[Warning: This article discusses major plot points of Avengers: Infinity War.]
True to its directors’ word, Avengers: Infinity War is as much Thanos’ movie as it is the story of our heroes. A good chunk of screen time is dedicated to the story of the mad Titan—his upbringing, his journey, the emotional toll his actions take. In many ways, Thanos is simply a more feeling version of each Avengers antagonist prior: Like Loki in the first Avengers or Ultron in the second, he’s a narcissist who sees the extinction of most of humanity as the necessary cost for a greater peace. But Thanos is the only one of the three to actually shed a tear in pursuit of that misguided dream.
Despite being among Marvel’s most superior villains—and certainly the most effective nemesis the Avengers have fought—Thanos isn’t solely responsible for the deaths of half the characters in the MCU. Yes, there’s also the army of raging, toothy monsters unleashed in Wakanda, though I’m not talking about them either. There’s another villain in Infinity War, an ostensible hero whose actions lead directly to Thanos’ victory and who deserves to shoulder much of the blame for the loss of so many:
That’s right: Peter Quill is the true fuckup of Avengers: Infinity War, the guy whose idiocy and selfish behavior ineluctably leads to the extermination of half of all life in the universe. Let’s look at the evidence: Doctor Strange, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and half of the Guardians of the Galaxy team up on Titan, hoping to subdue Thanos long enough to remove his glove, thereby stripping him of his powers. Unexpectedly, it works—wrapping him in restraints both physical and mystical, the group manages to get Mantis onto Thanos’ shoulders before he realizes what’s happening, where the empath traps Thanos into a suspended state of semi-unconsciousness, unable to fight back. In mere moments, Iron Man and Spidey are wriggling the gauntlet free from Thanos and the fight looks to be over.
That’s when Star-Lord jumps in and ruins it all, choosing this crucial moment to demand to know what happened to Gamora. Mantis responds with the great loss Thanos feels. The sadness Thanos feels over sacrificing his daughter registers on his face, and the realization that he killed Gamora sends Quill into a rage spiral. But rather than allow his teammates a few extra seconds to save the universe, Star-Lord starts throwing punches, whipping Thanos’ head back, loosening him from his restraints and Mantis’ control, and allowing Thanos to break free. Were it not for Star-Lord, there’s a good chance we wouldn’t have had to watch that heartbreaking scene of Peter Parker begging not to be snuffed out of existence, along with everyone else. Nice work, dipshit.
That’s not to say nobody else shares some culpability. After all, Loki hands over the Tesseract to prevent Thor’s death. Gamora gives up the location of the Soul Stone to spare the life of Nebula. But those characters were in impossible situations; their decisions directly saved lives. Star-Lord can’t put that kind of heroism ahead of personal retribution. His choice is decidedly anti-heroic. He’s out solely to make himself feel better, at the expense of half the universe.
This happens sometimes—a Marvel hero does something dumb, and they inadvertently cause death and destruction. The secondary villain of Avengers: Age Of Ultron isn’t Ulysses Klaue or the remnants of Hydra, for example. It’s Tony Stark and his obsession with creating “a suit of armor around the world.” The blame for Ultron is on Stark, and it leads him not only to atone by creating Vision, but also to his character arc in Captain America: Civil War. In this case, that one selfish decision made for fascinating changes to Stark and contributed to the richness of his evolution.
But as of yet, there’s zero acknowledgment in Avengers: Infinity War of Quill’s colossal stupidity. He mucks everything up, then does little more than utter, “Did we just lose?” while Thanos goes to Earth to commence his massacre. Although there’s plenty of time left in the film to address it, Infinity War chooses not to. It’s an omission that, judging by fan reaction, has left a lot of people mad at Star-Lord. Compounding their frustration is the fact that it seems unlikely the Infinity War sequel, pegged for 2019, will address Quill inadvertently causing the deaths of so many innocents, his friends included, or the consequences thereof. Star-Lord is among those heroes who crumble to dust with everything else Thanos obliterates, leaving Stark alone on a distant alien planet to wrestle with the devastation.
Avengers 4 will almost certainly be about trying to restore what’s been lost (a task that will be undertaken, given who survives, by the original Avengers). Obviously, Marvel’s not about to shrug and say, “Sorry guys, no more Black Panther movies! He’s dust!” Meanwhile, Chris Pratt has already been talking up Guardians Of The Galaxy 3, which takes place after the events of Avengers 4—so obviously we can expect to see Star-Lord and (at least some of) the others again. But bringing them all back most likely means reversing time, presumably using the Time Stone, to undo what Thanos did. Logically, this would mean a hard reset on Quill’s actions, too, meaning he would avoid having to reckon with his reckless behavior. Unlike Tony Stark, he’ll never know, and he’ll never learn from it. Even if it isn’t permanent, the hero dies a villain.
Marvel still hasn’t released the subtitle for Avengers 4, but here’s a suggestion: Avengers: We Bring Him Back And Everyone Just Takes Turns Kicking Star-Lord In The Crotch.