SACRIFICE IS THE UNDERCURRENT THEME
There is a certain level of awe and reverence when you see Captain America (Steve Rogers) and Black Panther (King T’Challa) charge ahead of their army during the battle in Wakanda. In their most selfless moments, heroes represent the best of humanity. Infinity War raises a question of the tough calls they’re willing to make for the greater good and each one comes with a different approach.
As the bearer of the mind gem, Vision expressed his willingness to sacrifice his life to which Rogers responded with, “We don’t trade lives.” Vision counteracts him with something like, “What is the difference of sacrificing my life when you’ve laid your life years ago?” referring to Cap’s heroism in World War II. It’s a moment of epiphany for Rogers, that his life alone is not enough when the stakes are this high. It all traces back to a statement he said to Tony in Civil War, “This job… we try to save as many people as we can. Sometimes that doesn’t mean everybody. But if we can’t find a way to live with that, next time… maybe nobody gets saved.” Vision makes his choice and Rogers has to go along with that sooner.
Vision’s girlfriend, Wanda Maximoff, realizes the same sacrifice she has to make but it is a little too late by then. Their love ultimately becomes the universe’s undoing and they ended up in a ‘damned if you do, doomed if you don’t’ situation. Wanda obliterates the stone but Thanos reverts back the time and takes it from Vision’s forehead anyway, effectively killing him for the second time. Wanda has to go through the pain of killing Vision, all while blaming herself for not doing it any sooner.
And this is also the exact same thing that happened for another tragic love arc of Gamora and Peter Quill. After the two finally expressed their love for each other, Quill with Gamora’s plea, makes a promise to kill her should Thanos get to them. Quill is no stranger to heartbreak as he has lost his mother before and in GOTG Vol. 2, his adoptive father Yondu. Now, the person he loves the most asks him to kill her. Hence, when the time comes to do the deed, his first instinct is to run away from it. His hesitation takes it toll and in the end, Gamora dies anyway and Quill still loses everything.
Now for Tony Stark, earlier in the film, he’s flirting on the notion of settling down and raising a kid of his own. His girlfriend Pepper Potts thinks it’s impossible with the arc reactor still attached to his chest, signifying that as long as he’s Iron Man, he can’t have a normal life. With perfect timing, Doctor Strange appears and presents Earth’s latest danger to him and once again, Stark has to set aside Pepper for greater interests at hand.
Fast forward to the aftermath of the battle on planet Titan, as his friends around him start to disintegrate into ashes, young Peter Parker’s (Spider-Man) death takes the heaviest toll because Tony has almost developed a father-son relationship with him in Homecoming. Spider-Man’s precognitive spider-senses allows him to feel his death coming a couple of seconds away and with that, we are served with that tear-jerking scene of a scared teenager clinging to his father figure in his last moments. In the end, the young lad decides to man up and apologizes to Stark for failing their mission.
It is Tony, however, who feels that he failed him and the entire universe. A decade ago, he gives up his normal life to pursue the ‘Avengers Initiative’. Was it all for nothing now that he lost? It is tragic to see yourself spared in the wake of your friends’ deaths. Maybe if he swallowed his ego and called Steve for them to secure Vision and his mind stone even earlier, things would have turned out different. The thing is, every hero came up short at some point.
Among the Avengers, Thor gets the most redemption and not just because the writers have finally figured out how to bring his comical side. He is indeed a funny character that we almost forget that he’s the one who has lost the most. In Dark World, he lost his mother Frigga. In Ragnarok, he lost his hammer ‘Mjolnir’, his home Asgard along with his friends Volstagg, Fandral and Hogun and his father Odin. And even before Infinity War’s title card flashes, Thanos kills half of the surviving Asgardians including his friend Heimdall and his reformed brother Loki. Actress Natalie Portman who plays Thor’s girlfriend Jane Foster might be done with Marvel so we can assume an unceremonious off-screen break-up here for plot purposes. Thor has all the reasons to curl up in the corner and cry, but he sees the bigger picture, gets himself a new eye (courtesy of Rocket) and acts on his plan immediately.
In a symbolic scene, Thor endures the rays of a dying star. He does the same thing with his pain: he he turns it into rage and fashions it into the Stormbreaker. Everyone in this film gives a part of themself to stop Thanos. (A literal case for Teen Groot who outgrows his uncaring attitude and cuts his arm to serve as the weapon’s handle.) Thor is the beacon of hope and resilience in this film… if only he aimed for Thanos’ head. He’s an inch away from becoming the biggest victor in this story.
Out of all the characters in this installment, its villain Thanos has the strongest hero arc/spiritual journey. The reason why he wins is that he has a steely-eyed passion to achieve his goal and most importantly, to quote Okoye, he never “freezes” when it’s time to make the ultimate sacrifice when most of our heroes hesitate to do so. As he snaps his fingers and erases half of the universe, a young Gamora appears in his vision and asks him what did it take. Thanos responds with “everything,” but whether the price was worth it is a question he can only answer for himself.