As published by Inqua Magazine.
Avengers: Infinity War has been out a full week at this point. Lots and lots has already been written about the many twists and turns the Russo brothers threw at us. One of those twists, in particular, has been pretty polarizing and is the reason why I’m writing this today. If you haven’t seen Infinity War yet, tread carefully because there will be big spoilers ahead.
There is a critical moment in the film when some clever teamwork between the members of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, and Spider-Man incapacitates Thanos. Spider-Man is a hair’s breadth away from prizing the Infinity Gauntlet from Thanos’s hand when it dawns on Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, that Gamora has been killed by the Mad Titan. This sends Peter into a rage and he starts pistol whipping Thanos which wakes him just long enough to wrest the gauntlet away from Spider-Man. Then with ease, Thanos dispatches the heroes and heads to Earth where he subsequently gains control of all the Infinity Stones and, with a snap of his finger, eliminates half the life in the universe.
This emotional reaction from Quill has turned a lot of fans against him. It could easily be said that he is responsible for the death of half the universe. Writers for AV/Club and Nerdist call Quill the real villain of Infinity War, while a writer for comicbook.com said that Quill’s actions turned Quill into an obnoxious jerk. Without hesitation, I say that these responses are highly reactionary. If any critical thought were applied to the film, its characters, and themes, it can be shown that Quill’s actions aren’t so black and white.
First, I’ll respond to those who lay all the blame at Star-Lord’s feet. Second, I’ll respond to those who say that his actions were out of character and turned him into something he’s not. Then finally, I’ll end with showing how his actions may have been completely necessary to ensure any kind of victory for the Avengers.
The Many vs The One
One of the themes of Avengers: Infinity War is the needs of the many versus the needs of the few. Over and over each character is confronted with two options: saving the universe or saving the person(s) they love most. Off the bat, Dr. Strange informs Tony Stark that he will not hesitate to let either Stark or Spider-Man die if it meant keeping the Time Stone safe. Vision, who has the Mind Stone lodged in his forehead, tells Scarlet Witch that she has to destroy the stone (thereby killing him) to save the universe. Time and time again, the characters we’ve come to love over the course of a decade are forced to make impossible decisions.
What makes this a poignant theme is that it isn’t just the heroes who have to choose, it’s the villain who has to choose as well. Thanos’s whole motivation is derived from his desire to see the universe flourish. It is his view that he must cut the cosmic population in half so life doesn’t grow unsustainably and choke itself out of existence. Thanos is his own hero because only he has the will to carry out what must be done. And the film goes to great lengths to demonstrate that his actions are costly to him in many ways.
The way this theme plays for Peter Quill is especially complex. Early in the film when Gamora realizes Thanos is hunting Infinity Stones she makes Peter promise to kill her if Thanos takes her. Only a few short scenes later is this promise put to the test. After some trickery by Thanos with the Reality Stone, Gamora is held hostage. After Gamora tearfully reminds Quill of his promise, he aims his gun her way. Perhaps interested to see what Quill will do, Thanos forces the choice on to him by yelling, “do it!” After Gamora confesses her love for him, Quill pulls the trigger only to have bubbles burst out of the muzzle. Another trick with the Reality Stone. Impressed with his resolve, Thanos says to Quill, “I like you” before stepping through a portal with Gamora into the unknown.
Peter Quill made the impossible choice of sacrificing the woman he loved to save the universe. He did all that could ever be asked of someone. If his actions had been successful, Thanos would never have gotten the Soul Stone and the Infinity Gauntlet never would have been assembled.
Now just for some fun context, let’s look at every other character who chose to surrender an Infinity Stone instead of sacrificing the person they love. Gamora, when her sister Nebula is being tortured. Dr. Strange, when Thanos is about to kill Tony Stark(though there probably is something more going on here). Loki, as Thanos is about to kill Thor(though not for lack of trying to kill Thanos). And finally, Eitri the dwarf who forged the gauntlet for Thanos in the first place on Nidavellir to spare the rest of his people(who Thanos killed anyway). The point is that there is no end to the blame game. Who are we to say who we would or wouldn’t sacrifice in an impossible situation?
The driving theme of Infinity War is the consequences of choosing love. Choosing to love is choosing to be vulnerable. Choosing to love is choosing to put one person over others. And choosing to love means choosing to make hard decisions.
Each character in one way or another makes choices because of love that puts others at risk. Star-Lord is perhaps the only hero in the film who has to make that choice twice. The first time he chooses the universe over Gamora but was thwarted by Thanos. The second time he chooses anger over Gamora’s death before the universe. Each choice brought Thanos closer to assembling all six stones. Meaning there was no real choice to be made. Thanos was going to accomplish his goal no matter what Quill or any of the Avengers did. I will discuss this further on.
By wrestling with the greater themes of the film, it can be shown that love has consequences. And more heroes than only Star-Lord had to make impossible choices that lead to pain and suffering for others. Blaming one person for the cascading consequences of other people’s choices is foolish both in real life and in fiction.
Out of Character?
For anyone who says it is out of character for Star-Lord to lose control because someone he loves has been killed, I ask only this– did you see Guardians of Galaxy vol. 2?! There is literally a scene where Quill learns his father(played by Kurt Russell) killed his mother and without hesitation Quill blasts the hell out of him. This is almost exactly the same reaction Quill has when he learns Thanos killed Gamora for the Soul Stone. The only difference being that one reaction resulted in saving the world, the other aiding in destroying half of it. Star-Lord is an emotionally reactive being. That much hasn’t changed. However, I would be shocked if we don’t see Quill having to reconcile himself with his actions in a future film, resulting in genuine character growth. But that is looking too far into the future and I don’t have the Time Stone to aid me.
Reactionary but Necessary
When the Guardians and Tony Stark are concocting their plan for how to take on Thanos, Dr. Strange is utilizing the Time Stone to peer into possible futures– 14,000,605 possible futures to be exact. Strange says that he only saw one where they win. The scene cuts away and the next time we see the Guardians, Tony, Spider-Man, and Dr. Strange is their fight with Thanos and their failed attempt to wrestle the gauntlet away from him. Thanos wins the Time Stone from Dr. Strange after threatening Tony’s life and teleports to Earth.
The act of giving up the Time Stone to save Tony’s life is decidedly uncharacteristic for Dr. Strange. From his own mouth, he said he wouldn’t hesitate if it meant keeping the Time Stone from Thanos. When Tony, who was prepared to die, disappointedly asks Strange why he did it, Strange replies, “there was no other way.”
Now there are two ways to take this statement. The first is that when Dr. Strange says there was no other way, he means that of the 14 million futures he saw, the Avengers lost all of them. He only said they won one to give the rest of the heroes hope and determination to fight anyways. The second way to take his statement is that Thanos had to win first in order for the Avengers to win. Meaning that everything we’ve seen, every heroic act or mistake, had to happen. This included Star-Lord beating Thanos awake. There was no other way.
And you don’t think it’s possible in one of those futures Dr. Strange saw, they succeeded in wrestling the gauntlet away from Thanos? 14 million is a lot. Considering how close they were to actually freeing it from Thanos’s hand, I’d say at least a fair few of those futures included them winning the gauntlet. It is also possible that none of those futures included getting the gauntlet off Thanos’s hand. The main point is that no matter what they did– the Avengers would lose. As soon as Thanos decided he wanted to assemble the Infinity Gauntlet, preventing this was impossible.
But because this is a movie we know we’re seeing the one way the Avengers do win. Star-Lord’s reaction was not the only mistake which cost him and half the universe their lives, it was a potentially, necessary mistake that could enable the Avengers to win. Every action, mistake or success, in the film was necessary to ultimately overcome Thanos. This included Thor not going for Thanos’s head, Gamora choosing Nebula over surrendering the Soul Stone, and Etiri the dwarf….building the gauntlet. The film tries to show that blame is ultimately useless in the consequences of impossible situations.
This is moral grey territory that Marvel is treading into. With Phases 1 & 2 having rather black and white moral heroes and villains, Phase 3(mostly) is choosing to complicate this boundary. Spider-Man: Homecoming had a villain who was trying to do right by his family and crept into villainy by degrees. Captain America: Civil War was about stirring up our heroes and turning their actions against each other. Tony Stark has an almost identical scene to Star-Lord’s when he learns Bucky Barnes killed his parents. And we could never forget Black Panther‘s fabulous Killmonger. While being decidedly a villain, he is perhaps the easiest Marvel villain to empathize with.
Avengers: Infinity War is a film about the consequences of choosing to love people. When the universe hangs in the balance, how could we ever hope to make a choice? Rather than blaming Star-Lord, or any of the characters for that matter, we should be seeking to wrestle deeply with their choices. What would we have done in the same situation? How can we interpret their actions in light of the overall themes? Were their actions ultimately pointless or necessary? How far do the consequences of choosing love go?
It is easy to put no thought into our reactions. But if we really think Star-Lord should have thought before he reacted, maybe we should too. Doing so demonstrates that deeming him a villain is narrow-minded and thoughtless. Star-Lord and everyone else who made poor choices in this film may yet prove to be heroes because of their love– not in spite of it.