To Spoilers and Beyond
So I dug that there Avengers: Infinity War, but did not love it. So what happened? Did Marvel actually bounce my check so I can continue slagging off DC films? Far from it, instead I gave it a very fair critical analysis of what did work and did not work in the movie, as well as why despite its flaws I still very much enjoyed it. But in the tail end of my review, there was a single plot point towards the end that occurs that I have to say soured the whole experience for me, which is why I ultimately gave the film a low FULL PRICE. But because it was a major, MASSIVE spoiler, I couldn’t really talk about it, not even post-review score, as not knowing is so critical to your enjoyment level. So screw it, been awhile since our last spoiler talk on a pop culture phenomenon, so let’s not only discuss that big plot point, but the whole structure of the film and let’s chat about what I liked and what didn’t really click with me in Avengers: Infinity War after the picture break.
Thanos Drops the Nice Guy, Becomes the “Good” Guy
One of the biggest draws to the film has also been Marvel Studios’ most hyped character to date, Thanos. Since his debut in the post-credits scene in The Avengers (2012), the various films have hinted that his reign of terror is coming soon; even though every time he showed up in any other film was simply sitting on a floating chair. Fans of the comic series where Thanos truly made his mark on the Marvel Universe also wondered if he would live up to his star-making turn in The Infinity Gauntlet. Which is interesting because the prose version of Thanos is absurdly different from the film version.
Without wishing to dance around the point, comic-version of Thanos is basically a “Nice Guy.” You know what I’m talking about, those guys who try to be friends with women so they can try to hook up with them under false pretenses of their friendship. See, Thanos in the comics wants to deck out his Infinity Gauntlet with the Infinity Stones for the sole purpose of killing a whole bunch of people for one reason and one reason alone: to hook up with Death. No, not “Death” the concept, I mean he wants to hook up with the personification of Death itself who, because this is a comic-universe, is a hooded skeleton with a massive chest…told you the film version was vastly different.
And I have to say, that whole “courting Death” angle is patently silly and makes Thanos much more pathetic than anything as the “ultimate bad guy.” So instead, Marvel Studios performed a much more nuanced take on the character, in which he’s a twisted perversion on the concept of a “superhero.” Yes, Thanos believes himself to really be the hero of this little yarn as he sees mass overpopulation across the entire galaxy as an inevitably, thereby rushing everyone to an early demise. Instead, Thanos believes the only logical solution to the overpopulation is outright random genocide, separating each planet or group he comes across in half and wiping one of the two halves completely. It’s a twisted logic for him to undertake that the audience nonetheless “gets.”
Over the course of decades in Western fiction, we’ve seen countless villains want to DESTROY THE WORLD for absolutely petty or even nonsensical reasons. To the point that such villains have become the source of endless parody. Thanos sidesteps that whole comparison with his calm demeanor as the lays out the rationale for his mission to Gamora and his outright heartbreak of having to sacrifice her for the sake of the Soul Stone. Once again, Josh Brolin and Zoe Saldana absolutely shine in these brief few moments, as Saldana perfectly encapsulates the relationship of an abused child facing her tormentor and Brolin demonstrates a level of internal conflict that is both twisted and yet intriguing to watch. Similar to characters like Cersei Lanister and Walter White, Thanos is a thoroughly monstrous character but has nonetheless believes himself the “good guy,” and such levels of analysis make him intriguing enough for audiences to want to follow his story…even as he commits the larges genocide of all time. Speaking of which…
The Death Snap Was Amazing…for Just a Few Minutes
So after an epic superhero battle to end all superhero battles, the Avengers fail in their mission to stop Thanos from acquiring all six Infinity Stones and the Mad Titan performs the Death Snap, half of all of existence is wiped out with a simple flick of his fingers. Among the casualties are all but two of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Bucky, Doctor Strange, The Falcon, The Vision, Scarlet Witch, Spider-Man and Black Panther. Before this, Loki and Heimdall were eliminated as was Gamora. And after everything was said and done, Thanos teleported away from the surviving heroes to a beautiful meadow where he struggles to form a smile, having successfully murdered half the universe in the blink of an eye. Absolute downer of an ending, leaving audiences everywhere shell-shocked, as fans ponder what could possibly come next and in disbelief that such a risky and iconic scene from The Infinty Gauntlet comic was brought to the big screen.
After walking out of the theater, I was honestly left speechless. The Marvel formula has basically conditioned us all for the past ten years to expect our heroes to succeed and the villains to fail for one reason or another. It’s partly why the series has been harshly criticized by some critics, deriding the films as “predictable.” While I have frequently disagreed with such an assertion (click any of the previous paragraph’s reviews for my defense and praise of these films in action), it’s true that I’ve never really felt any of the heroes (save for the exception of the Guardians of the Galaxy) were in any real danger of being killed off. But for a brief few minutes, the shock of Thanos’ Death Snap floored me…until I realized that many on the casualty list have already been confirmed for sequels.
See, sequels to both Black Panther and Guardians of the Galaxy were both commissioned by Marvel Studios right before they dropped given their critical and financial success. And Tom Holland is under a multi-film contract to appear in several more Marvel films, not counting yet another solo Spider-man film. So it seems incredibly strange to me that Marvel would bump off in the first part of their two part Avengers movie, several characters who we know are coming back. Suddenly, due to the nature of the business and the movie-making machine that is Marvel, these multiple character deaths seem, in hindsight, a temporary setback. Hell, this even goes for Tom Holland who got tear ducts draining everywhere with his startling great finale, but knowing he’s likely to come back robs his scene of much pathos.
Had the characters who died mostly been actors who were known to have run their course on their respective contracts, like Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr., perhaps the emotional gut punch of their deaths felt “real” to me. Or perhaps, as one of my coworkers pointed out, these specific heroes were sacrificed at the altar of the Death Snap for parents to reassure their children that “everything will be okay.” Slightly cynical take to be sure, but one not without founding.
Something I really don’t get, however, is everyone shitting on everyone’s favorite Han Solo knockoff…
Star-Lord Don’ Goofed
There comes a moment in the climax of the film where there’s a brief moment of hope that the heroes could pull out a win in the end as the combined efforts of the Guardians, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man and Iron Man pin Thanos down to the point they almost took away the Infinity Gauntlet away from the Mad Titan…until Star-Lord royally messed up. I’ve seen several critics and fans dogpile on Chris Pratt’s character for throwing a temper tantrum with the fate of the universe hanging in the balance. But I think that’s an unfair look at the character, who might be basically responsible for dooming the whole universe…yes, I’m really about to defend Star-Lord for his epic cockup.
See, as I stated in my Star Wars: The Last Jedi review, I can respect when a film allows its protagonist to make dumb mistakes PROVIDED their was an emotional through line for their error. And over the course of the events of the Guardians of the Galaxy films, we have been witnessing a Star-Lord slowly transform from a man-child to an emotionally healthy adult, but one who’s still learning to be a good man. The setup for Star-Lord’s downfall is done perfectly as well: he’s confident that his crew can take on Thanos despite Gamora’s absolute fear of what the warmonger could accomplish and is forced to swear (on his mother’s life, critically established in previous films as sore point) that he will execute the love of his life in order to save the whole galaxy. And when the moment to put up or shut up came…he did it. He pulled the trigger on his lover, tears in his eyes and once again falling back on his childlike demeanor in cursing why no one went with his plan. The only reason Gamora survived was because Thanos already had the Reality Stone in his possession, so he was merely toying with Peter Quill and Gamora the whole time.
So when Round 2 against Thanos came, Star-Lord was in absolutely no position to follow through with the heroes’ plan. Despite Mantis’ empath powers subduing the Mad Titan, Peter Quill couldn’t help but taunt Thanos after everything he put him and Gamora through, and the swagger he opened the film up was in full force and effect. But upon finding out that the villain has indeed ended his lover’s life, suddenly the galaxy no longer mattered to Peter. Gamora was his whole universe and it was shattered in that moment, so he completely lost control. It’s a prototypical tragedy right before our eyes, featuring a character many have written off as a “jokey” protagonist, but indeed has way more going on just under the surface.
You see, when you lay all out, the Russo Brothers did a pretty damn good job in cramming in so many great moments…it’d just be nice if we had a time to process any of it because…
The Part I Narrative Structure is Still a Hard as Hell To Do
My biggest knock against the film, besides realizing the ending will likely not mean much come this time next year, is that Infinity War was supposed to be a Part I to a two part film. It’s unsurprising that such a massive story featuring roughly 21 superheroes and their various allies would take more than 3 hours to tell, so I get why Marvel Studios wanted to split the yarn into two parts. That nonetheless creates a ton of narrative structure problems that can’t be easily ignored.
For one, this film does not have a traditional three-act structure. For those unaware, the three acts typically seen in fiction are the Setup, the Confrontation, and Resolution. You usually utilize the first act in order to “Setup” who the major characters are, where and when they are, as well as why they are doing whatever they’re doing before an “inciting incident” occurs triggering the end of the First Act and establishing what the conflict for the rest of the movie will be. We don’t get a First Act at all in Avengers: Infinity War, as you (the audience) are expected to know who each and every single one of these character are before a second of the film even begins. I said as much in my review that you need to watch at least TEN different Marvel films in order to understand the basics of what the hell Infinity Stones do as well as who each of the 22 main players are supposed to be.
Now I get that the film is purely “for the fans” of these movies, and watching Infinity War without watching some of the films I mentioned would be tantamount to watching the Red Wedding episode on Game of Thrones without having seen the four seasons leading up to that moment. And it’s fair to say that the Marvel films are in their own specific camp that encourages serialized storytelling, but the toll to get the “understanding” is a pretty large time investment if you never checked these films out before. But even the first Avengers film was able to introduce all six main heroes (how quaint) expediently and establish what each person’s deal is. Then again, with 21 protagonists and a major villain all vying for the spotlight, it’s easy for introductions to just be discarded entirely much like the Third Act of this story.
See, this film does not have a Resolution of the Three Acts, instead the whole movie is one very long Second Act containing nothing but conflict. The four quadrants of heroes each try to stop Thanos in their own way, which leads to the two big showdowns at the end of the film (one on Titan and one in Wakanda). The trouble is neither confrontation resolves the film. Now you might be thinking, “But Chris, Thanos won. He got his hands on all six Infinity Stones and snapped half of everything there ever was out of existence, how is that not an ending?” Because of the two part nature to this Avengers film, the Death Snap can’t help but feel like the end of the Second Act, where the protagonists reach their lowest point before finding the strength to take on the conflict in the big climax. Knowing there is another Avengers film coming in May 2019, basically leaves the audience in a state of limbo for an entire year before the main conflict is ultimately resolved.
And before you say, “Well everyone was blinked out of existence, I think that’s pretty resolved,” see my above points that many of these characters are due for sequels in the next few years. And no, I highly doubt that any future installment featuring these characters takes place before Infinity War, because it’s a bit of downer to watch a bunch of action you already know will mean nothing because they’re all about to die at the hands of Thanos. And yet, despite my reservations about this odd plotting, I must confess that the film ultimately still managed to stay at a FULL PRICE rating for one reason, and one reason alone…
These Characters are STILL Amazing to Watch
The ultimate reason why I can never like the DC Cinematic Universe, is that they have consistently failed to give me characters I give a shit about (save for Wonder Woman). Over the course of eighteen films, Marvel has made me sympathize with the post-traumatic stress of a billionaire philanthropist who is literally a weapon of mass destruction, a World War II hero that was robbed of a happy life by being thrust decades forward in time, a Norse God learning humility in order to become the leader his people deserves, or a talking raccoon with such an intense distrust of anyone slowly finding a family that will love him despite his many mistakes. As absurd as these characters sound, as far removed from reality these conflicts are, they nonetheless feel intimately personal. For these characters go through the struggles many of us go through in our daily life, whether it’s grappling with our own feelings of justice, or coping with abusive relationships, or even learning to respect ourselves in the face of such overwhelming opposition.
These are just a few of the many reasons why the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a resounding box office and critical success for the past ten years. We’ve grown to love some, most, or all of these characters as they go through their trials and tribulations, metaphorically symbolizing our own struggles in our daily life. And much like in life, sometimes there are conflicts too big for just you to handle. Friends, family, or even strange bedfellows can influence our lives to become better and to care for these same people in return. Watching Thor form an unlikely friendship with Rocket, Iron Man debating responsibility with Doctor Strange, or Captain America wishing (against all odds) to save as many people as possible including the Vision rather than take the easy way out, these are the moments I live for and why I adore these films as much as I do.
Because one more time, for the people in the back: strong characters will almost always save a production from whatever problems it has, even as jarring ones as narrative structure or underfunded budgets. Avengers: Infinity War understood this perfectly well, and it’s why I stand by my high rating. At the end of the day, my love for these characters on film (which were not born from reading the comics) is what keeps me coming back for more, as I wait patiently along with the rest of the world for Avengers 4.
Share your own thoughts on your favorite moments from the film or problems you just couldn’t get over in the comments! Thank you for reading.
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