The Marvel Cinematic Universe has always depended upon the strength of its characters. Even the worst MCU films squeak by as passable almost entirely on great characterization alone, while the best films seem to have pleasing character beats down to an exact science. Avengers: Infinity War is at once blessed and cursed with such a huge cast. On the positive side, you're certain to see your favorite do something cool (unless your favorite is Ant-Man, Hawkeye, Korg or Valkyrie). On the negative side, trying to balance so many characters means you're probably not going to get as much of your favorite as you want (unless your favorite is Thanos, the closest thing the movie has to a main character).
Ultimately, some characters fare a lot better than others. While Infinity War spreads itself too thin to be among the best of the Marvel movies, it does much of its cast justice more often than not. Still, other characters are either misused or just downright wasted. Infinity War is essentially an incomplete film, so perhaps the sequel in 2019 will remedy the weaknesses without sacrificing the first part's strengths. This SPOILER-FILLED list goes through the 10 characters Infinity War does the most justice, and five it fails to make work.
15 RIGHT: THANOS
For the longest time, the MCU's great weakness was its villains. This weakness didn't matter too much, given the heroes were so compelling, but after a while the lack of any great non-Loki villains became frustrating, especially when the early Netflix shows were completely owning the movies in that department with Kingpin and Kilgrave. As of Infinity War, though, Marvel has pulled off an impressive streak of five great villains in a row. Thanos isn't as sympathetic as The Vulture or Killmonger, nor is he as fun as Ego or Hela. What he is, however, is the MCU's first apocalyptic threat that truly feels apocalyptic.
There was skepticism that Thanos could live up to expectations set by six years of build-up since the first Avengers. Infinity War defies the skeptics.
The movie makes the jokes you were already making about his odd appearance (thanks, Star-Lord!), but it quickly becomes clear that Thanos is no laughing matter. He's a villain who takes no joy in his evil acts, but in his twisted mind sees them as necessarily sacrifices for a greater good. Josh Brolin's motion capture performance is riveting; it's amazing how far technology has come that you scarcely even think about Thanos as an effects creation. There's also a clever meta layer to Thanos: in his concern about "over-population," he essentially acts as a stand-in for those critics who think these Marvel movies have too many gosh-darn characters!
14 RIGHT: IRON MAN
Before Infinity War's release, it was a common fan theory that Tony Stark was going to die. It made sense. Iron Man launched the MCU and his death would signal some serious business changes to the status quo. The poster had him up in a "Jesus on the cross" position. Even the early scenes in Infinity War seem to be foreshadowing doom; there's no way his talk with Pepper about kids isn't going to be his tragically ironic last conversation with her, right? It's possible, arguably very likely, that this final tragic fate hits in the next Avengers movie. But Tony Stark doesn't die in Infinity War. Instead, he suffers as a survivor in a half-annihilated universe.
Of the film's heroes, Iron Man is the one it spends the most time with, and it's from his perspective that the audience experiences much of the suffering. He starts off in classically snarky form. As the film goes on, the one-liners slowly fade as he grows aware of the direness of his situation. In one of the most intense scenes in the film, Thanos stabs Tony and beats him to a pulp before telling him, "I hope they remember you." At the film's premiere, Robert Downey Jr. spoke of how he doesn't see himself in competition with the other actors, but with his past performances in the role to give his best one yet. His effort clearly pays off.
13 WRONG: DOCTOR STRANGE
The pleasures of the first Avengers movie came mainly from the personality clashes. All six members of the original team (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye) were radically different from one another. It was funny to watch them bicker and then empowering to see them put aside their differences to come together and save the day. In the larger MCU, however, not all the characters are so distinctive, a factor which isn't bothersome when they're divided up into their own movies but is noticeable when they're teaming up with their virtual doppelgangers.
Such is the problem of pairing Iron Man and Doctor Strange for most of Infinity War.
There are differences between the two as superheroes, sure. Iron Man's a "science bro" who causes a lot of damage both intentionally and collaterally, while Doctor Strange uses magic and tries to solve problems non-violently when possible. As characters, however, they're pretty much the same snarky self-absorbed genius who plays by his own rules but learns to care about other people. There's a reason lots of critics described Doctor Strange as a psychedelic remake of Iron Man. Putting the two extremely similar characters together doesn't allow for any real conflict except one-upmanship. In that particular fight, Strange doesn't really stand a chance against the better-loved Iron Man.
12 RIGHT: THOR
Thor became the best Avenger so slowly, you didn't even notice. Neither of the first two Thor movies were particularly great. Yet the fact they could even be considered somewhat good owed a lot to just how charming Chris Hemsworth was as the God of Thunder. He was similarly entertaining in the first two Avengers films but didn't really get the spotlight, showing up halfway through the first and leaving midway through the second. Then Thor: Ragnarok came and blew everyone away, and now Thor stands as one of the major highlights of Infinity War.
Ragnarok's conclusion leads immediately into the opening scene of Infinity War. As the main connection between the MCU's Earth and cosmic realms, it makes sense that Thor would be important here. Playing off the comedic tone of Ragnarok, he has great chemistry with the Guardians of the Galaxy crew. As funny as he is, though, Thor is dealing with a lot. Most of his home planet is massacred within the first few seconds of the movie and everything weighs on him heavily. His strength in the face of all this adversity, and his willingness to expose himself to the flames of a dying star (if it means he has a chance of saving people) make him, in the words of Drax, not just a "dude," but "a real man."
11 RIGHT: ROCKET
The Guardians of the Galaxy are generally in fine form in Infinity War, their sense of humor in the face of anxiety a welcome comic relief amidst the bleakest Marvel movie. Star-Lord's sense of inadequacy compared to the likes of Thor and Iron Man gets some big laughs. Teenage Groot isn't quite as fun as the Adult or Baby versions but the movie still reminds you why you love him before it tears your heart out. Drax continues to be these films' unsung secret weapon, perfectly timing ever dorky punchline (his infatuation with Thor's physique is downright wonderful). Gamora's role here is more serious (we'll get to her later).
However, of the other Guardians, it's Rocket who stands out as the MVP.
Rocket's grown the most from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. He's no longer trying to push people away, even as he's cynical about his chances of acceptance. He finds that unexpected unconditional acceptance with Thor, who gets over one of Rocket's big stumbling blocks by not even knowing what species he is. There couldn't be a sweeter pay-off to the running gag about Rocket stealing prosthetic body parts than the scene where he gives one to the recently wounded Thor. Everyone is suffering in Infinity War, but until Groot's death in the last minutes of the film, Rocket is actually happier than he's ever been. Good for him, he deserves some happiness before Thanos takes everything away.
10 WRONG: SCARLET WITCH AND THE VISION
It's not that The Vision and Scarlet Witch are necessarily bad on their own. There's always been something appealing about Paul Bettany's detached line readings as the philosophical robot, and Scarlet Witch's powers remain among the coolest in the whole ensemble. It is odd how Elizabeth Olsen has dropped the heavy East European accent from previous films, but it's not the performances that are the problem here. The problem is the two characters' romance is the most undeveloped, least convincing aspect of Infinity War's plot.
Part of the issue is how little build-up there's been. They've only been in two movies thus far, the first of which they hardly even interacted in, and it seems most of the romance developed off-screen. But there's also the awkwardness that their biggest interaction up to this point was The Vision locking Scarlet Witch up in Civil War. It was for her own safety, sure, but as the start of a romantic relationship, that's kind of odd. The Vision and Scarlet Witch do have a long and messed-up history as a couple in the comics, but the MCU hasn't cracked how to make their relationship emotionally compelling yet. Given The Vision's death is one of the few in this movie that looks like it could be permanent, perhaps they never will.
9 RIGHT: SPIDER-MAN
So far, Tom Holland's Spider-Man doesn't have as much pathos as some of his MCU co-stars, leading Spider-Man: Homecoming, enjoyable as it was, to feel rather lightweight. Yet it's that levity which makes him such a delight in these heavier ensemble films. He stole the show in Civil War, and while Infinity War is too busy a show for any player to really steal, he's a lot of fun here as well. His love of "really old movies" once again proves useful, and the scene where he introduces himself to Doctor Strange is one of the funniest in the movie. While the reliance on high-tech Stark-designed Spider-Suits in Homecoming proved controversial, it's a necessity here; Peter Parker's WAY in over his head even with the advanced Iron Spider suit protecting him.
So let's talk about that ending...
Of all the characters who die in Infinity War, Spider-Man is the one death we know with 100% certainty is going to be reversed. A sequel to Homecoming comes out a mere two months after the Infinity War sequel (that's gonna be a marketing challenge), and we know for sure it's starring Tom Holland as Peter, so it's not like they're gonna surprise drop Miles Morales or another Spider-Man on us. Despite that knowledge, however, Peter is one of the characters it's the most upsetting to see "die." Kids are gonna be having nightmares over this one for a while.
8 RIGHT: OKOYE
Despite what some advertisements want you to believe, Infinity War is not Black Panther 1.5. The enormous final battle takes place in Wakanda, and it's cool to return to that setting so soon, but very little time is spent with the actual characters from Black Panther. King T'Challa himself doesn't get much memorable to do except die. Though undeniably upsetting to watch, his death almost certainly isn't permanent; Black Panther 2 is happening, and Marvel and Disney would be fools to finish off their most instantly successful on-screen hero so soon (though if he somehow is truly dead, maybe Shuri takes the crown?). It is nice to see Shuri doing some science, and to hear M'Baku leading the Jabari Tribe's already iconic battle cries.
Of the Wakandan characters, though, it's Okoye, the leader of the Dora Milaje, who has the strongest showing in Infinity War. She gets the widest range of the bunch. Danai Gurira delivers some good comedic lines, as in her first scene where she laments how she thought opening up Wakanda would lead to "The Olympics, maybe even a Starbucks," rather than Avengers battling evil aliens. As anyone who's seen Black Panther would expect, she's awesome in action on the battlefield. In her final moments in the movie, the look of sheer anguish on her face as her king fades away into oblivion is a great piece of acting; perfect at emphasizing the gut-punch of that horrifying cliffhanger.
7 WRONG: BLACK WIDOW
The most popular Avenger not to get her own movie so far,Black Widow continues to be (bafflingly) a problem for the MCU. She was shoehorned into an awkward introduction in Iron Man 2 before becoming a fan favorite in The Avengers. Her best showcase thus far has been The Winter Soldier, where she worked great as an edgier partner to the more idealistic Captain America. Age of Ultron proved divisive, providing her with some emotional backstory but also questionable writing and a controversial romance with the Hulk. Her role in Civil War was smaller, but she worked to provide a voice of reason to the increasingly unreasonable divisions among the Avengers.
In Infinity War, Black Widow's role is... pretty much nonexistent.
She's present in the crowd, taking part in the big Wakanda battle, but anyone expecting anything memorable involving her is going to be disappointed. Her literally phoned-in cameo in Thor: Ragnarok is more memorable than anything she does in this movie! Of course, as part of the half of the cast which survives Thanos' genocide, she's almost certain to have a bigger and better role in the sequel. Considering directors Anthony and Joe Russo are responsible for her best on-screen characterization so far, it seems unlikely that they'd forget about her.
6 RIGHT: GAMORA
As one of Thanos' adopted daughters, Gamora has been the number one reason general audiences had any feelings about The Mad Titan prior to Infinity War. Long working to recover from her father's abuse and shake off any association with his crimes, she knows better than anyone else what Thanos wants. This is why she requests Star-Lord end her life if Thanos tries to take her. Star-Lord is reluctantly willing to but unable to fulfill that request due to the effects of Thanos' Reality Stone. What Gamora feared is exactly what happens: Thanos sacrifices her life to get the Soul Stone.
While many of the deaths in Infinity War are viscerally shocking and upsetting, it's Gamora's which is presented in the saddest possible manner. There's something tragic and truly twisted that Thanos, for all his abuse towards her, still felt enough love towards his daughter to make her death a true sacrifice worthy of the Soul Stone. There's also real sadness in the flashback scenes of her "adoption" by Thanos. The manner of her death certainly feels like it could be more permanent than most of the others in this movie, which would make Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 a very different sort of experience than originally expected.
5 RIGHT: NEBULA
Remember how in the first Guardians of the Galaxy Nebula was one of the villains? That feels like a long time ago now. Guadians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was noteworthy for how it took characters like Nebula and Yondu, fairly straightforward bad guys in the first movie, and gave them convincing redemption arcs. Nebula's arc continues in Infinity War. Where she was once driven by hatred for her sister Gamora, now she's driven by love and an understanding of their shared suffering at the hands of their father. She gets an awesome escape from imprisonment and by the end of the film is the only one left able to help Iron Man survive out in space.
Of course, knowing the comics, Nebula's redemption may be far from straightforward.
Just because Thanos is her enemy doesn't necessarily mean everyone else fighting Thanos is her friend. In the Infinity Gauntlet comics, she takes the Gauntlet from Thanos only to become a cruel dictator herself. It'll be interesting to see where her story goes in the next film. None of the Marvel movies have been strict adaptations of their comic book inspirations, so presuming where things are going based on the comics is only guesswork.
4 WRONG: MANTIS
Mantis was the stand-out new character of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Her mix of childlike enthusiasm and deep empathy combined with complete social cluelessness provided some great comedy. Her escape from Ego's slavery provided an avenue for some more serious emotional depth to her character as well, though Guardians 2 doesn't go too far with that character development. Infinity War, unfortunately, does not develop her character further, and we have to hope her death is reversed in the sequel so she's not forever a case of missed potential in the MCU.
So she doesn't get any development in Infinity War, but is she at least as funny as she was in her introduction movie? Unfortunately, that's not the case either. While she's not bereft of humor in the film, she ultimately gets the short end of the stick compared to her fellow Guardians. It's a little odd and disappointing, considering actress Pom Klementieff gets first billing among the Guardians actors in this movie. Klementieff has emphasized Mantis' lack of development in Infinity War in press interviews but is excited about her character's future in the MCU (so, basically confirming that Mantis DOES have a future despite dying unceremoniously).
3 RIGHT: BRUCE BANNER
When we last left Bruce Banner at the end of Thor: Ragnarok, he was afraid he'd become permanently stuck as the Hulk. Turns out that after being sent back to Earth at the start of Infinity War, he has the opposite problem. For some reason, despite plenty to be angry about, he just can't Hulk out. Sucks for him!
Fortunately, Mark Ruffalo is entertaining enough to watch even when he's not a green CGI rage monster that it works out fine for the audience's enjoyment.
Because he's been isolated from the rest of the Earthly Avengers for so long, Bruce is pretty much the only person that all sides in the Civil War conflict are universally happy to see. He's just as at home hanging with his "science bro" Iron Man as he is with Captain America and the crew travelling to Wakanda. As of the end of the film, his performance issues are thus far unresolved. Presumably the next film will include the big Hulking out pay-off to Banner's dilemma in Infinity War, but even without being able to access his superpowers, he still gets some mighty enjoyable smashing done while wearing the Hulkbuster armor in the final battle.
2 RIGHT: CAPTAIN AMERICA
Sometimes a character's mere presence is so powerful that even just showing up leads audiences to errupt in cheers. This is what Captain America's entrance is like in Infinity War. Living in hiding for two years now, his uniform's beaten up and his facial hair's growing out. He's still not on speaking terms with his former friend turned ideological rival Iron Man. As Thanos' minions attack Earth, however, he's still up to making heroic rescues and leading his fellow Avengers in the fight to save the universe.
Cap was the other hero most frequently predicted as a casualty alongside Iron Man. However, like Iron Man, he's instead positioned as one of the few survivors of Infinity War. Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson, the two characters most often assumed to take up the Captain America mantle in the event of Steve Rogers' death, are both disintegrated while Steve watches on in agony. Presumably he'll take on a bigger role in the sequel. His role in Infinity War is relatively small; the scale of this movie dwarfs even its biggest stars. Yet a character and performance as iconic as Chris Evans' Steve Rogers still evokes positive reactions even in a relatively diminished part.
1 WRONG: BUCKY
Here's the thing: Bucky was never a good character in the MCU. He's the least interesting part of all three Captain America movies. It's downright laughable that his story is the only weak point in the otherwise excellent The Winter Soldier, a movie named after him! There's only one reason anyone cares about Bucky is the transitive property: Cap cares about him, and we care about Cap, therefore we vaguely care about Bucky... or at least write fanfiction that makes him more interesting.
Infinity War gives Bucky even less characterization than his previous film appearances did.
He has maybe half a dozen lines in the whole movie. All he does is have a reunion hug with Cap, fight as one of many soldiers in Wakanda, then die. The hug gets cheers because audiences are glad Cap's happy (...or they're imagining those aforementioned fanfiction scenarios), and then the death gets gasps because audiences feel empathy for Cap's shock and pain. But Bucky himself remains a dull non-entity. If he wasn't so boring, maybe his whole redemption/cure arc could have provided Infinity War with a greater emotional center, rather than just being lazily passed over with one Black Panther credits scene and a hug.