Avengers: Infinity War makes references, but misses the point
After 10 years and 18 movies, Marvel Studios released Avengers: Infinity War, a film built out of anticipation and letdowns and thoughts from viewers like, “Hey, I recognize that thing,” or “Something similar to this happened in another movie that I watched.”
As part of a social media campaign, directors Joe and Anthony Russo attempted to spread the phrase #ThanosDemandsYourSilence in an attempt to curb spoilers online, especially those upon which Infinity War’s plot is so dependent.
There could be no fair discussion of the film without getting into the spoilers and readers should be warned that there is no silence on such matters lying ahead.
The villain is in search of six different magic items. Infinity War picks up the plot of 10 separate titles within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The poster has 19 billed actors, with an additional four depicted. There is a lot going on before the movie even starts.
After the credits of the inaugural MCU film, 2008’s Iron Man, Nick Fury says, “You’ve become part of a bigger universe,” and it feels as if that universe never stopped expanding.
Simply put, Avengers: Infinity War is the story of Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Captain America, Black Widow, War Machine, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Black Panther, Gamora, Nebula, Loki, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Falcon, the Winter Soldier, Heimdall, Okoye, Wong, Mantis, Drax, Groot, Rocket and Star-Lord trying to stop Thanos from getting the Infinity Stones.
At times, the film feels dispassionately list-like. One thing happens, then the next and the next. And little check boxes are marked to indicate that everybody got the chance to make a joke about what happened.
Thanos was first introduced in the post-credits scene to 2012’s The Avengers, where he turned and smiled to the camera. Then, in 2014, more of Thanos was seen, as he was revealed sitting in a chair. In 2015, he put on a glove. Now, in 2018, he finally acts upon his plans, three years after saying, “I’ll do it myself.”
It is unclear what was preventing Thanos from acting until now. When he shows up, there is little indication that this has been something of anticipation. For six years, the MCU films have been mentioning Infinity Stones, but at no point in Infinity War does it feel as if the villain is somebody who has been teased for six years. Years of setup feel pointless now.
There are six Infinity Stones: space, reality, power, mind, time and soul, introduced as the Tesseract, Aether, orb, Loki’s scepter and Eye of Agamotto respectively, with the soul stone undiscovered as of yet.
By possessing all six, as established in the source material, Jim Starlin’s Infinity Gauntlet comic-book saga, a person would be omnipotent. Each stone bestows god-like powers and the combination of the six provides the power to do anything, such as wiping out half the population of the universe with the snap of a finger.
Herein lies the foundational problem for Infinity War: the stakes of Thanos’ quest and the battles surrounding it. In narrative structure, there is a concept called “Chekhov’s Gun:” when a gun is introduced into a story, it is expected to be fired. With the introduction of the Infinity Stones, it is fair to expect them to be gathered and used at some point. Otherwise, there would seem to be no point of giving them their combined powers if not to use them. The Infinity Stones have the power to kill anybody, but they also have the power to bring people back to life.
Some of Marvel’s most significant attempts at drama in the past have been in the killing of characters. The dramatic turn of The Avengers hinged on the death of Phil Coulson. Captain America: The Winter Soldier established the ever-present danger of the titular villain through the death of Nick Fury. Generally speaking, death has never been something to get too concerned about in the MCU, with characters often reappearing after their supposed demises.
What is different in this case is that the film is so plainly built on the question of who will live and who will die, and — Marvel’s tendency to only permanently kill villains and side characters aside — with the Infinity Stones in play, anybody who is killed in this movie can be brought back to life in the fourth, currently untitled Avengers film.
Even before the final moments of Infinity War, there are deaths set up to be significant moments. After killing Loki, Thanos says, “No resurrections this time.” It fails to ring true. Even in the breathless moments at the end, after the villain snaps his fingers to get exactly what he wanted and when half of the characters evaporate into dust like Voldemort in the final Harry Potter film, there is no sense of consequence.
Sure, viewers do not know what will happen until the next Avengers film is released in a year, but they know that there is the potential of every one of the characters who died coming back to life.
Infinity War is still an entertaining movie. Characters quip at each other and make jokes. Just about everybody gets a moment to make a joke, villains included. This has been a part of the MCU’s style for years now, stemming mostly from Joss Whedon’s The Avengers and the sense of pervasive humor throughout.
Banal comments, antagonistic jibes and drama-deflating jokes have become mainstays of the MCU. There is nothing wrong with Marvel’s sense of humor; it is nice to have fun at the movies.
However, it is a fault of Infinity War’s that characters get little to do other than joking or fighting. With the over-abundance of characters, few get a character arc of any sort, coming into the story and leaving it relatively unchanged. There are changes in body parts and some people die, but there are ultimately no meaningful changes for any characters.
Star-Lord and Loki revert to characters acting based on their archetypes for no real reason. Iron Man is brash and egoistic and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts returns only to be his fiancée, yelling over the phone for him not to save the world. Hulk has a struggle with turning into the Hulk from his form as Bruce Banner — based on marketing and some visuals, this seems to have been a decision made during reshoots — but it is really just a recurring moment that is left hanging. Nobody learns or changes, as it seems the creative team found difficulty in balancing their long roster of characters beyond combat and jokes.
To the credit of the directing Russo brothers and the writers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, every character has a role to play.
Fans of specific superheroes will not leave disappointed that their favorites did not get a moment in the spotlight, unless, of course, they were hoping to see Hawkeye or Ant-Man. But they should be disappointed in the realization that the characters are not part of any meaningful story.
Markus and McFeely were clearly aware of previous Marvel films’ respective existences, including conversational references to the attack on New York in The Avengers, Iron Man’s surgery in Iron Man 3, Thor’s family woes in Thor: The Dark World and Thor: Ragnarok, Star-Lord’s dance-off in Guardians of the Galaxy and the Sokovia Accords of Captain America: Civil War. But the references are just the shallow recognitions that Infinity War is not the first Marvel movie.
The respect Iron Man gained for Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Homecoming is gone. There is no sense of lasting impact from the team-shattering Accords, and even the crippling of War Machine is glossed over with the fact that he has bionic leg-enhancers. Everything that Thor learned in Ragnarok is ignored in favor of him getting yet another weapon — he had been asked in his last outing if he was “the god of hammers,” but his self-actualizing goes unnoticed here.
For all the claims Marvel executives make about the connected nature of all the films in its cinematic universe, Infinity War is mostly informed by basic characterizations, plot summaries and knowledge of where the superheroes were last seen.
There is a sense that nothing matters and nothing significant is happening in the movie, yet it still has some elements to be applauded. The villains act as tough challenges at every turn, from Thanos to his children to the hordes of multi-armed creatures sent into Wakanda.
The heroes are seen struggling, creating a minute sense of stakes in the individual combats. The action is coherent and varied, something this creative team has showed strength in since their first teaming up with The Winter Soldier — the fighting style Captain America adopts in that film has informed every outing of the character since in an immensely positive way.
There are plenty of nice visuals, and the music by Alan Silvestri gives the film a sense of gravitas, declaring that this is a film where important things can be expected to happen. There are plenty of fist-pumping moments and grand entrances to be had. It is the kind of movie that, after years of anticipation, will elicit applause and cheers from audiences. But it is all empty, devoid of any sense of lasting impact.
Even if it were not for the announcements of a Homecoming and Black Panther sequel or Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, the very nature of Infinity War is its inconsequential story. As a standalone movie, Infinity War is a disappointment.
As a part one — as it was originally announced and should have remained — Infinity War has surface-level eventfulness. That surface is easily shattered, revealing an empty, meaningless core to a humorous but wasted movie.