Major spoilers follow for “Avengers: Infinity War.” But let’s face it, you’ve probably already seen the movie.
The dust is starting to settle for “Avengers: Infinity War,” but certainly not in a financial sense — having made $1 billion globally in a record 11 days (that’s like one dollar for every character that appears onscreen), the film is expected to rake in yet more cash as it opens in China this week.
I am referring, instead, to the critical consensus that has emerged after innumerable think pieces, predictive write-ups and hot takes:
The good: Josh Brolin’s performance as the long-awaited Thanos; genuinely emotional character beats; beards that I’d follow into battle
The bad: An ending which, though bold, will inevitably be reversed; the Russos can’t direct an action scene if their lives, or that of half the universe, depended
The ugly: Squidward
Altogether, the film — like so many entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) before it — is loved by some and hated by a few, it is mostly considered an innocuously entertaining way to spend $12.50. “Infinity War” was fine, and merely so.
But to the film’s credit, I’ll never quite forget the overwhelming dread that accompanied the film’s final fade to black. Thanos won. The Avengers lost. Unleash the memes.
— nat (@grootboot) May 1, 2018
But the film’s puzzler of an ending grows less devastating with every passing second — Marvel can’t make sequels to “Black Panther” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” without their eponymous heroes. That said, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely deserve credit for threading a crushing sense of irony throughout their screenplay.
Many a good screenplay is driven by some motivation, with every choice within the script dictated by this motivation. This can be anything that the screenwriter thinks of, whether it be a theme or character trait. For instance, every plot point in “The Godfather” is hinged upon inching the reluctant Michael Corleone closer to his destiny as the don of the Corleone crime family. More recently, the tension between the past and the present drives almost every scene of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” from the subversion of the franchise’s tropes to the death of Luke Skywalker.
Such motivation makes a film feel purposeful and lends the final product a sense of coherence. Of course, there are exceptions — the motivation that links the vignettes comprising “The Florida Project” feel less apparent than those of “The Godfather” or “The Last Jedi,” but doesn’t make for a lesser film.
To date, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and “Black Panther” feel like the most motivated of any Marvel screenplay. As Lindsay Ellis notes in this video essay, themes of pride and fatherhood are palpable in every word of “Vol. 2’s” script, while in “Black Panther,” the push and pull between the African experience and the African-American experience drives the film’s every twist and turn.
In contrast, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” gestures toward “Frankenstein”-like themes of creation vs. creator, but loses such motivation as it meanders through sequel setup — how exactly does Thor’s hot tub scene relate to Ultron’s hatred for his creator? And don’t get me started on “The Incredible Hulk.”
This leads us to “Infinity War,” which I find to be completely driven by irony. The film opens with the desolation of the Asgardian refugees. For all of Thor’s efforts in “Thor: Ragnarok” to preserve Asgard by protecting its people, Thanos immediately massacres them. Later, at a decisive moment in the film’s second act, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) makes Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) promise to kill her, should she be captured by Thanos. Starlord musters up the will to do it, but Thanos prevents him from carrying out the deed.
The irony that screenwriters Markus and McFeely thread throughout “Infinity War” is a cruel one. Thanos saves Gamora as a child, only to sacrifice her, the one person he loves, in order to acquire the Soul Stone. In a similar blow to the audience’s morale, Wakanda opens its borders after years of isolationism only to be greeted by its worst nightmare, an alien invasion.
In a particularly twisted instance of irony, Vision (Paul Bettany) asks Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) to destroy the Mind Stone embedded in his forehead, thus killing him — it’s a deadly subversion of the power couple’s meet cute, when Vision saved Scarlet Witch in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”
And now for the finale. After building an entire universe over the course of 10 years and 19 films, “Infinity War” ends with half of that universe reduced to dust.
Even though every hero that vanishes is almost guaranteed to return, the scene remains impactful, because it is one final dramatization of irony — an irony that only escalated in cruelty with every passing scene, every instance of which wouldn’t fit in this piece.
As I said, there’s plenty wrong with “Infinity War.” But it’s got one banger of a script, one that, as Mantis (Pom Klementieff) would put it, “takes ass and kicks names.”
Contact Harrison Tunggal at [email protected].