by Pastor David Locklear
Avengers: Infinity War is the 19th feature film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe which began with the release of Iron Man in 2008. Marvel has hailed Infinity War as a fitting conclusion to the first ten years of Marvel Studios. “It’s all been leading to this” and “the end is here” were common taglines in the film’s marketing campaign.
Due to the nature of the film’s story and its connection to previous Marvel Studios films, a review of Infinity War which does not discuss “spoilers” is unrealistic. The following review contains spoilers both for Infinity War and other Marvel films, particularly Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Captain America: Civil War (2016).
The premise of the film revolves around the super villain Thanos securing all six “infinity stones,” objects of great power which control various aspects of existence (power, soul, mind, space, time, and reality). By wielding all six stones, Thanos would have the ability to wipe out half of all life in the universe simply by snapping his fingers.
In the effort to confront him, various heroes team-up with each other. Following the events of Captain America: Civil War, the Avengers are fractured. Captain America leads an off the radar team consisting of himself, Black Widow, Falcon, and Scarlet Witch – each of whom is currently considered a “war criminal.” You might call them “the secret Avengers.” Iron Man leads the officially sanctioned Avengers consisting of himself, Vision, and War Machine. Thor and the Hulk are headed to earth after surviving the Asgardian apocalypse in Thor: Ragnarok. Dr. Strange is active on his own in New York. Spider-Man is also active in New York and is in close communication with Iron Man (though he is not officially an Avenger at the start of the film). The Guardians of the Galaxy join up with Thor upon rescuing him.
By the film’s climax Captain America, Black Widow, Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Vision, War Machine, Black Panther, Bucky Barnes (now going by “the White Wolf”), Thor, Rocket Raccoon, and Groot join together in the nation of Wakanda (ruled by the Black Panther) to battle the invading army of Thanos. Meanwhile, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, Spider-Man, Star-Lord, Drax, Mantis, and Nebula join together to battle Thanos on his home world of Titan.
Fans of the Marvel Studios films will love the heroic entrances of the heroes. The various team-ups are played to perfection and the characters’ portrayals are magnificently captured by the actors and actresses. The film’s soundtrack is one of the more memorable amongst the Marvel films.
However, the film ends in a way that is likely completely unexpected to the average movie goer. Indeed, when the final credits begin, the audience may very likely feel as if this is not, or perhaps must not, be any sort of conclusion or even self-contained story in spite of Marvel’s insistence to the contrary. Marvel has stated that the untitled Avengers 4, which releases in 2019, is not a “part two” to Infinity War. Yet, Infinity War ends with Thanos successfully securing all six infinity stones and snapping his fingers, thus wiping out half the universe. By film’s end, the villain has won. We see many heroes disappear including Bucky Barnes, Black Panther, Scarlet Witch, Dr. Strange, Spider-Man, Falcon, and every member of the Guardians of the Galaxy except for Rocket Raccoon.
Various clues throughout the film would lead the careful observer to believe many of the heroes will be brought back somehow. For example, Dr. Strange at one point looks into the future and observes over fourteen million possible outcomes of the conflict with Thanos; in only a single potential future is Thanos defeated. Then, Strange uncharacteristically hands over one of the stones to Thanos and later tells Iron Man it was “the only way.”
Additionally, Marvel has films either in production (Spider-Man: Homecoming sequel) or planning (Black Panther sequel) which involve some of the heroes who were wiped out of existence. All this combined with some knowledge of how comic book stories tend to work would lead one to believe that at least some of the deaths in Infinity War will be undone in Avengers 4.
In analyzing the film from a Christian perspective, two major themes stood out to me. One is that of redemption; the other is that of the value of life.
Redemption: a Study of Loki
Loki began his time in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the mischievous and jealous brother of hero Thor in the first Thor (2011) film. By the end of that film, Loki is established as a committed villain who tried to murder his brother and steal his father’s (Odin’s) throne. There is a glimmer of conflict in Loki as he cries out for his father’s approval at the end of that film before disappearing to whereabouts unknown via the disintegrating bifrost (a sort of “bridge” between worlds). We next see Loki in Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) as he arrives on earth with the purpose of conquering humanity as the representative of Thanos. He is defeated by the Avengers and returned to Asgard as a prisoner of war. In Thor: The Dark World (2013), Thor frees Loki from prison in order to secure his assistance against the Dark Elves and Loki seemingly dies helping his brother. However, in the end credits scene for that film we learn that Loki had faked his death, stolen the throne by taking the appearance of Odin, and sent Odin to parts unknown. At the beginning of Thor: Ragnarok, Thor learns of this deception, confronts Loki, and forces him to help locate Odin. The two travel to earth to find Odin.
Jump ahead to the beginning of Infinity War. Infinity War begins shortly after the end credits scene in Thor: Ragnarok. The ship of surviving Asgardians fleeing from the destruction of Asgard, which took place at the conclusion of Thor: Ragnarok, is attacked by Thanos. Thanos is looking for the “space stone” which Loki (unknown to Thor) had taken from Odin’s vault before Asgard was destroyed. Once Thanos has overpowered the Asgardians, Loki begins to bargain with him and the audience might assume he is continuing his treacherous ways. However, Loki’s act was a ploy and he attempts to catch Thanos off guard. Unfortunately, Thanos is not caught off guard and Loki’s attempt to save his brother, the surviving Asgardians, and half the universe is rewarded by Thanos with death.
What changed? Throughout his portrayal in the films, Loki has never truly helped the good guys without an ulterior motive. Here, Loki’s villain to hero arc is completed and he dies as nothing short of a fully committed hero. To answer the question, we need to return to the events of Thor: Ragnarok. When Thor and Loki find Odin, Odin greets them “my sons.” One of the final things Odin tells them is, “I love you, my sons.” Despite all of Loki’s sins, Odin loves him and offers him forgiveness. You could certainly see that as changing Loki’s heart.
In Ezekiel 11:19-20, the LORD says, “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh,that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.” It is the Gospel that makes us alive when we were dead. It is the Gospel that gives us forgiveness. It is the Gospel which charges our hearts. Our heavenly Father’s love, seen in the sending of His Son to live and die for us, works within us a new heart with new desires.
The Value of Life: Steve Rogers vs. Thanos
It is revealed throughout the film that Thanos is motivated by his belief that there are too many living creatures in a universe with finite resources. Thanos explains that life on his home world of Titan crumbled because of this problem, and he is now the only one with both the knowledge and the will to end this problem so that other worlds do not experience the same fate as Titan. In explaining to Gamora, whom he “rescued” as a child when he conquered her planet, why he wiped out half the population of her home world, Thanos said it was “a small price to pay” for future generations to thrive.
This is paralleled and contrasted in various storylines throughout the film. We see Thanos’ reasoning paralleled in a tragic way with teammates and romantic partners Star-Lord and Gamora. Gamora has information that Thanos needs in order to secure the soul stone. She makes Star-Lord promise to kill her if Thanos gets to her so that she cannot reveal to him the stone’s location. He reluctantly agrees. In a particularly agonizing scene, he even pulls the trigger in order to take her life when Thanos captures her (but Thanos prevents her death). It is later revealed that Thanos truly cares for Gamora, but he willingly sends her to her death when he learns that in order to secure the soul stone he must sacrifice someone he loves.
In contrast to these storylines is that of Captain America’s. One of the infinity stones is part of the hero Vision and it resides within his forehead. Thus, a large plot of Infinity War is the effort to protect Vision. Steve insists that they protect Vision rather than destroy the stone (which would in theory destroy Vision). Steve says, “We don’t trade lives.” Later, when Steve is overmatched on the battle field, Vision disobeys his instruction to flee in order to save himself and protect the mind stone. Vision saves Steve and says to him, “We don’t trade lives, Captain.” Captain America operates under the understanding that each individual life is precious and valuable and he will not trade one for another even if it seems that doing so would protect others.
Scripture reminds us that all life is precious for God is the Creator of life. “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). Though I doubt it was intended by Marvel Studios, Thanos’ mindset is a reflection of very real sinful ideologies, particularly that of the abortion industry. Captain America’s mindset is refreshing to all who hold to the value of each individual life.
Avengers: Infinity War is a massive cinematic success having already made well over a billion dollars at the box office. Parents should also note that it is very deserving of its PG-13 rating. This is not a children’s movie by any stretch of the imagination. Many beloved characters die. There is crass language, torture, and several traumatic scenes of murder. The film ends with the villain’s success and half of all life in the universe wiped out. There is also a fascinating look at the value of life and an incredible finale to a character’s redemption arc. Mature fans of the superhero genre will likely enjoy it as much as I did with a recognition of its content flaws and a hope for a triumphant conclusion to the story in next summer’s yet to be titled Avengers 4.
About the author: David Locklair serves as Associate Pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church, School, and Early Learning Center in Port Orchard, WA (ELS). He resides in Port Orchard with his wife, three sons, and beagle. Though Batman is his favorite superhero, he acknowledges the mastery of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.