Avengers: Infinity War and its Love and Death Problems (SPOILER)

I saw Infinity War yesterday with my 13-year-old and his good friend. It was good, but definitely not great. It had a big problem for them in its ending, and it had a huge problem for me in the middle about its understanding of love. (Don’t click below if you don’t want the spoilers!)

We all agreed that the ending was actually a big letdown, not because the ending killed off characters, but because it killed off so many huge characters that it killed off none of them. You can’t kill off three franchises, especially not the new blockbusting Black Panther, in one movie. It was too obvious that the sequel would find a way to bring some of them back, and if some, why not all? And why not Gamora? Or Vision? And that ruined all of the movie’s courage to sacrifice any of the characters. It felt like an emotional waste and fake courage. And it seems kind of obvious how the resurrections might happen. If we saw Thanos using the stones to resurrect Vision and his Mind stone, and probably the Time stone, why shouldn’t we expect them to trick or persuade Thanos to use the Time stone again for the universe? My son has a good theory: these characters didn’t die, but instead, Thanos created two realities, with Iron Man, Capt. America, Black Widow, etc. alive in one reality, and Dr. Strange, Black Panther, Spiderman etc. alive in the other reality. Interesting. OK, see more on this below.

So here is what really pissed me off in the middle of the movie. I loved the concept for the Soul stone: it required a “soul for a soul,” the sacrifice of a loved-one’s soul. And it was wonderful hearing Gemora get it exactly right: because Thanos loved no one, the universe played him. Instant karma is gonna get you. Of course Thanos did not love Gamora. Not only was this obvious from the previous movies, but even the backstory scene did not set up a loving relationship, but a sick instrumental relationship. Of course, there had to be a way for Thanos to overcome this well-written turn of events. But whatever good writer put that in was overridden by a terrible writer.

That terrible writer, both artistically and morally, decided that the horribly abusive relationship Thanos had with his step-daughter was close enough to the cosmic definition of love. Why? Because he cried a few tears, so “Eh, give him the Soul stone for killing Gamora. We gotta keep this movie rolling.”

There was a much more interesting possible twist. Thanos could have captured a hero and given them a Sophie’s Choice. Choose between your kids. Or a parent and your partner. The hero gets the stone, and Thanos takes it. The message: A hero can love, but Thanos cannot.

This plot twist might have risked the PG-13 rating, but not much more than killing Gamora, especially if you don’t show the death. But I thought this movie’s message about love was a deeper moral problem. There are ways to fix this mess. Maybe the sequel will reveal that Thanos did not truly acquire the Soul stone, because he did not actually sacrifice a loved one, which is why the heroes are still alive in another realm or universe. Maybe Thanos discovers that because he is grieving for Gamora, and feels deep regret, he realizes that he did not love her enough. Then the Avengers are able to  persuade Thanos to resurrect everyone. I don’t know. But please, just try to fix that moral mess.  It’s 2018, for goodness sake, so don’t treat abusive relationships like love.


Author: Jed Shugerman

Jed Handelsman Shugerman is a Professor at Fordham Law School. He received his B.A., J.D., and Ph.D. (History) from Yale. His book, The People’s Courts (Harvard 2012), traces the rise of judicial elections, judicial review, and the influence of money and parties in American courts. It is based on his dissertation that won the 2009 ASLH’s Cromwell Prize. He is co-author of amicus briefs on the history of presidential power, the Emoluments Clauses, the Appointments Clause, the First Amendment rights of elected judges, and the due process problems of elected judges in death penalty cases. He is currently working on two books on the history of executive power and prosecution in America. The first is tentatively titled “A Faithful President: The Founders v. the Unitary Executive,” questioning the textual and historical evidence for the theory of unchecked and unbalanced presidential power. This book draws on his articles “Vesting” (Stanford Law Review forthcoming 2022), “Removal of Context” (Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities 2022), a co-authored “Faithful Execution and Article II” (Harvard Law Review 2019 with Andrew Kent and Ethan Leib), “The Indecisions of 1789” (forthcoming Penn. Law Review), and “The Creation of the Department of Justice,” (Stanford Law Review 2014). The second book project is “The Rise of the Prosecutor Politicians: Race, War, and Mass Incarceration,” focusing on California Governor Earl Warren, his presidential running mate Thomas Dewey, the Kennedys, World War II and the Cold War, the war on crime, the growth of prosecutorial power, and its emergence as a stepping stone to electoral power for ambitious politicians in the mid-twentieth century.

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