Blog: Infinity War – Anthony digs deeper

The Story Geeks blogger Anthony Holdier responds with an additional perspective to the same topic discussed in this week’s podcast – digging deeper into “Infinity War.” Want to share your own take? Join the conversation in The Story Geeks Facebook group!

“Infinity War” opens with Ebony Maw walking through dead and dying Asgardians. And he gives us the central conflict of the film when he says: “Hear me, and rejoice. You have had the privilege of being saved by the Great Titan. You may think this is suffering. No. It is salvation. Universal scales tip toward balance because of your sacrifice. Smile. For even in death, you have become Children of Thanos.” What stands out about that statement, and how does it reveal the way the villains think about their actions?

I’ve gone on record before stating that I think the single greatest change to the MCU thus far has been to turn Thanos from a love-sick puppy into a pseudo-religious fanatic – Ebony Maw’s opening line introduces this shift immediately. In the comics, Thanos is interested only in getting the attention of Lady Death (which, for all of its own flaws as a story thread, I think makes much more sense of his “kill half the universe” goal). Turning his motivation from obsession to dogmatism is, admittedly, an easier threadline to introduce – and it also allows for the introduction of his acolytes in a way that takes less explanation.

In 2018, it’s depressingly easy to imagine dangerous people motivated by twisted ideology; from the opening line of Infinity War, the audience can tell a) who the baddies are, but also b) why they are bad – it’s not just that they’re killing a lot of people, but that nothing can be done to change their minds. The only way to stop Thanos and the Black Order is to defeat them and, this time, that also means that the Bad Guys will probably have to die.

It immediately ups the stakes of the film in more than one way.

“Infinity War” isn’t the first MCU film to include cosmic elements, but it feels like the most cosmic entry in the MCU to date, particularly because of the Infinity Gauntlet itself. What do you think about the setup of how the universe functions — particularly as it relates to the more cosmic and astral elements — in the MCU and in Marvel comics as a whole?

God-like powers are a tricky thing to include in a storyline – without trying to make a pun about ‘balance,’ the writers have to somehow manage to promote genuine conflict in the narrative while maintaining something like ‘omnipotence’ in one of the conflicting characters and that is not easy to pull off (if it’s easy possible to do so consistently).

In a way, I’m glad that the MCU has opted to essentially leave the more ‘cosmic’ elements of the universe unstated and, when it comes to the Infinity Stones, leave them as shiny MacGuffins (objects in a story that serve only to advance the plot). I actually don’t think it would have been possible to consistently portray Thanos as both god-like and vulnerable, so leaving the details of his powers vague was preferable to making them inconsistent.

Regarding the ‘cosmic’ feeling – I’m actually not sure that I agree with the assessment that this one felt that way (both GotG films, but especially the second one, strike me as much more ‘out-there’ in tone). If by ‘cosmic’ we mean ‘big stakes,’ then that’s Infinity War; if, though, we mean ‘otherwordly,’ then it’s worth remember that most of the action takes place on Earth. 

However, it has set up Endgame to be something new – regardless of where the next film goes, it seems like its going to bring together everything from Outer to Inner space (with the Quantum Realm), potentially time travel, and (hopefully) more cosmic entities for Thanos/the Avengers to fight – this will be the cosmic showdown.

There are several perspectives shared about life and death in the film. Which one would you MOST align with and why?

Cap.

“We don’t trade lives” is a good line, but I don’t think that he was being quite honest there: what he meant was, “we don’t trade other people’s lives” (and, even then, that’s not quite right). Almost to a person, each one of the Avengers has made the choice to sacrifice themselves in order to save others (Captain America downing the plane, Iron Man diverting the rocket, Thor facing the Destroyer, Hulk exiling himself, Black Widow and Hawkeye….trying to fight demigods…), so, something is off with Rogers’ point here.

In terms of Infinity War, the writers were clearly trying to draw a contrast between the Avengers and Thanos (who literally trades the life of Gamora for the Soul Stone) here. But, Cap’s idealism really doesn’t pan out; how many Wakandans died in the battle with the Black Order? Were their lives not traded?

Even more starkly, what about Stephen Strange’s “there was no other way” choice? I know that there’s a high probability that the lives lost to the Snap are not permanently gone, but have they, nevertheless, been traded, albeit temporarily?

I stand with Cap here, only because he’s the one who seems to be trying to help people, but I have to recognize that a) it’s hard to do that consistently in the face of great suffering, and b) it’s really not clear that he succeeds, even ideologically.

Of all the stones Thanos hunts down, the Soul Stone definitely demands the most from Thanos himself. In order to get the Soul Stone, he has to sacrifice something that he loves. The Soul Stone requires a sacrifice — maybe even a blood sacrifice… Why do you think the Soul Stone has this rule, and what implications does it have — not only for Thanos, but any other characters who may try to use it in the future?

Is “plot” too snarky of an answer here?

Going back to what I said earlier about the tension between godhood and conflict, I think this was one way that the writers tried to incorporate some complexity into Thanos’ character, but I’m still not sure it was all that effective (we really haven’t been given much reason to care about his connection with Gamora). That said, it does make for an extremely effective motivating plot point (particularly for good ol’ Peter Quill) and, more interestingly, buttresses Thanos’ general theme of ‘balance’ – even he must sacrifice something for his quest.

Of course, that’s not really a new trope by any means. Add ‘Soul Stone’ to the already-long list of “Reasons Why We Think at Least Some Avengers will NOT Survive Endgame.”

One of the most interesting character interactions in the film occurs when Thanos meets Tony Stark. Of all the Avengers, he knows who Tony is. He says to Tony: “You’re not the only one cursed with knowledge.” And then goes on to say that Tony has his respect. Why is it a curse to have knowledge, and how has that curse manifested itself in Thanos’s life and Tony’s life? And, of all the Avengers, what makes Thanos respect Tony Stark?

I chuckled a bit when I heard that line in the theater: the ‘curse of knowledge’ is actually an established cognitive bias that shows up when you’re trying to talk about something you understand with someone who knows less about the topic than you (which can lead to plenty of confusion if you assume that they know things they don’t actually know, just because you know them…). Our chaotic-good friend Wikipedia has a helpful intro to this here.

In-universe, Tony’s been dealing with the burden of his knowledge that ‘something is coming’ for several movies – now we know that the ‘something’ is Thanos, who is burdened by his own knowledge (or, at least, belief) that overpopulation is placing the universe on the brink of collapse. This tells us a lot about Thanos: over the course of ten years, we’ve seen Tony grow from an arrogant know-it-all into a character who is self-sacrificially concerned to help others – might we see Thanos make a similar shift before the end of his story (that’s right, folks, I’m again saying that Thanos is gonna jump ship to the good guys!).

Thanos snaps and half the population of the universe turns to ash. But Thanos’s snap has two other consequences: (1) The snap sends Thanos — unless he chooses to go there, which is a possibility — but either way Thanos goes inside the Soul Stone. Why do you think that is? And (2) the Infinity Gauntlet itself looks charred and mangled…what’s your take on those two things and what implications do they have for “Endgame”?

Okay, okay, okay. I like the reading that Thanos is actually in the Soul Stone when he’s talking to Gamora, but has that actually been confirmed anywhere? I have to say, first of all, that I want to be conservative in my theorizing here. Maybe Thanos is there and if he is….then that definitely has implications for the Snap and the outcome of Endgame. It’s a foregone conclusion that the victims of the Snap or going to come back somehow – it just remains to be seen whether that’s through a harrowing of the Soul Stone or time travel or something else.

Regardless, there is a good precedent in the comics for thinking that the Soul Stone does function in this way (think of how Adam Warlock literally lived inside the Soul Stone with a bunch of other people for a while) and the tenor of the scene between Thanos and baby-Gamora did seem like it was more than just a memory or hallucination. We shall have to wait and see.

The marring of the Gauntlet was far more interesting to me because of how unexpected it was. For the third time now I’ll mention the tension between omnipotence and conflict – limiting the duration of the character’s omnipotence (or putting some kind of one-use-only clause into its efficacy) would indeed be a clever way of making this a far more interesting story device. Again, I think we should hesitate to speculate too definitively here, but I’m excited about the possibilities that this tweak opens up, if only because it’s going to make Endgame more interesting than just “oh, well, we’ll just get the glove thingy and turn everything backwards like Thanos did after Wanda killed Vision.”

Cap’s final words in “Infinity War” are simply, “Oh, God.” Was this a prayer or just a reaction or something else entirely? Where you think Cap is at in the closing moments of “Infinity War,” and what do those two words mean to him?

This is one of my favorite little writing tricks: bookending your script. Infinity War opens with a declaration of Thanos’ deity (from Ebony Maw) – it ends with essentially the same thing.

Now, I’m not saying that Cap genuinely believes that Thanos is God, but the way that the Gauntlet has been described and Cap’s already-established belief in a God (who doesn’t dress like Thor) makes for some deliciously layered writing in the ambiguity of that line. Infinity War ends with the Avengers in (apparent) utter defeat, even at the level of Cap’s heretofore-unshaken spirit.

It was a powerful blow to finish off an already-powerful final scene – and, as of this writing, we only have 56 more days until we find out what the real Endgame is going to be.

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