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Non-Review Review: Avengers – Infinity War

There is a solid argument to be made for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as blockbuster television series that only releases three or four films in a given year.

There’s a lot of evidence to support this argument, perhaps most notably the directors chosen for “phase two” of the grand experiment. Joss Whedon might have directed Serenity and Much Ado About Nothing, but he remains known for his game-changing work on television series like Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse. Removing Patty Jenkins from Thor: The Dark World and replacing her with Alan Taylor only reinforced this sense. Drafting in the Russo Brothers from Community to direct Captain America: The Winter Soldier cemented the notion.

Purple reign.

Indeed, the elevation of the Russo Brothers within the Marvel Studios hierarchy with Captain America: Civil War and with Avengers: Infinity War suggests the obvious similarities between managing the sprawling continuity of the shared cinematic universe and the day-to-day management of a television show, where individual instalments might be credited to individual authors, but it is also important to maintain consistency of tone and vision across the entire line. Infinity War suggests the sort of organisational ability associated with long-form television storytelling more than any single cinematic narrative.

There are moments in which this approach works. Infinity War is full of knowing winks and callbacks, allusions and references. There is a sense of set-up and pay-off to certain threads and arcs seeded across the eighteen previous films within the established brand. Characters get emotional scenes that play upon established relationships and dynamics, which are clearly articulated within the film itself, but building off years of watching (and rewatching) these actors play off one another in these roles. There is an undeniable weight to Infinity War that simply would not be possible without that television storytelling style.

Avengers assembled.

At the same time, there are reminders of the limitations of this approach, of the challenges of balancing individual stories with a larger plan for the narrative universe in which they unfold. This is particularly notable because Marvel Studios recently shifted towards a more director-friendly approach in some of its standalone productions. Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 are both undeniably James Gunn productions. Black Panther could only have come from Ryan Coogler. Thor: Ragnarok worked as well as it did because of the unique directorial stylings of Taika Waititi.

Watching Infinity War, it becomes clear how far these directors deviated from the established style sheet, and the difference in approach between these directors and the Russo Brothers. It occasionally feels like Infinity War was constructed by people who watched those movies, without understanding why they worked as well. There is a tonal awkwardness when these characters are woven back into the fabric of the shared universe, in a manner that is occasionally unquantifiable but sometimes fundamental.

Guardians… Get In There?

Infinity War is good, clean fun. Perhaps too good and too clean. In order put the jigsaw pieces together, all of the rough edges have been sanded off. Anything that might generate friction has been stripped away, creating the impression of a very smooth and very functional storytelling engine. Midway through the film, Thor ruminates upon the existence of fate and how it has led him towards this particular moment and beyond to a greater purpose. Doctor Steven Strange perceives one single happy ending to this crisis.

There is a sense that Thor and Strange perceive the vast narrative machine of Infinity War working around them. It is an impressive machine, if a somewhat inhuman one.

Things look pretty Stark.

If the Marvel Cinematic Universe could be described as a television series, it is worth asking which television series. Infinity War suggests an interesting answer, effectively positioning the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a four-colour PG-13 version of Game of Thrones. The similarities suggest themselves: a universe readily divided into realms and kingdoms, each with their own centres of powers; mysterious and ominous forces moving in the darkness; magic and rationality at odds with one another. Characters like T’Challa and Steven Strange would certainly feel at home in Westeros, kings and sorcerers.

This comparison makes a great deal of sense. After all, there is an argument to be made that Game of Thrones is the only true watercooler television that still exists, and that it might be the last piece of television that has enough weight to anchor a shared cultural conversation in the age of peak prestige television. As sprawling blockbusters, the Marvel Studios films aim to ground themselves within that cultural conversation, to provide a shared communal experience and to become part of a broad frame of reference. Game of Thrones is not a bad template from which to build.

All men must die.
And whatever Thor is, possibly.

Of course, this is not the first time that the Marvel Universe has been modelled upon George R.R. Martin’s beloved fantasy epic. Game of Thrones was a massive influence on Jonathan Hickman’s recent run on Avengers and New Avengers, which focused on the powers and principalities of the shared Marvel Universe, of the plotting of kings and leaders in the face of horrific inevitability. Hickman’s run borrowed from the language and iconography of Game of Thrones, with references to “the wheel” and “a king’s morality.”

Hickman’s run has been a major influence on this stage of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as demonstrated by everything from the central themes of Black Panther to T’Challa’s pre-beatdown one-line to Ulysses Klaw in the same movie. Hickman’s influence is all over Infinity War. Thanos’ henchmen are drawn from the pages of his massive crossover Infinity, along with specific beats like the Ebony Maw’s torture of Stephen Strange and the attack upon Wakanda to secure the last of the Infinity Gems.

The power of a sun, in the palm of your hand.

Infinity War structures itself very much like Game of Thrones. The film surveys an incredibly vast universe, often assisting the audience in this navigation through titlecards that help transition between places like “Scotland”, “Wakanda” and “Space.” As with Game of Thrones, the cast are diffused across this vast universe, separated from one another and thrown together in a variety of intriguing combinations. Infinity War is a film that asks its audience tough questions, like whether they prefer Chris Pratt bouncing off Chris Hemsworth or Robert Downey Junior.

This is not being flippant. There is nothing wrong with this sort of storytelling, or the thrill that it offers. There is no right way to appreciate art after all, and there is something to be said for how self-aware Infinity War is in bringing these characters together and letting them play off one another. As with Game of Thrones, part of the thrill of the extended runtime of Infinity War is the mix-and-match combinations.

Meanwhile, Jeff Goldblum and Sam Rockwell believe they’ve found an Infinity Stone, but it turns out to be an old mood rock belonging to Thor’s roommate Daryll.

There is something exhilarating in the way the movie hops between these various strands, suggesting a saga playing out on a stage so vast that it might just live up to the name “infinity.” The storytelling framework calls to mind Game of Thrones, particularly in the more shapeless and formless first half before the core of the narrative comes into focus; transitions often come with characters wondering where a particular colleague is, or suggest a meditation upon a thematic line.

Similarly, Infinity War feels like it is constructed more of “moments” than of story, recalling the frequent observation that Game of Thrones has solidified its position as watercooler television through the creation of these breathtakingly bold moments that serve to shock and upset audiences. The emphasis on “spoilers” in discussions about pre-release publicity for Infinity War suggests that the Russo Brothers understand this dynamic. The idea is that discussing any specific moment of Infinity War might diminish the experience and that to lose even one “moment” might spoil the film for certain audience members.

This is not a spoiler.

This review will adhere to the spirit of that request, as much as is reasonable, while accepting that it is impossible to discuss something like Infinity War in the abstract. Nevertheless, it is quite clear that Infinity War understands the mechanics of the “moment”-based storytelling that made Game of Thrones such a hit. The movie offers audience members a handful of gut-punch moments designed to make them sit up straight and to assure them that Infinity War means “business”, but positions these shocking beats at the extremes of the narrative.

These developments come towards the beginning and the end of the film. The opening scene features a number of such moments, designed to establish the stakes for the adventure ahead of the characters. The climax of the movie features a number of similar bombshells in rapid succession, intending to leave the audience hungry for more when the next film in the franchise is released. There are a number of smaller jolts in the middle of the film, but none have quite the impact of the opening or closing salvos.

Some Guarded commentary coming up.

As much as the opening scene might be designed to show that these characters can suffer and bleed, that doesn’t carry through the rest of the film. Only a few scenes later, seemingly mortal characters are being bounced off car hood while stronger characters rebound off steel girders after hurdling through space. There is something very calculated in the rhythms of Infinity War‘s big dramatic moments and reminders of mortality, the stakes only materialising at either edge of the story being told.

This issue hints at the limits of Infinity War‘s attempts to offer a PG-13 adaptation of Game of Thrones within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It all feels rather bloodless, in both a literal and metaphorical sense. If Infinity War positions itself as Game of Thrones, it is a version of Game of Thrones where everybody immediately decides to drop what they are doing at the first mention of the danger posed by “the white walkers”, and takes the existential threat seriously from the moment that this name is mentioned for the first time.

“Must not read review before seeing film…”

There is something deeply unsatisfying in all of this, not least for how it brushes aside anything that might resemble a consequence from the events of Civil War. The Sokovia Accords are dismissed with a few lines of exposition. When he is introduced in Infinity War, Rhodey is walking again with the help of a back brace; there is no trace of what should have been a life-altering injury that he sustained at the climax of that film. When he finds himself in the room with the character responsible for his injury, there is no acknowledgement of that fact.

Indeed, Infinity War glosses over the criticisms of the Avengers that Civil War worked so hard to bury in the first place. In Civil War, characters like Helmut Zemo and Miriam Sharpe argued that the Avengers were completely oblivious to the struggles of the mortal characters who get caught up in their titanic struggles. Civil War somewhat bungled the point by then making the narrative crux of the film a fight between Steve and Tony over Bucky, perpetuating the idea that these superheroes have grown disconnected from the people that they are sworn to protect in favour of pursuing their own interests.

“You know, you’d think I’d be more concerned about my Aunt May potentially getting genocided, but here are some pop culture references.”

Infinity War doubles down on this, consciously avoiding any focus on mortal characters. The film is so crammed full of superheroes that there is little room for anything else. The handful of grounded non-heroic characters who appear are those who have already been drawn into the world as part of one hero’s supporting cast or another; William Hurt as General Thaddeus Ross, Jacob Batalon as Ned Leeds, Benicio del Toro as the Collector. Although Gwyneth Paltrow developed a heroic persona in Iron Man III, she is present in Infinity War mostly as a human connection for Tony.

Infinity War never manages to convey a human cost for the destruction being wrought by Thanos. An entire planet featured heavily in an earlier film is devastated by Thanos off-screen, relegating what might be the death of two character played by Oscar-nominated actors to mere exposition. Although Infinity War features the obligatory “hole in the sky above New York City” that seems to be expected of any twenty-first century blockbuster, the urban destruction is kept to a minimum. “Evacuate three blocks and notify first responders,” Stark instructs his artificial intelligence. And that is enough of that.

A new killer star.

Films like The Avengers were accused of being blase in their depiction of urban destruction, flippant in the face of thousands of lives lost. Films like Man of Steel were criticised for the horror that they reserved for such acts of carnage. Joss Whedon made a point to focus on his characters assisting civilians during the large-scale action sequences in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but there is a sense that modern superhero movies are afraid of exploring the consequences of the use of such force in densely-populated urban areas. This is why the climax of Civil War happens at an empty airport, and Black Panther fights on a plain.

However, this does reduce accounts of Thanos’ barbarity and brutality to academic exposition and mere statistics. The audience is allowed to witness one slaughter committed by the villain, but the bulk of the movie’s action sequences are set in wide-open spaces with a minimum of potential collateral damage; a burnt-out space station, a dead world, an empty space ship, the open countryside, a very quiet train station. Infinity War seems to unfold in a universe build of cardboard and computer-generated imagery; where infrastructure does not exist for civilians to use, but for superheroes to smash.

Praying Mantis.

There is an honesty in this, which elevates Infinity War above the pseudo-politics of Civil War. There is never any sense that these characters inhabit a world that resembles the real world. Infinity War is a grand fantasia, a different plane of existence. Infinity War makes no real gesture towards anything beyond crowd-pleasing spectacle. While this is disappointing following on from the ambitions of Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther, it allows Infinity War the luxury of brightly-coloured characters shooting brightly-coloured blasts at one another in a vacuum.

What politics Infinity War might be said to have skew relatively conservative. Ragnarok was a brutal deconstruction of the fantasies of empire; the film suggested that the only way to move forward was to dismantle corrupt and decadent structures like Asgard, to destroy political power literally built upon a foundation of bones. The ending of Ragnarok was boldly optimistic in its own way, suggesting that “Asgard is not a place, it is a people.” The film ended by arguing that these citizens could emigrate out into the universe to find a new (and hopeful) beginning.

“I don’t like where this is going…”

Infinity War seems to have missed the memo that the destruction of Asgard was a good and necessary thing. Instead, Infinity War argues repeatedly for the maintenance of existing structures and systems. The opening scenes of Infinity War reveal that the destruction of Asgard has turned its people into victims. Without the protection of an empire built upon oppression and tyranny, these people are just prey for whatever is lurking in the darkness. One victim of Thanos rails against Thor, “You were supposed to protect us. Asgard was supposed to protect us!” The film seems to agree.

Indeed, Thanos is presented as a monster for suggesting that death should visit people at random, without any judgement or without any privilege. Thanos argues for death as a random and class-blind force in the universe, and the heroes treat his argument as monstrous. Of course, Thanos is a genocidal monster, but the fact that Infinity War is populated almost exclusively by a superhero class who do whatever they want with little regard for the rule of law adds an uncomfortable subtext to the dynamic. The heroes do not believe that death should be random or blind.

“I’m sorry, we were expecting… what do you mean we still don’t have the Silver Surfer?”

Thanos is an interesting character, albeit a deeply flawed creation. Much digital ink has been spilled on the problems that Marvel Studios faces in bringing convincing villains to the big screen. Due to the complicated contractual wrangling of their popular characters during the nineties, many of the company’s most popular and most beloved villains are housed at rival studios. Magneto and Doctor Doom are home at Fox. The Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Venom and Carnage are at Sony.

To be fair, Marvel Studios have occasionally managed to produce convincing and compelling antagonists. The Netflix shows have done a particularly good job at developing complex and multifaceted antagonists; Vincent D’Onofrio’s Wilson Fisk, David Tennant’s Kilgrave, Mahershala Ali’s Cornell Stokes, Alfre Woodard’s Mariah Dillard. In terms of the cinematic side of the shared universe, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki and Michael B. Jordan’s Kilmonger stand head-and-shoulders above the crowd.

Clash of the Titan.

However, these are very much the exception rather than the rule. Somewhat hobbled by the fact that these characters don’t have a-list villains, the Marvel Studios films have tended to divide their villains into three basic archetypes: the greedy hyper-capitalist, the power-hungry megalomaniac or the all-consuming nihilist. The greedy executive is typified by Jeff Bridge’s Obidiah Stane in Iron Man, Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes in Spider-Man: Homecoming or Corey Stoll’s Darren Cross in Ant Man.

The power-hungry megalomaniac and the all-consuming nihilist operate on a scale. Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce from The Winter Soldier positions himself at one extreme, while at the other extreme stands Christopher Eccleston’s Malekith the Accursed from The Dark World. Various other characters can be dotted along the spectrum. Kurt Russell’s Ego from Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 plans to destroy all life in the universe and replace it with himself, while Hela from Ragnarok plans to lead an undead army to conquer the universe.

Death comes to time and space…

While the quality varies on a case-by-case basis, these are hardly the most inspiring comic book movie villains. Of course, this makes it oddly appropriate that Thanos should position himself as the end-level boss atop the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s sorting algorithm of evil. On a purely symmetrical level, Thanos a comic book character who can trace his roots back to an issue of Iron Man, which makes him the perfect big boss for a cinematic universe largely built around the character and concept of Iron Man.

However, Thanos is perhaps the very embodiment of nihilistic megalomania, and readily climbs atop this pyramid of Marvel Cinematic Universe villains through sheer force of will. The character was created by writer and artist Jim Starlin, who shepherded the character for a large portion of his existence. Indeed, even after the character’s popularity exploded following teases in The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy, and other writers started to focus on Thanos, Starlin has generally been allowed to continue writing his own idealised iteration of the villain.

The gloves are… well, one of them is on.

Thanos is one of the most iconic and distinctive villains in the Marvel pantheon, certainly among those available to Marvel Studios. Part of this is down to the simple visual, a big burly purple man who is frequently seen riding through time and space on a badass armchair. Part of this is down to how carefully Jim Starlin has developed and characterised Thanos over the years, painting the characters as a verbose warrior poet with his own internal moral compass and unique perspective. Thanos is similar to Magneto in this way, who was largely reshaped by writer Chris Claremont.

However, Thanos’ popularity and esteem can largely be traced to a single story, and the ripples that reverberate through the comic books to this day. Jim Starlin’s The Infinity Gauntlet is one of the early event comics published by Marvel, and one of the more coherent and interesting examples of the genre. It suffers from a trite resolution and some issues with internal logic, but it benefits from an impressive sense of scale and very strong internal characterisation. In that comic, Thanos sets out to become a god. In doing so, he wipes out half of the life in the universe.

The real villain was the friends we made along the way.

Infinity War is obviously inspired by this approach to the character. As with the scenes and beats borrowed from Hickman’s Avengers and New Avengers, comic book fans will recognise specific moments lifted directly from The Infinity Gauntlet. Thanos inherits a lot of his characterisation from Jim Starlin, with Infinity War trying to present its central character as a more abstract and philosophical antagonist than the kind that normally appears in these films.

However, Infinity War diverges from Jim Starlin’s characterisation in one key regard. Starlin always wrote Thanos as a villain. Indeed, it was always very clear that Thanos’ extended metaphysical monologues were the dialogue of a supervillain. Thanos was very good with logic and rhetoric, but always keen to bend them to his own favour. Thanos was a manipulator and schemer, with many of the character’s best moments involving deception and misdirection. Thanos was not an anti-hero like Magneto, nor an anti-villain like Doom.

This is what happens when you arrive in Mister Rogers’ neighbourhood.

The comic book iteration of Thanos was a nihilistic monster, literally in love with death incarnate. That is admittedly a very “comic book” motivation. As much as Infinity War embraces the shared universe, it also shies away from the absurdity that makes comic books so much fun. At one point in Infinity War, during an attack on New York, Tony warns Peter, “They’ve come from outer space to steal a wizard’s magic stones.” That sentence encapsulates the gonzo weirdness inherent in comic book storytelling, but Infinity War shies away from following it to its logical extreme.

So Infinity War shies away from the idea of Thanos as a through-and-through villain. Instead, the film tries to present Thanos as a tragic and well-motivated extremist. This feels like a conscious attempt to incorporate characterisation that worked so well with Magneto and Doctor Doom, two characters that may soon be within the company’s reach. Infinity War asks the audience to take Thanos at his word, to accept his as sincere in his ambitions, and as a man who believe that he is acting in the greater interest of the larger universe.

Not-so-gentle giant.

There are moments at which this characterisation is so ridiculous that the film threatens to implode under its own weight. “You’re crying?!” one character mocks at a certain point, as tears roll gently down the purple giant’s face. The bulk of the movie is built around a character motivation that the comic book character used as a rhetorical argument in the lead-up to The Infinity Gauntlet, but Infinity War asks the audience to take his intentions at face value.

This creates all manner of problems with the film’s internal logic. Without getting too specific, Thanos’ big plan involves assembling a device the will elevate him to the status a god with unlimited power over concepts like space, time and reality. Infinity War argues sincerely for Thanos as a tragic figure, despite the fact that the only solution that he can conjure to his problems is mass murder on a galactic scale. It doesn’t quite work, which is frustrating given the amount of time that Infinity War invests in this characterisation.

Ragnarok and roll.

Thanos is an interesting choice of “big bad” going into Infinity War for a thematic reason. Jim Starlin has conceded that the character’s name derives from a misremembrance of the word “thanatos”, meaning the death impulse in Freudian theory. The character’s comic book and live action iterations are united by their fixation upon death, although the cinematic version of the character does not literalise that obsession to the same degree.

Thanos represents death, and the process of change. It makes sense that he should fight these characters at this moment in time. After all, many of the big names in the cast are planning to retire and phase themselves out of this cinematic superhero universe. Many of these actors are reaching the end of their contracts, and it would likely be cost-prohibitive to renew all of those arrangements at market-adjusted levels.

Man out of time.

More than that, the Marvel Cinematic Universe faces a challenge that its four-colour equivalent has never had to confront. Peter Parker has been Spider-Man for over half a century, because comic book characters do not age. Tony Stark has been wounded in Vietnam and the Gulf War, as he remains a fixed point in time and his history re-writes itself behind him. Comic book characters are trapped in stasis a perpetual now. It seems likely that Steve Rogers will still be throwing the shield in another fifty or one hundred years. Comic book characters are immortal.

Movie actors are not. Movie actors get old. Movie actors die. Robert Downey Junior has talked about wanting to retire from the role of Iron Man before it gets “embarrassing.” Comic book movies have to grapple with the mortality of their casts. Of course, historically, comic book films have gotten around this fact by rebooting and recasting. Tobey Maguire is forty-two years old, but Spider-Man is now played by twenty-one year old Tom Holland.

To be fair, he could buy beer in some of the countries on the Homecoming press tour.

However, the Marvel Cinematic Universe presents a unique challenge in this respect. It has committed itself to a singular shared continuity, in which time very clearly passes. The production team might get away with recasting Rhodey or Banner, but would they be able to recast Tony Stark or Steve Rogers? More to the point, if they recast these characters using younger actors, do they have to recast them all at once to avoid internal inconsistencies? If so, is that not really a soft reboot? This is a very real challenge facing the Marvel Cinematic Universe going forward.

As a result, it makes sense that Thanos should be the villain confronting the heroes at this juncture, at a point when it looks like the Marvel Cinematic Universe might be hoping to make its first big transition from one generation of heroes to the next. Thanos represents death and inevitability. He is a force of entropy in the universe. Perhaps, in this way, it makes sense that Infinity War has no interest in what Thanos means to anybody but the Avengers. Normal people face death and mortality on a daily basis. Superheroes very rarely come face-to-face with such inevitable forces.

The sleep of the just.

This is the threat that Thanos poses to the Avengers and to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the abstract personification of the ravages of time and the inevitability of death. His villainous monologues position him as a force of nature more than a character with agency. “In time, you will know what it’s like to lose,” he boasts. “To feel so desperately that you are right, but to fail all the same. Dread it. Run from it destiny still arrives.” Thanos embodies the franchise’s central anxieties, perhaps explaining the insular nature of the story being told.

Then again, Infinity War works very hard to help its audience avoiding thinking about any of its internal logic. Despite the fact that the superheroes were at each other’s throats in Civil War, possibly ready to kill one another while causing large amounts of property damage, there are no hard feelings. There is no sense that time has passed in the space between Civil War and Infinity War. What did Captain America do during that time? Did he continue fighting? Did he run his own parallel Avengers team? Were there any other skirmishes?

Tough to pin down.

Infinity War brushes all of that aside with a single line from a secondary character. “It was a rough couple of years,” remarks one of the fugitives upon returning to the group’s old headquarters. This is just exposition. There is no sense of texture. The closest that the film comes to acknowledging that anything has happened in the two years since Civil War is a clandestine affair between two of the characters and the fact that Natasha Romanov has changed her hair colour.

Even within Infinity War itself, the film subjects its characters to horrific torment, only to have them shake it off with a laugh and a joke. One character has their hands literally smelted shut by Thanos, but still provides important support. Even after witnessing the destruction that Thanos has wrought, Thor is quick to banter and joke. Promising to avenge himself on Thanos, the God of Thunder warns, “He’s never fought me.” When a supporting character points out that Thanos has, Thor responds, “He’s never fought me twice.”

Don’t worry, that shield’s strong enough to withstand the internet’s reaction to Batman vs. Superman.

To be fair, there is some emotion there. Chris Hemsworth gets to play Thor as a character masking his anger and rage beneath a jokey exterior. However, every character has that exact same voice. This is the big problem with trying to throw characters together in a universe that so carefully manages its tone; these characters all feel too much alike to proper contrast. There is something very samey in how the various characters are written. When Peter Quill, Peter Parker and Tony Stark get together, what’s to distinguish three deadpan snarkers?

This awkward sameyness can be demonstrated by the fact that “snarking at a hostage held by Thanos” becomes a recurring motif over the course of the film, characters puncturing tension and anxiety with wry one-liners and observations. As Thor watches Loki banter with Thanos, Thor takes the time to complain, “You really are the worst, brother.” When Peter Quill finds Gamora being held hostage by Thanos, he complains about her refusal to follow his instructions. “Really?” she replies, her father threatening to murder her. “We’re doing this now?”

“Wakanda for the foreseeable future!”

Watching Infinity War, it’s hard to imagine a film that is chippier in the face of mass murder on an unimaginable scale. The horrors featured in Infinity War are terrifying, beyond anything featured in Man of Steel. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a big studio blockbuster with a higher body count in terms of cold hard numbers. However, the tone never acknowledges these stakes or these realities. Part of this is down to the fact that there is never enough time to let these moments breath, but part of this is down to the awkward insistence on always being wry and funny and quippy.

There is something mildly disappointing in the fact that Thor got a much more jarring and interesting culture shock getting thrown to Sakaar in Ragnarok than he does when confronted with a talking racoon (“rabbit”) in Infinity War. This is a film that crosses the gulf of space and time, mythology and science-fiction. The management of tone is impressive, but there is something to be said for the roller-coaster thrill of a carefully calibrated contrast and a sharp juxtaposition that Infinity War never quite pulls off.

Going around in circles.

Infinity War does what it sets out to do, and does it in a pleasant and diverting enough manner. The film moves briskly through its runtime, light on it feet. Perhaps a little too light.

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14 Responses

  1. I think they will retire the characters of Rogers, Stark, etc, but will recast the costumed identities with new bearers- these movies seem to be in a place where they could make either Bucky or Falcon into the next Captain America, like in the comics, and even if not they always could introduce Walker, the US Agent, as a replacement. Same thing with Iron Man, where they could just use Rhodey (who’s been recast before even if Mackie doesn’t want to return either) or the more recent Ruri (but please no Teen Tony from The Crossing– you must still remember that review!)

    Hulk can be stuck into Hulked Out mode full time so they don’t have to use Ruffalo himself but an easier to recast CGI (and there’s the possibility of an Amadeus Cho as well), there’s a second Hawkeye in the comics, and so on. All of those new options would also allow for a more diverse cast for the next stages, and as for Spider-Man (assuming the Sony deals hold) they can either use Morales or keep using Peter– Holland is still young and Peter can keep his career up into adulthood like in the books. And we just know Parker and Strange are revived just like in the comics– this universe isn’t contractually done with them yet.

    Now Disney has acquired FOX and the FF and X characters, I suspect the next stages might be more about those characters along the legacy heroes. A theme of evolution, represented by the rise of mutants and the changes of old guards, and exploration, typified by the Four as Marvel’s premiere explorators plus the cosmic gates the Infinity movies open for Earth’s heroes. It’s kind of moving to think of the Fantastic Four as the heroes who started the Marvel Age and to imagine them helping to start a new Marvel cinematic era, and the characters definitely deserve it after being trampled over by cinema so much.

    • Yep, I suspect that the purchase of Fox has made Marvel’s next stage of plotting much easier than it would otherwise have been.

      As for legacy characters, I worry that the toxic reactions of fandom may influence the company’s decision in this regard. (I’d love to see Mile Morales, and I think Homecoming should really have been a Miles Morales movies.)

  2. Is this even a review ? Bush beating !

  3. “Avengers: Infinity War isn’t a movie: it’s advertising and brand management on an unprecedented scale. In a couple of decades time, audiences will struggle to remember the title, let alone any distinguishing features.”

    • That is, I think a little harsh.

      People will remember it. Not all of it, not perfectly. But it clearly means a lot to its core audience emotionally.

  4. All of this based on one viewing eh Darren? Jah know. Seems a bit too dispassionate and overly critical for me, like there was barely any glee to be had. And just to mention, there are subtle hints to some spoilers that i think some of your images may allude to. I dont wna point them out to be obvious so i hope you spot them.

    • That was one viewing. Been back for two more and will probably take in a fourth next week, and my position is still largely unchanged. Impressed by the sheer logistics of it, but find the film somewhat empty.

  5. Mild spoiler warning, I suppose.
    At first I thought this was “different but it’s Marvel through and through. It’s just bigger and we only saw half the story. Like, imagine Black Panther ending with Killmonger burning the flower garden. It works as his character arc. The second half allows you to debate whether it works as T’Challa’s character arc.

    So the final scenes on Titan seem to point to the real character arc being Stark’s and I’m not sure how excited I am about this since that character has lost its way. The first Iron Man showed him as a smart but over confident arrogant jerk. (I think it’s also forgotten how bold that film was for essentially making a neo-con capitalist a likable hero – and in 2008). So what happened to that guy? Now he’s just a mildly condescending elitist, which is really more what Dr. Strange is.

    That still leaves the question of what is this movie “about?” It seems what they’re going for is forcing the original avengers to reconcile, as if their falling out led to the results depicted here. I can almost buy this, re-imagining the opening attack in NYC resulting in a quick victory and an immediate trip to Wakanda. (It seems Proxima Midnight brought the Outriders only after her initial defeat). But thinking about this reveals a narrative problem. Unless I missed something, Thanos seems to know where the infinity stones are based purely on what the audience knows. Thanos seems to already have that knowledge when the film begins, except for the soul stone, which is the only one left a mystery to the audience. (He does engage in some torture to compel the tesseract but he seems to know it’s there or why else is he on that ship to begin with?) He sends Proxima Midnight and Ebony Maw after the mind and time stones and in the case of Vision, they even know where to find him while Stark doesn’t. And it’s never explained how he figured out the “genius” plan to leave the reality stone with the Collector. This is lazy plotting but it does create a sense of dread that hangs over the whole movie that is otherwise missing since, as you say, there are no stakes. This dread works because it forcefully situates the audience into Thanos’ perspective. And I’m not sure this works with his pathos backstory or against it.

    In short, you’re right, they made a movie emphasizing the audience’s anxieties about the franchise. I’m just not sure they set out to do that.

    As for Asgard, I’m undecided. There’s still hope that it can work its way back into the story, leaving the ending to Ragnarok intact. But they’re not wrong here to suggest that Asgard could have stopped Thanos. At least it holds up as well as the theory that a full functioning Avengers could have. I’m not ready to say the well-timed attack by Thanos undercuts Ragnarok’s ending. You could argue that the attack is just an added consequence of Ragnarok, as if the writers here felt justice wasn’t quite met with destruction of Hela and the Bitfrost alone. Again, though, we’re having to do far too much work for the narrative here.

    • Yep. On rewatch, Thor explains that half of his people are dead, but not all of them.

      So, what? Did he (and the Guardians) just run away and leave them adrift in space without a second thought?

      • Well the grandmaster’s ship was there and Valkyrie is unaccounted for…

      • Valkyrie is confirmed as having survived. And it’s unlikely that Korg is dead. Just lots of aonymous civilians and two actors at the end of their contracts.

  6. Infinity War does what it sets out to do, and does it in a pleasant and diverting enough manner. The film moves briskly through its runtime, light on it feet. Perhaps a little too light.

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