Avengers: Infinity War is ostensibly about Thanos collecting the Infinity Stones, but his deadly mission is more than a simple fetch quest. As promised by the filmmakers, the acquiring of each Infinity Stone requires some form of sacrifice. However, the loss goes two ways.
The sacrifice on the Avengers' side should be pretty obvious. Loki and Heimdall die in the first ten minutes, setting the scene for two-and-a-half hours where all the key heroes are forced to challenge their long-held beliefs. And that's nothing on the ending, when half the Avengers vanish from reality, leaving the original icons forced the face defeat. Captain America, the altruistic boy scout, even blasphemes, exclaiming "Oh God" as he takes in the horror of what Thanos has done.
But that isn't the real sacrifice at the heart of Avengers: Infinity War. What the heroes go through is certainly life-changing by all measures, but this is a movie ultimately about Thanos. He's been described as the main character since the start of production, and with the released film that centering is only more prominent. Indeed, it's with that angling that what the Infinity Stones really represent comes out.
What Actually Is The "Cost" of the Infinity Stones?
Screenwriter Stephen McFreely told us on the set of Avengers: Infinity War that someone pays when each Infinity Stone is taken - there's a "cost for literal characters" - and in the movie that really is a story necessity: without some sense of payment, they really are just magical MacGuffins. Given we're dealing with in an Avengers film, the assumption this applies to the heroes: Xandar was destroyed for the Power Stone, Loki killed for the Space Stone, Collector Reality, Gamora the Soul, and Vision for the Mind, with the Time Stone sacrifice being either Doctor Strange breaking his oath (albeit for a greater purpose) or the moment where defeat is unavoidable. The main thread here is that the characters are unprepared in some form and pay a harsh price.
In that reading, the only negative impact on Thanos is with the murder of his favorite daughter Gamora, whereas all the others are to his direct benefit. The cost of the Infinity Stones is to those losing them. But is it?
From his opening speech on "destiny arriving all the same", Thanos is presented as a being of pure conviction, driven by such devotion to his goal that he will do anything to achieve it and be at peace. And he does: at the end, when he visits Gamora in Soul World, she asks him what it cost to finally win and wipe out half the universe, to which he responds "everything". Internalized it may be, but the film makes clear he has sacrificed so much of himself on this quest, with his eventual peace - and not the distraught protagonists - getting the final shot. While the Avengers certainly pay, the one who we see feels the toll of the Infinity Stones sum collection is Thanos. He is the one on a mission; all the heroes are trying to do is stop him. And so the focus of all this shifts.
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- The Avengers 4 / Avengers: Endgame (2019) release date: Apr 26, 2019