Avengers: Infinity War is a movie about Thanos. This much, Stephen McFeely – who wrote the screenplay along with Christopher Markus – confirmed last June to a small group of reporters, including myself, in an air conditioned trailer, where we eagerly waited to learn more about the upcoming installment and received relief from the balmy Georgia summer weather at Pinewood Studios. “In many ways, it’s Thanos’ movie,” McFeely said at the time. But it’s also – which I couldn’t quite see during the one-day set visit, where I wondered how these very different genres of movies would seamlessly come together – very much a movie about Gamora, a Zen-Whoberis member of the Guardians of the Galaxy portrayed by Zoe Saldaña.

Spoiler Warning: This post contains mild plot revelations from Avengers: Infinity War. Watch the movie first. We promise this post will still be here when you get back.

Nearly a year ago in Fayetteville, Georgia, there was hardly any sign of Saldaña outside of the mailroom, where each actor had a designated slot, and the Guardians’ ship, located in one of the sound stages. As we shuffled between tents, trailers, and sound stages, we saw little bits and pieces of what Marvel called “the most ambitious crossover event in history” but no Saldaña. Soon after we arrived at Pinewood, we were led past craft service, tents, and trailers to an outdoor scene. There, a large green screen nearly enveloped the area, where a docked ship also stood. As we reacted as quietly as possible, part of the Avengers – Vision (Paul Bettany), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Captain America (Chris Evans), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) – emerged in Wakanda, where Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Okoye (Danai Gurira), and more of the Dora Milaje meet them.

The interviews that followed established that Wakanda would play a pivotal role in the movie. “You’re seeing them in my world,” Boseman stated. “They’re in my world, so it’s interesting to have them enter our space, which is not something that happens all of the time. I think it’s important for us to give the flavor of Wakanda, and they’re really adjusting to our space.” But of course, it all comes back to Thanos. Later, Boseman added, “You have a world problem with Thanos – a problem that affects everyone in the world. So Wakanda is on the world stage, and we’re obviously advanced in a way where we can help with the situation, so that is all that’s happening there.”

Gamora is crucial to establishing Thanos as more than just an evil, murder-obsessed baddie.

But now, nearly a year later, after seeing the film, it’s obvious that Gamora is key to the film. Comic book movies, while dominating the box office in recent years, haven’t necessarily been known for allowing performers to showcase their acting chops. But Infinity War absolutely demanded a stellar turn from Saldaña, and she delivered it.

Her character, Gamora, is crucial to establishing Thanos as more than just an evil, murder-obsessed baddie. “Villain is a derogatory term that Thanos wouldn’t agree with,” Markus said. “Another one of the things we set out to do in this was if Thanos is just a bad guy, then you’re dead in the water. It’s just a bad guy, you know? You get bored pretty quickly after he’s torn off the first few heads and we have two movies.”

Because of Gamora, we’re able to see that he’s a layered character. As for Gamora, we see a different side of her, particularly through her relationships with Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt). “I did like that emotional beat between Star-Lord and Gamora, because in the Guardians world, she’s the Abbott to his Costello,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “He’s such a humorous character that lives off of telling everyone that he doesn’t take anything seriously. And she’s the exact opposite: She’s uptight, she’s grumpy. So we get to see this kind of levity but also this sincere and genuine commitment that they have for each other that we haven’t seen in the other movies.”

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But Thanos, also brings out an unexpected facet of her personality. At one point, she thinks she’s bested her father in battle and is clearly overwhelmed by conflicting emotions, including grief – much to her purple dad’s delight. This might seem far fetched considering the fact that Thanos is hell-bent on wiping out half of all life on the Universe, but the film makes time to establish their complicated relationship. “Thanos is an amoral philosopher,” Markus said. “He’s not the Devil – although he does sometimes have the Devil standing next to him. We wanted that all the way through, to have a villain with understandable motivation and emotions. Thanos has family. Thanos has two daughters that we know of.”

“We wanted that all the way through, to have a villain with understandable motivation and emotions.”

Saldaña herself understood why her character was so paramount. “In order for you to understand the degree of evil that lies within the core of Thanos,” she said to LAT, “you have to circle in on his own children.”

Previous Guardians of the Galaxy films have revealed that Thanos doesn’t care for his daughters, Gamora and Nebula, equally. All their life, he pitted the two against each other, essentially straining their relationship for a long time. With this film, we learn more about how he came to be Gamora’s father – something that is an important part of his journey. (The only time we see Nebula and Thanos together in this movie, he is torturing her, whereas he affectionately calls Gamora “little one” repeatedly.) In a flashback scene teased in the trailers, a young Gamora (played by Latina actress Ariana Greenblatt) meets Thanos right before he murders half of all life on her planet. He instantly takes a liking to her and introduces her to his sincere, but warped concept of balance, gifts her a dagger, and shields her eyes from the genocide of her people – as one does when adopting a young child.

This pays off handsomely in the film. Their scenes together are intense and Saldaña does an excellent job of showing Gamora’s emotions and adding weight to Thanos’ mission.

Infinity War is undoubtedly about Thanos. But in a movie filled with big personalities and many show-stealing lines (“Why is Gamora?” “Oh, we’re using our made-up names,” and “He’s not a dude. You’re a dude. This, this is a man. A handsome, muscular man,” to name a few), the movie wouldn’t have worked nearly as well without Gamora’s starring role.