we see on screen is “the only way.” Clearly, he’s saying they have to lose the battle before they can win the war.
Maybe I’ll be wrong come 2019 and everyone in the MCU will move on without Peter Parker or T’Challa. But with so much up in the air, and so many characters who could potentially save the day (and an unmentioned seventh stone, the Ego Stone, to account for), I wish the film had just given us the real ending in one go.
Infinity War highlights just how dude-centric the MCU has been for 10 years. While we do see Okoye and Black Widow battle it out with Proxima in a Wakandan trench, and Scarlet Witch also goes head-to-head with Proxima in an earlier scene when she saves Vision, beyond that women are largely used for the exploration of male psyche.
This is best seen when Thanos sacrifices Gamora to acquire the Soul Stone. To be fair, his love for Gamora is what makes him complex, but the relationship itself isn’t fleshed out. As Film Crit Hulk states in his excellent longform review, the relationship exists solely as a plotpoint to propel Thanos to the next plotpoint. It’s meant as a way to introduce psychology into Thanos’ characterization, but the psychology is never fully explored. Gamora is simply there to be inexplicably loved by Thanos so he can have a moment of crisis about killing her to retrieve the Soul Stone.
Ironically, Gamora’s fate to be inexplicably loved by the men around her is constant in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. Normally, her main purpose is to be the love interest for Star-Lord, who is, as Drax himself says in Infinity War, just “a dude.” He’s annoying, brash, and full of that horrible “dudebro” characterization that Marvel is famous for, something made all the clearer when Star-Lord, Iron Man, and Doctor Strange are juxtaposed, each making essentially the same, smart-alec quips. Compare this to the speech of Gamora, Scarlet Witch, and Pepper, whose lines are usually in service of a man’s storyline or, in the case of Gamora and Pepper specifically, to act as a long-suffering mother figure to their immature men. Even Black Widow is reduced to being Hulk’s former flame.
In many ways, the film is an exercise in extreme toxic masculinity. Thanos’ preoccupation with death comes from his own planet Titan’s destruction. But instead of properly dealing with his grief, he decides the way to stop such destruction from happening again is to constantly kill half of the universe. Instead of Star-Lord properly dealing with his feelings over Gamora’s death, he instead forgets the mission at hand—the team effort to get the gauntlet off of Thanos’ hand—and instead sabotages it by punching Thanos in the face, breaking Mantis’ hold on Thanos and thereby making the entire mission crumble. Constantly, male egos are battling each other for dominance, and Thor, one of the few male MCU superheroes who is less toxic by way of actually showing emotions other than anger, doesn’t even get a chance to properly grieve for his dead countrymen.
It’s no surprise that the women who come off the best in this film are the women of Wakanda, Shuri and Okoye. Even though they are given little to do, they shine thanks to their lack of dependency on men. They exist outside of the patriarchy, as does T’Challa, who relies on Okoye and Shuri throughout their short moments onscreen. As I wrote in my Black Panther review, this existence outside of Western patriarchy sets them apart from the rest of the MCU. That difference is inadvertently put on display in Infinity War and provides a small morsel for viewers who hunger for better gender representation.
GradeMyMovie.com Assessment: 2% of key cast and crew members were POC.
The film is overwhelmingly white, particularly among the main characters, but representation does exist in Infinity War. Unfortunately, much of it is hidden behind creature-feature makeup. Dave Bautista (Greek and Filipino) and Pom Klementieff (Korean and French-Russian) are transformed into aliens Drax and Mantis, but Mantis is still definitively coded as a stereotype of a submissive Asian woman. We see some plain sight representation in Hong Kong-British Benedict Wong who plays Wong, master of the mystic arts like Strange, and Filipino-American Jacob Batalon who plays Spider-Man’s friend Ned, but their roles are fleeting in this stuffed cast.
Two black actors are transformed into aliens, Roots star Michael James Shaw (American) as Corvus Glaive, one of the Children of Thanos, and Zoe Saldana (American with Puerto Rican and Dominican ancestry) as Gamora. The rest—Chadwick Boseman (American), Don Cheadle (American), Anthony Mackie (American), Danai Gurira (Zimbabwe-American), Letitia Wright (Guyanese-British), Idris Elba (British of Sierra Leone and Ghanaian ancestry), Florence Kasumba (Ugandan-German), and Winston Duke (Tobagonian) all reprise their various characters. What can’t be understated, however, is how minor their roles are and how most of the black cast stems from Black Panther, padding out what would have been a mostly white Avengers team with only two black characters, Falcon and War Machine.
There are a plethora of heterosexual relationships, underlining the MCU’s strict avoidance of LGBTQ representation. With so many couplings, it doesn’t make sense that there’s never been a single same-sex relationship depicted onscreen in 10 years’ time through almost 20 MCU films.
Mediaversity Grade: C- 2.75/5
Avengers: Infinity War is quite funny and entertaining, but it’s also a film that will undo everything it’s accomplished with the next sequel. In a way, this is poor planning on Marvel’s part. Sure, it doesn’t make sense to get rid of characters no one cares about. But it also doesn’t really make sense to get rid of characters who we know we’ll see again. And let’s be honest; Marvel will be as cancelled as Kanye is in the black community if they decide to keep T’Challa, our King of Wakanda, dead.