Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Written by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo
All of reality is threatened as the mad titan Thanos seeks out the Infinity Gems, objects forged in the creation of the universe that allows their wielder to manipulate everything from time to the fabric of reality and the very soul of living beings. Iron Man stands alongside Doctor Strange and Spider-Man when Thanos’ lackeys arrive in New York City to search for one of the gems. Meanwhile, the Guardians of the Galaxy come across what remains of the Asgardians and Thor deep in the void of space. Captain America and his rogue Avengers also come to the table when it becomes clear everything they know is in danger as long as Thanos is in possession of these items. Only Gamora, with her intimate knowledge as Thanos’ daughter, can help them, but is it already too late?
Avengers: Infinity War is not a film ten years in the making. I would say it was six years in the making since Thanos first reared his head in the post-credits scene of the original Avengers film. Bringing these characters together is quite a feat and managing to keep the movie from becoming a cluster of chaos was an accomplishment. I never had a sense of disorientation, and the script made it very clear where we were and who we were with. The stakes with each character were never in question, and it had strokes of Empire Strikes Back, in that the cast were spread out amongst smaller side plots which then coalesced into a finale that brought everything together.
There is no trying to get around the comparisons to the DC Cinematic Universe at this point, and this will inevitably be compared with Justice League. The plot in Justice League is a mish-mash of MacGuffins to just make fights happen. While Infinity War is not without its own MacGuffin-y goodness, it does put some emotional stakes on its characters. Gamora, in particular, gets a significant spotlight as her relationship with Thanos is explored for some scenes. This also helps to humanize what is one of Marvel’s best-developed villains. He is an ideologue who convinced himself his solution to the problems of the universe was the right one. He’s spent his life since ignoring the fact that there could be other, better solutions. This sort of fanaticism will inevitably lead to a profoundly personal sacrifice which Thanos’ hand is forced to make.
Marvel also does a fantastic job of embracing its comic book roots. There is never a sense of embarrassment that this is a live-action comic book with colorfully costumed characters. The script works hard to add a touch of vast importance to the proceedings but also knows this is silly fun. Whereas, DC went so full throttle with the bleakness of Nolan’s Dark Knight in Man of Steel and Bats vs. Supes, only to awkwardly try to walk the fence in Justice League. This was the first film where James Gunn wasn’t penning the Guardians of the Galaxy, and they didn’t miss a beat, still feeling like space misfits when standing side by side with the Avengers. The way the Guardians and other characters crossed in and out of subplots with other characters rang very accurate to the style large scale company-wide comic book events read. There are typically multiple fronts in these wars and the way personalities play off of each other helps humanize what could be an overblown story.
You might wonder who Avengers: Infinity War is about with so many characters sharing the screen and I think the core of the story is Thanos and Gamora. The Avengers and the rest of the Guardians are side characters to a story about Thanos. When compared to Justice League’s Steppenwolf it is evident that Marvel has the upper hand. Instead of going with the comic book incarnation of Thanos, a sadistic worshipper of Death, we get a cosmic version of population control. There are no pompous speeches about a thirst for power or a villain hamming it up on screen. Josh Brolin adds no accents or mustache-twirling to his performance. Thanos is just someone who is blindly convinced that they are right.
But I can’t say that I loved this film. I definitely had fun with this film, in the same way, it is fun to eat candy. But I can’t really make a meal out of candy. When I was a kid, I definitely could to the detriment of tooth enamel and stomach. There are no clear arcs in Infinity War, aside from Thanos and Gamora. When so much of the screen time is devoted to other characters, it’s sort of a letdown when you don’t have different well-developed story beats. There is a rough attempt to spotlight the love story of The Vision and Scarlet Witch, but the problem is their romance is introduced to us in this movie only to come to a tragic conclusion a couple hours later. As a reader of comics, I have dozens of issues under my belt to understand the depth of their love affair, but looking at it purely as an element in the Marvel Cinematic Universe this has little to no development beforehand. Yes, there were particular looks exchanged in Age of Ultron and the merest of hints in Civil War, but I never felt invested as a viewer of the films in what was being shown in Infinity War. When you have monthly comics coming out over decades to develop relationships, you can earn these moments, but when you are two characters in a film featuring fifty or so, then I’m not really going to feel it too deeply.
This was a problem throughout Infinity War, the expectation that I was invested because they assumed I’d seen all the movies. Yeah, I’ve seen the Marvel Cinematic output to date, but I also enjoy the idea of single sitting film experiences wherein I can get a complete story. Infinity War, as a result, isn’t really a film. I don’t know what it is other than saying it is a live-action comic book simulation? It is a form of storytelling with actors in roles, but it doesn’t satisfy a lot of what is expected from a movie. I would argue that even Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, while a film series, told self-contained stories and fulfilled multiple character arcs within its three movies and each could work as a stand-alone piece. Maybe the MCU is just the most expensive television series of all time, episodes coming out months apart and shown exclusively in theaters?
Escapist entertainment is enjoyable and undoubtedly important. It is good to watch or read something that helps take your mind off of the day to day drudgery of life or stresses. Escapist fare is also excellent for children to help them expand burgeoning imaginations. My particular pet peeve is the way in which a broad swath of adults has taken to exclusively consuming escapist entertainment, subsisting on a diet of candy. It’s not just Marvel movies though, its television programming that lazily panders or literature that never stimulates your mind. I get it, times are stressful right now. But I can’t imagine burying our heads like ostriches in a cacophony of loud sounds, and bright images will eventually help get us out of this mess. I’m not saying people should never escape, but sometimes you have to come back and deal with what is happening. Especially grown-ups. I could argue that Avengers: Infinity War is just a slightly better written Power Rangers The Movie, Thanos a more well-spoken Ivan Ooze. The problem with adults who are escaping all the time is that, whether they like it or not, they are hurtling blindly towards a future they are unprepared for.
If all we ever do is consume art that makes us feel a baseline of fun, then we are doing a disservice to ourselves. If we never seek out art that challenges us, upsets us, offends us, inspires us, lingers with us, or affects us in ways that force us to wrestle with it then…well, that’s just sad in my opinion. Infinity War is fun, no one is saying don’t have fun. But if the only films you’ve watched in the last year all fall in the same category of Infinity War then I think you are really missing some pieces of art that could affect you and become incredibly important in your life.