‘Avengers: Infinity War’: Why it’s Marvel’s Version of ‘Empire Strikes Back’

It’s the moment all Marvel fans have been waiting for. Avengers: Infinity War is here, and it’s simultaneously the culmination of hours of entertainment that preceded it and the beginning of a new, exciting era in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We can say with certainty that the action doesn’t disappoint! Not to mention, it showed us just how wrong we could be on so many theories.

But beyond that, the best way to describe Infinity War is that it’s the MCU’s version of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. You may be wondering what that means. Let’s break it all down, with some major spoilers ahead. You have been warned!

It’s in the middle (kind of)

Chris Hemsworth in 'Avengers: Infinity Wars'.

The movie isn’t exactly a sequel … or a prequel. | Marvel

This one is a bit of a mind-bender, but hear us out. Empire Strikes Back was the middle movie of the Star Wars original trilogy, which means it had the unenviable task of tying the ground-breaking hit, Star Wars: A New Hope, to the final film in the trio, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. And in that same way, Infinity War is in the middle.

The MCU has taken their time fleshing out all their characters, with well over a dozen movies surrounding the same, basic group of people in a small universe. All of that character building was progressing to this moment, where we finally are fully introduced to Thanos. He had only previously been teased, in post-credit scenes at the end of the first two Avengers movies, as well as in a few scenes from Guardians of the Galaxy.

With Avengers 4 on its way in 2019, Infinity War really is the ESB of the MCU.

Next: Only minor flaws

It does have flaws, but they’re easier to overlook

Thanos stares straight ahead.

Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War | Marvel

No movie is perfect, not even the most-heralded of the Star Wars franchise. Outside of frequent dialogue issues, Empire Strikes Back only really struggles with a few plot holes. Seriously, did you ever notice that Yoda was very willing to sacrifice Luke’s friends in the name of his training? How does he have the gall to correct Obi-Wan just moments later with, “No, there is another?” Darth Vader has her in his clutches, man!

But compared to some of the head-scratching plot problems with such Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, or really any other Star Wars movie, Empire Strikes Back is pretty clean. Anyway, Infinity War is similar in this way. There is a moment where a plan set up by Peter Quill works out well, with Thanos ensnared by Doctor Strange and Mantis while Peter Parker and Tony Stark work on yanking the infinity gauntlet off his massive arm. Unfortunately, Thanos gets away — thanks in large part to Quill’s hot head.

But in that moment, Thanos is just sitting there, helpless. Why not stick something sharp into his jugular? That kind of would’ve stopped things right there, wouldn’t it? But compared to some of the other clunky Marvel movies — like Avengers: Age of Ultron — there are few other real problems with Infinity War.

Next: Splitting time on screen

Separate, but still together

Black Panther looking worrisome.

Black Panther in Avengers: Infinity Wars | Marvel

It’s no secret that Infinity War had to cram a whole lot of main characters into just one movie. The Avengers, secondary non-Avengers, such as Black Panther and Spider-Man, and the Guardians of the Galaxy all needed to be fit in somehow. In doing so, many of the main characters were separated throughout the course of the movie.

Last we saw in Captain America: Civil War, Steve Rogers and Tony Stark were no longer on speaking terms. Stark had a cellphone he could use to call Rogers in case of an emergency, but that’s it. And because of how the events of Infinity War happened, Stark and Rogers never did interact with one another in the film.

Instead, characters just kind of paired off into strange groups: Thor with Rocket and Groot and Quill, Drax, and Mantis with Strange, Stark, and Parker. The characters that we’ve previously seen fight together as a unit were mostly broken up. And that’s very much like Empire Strikes Back, as well.

Recall that, outside of a few early scenes in the movie, Luke and Han Solo share very little screen time in ESB. The bulk of the movie features Luke’s Jedi training with Yoda while Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and C-3PO try to outrun the Empire. Splitting things up this way works out really well for both movies, allowing separate stories to be told — and in the case of Infinity War — without cluttering any scenes with too many stars.

Next: Some major motivation

It’s all about the motivation

Chris Hemsworth using his strength in 'Avengers: Infinity Wars'.

You already know all about the good guys. | Marvel

In A New Hope, Darth Vader is simply a faceless villain inside a black mask. He has a deep voice, a laser sword, and appears to have some kind of high-ranking position within the Empire, and that makes him scary. Much in the same way, Thanos is nothing but a massive tease from the few minutes we’ve seen of him in prior movies. We don’t know who he really is or what his motivations are, just that he’s bad.

In both Empire Strikes Back and Infinity War, we finally learn a little bit more about the villain. With Vader, it’s that he serves a master (the Emperor) and is actually Luke’s father — we warned there would be spoilers! In the case of Thanos, there are some flashback scenes where we learn a bit more about his history with Gamora.

We also learn the “why” of his need to destroy half the universe, and it’s based in a sick, simplified, and immoral idea pertaining to overpopulating and destroying our finite resources. But now that we know our bad guys, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we like them.

Empire Strikes Back allowed us to briefly peer under Vader’s mask — literally! — while Infinity War exposed Thanos as not just a psychopath, but a psychopath with altruistic intentions. It wasn’t until Return of the Jedi that Vader’s story came full circle, so maybe the same will be said of Thanos in Avengers 4?

Next: Those action scenes!

The action is just outstanding

Black Widow looking concerned as she turns her head and looks onwards.

Black Widow in Avengers: Infinity Wars | Marvel

This one is a bit harder to compare, because action is a hallmark of the MCU. That goes double for the team ensemble movies. As previously noted, many of the main characters spend the movie split apart in both Empire Strikes Back and Infinity War. That means that there is no one big scene in which all the good guys fight against the bad guy, like in the first two Avengers movies.

In ESB, Luke flies in a snow-speeder on Hoth while Han and Leia desperately try to evacuate. Later, Luke spends time doing flips and lifting rocks on Dagobah while the gang in the Millennium Falcon attempt to escape the Empire. And in the final bit of action, Chewie, Leia, and Lando attempt a daring escape while Skywalker fights against Vader. And all of that action is just perfect. It’s big in the sense that it matters to the plot, but also has an intimate feeling to it.  Infinity War is similar.

In one scene, we see Iron Man and Spider-Man teaming up to save Doctor Strange. In another, it’s Thor and Rocket arriving to help Rogers, Black Panther, Bruce Banner, and others with the notable absence of Iron Man, Spider-Man, and so many more. Having the protagonists split up during the big battle scenes went a long way to make Infinity War not feel so overwhelming.

Next: The biggest comparison between the two

The bad guys win

Thanos fighting Captain America.

The villains are much much stronger and powerful. | Marvel Studios

Here’s probably the biggest spoiler: The bad guys win. Thanos’ stated mission throughout Infinity War was to collect the six Infinity Stones, and he does just that. When we first see him, Thanos has taken the Power Stone after decimating Xander. Loki offers up the Space Stone (located in the Tesseract) in an attempt to save Thor’s life, only to tragically cost him his own life.

Thanos has no problem collecting the Reality Stone, previously with the Collector. He makes the ultimate sacrifice to get the Soul Stone, which requires trading the soul of a loved one for the stone. That loved one was Gamora. Finally, Strange turned over the Time Stone to Thanos to save Tony Stark’s life, and Thanos used that stone to turn back time, kill Vision, and take the Mind Stone.

And despite a valiant effort from Thor to stop him, Thanos snaps his fingers and instantly wipes out half the life in the universe. Exhale. And don’t forget that Empire Strikes Back broke Luke down both physically and emotionally right after freezing Han Solo and shipping him off to Jabba the Hutt. The bad guys coming out victorious is just another way the two movies are very similar.

Next: A major twist at the end

Marvel tosses a major curveball

Tony Stark standing with other characters in a dark room.

There will be some plot twists. | Marvel

While we’re back on the topic of the Vader-dad spoiler, Marvel pulls off their own major coup at the very end of Infinity War. It’ll probably never be on par with learning that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father, because come on. That’s the all-time great movie twist. But nonetheless, Infinity War throws a shocking twist of their own in at the end.

After Thanos snaps his fingers, we start to see several main characters begin to turn to dust and just sort of disintegrate. First, it’s Bucky Barnes. Then Sam Wilson and King T’Challa. Groot, Wanda, Mantis, Drax, and Star-Lord all die in one unbelievably shocking moment. Peter Parker dies in Tony Stark’s arms, a scared teenager with tears in his eyes.

The expectation coming into the movie was that some of the older Avengers, like Stark or Rogers, might not make it out of Infinity War alive. It’s a major lesson in properly subverting expectations, and The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson should be taking notes. Instead of killing off the characters we expected, Infinity War left the original Avengers intact but killed off almost everyone else of note. It may never rival the Vader bombshell, but it’s a major curveball.

Next: Final thoughts

Overall thoughts on Infinity War

Chris Pratt standing with other characters in 'Avengers: Infinity Wars'.

You’ll find things to love about this film. | Marvel

Infinity War is excellent. The movie is a triumph from several points of view, whether you’re looking at it on its own merits, as a massive hero ensemble film, or simply as a Thanos biopic that features several of the Earth’s mightiest heroes along for the ride. The biggest way that Infinity War compares with Empire Strikes Back in the Star Wars universe, at least in our opinion, is that it’s the very best that each franchise has to offer.

Will all those characters who died somehow find their way back? We can only assume that many of them will, given that Marvel has Spider-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy movies on the docket. But what’s cool about this ending is that the original Avengers are left intact, meaning that Avengers 4 will be allow us to focus on Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, and Hawkeye.

The movie isn’t perfect. It had to be next to impossible to make such an excellent film that crams this many stars into 149 minutes of screen time. But like at the end of Empire Strikes Back, which left fans with questions about the fate of Han Solo and where Return of the Jedi would go, Infinity War leaves us with some really good questions and excitement about where things are going in Avengers 4.

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