HUGE SPOILERS AHEAD!- Go see the movie and come back. I’ll wait.
(Here’s the official trailer.)
Done? Let’s begin!
“Well, killing 1/2 the universe is a way you could go, OR just snap your fingers, go on vacation in your little hut and create resources for everyone in the universe to be fed and happy. You control reality, time & space! Duh.” – William, 10
Avengers Infinity War (AIW) isn’t a film in the traditional sense. It’s less a fully realized motion picture with a narrative that has a beginning middle and end and more the transitive verb definition. The Russo Brothers did indeed capture a series of moving images and chronicled events. Some of the aforementioned events were some of the most spectacular live-action superhero encounters I’ve seen. My ten-year-old son, in the middle of watching this demotion derby turned to me and said earnestly “This is my dream!” I’ll grant at times I shared his joy. Mainly whenever Thanos was on screen. However, for me, Avenger Infinity War failed to congeal as a fully realized film in its own right.
Less is in-fact sometimes more.
Many have made the comparison between AIW and The Empire Strikes Back, and in some ways, it’s a fair comparison. A darker franchise turn where the good guys are on the run and on the ropes, smoldering battlefield romance smothered in the cradle and ends with a cliffhanger that isn’t really a cliffhanger.
That’s where the comparison ends for me. The Empire Strikes Back has a taut, well-written narrative flow that follows basic screenwriting and is shot and edited masterfully. it’s not Citizen Kane, but I’m not looking for that level of brilliance in a kids Space Opera. Star Wars was a revelation but Empire surpasses it. It’s a different, darker adventure. Stakes are heightened, characters show growth (totally missing and perhaps impossible for most of the bloated cast of AIW) questions are answered and more are posed. You’re totally satisfied at the end but also incredibly anxious to see what happens next.
By contrast. Infinity War is a comic book heist movie featuring a madman’s hunt for MacGuffins featuring 60 main and secondary characters, none of which can match him physically or unfortunately, narratively. For a film as long as this, nearly 2 1/2 hours, to feel incomplete is quite an achievement in and of itself. I hammered James Cameron about his recent disparaging remarks on Marvel Films. This kinda made his case.
My kid, as big a comic book geek as he is and as enthralled with the action as he was, couldn’t suspend his disbelief in the entire premise, talking about the vastness of space, the number of uninhabited planets, the advanced technology and the vast resources Thanos “the conservationist” wasted building his fleet. “They changed Thanos’ whole motivation completely. In the comics, he wanted to impress death. In Avengers, ‘court death’ was used to introduce him. So why the ‘population control’ stuff? Just bring back Hela. She’s the Goddess of Death! She was great!”
If you’ve got ten-year-olds taking narrative pot shots? You’ve got some issues.
“The story was meh, the directing was all over the place but everything else was phenomenal! I loved all the fighting, but ZERO character development and the pacing with all the little stories was like, Boom, Boom, Boom, Wakanda!” – William age 10
Regarding the darker tone, I think Marvel will get a pass that DC never got, which is unfair. DC tried to give us darker themes and more nuanced takes on their characters and fairly or not were hammered for it. Let’s be clear, the scripts to these movies aren’t expected to be on par with Chinatown, but I feel Marvel screenwriters could have spackled some of their serious narrative holes before they took us on the walkthrough.
Now maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps, I’ll recognize the genius of the Russo Brothers in Avengers 4, which is precisely the point here. A film needs to stand on its own. Empire didn’t need Return of the Jedi to make sense nor make it a better film. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (my second favorite Marvel film) didn’t need Captain America: Civil War. Both were connected but great films in their own right. As much as I wanted to love AIW if it takes a sequel to make sense or to feel satisfying, how can a film be considered great? Particularly as I bask in the afterglow of a far superior film ”Once ya go Black Panther”..
Plus, I had a serious bone to pick with the filmmakers regarding how women and black characters were handled. Here are my main problems (beyond what my kid sighted) with Avengers Infinity War.
1. The black guy dies first. Heimdall never had much to do until Thor Ragnarok now he dies first? This is a joke even white audiences notice now. It’s a particularly sore point after Disney Marvel (through Ryan Coogler and his predominantly black & female cast & crew) gave us a rich, fully realized vision of the Afrocentric city-state of Wakanda and fleshed out black characters with agency in Black Panther. Felt like a step backward to me. Thor lists him as his “best friend” to Rocket? Since when? Heimdall can shoot rainbow bridges out of his hands? That’s handy! When did this happen? Why not do that when Thanos big ass ship approached to save your bacon? The tone deafness of the Directors & Screenwriters is staggering for this and another reason I’ll get into next.
2. They “fridge” Gamora. “Fridging” is a Comics term that was first coined in a 90’s Green Lantern story involving the brutal murder of Kyle Rayner’s girlfriend. The villain shoved her dismembered corpse in Rayner’s fridge and stuck a note on it. Fan reaction was piqued because Women’s graphic deaths were routinely exploited by male comic book writers as a plot device only to advance a male character’s narrative. Which is exactly what’s done to Gamora. Thanos tortures Nebula and compels Gamora to reveal the location of the Soul Stone. They travel to the planet where it’s kept by a guardian (best cameo ever) who desires the stone but is trapped, incapable of retrieving it. The price being the sacrifice of what one loves most. Now my ten-year-old got the implication immediately. How could it be Gamora, favorite Daughter of Thanos, is so incredibly naive not to see it coming? She even makes a speech about Thanos’ inability to retrieve the soul stone “because he loves nothing”. Only to be dragged to the cliff edge by Thanos as his sacrificial lamb and tossed to her doom. At least they could have made the stone her soul’s essence. Or fight back. What an insult. The “most dangerous woman in the galaxy” (whom they’ve made weaker every appearance since she fell for Quill) shouldn’t go out like that. One of the few black female Marvel characters, in particular, shouldn’t get fridged so Thanos can shed a tear and men feel his pain. That’s gross.
3. The white guys survive. Maybe it was an orchestrated head fake with all the grumbling about the core Avengers contracts being up. If so, they fooled me. I thought ONE of the white men in the core team would die. Thor, who went from a one-note character to one of my favorites after Wattki’s masterful Thor: Ragnarok, had the best showing. Cap has not that much to do really, and Tony gets impaled fighting Thanos which was a good death, only if the Russos had the “stones” (pun intended) to actually let him die. Thanos runs Iron Man through with his own armor-blade? You kill him. Instead, Dr.Strange broke his solemn pledge to protect the time stone above all else and give it to Thanos to spare him. You had ONE job Dr. Strange! He point blank told Tony he’d sacrifice him and Peter’s life for the stone in the first act. Made no sense unless this is all part of the one in 14 million successful future outcomes, which is a long shot.
4. They killed T’Challa. Thanos assembles the Gauntlet and one of the nods to fans of Jim Starlings Infinity Gauntlet Story Arc (and good storytelling.) If you show a finger snap in the first act? You better have him snap his fingers by the third act. True to his word, half the people on earth crumple and float away like ashes. The biggest gasp at my screening was T’Challa. You could tell Disney Marvel had NO clue how well Black Panther would do or how popular the character of T’Challa would become. That’s the danger of filming these movies back-to-back. It pisses off new non-comic fans of Black Panther and it totally hamstrings the impact of “death” because you KNOW they aren’t gonna kill the star of their most popular new franchise, so why even go there? It means nothing. Plus, they literally showed all the Wakanda footage in the trailers. There isn’t much more to the third act Wakanda wise but I did appreciate Okoye’s line after seeing how powerful Wanda was on the battlefield asking, “Why did you keep her up there this whole time?!”
5. No dating policy. When you have two couples (Vison & Scarlet Witch / Star Lord & Gamora) in the same movie, their narratives shouldn’t mirror each other. If they do, the choices should contrast each other. The exact same situation and the exact same choice? Lazy writing. However, Scarlet Witch, unlike schoolboy Peter Quill, didn’t hesitate to kill her partner. She’s got a dark streak I’d like to see drawn out. She wasn’t afraid to drop cars on Iron Man and scolded Hawkeye for pulling his punches against Black Widow in Civil War. I’d love to see her be a villain or perhaps, a Child of Thanos to replace Gamora. I feel the House of M coming in AIW2.
My laundry list of beefs aside, there were things I really enjoyed.
Thanos: I expected to sit and think “Oh that’s Josh Brolin’s voice coming out of that Purple CGI thing”. I was wrong. He pulled a “Serkis”. Brolin inhabited Thanos so completely, I forgot about the CGI. It was a thoughtful, compelling portrayal of a megalomaniac convincing himself of his nobility by enacting his diabolical population control theory. I enjoyed him the most of anyone on screen. I loved that he made things into bubbles. Showed his playful side!
“Thanos Will Return” was appropriate. It was his movie. I loved Little Gamora too! I could watch a prequel of him raising her. My boy loved Thanos so much, he suggested a spin-off Trilogy starting with the recent 5-part mini-comic book series “Thanos Rising”. Thanos returns to his destroyed home on Titan to visit the grave of his mother, Sui-San. The story then goes back to the birth of Thanos, where Sui-San tries to kill Thanos at first sight because of his Deviant genealogy. Later chronicles his harsh childhood. It explains much.
The hero pairings especially Thor, Rocket & Groot
Ebony Maw: they changed his power set a bit but he’s a super powerful telekinetic and acts as Thanos major domo. He’s got a regal “Magnetoish” affectation that I enjoyed. I loved him from the moment Loki spurred on the Hulk to attack his boss. As another of the Black Order steps in to help he waves them off and says amused, “Let him [Thanos] have his fun.” As Thanos wipes the floor with the Hulk. (He beat Hulk so bad, he didn’t change again the entire film!) His capture and interrogation of Dr. Strange was a great little scene as well. His death, as most of the Black Orders were a bit anti-climatic but was the strongest performance of any of the Black Order.
Peter: Loved Pete. Everything about him. Sad when he poofed but, Spiderman Homecoming 2 is a reality so he will be back.
Dr. Strange: Really loved Dr. Strange. One of the few adults in the room. Loved the jumping forward in time to crib note how to beat Thanos. Which as of now looks like it didn’t work, but this is a movie with magic rocks that can do anything so….
Thor: not depowered one bit from Ragnarok actually made more powerful to be able to take on Thanos. Really second only to Thanos narratively.
The ending: l loved that the bad guy won hands down. Of course, it won’t keep but that shot of Thanos in his hut on what I can only assume is a Titan he used the time stone to rejuvenate, smiling into the camera? Golden!
The post-credits: Fury got it mid-motherfucker as everyone was raptured up. The Captain Marvel Beeper was a nice touch!
So that’s my story I’m sticking to it. AIW is a glorious mess. This thing will make a kajillion dollars no matter what I or anybody says. (So no butthurt diatribes please) Disney Marvel has my money and they have yours too. I’ll see it again, maybe even spring for IMAX. It’s kinda like Pizza. There’s bad- frozen pizza level, okay-the kind you get at a kids party in a Birthday emporium and terrific like Ray’s Famous. Ultimately, it’s all still just pizza, and even ordinary pizza is pretty awesome.
But after all this hype? I guess I was expecting Ray’s and got Kids Birthday Mill Pizza. It just won’t do.
The Star Wars analogy breaks down because for me, Avengers films have gotten worse as time goes on. Not “Spider-Man 3” bad but the dark tone aside, did you honestly feel the way walking out of this that you did after the original Avengers? Even Age of Ultron? But here we all are still chasing the dragon in hopes of attaining that first high. I’ll need a couple of more screenings to germinate a detailed cohesive review. Disney Marvel failed to give me a cohesive film so “perfectly balanced” as his purple badness Thanos would say.
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Cover Art Credit @mattmanyart on Instagram Photo credit: Screenshot from the Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Infinity War Official Trailer via YouTube