Hello again, it’s me: the literal poster-child for franchise fatigue, here to talk about the culmination of the franchiseiest franchise in the history of franchising a week late, due almost entirely to the aforementioned fatigue. Yes, it’s finally here, the culmination of Disney/Marvel’s decade-long quest for complete box office domination: Avengers: Infinity War.
Reviewing the MCU movies has become something of a wash, rinse, repeat situation in the last few years, and that’s due primarily to the fact that Marvel has essentially perfected the art of manufacturing good movies with predictable problems. Walking through the auditorium door, audiences know to expect inappropriately timed humor, daddy issues, impressive visual effects, and a whole load of punching. That’s not to say that this is always a bad thing, more so that the MCU has kind of transformed from a bold experiment in long-form crossover storytelling into the cinematic equivalent of McDonald’s. There’s nothing challenging about a McDouble, and you can rest assured that you’re pretty much in for the same experience regardless of where you order from.
By that same metric, Marvel films have developed a sort of status quo that seems to be working out pretty well. There’s a consistent tone across the series, director’s creative styles are reigned in, and and the screenplays tend to lack any particular distinctive qualities. This lends itself well to the fact that what happens in one film, by the nature of the cinematic universe structure, has an impact on any and all subsequent films. Sometimes the fallout is pretty far reaching (a la Winter Soldier), and sometimes it’s maddeningly pointless (a la Civil War).
And so Infinity War finds itself pulled in about as many directions as possible while bearing the enormous weight of making good on the promise of the last decade of build-up. This leads to the unique sense that the film almost demands to be viewed and scored in two different manners; as a self-contained movie with merits and faults, and as the payoff of the eighteen films leading up to this. Conveniently, this just happens to be exactly how I’ve always structured my MCU reviews. So that’s nice. The only caveat this time is that I’ll be listing the Disney’s™ Marvel’s™ MCU™ Review Rating first, and the Rant Reviews Rating will dip into spoiler territory. You’ve been warned.
Disney’s™ Marvel’s™ MCU™ Review Rating: 8.5/10
The biggest surprise on the table with Infinity War is that most of it actually works. It’s seriously impressive that the filmmakers were able to mash this many characters into a film while still giving each of them a decently satisfying arc. A few people get shortchanged by the script, but by and large, each is given their due.
If the goal of Infinity War was to finally team up characters we never expected to cross paths, then it delivers tenfold. The nature of the beast is that by this point, most everybody who isn’t a Guardian of the Galaxy has met or was expected to meet just about everyone else, so the majority of these moments are pinned on the Guardians. This actually works out rather well, as they are easily the most enjoyable and fully realized characters in the MCU. The result feels to me like a better Guardians of the Galaxy movie than Vol. 2 did, and most of the film’s best sequences come from Starlord butting heads with Iron Man or having his masculinity threatened by Thor. And, cynical as I am, if you don’t have even a minute sliver of fun watching Bucky Barnes shooting aliens with a crazy machine gun in one hand and Rocket Racoon (himself wielding a crazy machine gun) in the other, then you probably don’t enjoy much of anything.
In a series of films that routinely threaten impending universal destruction, it becomes increasingly difficult to sell that as a particularly frightening consequence for failure. As an extension of that, it’s become pretty much impossible to craft a baddie whose able to inflict cosmic mayhem while still feeling different in any way from the throngs of supposedly menacing figures that preceded them.
On this level, the villain, Thanos, is kind of a mixed bag. The triumph of his character is that the team behind the scenes actually managed to keep him feeling like a genuine threat throughout the entire film, and did an admirable job of owning the fact that his head looks like a giant thumb with a chin that resembles a certain feature of the male reproductive system. On the other hand, I never really bought into his motivation, and the religious mysticism that surrounds him and his intentions feels like a slapdash effort to validate him as a character.
Much of the press surrounding Infinity War before its release was focused on who would or would not be making it out of the film alive, and since its premiere that conversation has hardly abated. Without completely destroying the plot for the few people who have yet to see it, I can say that, as someone who is rarely (if ever) surprised by Marvel films, I was totally unprepared for the direction that the filmmakers took that element of the movie. For fans, this will likely be one of the most devastating conclusions they’ve ever seen. For me, it was a shockingly compelling move until I realized what it actually meant, at which point it ceased to be impactful in any way. For more on what I mean by that, check out the end of the Rant Reviews section of the review below.
With some surprisingly solid pacing, predictably snazzy action, and a plot that somehow manages to deliver what fans have been anxiously awaiting for ten years and eighteen movies, Infinity War is comfortably the best Avengers Film and is among the better titles in Marvel’s vast library. For fans of the series, I’m not sure how much better anybody could reasonably expect a project of this scope to be. It’s far from perfect, but it is an unprecedented achievement.
Rant Reviews Rating: 6.5/10
**Remember, there are spoilers in here. If that’s a no-go for you, please cease scrolling and enjoy the rest of your day.**
Putting aside the sheer magnitude of the film’s ambition, Avengers: Infinity War is something of a microcosm of everything that the franchise has always been; both for better and worse. It offers some magnificent spectacle and thrilling action but consistently finds itself bogged down by the classic Marvel issues.
For as much as the film’s best moments were the ones where it focused on its characters unique personalities, much of its weakness stems from them as well. For one thing, the script seems to include certain people out of what feels like obligation rather than any narrative purpose. T’Challa is essentially only in the movie to provide Wakanda as a pretty backdrop for the final throwdown, and Capitan America has absolutely nothing to do, no reason to do it, and seems to be channeling Max Rockatansky in terms of his approach to conversation.
Another returning (if subjective) grievance from Thor Ragnarok is Mark Ruffalo’s astoundingly irritating performance as Bruce Banner. For a man who’s supposed to be a brilliant scientist, every single time he opens his mouth something cringe-worthy and unintelligent falls out of it. I’m not sure why this is happening, but boy howdy is it ever grating.
Possibly the worst offender on the character front is Thanos himself. The filmmakers, intelligently, attempted to give the mad titan an emotional arc that almost makes him into a misguided, tragic figure. The problem is that his backstory and relationship to Gomora feel rushed and shallow, making me wonder why none of this was developed at any point during the thirteen films that have come out since he was introduced.
Adding to my irritation is the fact that Thanos’ master plan, the event to which all of this has been building, is almost laughable. In the end, it amounts to little more than a desire for population control. It is his belief that by wiping out half of all life in the universe, everything will surely be better for the remaining fifty percent. The infinity gauntlet is simply a way for him to accomplish this task with minimal effort. It’s eminently possible that I’m being overcritical here, but it just seems like you’d want your ultimate-evil villain to have an end in mind that couldn’t be accomplished just as well by a better sex-ed curriculum. I will admit, though, that it’s pretty refreshing that he wasn’t just after complete control of the universe. That one might be a touch overplayed.
In fairness to the film, when it works, it frequently does so in unexpected ways. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this is one of the more successfully humorous non-comedy MCU movies. More jokes landed and actually made me laugh than in Black Panther and Thor Ragnarok combined, but it never took away from the weight of the narrative. Furthermore, there was some delightful interplay between certain characters that supported and enhanced their relationships and personalities outside of this crossover event.
Similarly, I was unprepared for how effective the pacing ended up being. When I first heard that the film was around 160 minutes, I sincerely considered skipping it altogether. And yet, by smartly splitting up the characters into manageable groups and wasting precisely no time getting the story and action rolling, the Avengers managed to overcome their greatest foe: nearly three hours of nonstop punching.
And now we arrive at the real star of the show: the ending. I can’t think of a moment that better encapsulates the intention was for Infinity War, and why I think it ultimately failed. Once again, if you don’t want MAJOR, PLOT RUINING SPOILERS, please turn back now.
The MCU has always struggled with the idea of legitimate consequences. This can be attributed in part to the interlaced structure of separate franchises and characters all combining to tell one story, but it eventually becomes problematic. Take Civil War as an example. Billed as a definitive turning point for the Avengers as a group and the MCU at large, it was essentially a completely pointless means to an end. The world didn’t hurt for having two separate groups of independently operating superheroes, and the rift is quickly resolved between every member (save for Tony Stark and Steve Rogers) within minutes of Infinity War‘s opening.
This stands in stark (heh) contrast to the ending of The Winter Soldier, which quite literally put an end to SHIELD, the organization responsible for the formation of The Avengers in the first place. This choice created major ripples throughout the subsequent films and had a massive impact on the TV show Agents of SHIELD. This seems to pretty clearly illustrate the fact that Marvel is capable of delivering huge, earthshaking twists that make exceptional use of the MCU’s structure. So if they can, why do they consistently choose not to?
Infinity War ends with what should be the biggest, most soul-rending event in the series: Thanos wins, and at least half of the Avengers simply turn to ash and drift away. Peter Parker begs Tony Stark to help him as his life slips away, T’Challa disappears in the middle of helping a friend to her feet, Scarlet Witch disintegrates while mourning over the corpse of her lover, and Capitan America watches as his lifelong friend dies once again in front of his eyes. It’s a well shot, and emotionally resonant sequence unlike anything the MCU has shown us before. It’s also a bald-faced lie.
At some point before the mass-genocide, it was established that one of the Infinity Stones in Thanos’ gauntlet has the ability to manipulate time. Combining this with the fact that there are already confirmed sequels in pre-production starring characters that “died” in this film, and you’ve got a “no really! Superman’s totally dead and definitely won’t show up in the Justice League movie” situation.
I’m well aware that some of the deaths will stick and that it’s a near certainty that most of the main cast of the original Avengers could kick the bucket in Avengers 4, but this has taken Marvel’s historical lack of teeth to a whole new level. As an unexpected conclusion it was undeniably effective, but once I put two and two together, it began to feel a lot less sobering and a lot more manipulative. Meaningless consequences aren’t really consequences at all.
As the culmination of a decade of filmmaking, Avengers: Infinity War is a death-defying success that manages to balance an unbelievable number of characters and narrative threads and delivers a memorable, emotional ending. As just another movie, it’s got some serious problems. It’s fun, colorful, and manages its cumbersome runtime with aplomb, but it’s hard to ignore the film’s lack of faith in our collective intelligence. For all I know, the issues with the conclusion could all be resolved in the sequel, but for now, they stand as a reminder that Marvel pretty much exclusively pulls their punches rather than actually throwing one once in a while.