Infinity War was great, so please don’t take anything that follows as an indication it wasn’t. Not only did I love it, but I love that it simply exists. Who would have thought, a dozen years ago, that us comic nerds would get a massive undertaking like this that successfully integrates so many well-established characters?
But for the love of anything you find holy, Hollywood, you gotta start sending me your scripts before you produce them. Just let me give them a once-over. I promise I can make them better.
I’m going to pose a very simple question which was not answered in Infinity War. And in the course of answering it, I’ll show you how this movie could have become truly amazing.
We know that when Thanos gets all six stones, he has the power to wipe out half the universe. We know that because they tell it to us, over and over again. But what do the individual stones actually do for him?
I want someone to say, “We can’t let him get the [X] stone, because then he’ll be able to [Y].” The structure of giving him additional stones throughout the movie should have presented us with an escalation of increasingly incredible powers at Thanos’s disposal. But their powers are poorly-defined or sometimes utterly ignored, and this escalation is thrown away in favor of more-of-the-same superhero brawling.
For instance – this iconic scene when Captain America catches Thanos’ fist should never have happened. At this point in the movie, Thanos has the ability to freeze time and turn Captain America into wet spaghetti with a thought – so why on earth would he be throwing punches?
From a writing perspective, I see this as a hugely wasted opportunity, and the worst part is that it could have been fixed SO EASILY.
To fix this, let’s back up and first look at the order in which Thanos gets the stones and why this makes no sense from a writing perspective, followed by the order he SHOULD have gotten them and the missed potential in doing so.
Here’s the order he collects them in the movie, and what they get wrong:
1. POWER STONE
Gives Thanos the Power of: Um … being powerful, I guess?
Definitely not explained, aside from Thanos making short work of the Hulk while he’s got it. But we've never seen Thanos fight before, so we don't know if he's always this strong or if it comes from the Power Stone. And Thanos acquires the first stone off-screen before the movie even begins.
We need that comparison of how strong Thanos is with/without the stone. Yes it’s fun to watch him casually beat the crap out of Hulk, but this places him in a class way above most of our heroes right out of the gate. Captain America simply doesn’t stand a chance against someone who can cold clock the Hulk. If Thanos had started the movie with just normal Titan strength rather than Power-Stone-Titan-Strength, we could have enjoyed some early fights in which our lesser-powered heroes like Falcon and Black Widow are actually able to deal him some damage. Then, later in the movie, he could acquire the Power Stone and dispatch Hulk in the same manner he did in the existing movie. That would have been a truly terrifying escalation of power and would have packed a (pun intended) far better punch. Plus, we then get to see Thanos enjoy this new power, rather than treat it like something he’s always had.
2. SPACE STONE
Gives Thanos the Power of: Teleporting across the galaxy
This is a huge win for Thanos! This is literally the key to unlocking his ability to start jumping around the universe to collect the other stones. Have you ever wondered why he wasn't collecting all these stones in the last 17 movies? Because the dude only has a spaceship, and the galaxy is effing huge. He needed this one first, but it was protected on Asgard until Asgard was destroyed in Thor: Ragnarok.
This is direct cause and effect – so writers, CALL THIS OUT! His retrieval of the Space Stone at the top of the movie is literally the inciting action for everything to come, but it’s treated very casually as if it’s just part of his collection, rather than the one thing that makes the rest of the movie possible.
3. REALITY STONE
Gives Thanos the Power of: EFFING REALITY. He can turn people into cubes, bubbles, or ribbons with a thought.
This is unprecedented power over everything. But Thanos chooses to use these powers exactly once, and then forgets to use them for the rest of the movie. Let me repeat that: he can turn all of his enemies into ribbons with the slightest thought, and then spends the rest of the movie punching and throwing energy bolts at his enemies. I am literally baffled that nobody who ever read this script said, “Um … what?”
4. SOUL STONE
Gives Thanos the Power of: um …. Nope … no idea.
All we know is that he has to sacrifice the only thing he loves to get it. But this point is completely lost because Thanos is not affected by this sacrifice in any way. So … what?
5. TIME STONE
Gives Thanos the Power of: Controlling Time
We’ve seen Doctor Strange use this stone to reverse time, make time loops, freeze time, it’s a huge advantage. Doctor Strange fails to use it in his fight against Thanos (arguably because of what he's seen in the future, so I won't harp on that), but Thanos completely fails to use it in the remaining fights afterwards. Why would he bother wasting time fighting when he can literally stop time instead? What a waste.
6. MIND STONE
Gives Thanos the Power of: Controlling people’s minds.
We saw this used extensively in the first Avengers movie when Loki took over people’s minds to fight for him. Thanos doesn’t use this either, but at least this one is explainable because the moment he gets it, his collection is complete, so he doesn’t need to do anything besides snap his fingers.
A short recap: Thanos gets the most powerful stones earliest and barely uses any of their powers.
Let’s fix this, y’all.
INFINITY WAR, v2.0
So here’s the order that the stones SHOULD have gone in, and how it could have made everything so much better:
1. SPACE STONE: Our new movie still opens with Thanos’ ship taking over the remnants of Asgard and Thanos takes the Space stone from Loki. We call out that this is the inciting action that lets him truly start pursuing the stones across the galaxy, and the race is on.
[MISSED SCENE OPPORTUNITIES]
Let’s see Thanos try to get some stones and fail. Perhaps he teleports to the Soul Stone cradle but he doesn’t have anyone to sacrifice. Perhaps he goes to Earth to get the Mind Stone from Vision but Earth’s mightiest heroes successfully fight him off. Perhaps he goes to Xandar but the Nova Corps holds him back. Screw all those annoying Children of Thanos characters that we didn't care about, Thanos can teleport anywhere, so he should be getting these stones himself. After all, "I'll do it myself" was his post-credits call to action, wasn't it? Cut the Ebony Maw (did any non comic-reader even know that character's name?) and let Thanos literally try - and fail - to do it himself. This can be how the Avengers learn he's trying to collect the stones, and they scramble to work up a defense.
But once Thanos captures Gamora, the dominos start to fall …
2. SOUL STONE: He sacrifices Gamora, and this affects him. It has to. That's the point of this plot point right? So let's make it an effective one. The act of this sacrifice teaches him the importance of mercy. And Thanos’s version of mercy is ... to wipe out half the universe.
Before this, his plans can be selfish, that he wants the power! Remember when he tried to launch an alien force to destroy Earth back in Avengers? Was that about "balancing out" the universe? No. Let’s let him start the movie as the mad titan we've expected, but once he loses the one thing he loves, he decides to show the universe compassion. This is now the thing that drives him. It’s the same driving force we have in the existing movie, but by putting that decision point within the script rather than before it, we give actual meaning to Gamora’s death and give Thanos an arc.
[MISSED SCENE OPPORTUNITIES]
Okay, but what does the Soul Stone do for him? One would think it lets him, well, control souls. So he returns to Earth and uses that power to obtain his next stone. Imagine, just imagine how heart-wrenching it would be if he comes across Scarlet Witch and Vision, who have previously defeated him, and Thanos summons the soul of Quicksilver.
And he offers Wanda a trade.
She heart-breakingly takes the offer: Vision for her brother, and this is how Thanos gets the Mind Stone.
3. MIND STONE: We know this lets its user “brainwash” people, so let Thanos do this! He’s not over-powered yet in this version, so our heroes can still defeat him. But by taking over their minds, he doesn’t have to fight them, because he can make them fight each other.
[MISSED SCENE OPPORTUNITIES]
Think of the compelling moments we miss by not exploring this. Just imagine if Thanos took over Hulk’s mind and had him nearly kill Natasha. What if Bruce forces himself to reclaim control of his own body in horror of what he’s done, and now we have a concrete reason why he won’t become Hulk again for the rest of the movie (rather than the weird unexplained choice in the current movie). What if Cap was forced to kill Bucky after all they’ve gone through, or Black Panther forced to kill his allies? If this movie is going to start killing people off, let’s do so in emotionally traumatic ways. For a bad guy who is able to kill anyone he wants, Thanos does a really poor job of actually killing anyone, which makes it harder to be scared of what he's trying to do.
And with the Mind Stone, he can return to Xandar, turn the entire planet of Nova Corps on itself, then claim the Power Stone. Now it happens on screen rather than before the movie, and it happens in a really powerful way.
(Worried this will add too much length to the movie? Then we can easily cut literally every part of Thor's storyline, which was an absolute wreck. But that's an argument for another time.)
4. POWER STONE:
Drop the mic moment.
Before he gets the Power Stone, “normal” guys like Cap and Spidey are still able to give Thanos a run for his money.
Once her gets the Power Stone, he takes out a Hulk or a Thor as easy as pie.
Now he's unstoppable. Now he can grab a moon.
The heroes are stunned. Thanos is stunned. The game has fundamentally changed. He’s outclassed most of our heroes, who simply can’t compete anymore (but they’ll still try, and fail, because that's what heroes do, right Thor?).
5. REALITY STONE
Now, when Thanos travels to Knowhere to get the Reality Stone, only the strongest of our heroes are able to put up a fight. When he gets the stone, it’s another game changer. He can turn people into ribbons or bubbles. The only people who could possibly still put up a fight against him when he has this stone would be the magical type: Scarlet Witch has her own powers over reality, so she could probably keep some of them protected, and Doctor Strange could probably isolate them in one of the crystal worlds where reality is suspended anyways. They’re spending all their efforts trying to negate Thanos’s reality powers while the others try to defend Doctor Strange from losing the last stone.
But he, too, fails.
6. TIME STONE
So, in the same deal he makes in the existing movie, Dr. Strange knowingly trades away the last stone to Thanos. It’s just as baffling and enigmatic, but that moment is even more powerful now because it’s the very last stone.
And this time, Dr. Strange doesn't get a chance to explain to his friends why he did this (presumably the one reality he saw in which they survive requires Tony to be alive), so he makes the trade. In the existing movie, nobody asks him about this. Nobody asks him how they succeeded in the one victorious reality he saw. But if you save this moment for the very last stone, then you don't have this problem.
Because before anyone can ask him why he did it ...
Or, hey, Thor can even keep his final moment. Thanos has all six stones. Thor comes blasting out of the bi-frost with Stormbreaker and we get the same hopeful moment that the tides have turned, and Thanos simply pauses time. An instant before the axe makes contact, Thanos just pauses everything, looks around, takes in his stunning escape from death, contemplates what he's about to do, then snap his fingers.
That’s a true escalation of power.
Hollywood, talk to me first next time. I’m on this.
Nathan Makaryk is an author and comedian, follow him on Twitter to hear him complain about other stupid things.
His debut historical fiction novel NOTTINGHAM retells the legend of Robin Hood from viewpoints of multiple people on both sides of the conflict. Published by Tor/Forge, available here.