Avengers: Infinity War… finally.

avengers-infinity-war-2
Spoiler alert: this scene isn’t in the movie.

Hey guys,

I’ve finally gotten around to putting down my thoughts on Avengers: Infinity War. Without further adieu…

It’s almost impossible to discuss Avengers: Infinity War in depth without spoilers.  One of the most talked about aspects of the movie is the ending. So, if you haven’t seen the movie, my apologies for the spoiler-ish caption above.  Now go away and return after you’ve seen the film.  And see it you should.  It’s not without its flaws, but it’s certainly worth seeing on the big screen.

Okay, now…

Say what you will about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s undeniable they’ve created something both extraordinary and unique in its execution. Avengers: Infinity War is the 19th film in a shared film universe. Think about that for a second, 19 films (Stanley Kubrick only directed 11 feature films in his lifetime) all with overlapping storylines, heroes and villains, but with different writers, different directors, and an impressively long list of some of the best actors you could ask for across the board. What’s even more remarkable is how entertaining all these movies are.  Even the turkeys are, at the very least, diverting.  I didn’t like Avengers: Age of Ultron or either of the first two Thor movies, but I didn’t think they were boring.  And although it’s a shitty metric to judge a film by, they all made a hell of a lot of money.  And when you then expand into the network tv shows and series on Netflix, I mean, holy shit.  The fact that it works at all is a minor miracle.  And Avengers: Infinity War is the ultimate culmination of all that storytelling, all that character development, all that world-building.

So how is it?  Well, it’s pretty good.  I didn’t like it as much as the first Avengers, but I liked it better than Age of Ultron. 

Everything before the 3rd act finale in Wakanda works best. The whole time I was watching the first half, I kept thinking, “Holy shit, they’re pulling it off.” It was so well-balanced, the storytelling constructed in such a way that warranted all these different characters reacting to unfolding events in different locations, in different ways. I’m a sucker for a great character entrance. Obviously, Harrison Ford stepping out of the shadows after bull-whipping the gun out of the guide’s hand in Raiders of the Lost Ark is a cinema classic. Michael Keaton’s, “I’m Batman.” The first appearance of the chest-buster xenomorph popping his way out of John Hurt’s chest in Alien. And yet when I think of great character entrances, I find myself returning to Danny McBride’s character introduction in This is the End. Within the context of the film, it’s note perfect and hilarious. My favorite moment in Avengers: Infinity War occurs in the first act, when Rubberband Man by the Spinners kicks in, we see a shot of distant stars and a large bold title pops on screen that reads simply, SPACE.  And we’re introduced to The Guardians of the Galaxy as they sing along to Rubberband Man on their mission to investigate a distress call coming from, what turns out to be the Asgardian ship featured at the end of Thor: Ragnarok. It’s a great character reveal and it put a huge smile on my face.

[Side note: listen closely and see if you can’t hear the beginning of Flash, by Queen in the opening of Rubberband Man.]

I going to assume if you’ve read this far then you’ve already seen the movie, so I won’t bore you with a beat by beat breakdown of the entire plot.  I’ll just say that everything was working great for me right up until the main action moves to Wakanda. I enjoyed the crosscut scene on Thanos’ homeworld as Iron Man, Spider-man, Dr. Strange and most of the Guardians of the Galaxy fight a small scale battle against Thanos as they attempt to separate the Infinity Guantlet from Thanos’ hand.  It’s a nice set-piece almost ruined by the single most bone-headed act by any movie character, ever, when Peter Quill inadvertently sabotages the entire endeavor. I hated his reaction to learning of Gamora’s death at the hands of Thanos. He huffs and puffs and then punches Thanos in the face. While Mantis is desperately trying to control one of the most powerful characters in the entire MCU and Spider-man and Ironman nearly have the glove off, Starlord punches him in the face. Ugh. Nobody is that stupid, not even Peter Quill. If I had never seen a Guardians of the Galaxy movie, that moment would have instantly cemented Starlord as my least favorite Marvel character.  Otherwise, it’s a great scene, all these heroes working together, each employing their specific talents in concert to take down an adversary greater than any one of them.  It’s why we watch Avengers movies in the first place.  But, back in Wakanda, stupidity abounds I’m afraid.

There’s so much about the Wakanda scenes that just don’t work, it’s hard to decide where to start.  First, the obvious.  Both Captain America and Black Panther are criminally underused in this film.  After a pretty kickass character entrance in his own right, the rest of Steve Rogers’ scenes are all in Wakanda, as are all of Black Panther’s.  And neither has more than a couple lines of dialogue, none of which contribute significantly to the story.  Nothing they do in Wakanda has any impact on the plot.  The worst part is that Black Panther spent an entire film telling the audience that Wakanda is far more technologically advanced than the rest of the world, and yet when an alien horde attacks, they’re out there with spears, punching the invaders.  Punching them.  Captain America, Black Panther, Black Widow are out there engaging in hand to hand combat, virtually weapon-free.  Imagine if allied forces stormed the beaches in Normandy on D-Day with baseball bats, punching Nazis in the face. I have a sneaking suspicion World War II would have ended quite differently. It’s like the action movie adage that goes, “isn’t it convenient how all the evil henchmen attack the hero one at a time.” Only 100 times worse. I know, I know, Bucky, Rhodes and the Falcon are all out there shooting up the joint, but my point is, how about some frickin’ lazer beams? They have an energy shield that was working pretty well, then what? Nothing. A pretty odd choice for the most technologically advanced country on the planet.

By the time Thanos shows up in Wakanda for the Time Stone, the legs had been totally cut off the film for me.  We already bore witness to a pretty good battle on Thanos’ homeworld.  Now there’s another fight with Thanos? Captain America holds his own, punching up a storm with the best of them, but by then Thanos has all but one of the Infinity Stones.  The tension and excitement, unfortunately, gets split in half along with the two separate Thanos battles.  One bright spot, speaking of excellent character entrances, is when Thor returns with Stormbreaker and almost kills Thanos. After an entire film taking a back seat, we are reminded why Thor is considered a God.  It was a pretty bad ass moment.  That being said, the title of the film is Infinity War.  But really they should have called it Avengers: Infinity Skirmishes.  We saw a series of smaller battles, but we never had a climactic, all hands on deck showdown with Thanos.  I don’t mind admitting I was disappointed as hell.

Which brings us to the much talked about ending in which half the universe, and therefore half the Avengers “die” at the snap of Thanos’ fingers.  I put die in quotes because we all know most, if not all will be coming back.  It’s an unfortunate fact of life that movies no longer occur as isolated experiences in a theater.  The internet, in large part, has ruined that aspect for the movie going audience.  We already know a Tom Holland Spider-man sequel is in the works.  We know Black Panther is getting a sequel.  We know Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 3 is on the horizon.  That knowledge makes the ending of Infinity War feel dishonest and as a result, cheap.  Other than Spider-man’s emotional plea to a helpless Ironman as he disintegrates, the impact of their deaths carries little weight. Incidentally, Tom Holland is a goddamn perfect Peter Parker and a goddamn perfect Spider-man.  Such great casting.

Speaking of Thanos, my only problem with him as an antagonist is that his goal is pretty stupid. The movie spends a surprising amount of time developing him as a well-rounded, nearly sympathetic character who approaches his villainous obligation with an air of reticence. The problem is that that goal doesn’t make any sense.  In a nutshell, Thanos believes the universe cannot sustain the spread of life and the wasteful consumption of resources that comes with it. He seeks balance, as he puts it.  Apparently the only way to balance the universe is to murder half of the population of it.  But with the power of a god can’t he just make more resources, more planets, more of whatever is needed? How about a moratorium on procreation for a few years allowing the death rate to exceed the birth rate for awhile? Not great, but also not genocide.  His whole “balance” theory of the universe is reductive to such a ridiculous degree nobody could possibly take it seriously.  It’s just silly and not in a Lex Luthor’s evil plot from Donner’s Superman kinda way, which is, I have to admit, gleefully bananas. One of my favorite super-villain plans of all time. I just wish the filmmakers would have addressed the fact that Thanos’ plan is ludicrous. Ego’s plan in Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 was ludicrous and also murderous on a universal scale, but I bought it.  I bought it because at every turn James Gunn was reminding us how goddamn insane a plan it was.  In Avengers: Infinity War everyone just seems to shrug, yeah okay, we better get on that. It bothered me a great deal.

[Side note: Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is not particularly good.  Akin to Age of Ultron and Thor 1 & 2. First Guardians is a much much better film.]

I had a few other, more minor quibbles with the film.  I didn’t like that the Hulk refused to come out to play, as it were. I get what they were going for, that perhaps this enormous rage machine was frightened by Thanos, thereby cementing Thanos’ place as the more powerful character in the MCU, but I didn’t buy it.  Remember the caption under the pic above? Yeah, fuck you too, Marvel. I don’t like trailers that lie to you. And then showing the Hulkbuster armor in the trailers was another red herring I didn’t care for. You already know, I’m sure, but that’s a Hulk-free Bruce Banner in there, not Tony Stark.

One other detail kept pestering me early on, during the scene in Scotland when Midnight and Glaive attack Scarlet Witch and Vision.  They’re fighting, duking it out, Vision is down and Wanda seems keenly aware she is unequipped to handle these two adversaries on her own.  And yet, Vision and Scarlet Witch can both fly.  So why didn’t they? When trouble rears its ugly head and the fight begins to go sideways, why didn’t they just fly away? Kinda like Neo in The Matrix Reloaded. What the hell was he waiting for? YOU CAN FLY! One saving grace of the scene – when Steve Rogers shows up and catches that thrown spear (man, what’s with all the spears in this movie?) like a boss, the look on Wanda’s face, the look of utter relief that Captain America is there to save the day, is totally priceless. With a single look, we’re reminded that Elizabeth Olsen is, in fact, a fine actress.

Post credits scene. For those of you who aren’t booger-eating nerds or haven’t looked up its meaning yet, the logo that appeared on Nick Fury’s communicator device was for Captain Marvel.  Carol Danvers, played by Brie Larson, has her own movie coming out soon.  I’m sure it’s safe to assume that Captain Marvel will have a significant role in Avengers 4. Similarly, I suspect Ant-man and Hawkeye were both kept out of Avengers: Infinity War because they will be front and center in Avengers 4.  If I had to guess I’d say Ant-man and Hawkeye (or maybe just Ant-man) somehow travel back in time to try and undo the events of Avengers: Infinity War. Will we get a Back to the Future 2 type situation? I’d be lying if I said the idea doesn’t intrigue the hell out of me.  And you know that at some point someone other than Thanos is going to wield the Infinity Gauntlet and it probably isn’t going to end well for them.  My money is on Ironman.

The Russo Brothers have teased that Avengers 4 will introduce some pretty drastic changes to the MCU. I hope they’re not blowing smoke up our ass. So far, Avengers: Infinity War feels more like the first act of a 6 hour movie. I hope the next one delivers on the promise set forth by the Infinity War title because I don’t really feel like this one did. That being said, I will admit I’m looking forward to finding out how this all plays out.

-cohan

p.s. Stay tuned for a Solo review.  Seeing it tomorrow.

 

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