For years, Thanos has watched.
When the Avengers beat back an alien invasion, he watched. When the Guardians of the Galaxy saved a faraway planet from annihilation, he watched. For nearly the whole of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, as our superheroes did their hero things, Thanos has lurked in the story’s borders, watching, waiting, biding his time.
But now, his time has come. He is the coming storm, the creeping death, the threat of apocalypse and Armageddon, oblivion and omega.
Thanos’ name recalls Thanatos, the Greek personification of death. He might argue he’s unjustly named. Thanos doesn’t want to annihilate all life in the universe, after all. Just half of it. Just half.
All he needs is six stones, seeds of power sown when the universe was first born.
The first of these Infinity Stones is in his possession already—the purple Power Stone, taken from the same planet that the Guardians of the Galaxy saved not so long ago. That stone alone would be enough to lay waste to civilizations, to planets, to whole systems.
But it’s not enough. He needs all six.
The blue Space Stone, also called the Tesseract, was last seen in Asgard—Thor’s home world—before it was destroyed. Thanos suspects it might’ve survived, thanks to Loki, Thor’s brother. Easy enough. Thanos has dealt with Loki before.
The red Reality Stone was last in the possession of the Collector, a mysterious being who gathers the treasures and detritus of the galaxy like an extraterrestrial hoarder. But the Collector’s museum of the odd and arcane suffered its own cataclysm not so long ago. Thanos will have to visit and see how he—and it—are doing.
The Mind Stone could be trickier, given that it’s in the forehead of Vision, one of the Avengers’ most powerful, most enigmatic, heroes. Hardly seems possible that Vision and the rest could stop him, but they might muster enough strength to pester.
And then there’s the green Time Stone, lodged in the Eye of Agamotto. True, Doctor Strange used the stone to fine effect against Dormammu, a galactic demi-demon after Thanos’ own dark heart. But if Thanos has a couple of Infinity Stones of his own in tow by the time he faces Strange, he’ll hardly be a threat.
But what of the Soul Stone, hidden for so long? A glowing orange needle in a cosmic haystack? Perhaps Thanos has an inkling of where this most elusive stone is, too. Perhaps its secret will unfold like a flower.
One down. Five to go. And—yes, there it is, the spaceship carrying Thor, Loki and the refugees of Asgard. Another Infinity Stone nearly in hand.
For nearly all of the 10 years and 18 movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thanos has been coming … slowly, inexorably.
Now he is here. And that Universe will quake as he passes.
Let’s start in an unexpected place: with Thanos himself. He is, most certainly, the movie’s villain. But he sees himself as its hero—the only guy in the cosmos willing to do what (he believes) must be done. He thinks the universe has an overpopulation problem, and he reasons that if you kill some of its residents—OK, half of them—quickly and humanely, the folks left behind will live far better lives. He wants to help. He intends well.
‘Course, you know what they say about good intentions, and never has that saying been more true than it is here. While Thanos sees the universe simply as a math problem in need of some serious subtraction, our heroes understand that the lives at stake are precious. Every one of them. Those whom Thanos so cavalierly wants to kill have hearts and minds and souls. They love and are beloved. And they work like crazy to save the universe from Thanos’ genocidal number-crunching.
All of the heroes here display a great deal of courage throughout the movie, and all are willing to sacrifice a great deal—down to their very lives—to oppose Thanos. And even when things look bleak, there’s no quit in ’em. When someone tells Okoye, Wakanda’s great general, that it looks as if this battle could be the end of the country itself, Okoye says, “It will be the noblest ending in history.”
Infinity War offers lots of interesting spiritual rabbit trails we could explore, but explicit references to faith are fairly rare. That said, we are dealing in a world of demigods here, and a few characters are considered by some to be gods (lowercase “g”, of course).
Loki refers to himself explicitly as the “trickster god.” Thor, meanwhile, tells Thanos that the purplish villain will “never be a god” (though Thanos’ powers become indeed quite god-like as the film goes on). Indeed, Thanos’ lackeys practically worship him throughout the film, reverently using titles such as “almighty Thanos,” and “Father.”
While not referenced explicitly in this film, we know from its predecessors that other characters owe their powers to godlike beings: Black Panther, for instance, credits the goddess Bast for his skills; Peter Quill (leader of Guardians of the Galaxy) has the DNA of a powerful planet-like being (Ego) in his blood.
Elsewhere, Quill makes a joking reference to Jesus. When the Guardians of the Galaxy run across an unconscious Thor, the blue-skinned Drax admires the man’s body, calling him a cross between a “pirate and an angel.” Later, he’s jokingly referred to as a “god-man.” We hear a recitation of the universe’s creation at the Big Bang, and we learn of the simultaneous creation of the Infinity Stones in the universe’s first moments.
The very name of the Soul Stone suggests an understanding of the “soul,” and its powers seem predicated on sacrifice. One character has a dreamlike vision that perhaps suggests some manner of afterlife. Some characters are referred to as “wizards,” and their powers are quite magical. Someone looks into the future.
We hear conversations about how fate and destiny shape characters’ lives. One character says, “Attachment to the physical is detachment from the spiritual.” We see Doctor Strange assume the lotus position while meditating; a scene pictures him with multiple sets of arms, visually echoing depictions of the Hindu god Shiva. Someone tells Thanos, “The universe has judged you.” Thor says a prayer of sorts to the “Allfather.” There’s a verbal reference to resurrection.
A fight takes place in and around a church, and we see flashes of stained glass windows and the church steeple.
Vision and Scarlet Witch drop off the grid and spend a couple of weeks in Scotland, and we see the two kiss. (They’re obviously sharing a hotel room as well.) Two other prominent characters kiss and express their undying love. Bruce Banner and Natasha Romanov bat their eyelids at one another.
Drax, a blue alien, never wears a shirt. Quill compares Thanos’ chin to a part of the male anatomy (using a crude slang phrase to do so), and Quill becomes rather defensive when his team admires the muscles on an unconscious Thor. (When Gamora massages Thor’s muscles in an apparent effort to revive him, Quill pleads with her to stop.) Someone uses the phrase “booty call.” Scarlett Witch and other female characters wear tight, revealing outfits. A character says suggestively, “Shoulda stayed in bed.
Infinity War is a superhero movie, and superhero movies are inherently violent. (I have yet to see a pacifist one, at least.) But here, the stakes feel far higher … as does the body count. We can’t detail every bit of mayhem here, but we’ll do what we can.
In flashback, we see Thanos’ lackeys execute countless citizens of Gamora’s home planet. Scores of others lie dead or dying on the floor of a spaceship. A massive battle with toothy, beast-like things creates numerous casualties (though, mostly, among other beast-like things). Sometimes, people simply turn to ash and blow away. We hear about the deaths of others. Various characters ponder whether someone’s death might avert calamity.
Blades wreak a lot of damage, though we see very little blood. One exception: A hero gets stabbed in the side, leaving a bloody wound and causing blood to trickle out of his mouth. Other folks are sometimes impaled through the chest or back, and we see blade jut from the other side. Still others are simply stabbed to death. One unfortunate hero suffers at least three separate chest wounds, only to bind them up and dive into the fray again. A man is tortured through what appear to be glass needles, one of which punctures his cheek (and turns part of his face a little gray and veiny).
One of the stones gives Thanos the ability to manipulate matter, and he uses it to pull apart one character, cause another to fall into blocks and still another to devolve into ribbons. (All these mechanizations, oddly, are non-lethal.) Someone is thrown from a great height and dies. Laser-like force fields kill myriad monstrous creatures; a force field also severs someone’s arm (which we see fairly cleanly detached and lying on the ground). Machinery crushes others.
Someone apparently dies in the vacuum of space. Another character has his throat crushed. People are tortured via other means. A hero withstands a long blast of celestial heat. One character comes close to asphyxiating. Quill asks crudely if a particular grenade is the kind that will “blow off your junk.”
We see lots and lots of fighting with fists and feet and various implements. I’ll spare you (ahem) the blow-by-blow.
Four s-words and a gauntlet of other profanities, including uses of “a–,” “b–tard,” “h—,” “d–n,” “p-ss,” “crap” and “douchebag.” Someone calls someone else a “d-hole.” Someone says “motherf—,” suggesting an f-word afterward without voicing it. Another character abbreviates the f-word as well, exclaiming, “Chill the eff out.” God’s name is misused about ten times. We see one crude hand gesture. There are a couple of slang references to the male anatomy (in the context noted above in Sexual Content).
We hear someone brag about smuggling a stolen eyeball his backside. Spider-Man skips school (albeit, I should add, to save the universe).
Avengers: Infinity War is unlike any superhero movie I’ve seen and, narratively, almost impossible to classify. Is it good? Is it bad? Hard to say. Aesthetically it works: It takes risks I’ve never seen in the genre before, and it’s got some really satisfying moments. But it’s not, in the end, a very satisfying movie.
That’s by design. Infinity War is really the first part of a two-part story, what with another Avengers’ movie rolling out next year. How I will ultimately feel about this movie depends, in large part, upon how well the next one works.
But given that we’ve got a whole year to wait—and without getting into any spoilers—let me offer this warning: Infinity War will challenge many a moviegoer, especially young ones. Kids and teens who’ve really invested in this universe will find this intense flick hard to watch at times.
At Plugged In, we often talk about how important it is to talk through the entertainment we consume, and that’s especially true for Infinity War. If you decide to see this movie—and if you take your family to see it—budget time to talk about it afterward. There’s a lot to process here, and many who watch it will need to process it. I won’t lie to you: I’m still processing myself.
Because of this movie’s astronomical profile, and because many viewers have invested so much into this universe and its characters, I imagine that plenty of families will feel like they have to see Infinity War. I totally get that. But remember, the word “war” is a wholly appropriate descriptor of Infinity War. And all wars—even fictional ones like this—come with consequences.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.