The Avengers: Infinity War – The Strengths and Pitfalls of Comic Book Continuity on Film

Hello everyone, and welcome back for another movie review! For many of you, this is probably the movie event of the year. As is tradition:

WARNING: Spoilers ahead. If that’s a problem for you, do not click into this post.

Seen it already or don’t care about being spoiled? Well then go ahead on in.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for about the last ten years, you know it’s best not to think of this as the third installment of the Avengers series as much as the culmination of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. The Avengers are divided – broken up, like the Beatles – and intergalactic alien warlord Thanos is searching the universe for Infinity Stones, six primordial objects of unspeakable power that have appeared individually in other movies. If he gets his hands on all six, he will be able to wipe out half of all life in the universe with just a snap of his fingers.

Those who are familiar with MCU lore will know that Visions has one of the Infinity Stones lodged in his forehead, and Doctor Strange is the guardian of the Time Stone. Farther out into the reaches of other continuities, the Collector from Guardians of the Galaxy has the Reality Stone and the Asgardians have another. It’s up to every Marvel superhero – except Ant Man and Hawkeye – to rise up and defeat Thanos before he can claim all the Infinity Stones for himself.

Dedicated fans will point out that MCU movies going as far back as Iron Man 2 in 2010 have laid the groundwork for this movie to happen, and Disney and Marvel have been building up to it ever since. Infinity War is the 19th film in the Marvel-based film franchise and the hype for this movie has been astronomical.

The Russo Brothers and the Marvel Cast Nailed It . . .

If there is one thing I can say about Infinity War, it’s that the execution on the script is tight. That may seem like an odd thing to say, so let me break that down a bit.

Whatever you might say about the writing – that is, the bare script of this thing – Disney/Marvel has executed on it practically flawlessly. The Russo brothers really know and understand the characters, so there was not a misplaced line or a wasted motion.

The action sequences were so crisp and the tension was just right for the stakes involved, and most if not all of the jokes hit the right beats. The comedic timing seemed to be much improved from the last couple of Marvel movies. It just all seemed to click so well. It was the exact opposite of my experience with The Avengers: Age of Ultron.

I also want to make special note of two things the movie did really well. First, Dave Bautista as Drax. Obviously this is his third film appearing as Drax the Destroyer and nothing has changed there, but Bautista has brought unexpected nuance to the role that allows him to shine as more than a mere sidekick to Starlord.

Second, the movie did a great job with Thanos. I’m not just talking about his design, or even Josh Brolin’s acting, who played the role well. But on the subject of the writing, it’s usually understood that in order to make for an interesting villain, their motivations should be understandable in some way. They can still be wrong and usually are, but we should at least understand why they’re trying to do the evil things they do.

Infinity War takes this principle up a notch when Thanos explains his own motivations for wanting to wipe out half of the living beings in the universe. The movie doesn’t merely try to justify his actions; it actually makes the argument for him, and in a way that’s meant to be convincing.

Even if we disagree with Thanos, even if we rightly regard him as a monster for wanting to wipe out half of all life, the movie shows you how it is that he can think of himself as the good guy. For any villain, that’s no small feat, but Infinity War pulls it off. This was his movie, as much as any of the Marvel heroes’.

. . . But Disney Sort of Shot Themselves in the Foot

However, I said nearly flawless. What Disney has built with the Marvel Cinematic Universe is grand in scope, to say the least. The problem with a franchise this vast is that when all of these movies become so interconnected for the overarching franchise continuity to work, you’re asking audiences to have studied up on every movie before it. As I have mentioned before, this places kind of a significant burden on movie-going audiences, where most if not all of the previous films in the franchise are required viewing just to understand what’s going on.

This could have been easily resolved with a character monologue or something, although I realize that’s not really Marvel’s style. Instead, this film presumes that you have diligently kept up with all of the previous releases and throws you into the action.

And this is not Star Wars, where there are only really the previous one or two movies in a trilogy to catch up on, or at most a series of seven other films to watch. No, to truly understand where the Marvel universe stands at this point, there are eighteen other films you need to watch, plus all of their mid-credits and after-credits sequences. In other words, the problem I mentioned in that post comes to roost in Infinity War.

I also had an issue with the ending which, SPOILER ALERT, entails lots of main character deaths. It was pretty heartrending to watch, except . . . wait a minute. Didn’t Disney already announce sequels for a lot of the characters that were killed off in the movie?

Thanos won at the end of this movie and in his triumph, he wiped out all of the Marvel heroes except the original Avengers: Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Hulk. That should be a devastating loss for fans. But there is no sense of finality to it, and knowing that our fallen heroes will definitely return takes away most of the punch from their loss.

In fact, it turns out not to be an ending where the bad guy wins at all. Knowing that there’s this big elaborate franchise to maintain relegates the “ending” to mere cliffhanger status, because you know they can’t just let the Avengers lose permanently. It sort of cheapens the ending. I mean, I felt cheated a bit.

Marvel Mythology

At my particular viewing, there was one constantly vocal person in the audience. She whooped every time some new Marvel character made their appearance, clapped every time there was a big revelation or something, and had random outbursts when someone got hurt or killed. I was annoyed at first, and then as the main character deaths started happening, the mood in the whole theater shifted.

“No, no, no,” she pleaded at the screen. And she was far from the only one; there were invocations of God coming from other audience members, a bunch of audible “Oh no”‘s, gasps, murmurs, the whole thing. And then it was followed by a heavy, uneasy and horror-stricken silence. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it in a movie theater; not for any of the deaths in recent Star Wars, not for any of the Harry Potter movies, not even for Game of Thrones.

You know where I have seen this sort of reaction? From people watching a real-life tragedy unfold in a news report. Yes, that’s the scale of reaction I observed in the theater. It seems the audience was way more concerned with their favorite characters dying than with Thanos wiping out half the people in the universe. To many Americans and fans around the world, I think the Marvel heroes have become not just heroes on the screen, but moral beacons, serving the role professional athletes and celebrities usually play in pop culture.

And I’ll do you one better than that: adoration of the Marvel characters has become something on the level of idol worship, and of a particular kind that has its roots in the earliest beginnings of human history.

That is to say, the Marvel films aren’t superhero films; they’re mythological tales about demigods. Superheroes stand for ideals; they’re the personifications of truth, justice, freedom, and other high-minded aspirations. In mythology, you idolize the person, not the ideal. What kind of ideals did Hercules stand for that people would’ve appreciated? It’s kind of difficult to even think of what he stood for; people just kinda root for him to succeed because he’s Hercules.

heracles
(Image from greekgodsandgoddesses.net.)

What do the Marvel heroes stand for? Protecting the Earth? Probably – I mean the Avengers do, at least on paper – but it seems more like merely an afterthought to give us a reason to watch our heroes rather than the end goal itself. Many Marvel movies concern the affairs of the heroes themselves, not the people they’re supposed to be protecting. They play out like mythological tales, not superhero movies.

Stories like this resonate more deeply with people than standard superhero films, because they go back to our earliest roots. But it means the Marvel Cinematic Universe is not a superhero film franchise; it’s mythology. Marvel heroes are modern-day demigods. I may write a post that elaborates on this more some time.

Anyway, I will give The Avengers: Infinity War a 9 out of 10, because this movie would’ve been damn near perfect (for a Hollywood popcorn flick, of course) if it weren’t for Disney/Marvel basically sabotaging its own ending. If it seemed like Thanos was really going to win, end of story, it would’ve been much more effective. Guess we’ll have to see how Stark and pals find the reset button in the next film, huh? Thanks for reading. See you next week!

What did you think of Infinity War? Did it live up to the hype? Why is Gamora? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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Zach

Rabid Nintendo nerd, music lover, and film buff. I also like to write, hence why I'm here. I hope you enjoy my work.

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