A ton of spoilers in this review of Avengers: Infinity War
May 6, 2018 § Leave a comment
Marvel movies are graded on a curve.
We all know this. Sometimes they’re really very good movies — I’ve certainly enjoyed a few of them. But sometimes, they’re capable of getting away with things that other films would be (and often are) excoriated for. When Avengers came out, I pointed out at the time that the level of property destruction in the film was staggering. We’re talking thousands of casualties and billions upon billions of dollars to repair it. Buildings were collapsing like an enthusiastic game of Jenga played by drunks. Yet Avengers was beloved by all, despite its flaws.
Both Age of Ultron and Civil War got away with cinematic sins far greater than any of the DC movies, because Marvel movies are graded on a curve.
Avengers: Infinity War would be getting lukewarm reviews at best if it were not the culmination of 10 years of films in the Marvel Studios umbrella. Is it a terrible movie? No, not at all. It’s fun to watch. But even while you’re watching it, sitting there absorbing the plot immediately brings you to certain conclusions.
I’m about to rail about these conclusions. There will be spoilers. A lot of them. Don’t read on if you don’t want them.
The first problem I have with Infinity War is that it so wantonly kills off characters that it becomes numbing. Seeing Thanos attack and destroy the Asgardian escape vessel from Ragnarok seems jarringly excessive. It doesn’t serve to show what a badass Thanos is (which is obviously what they were going with since they had him manhandle the Hulk) it simply becomes tedious. Several of the best characters in the Marvel canon — Loki, Heimdall, and new arrivals Valkyrie and Korg from Ragnarok are summarily dispatched. It sets up Thor’s arc for the movie and establishes how Banner gets back to Earth, but even that is suspect — why did Heimdall send Banner and not, say, Thor himself? Or as many people as he could?
Secondly, Thanos is a fucking idiot.
No, seriously. He’s sympathetic and Josh Brolin does a good job playing him and investing him with grandeur, but everything he’s doing or has done falls apart the second you spend even the slightest amount of time thinking about it. In this, it is very similar to the problem with Zod in Man of Steel.
In MoS, Zod could have chosen from two nearby Terrestrial planets to turn into his new Krypton, and Kal-El/Clark would probably have helped him. All you have to do is say “And now, we transform Venus into New Krypton” and there’s no real motive to stop Zod. Thanos’ whole plan to bring balance to the universe by killing half of the life in existence is only necessary if you don’t have the Infinity Stones.
Thanos says repeatedly that he is doing what he’s doing because it’s necessary, that the universe is out of balance and he’s the only one who can see what has to be done, the only one who can make the hard choices. But he doesn’t have to do this to achieve him aims. He’s got the Infinity Stones. The second you have all six, you don’t have to kill or wish away anyone — you can simply stop all births after the current crop of about to be born are born and permanently sterilize as many people as you need to keep births below replacement. You could even use the Stones to bring back everyone you murdered to achieve your aims, and let them live out their lives. The universe would still be ‘balanced’ and nobody would have had to die to achieve it.
Similarly, the Gamora sacrifice scene, which I’m sure was supposed to be an effective way to look into the Mad Titan’s heart, becomes stupid as hell once he has the magical “I can do anything” glove. If he loved her so much and it tore his heart out to sacrifice her to get the Soul Gem? Wish her back. He can do that now.
I’m not saying people would have welcomed universe wide sterilization on that scale. I’m saying he could have done it, accomplished his aims, and not killed a single soul. It made sense in the comics for Thanos to wish half the universe dead because that was the act of a death worshiper who was literally trying to get Death to date him with a mass tribute. In the movie, it’s an unnecessary thing.
This is outside of the fact that Thanos just does very stupid things with his almost infinite power. Even as he achieves it, he only does so because the film practically hands it to him — Loki handing over the Tesseract to save Thor, Doctor Strange handing over the Time Gem to save Tony, a guy who he doesn’t even like and who doesn’t even like him. (And yes, I know he did it because it was part of the one future he foresaw that had Thanos lose, thanks, that was incredibly telegraphed.) But in the two big fights we see Thanos in — the fight with the Guardians, Iron Man, Spider-Man and Doctor Strange and the fight in Wakanda — we see him flail around with his cosmic power like a drunkard when previous scenes in this same movie show him easily dispatching a ship full of Asgardians and slap the Hulk around without it.
“But see, Matt, he’s not used to cosmic power yet!” Yeah, I getcha. I read Infinity Gauntlet when it came out, I know the tropes. They problem here is that the fights with Thanos all feel like they have no stakes — he’ll win because he has to win to get us to the downer ending the movie is determined to present. Ironically enough, spending most of the movie building up Thanos as a character manages to rob the film of tension. We spend so much time focusing on him, on the mission he’s set for himself, that it almost feels inevitable that he’d win. Why wouldn’t he win? He’s the hero of the movie. It’s his movie. Of course he wins.
Besides the fact that he could achieve his goals without killing a single person, there’s the fact that his motivation is bullshit. A big case could be made that the problem he was trying to solve isn’t overpopulation at all. The imbalance that leads to societal collapse and the majority of people going hungry is the unfair distribution of a society’s wealth so that a relative few hold the lion’s share of the resources while others are forced in a poverty that is punitive and unnecessary. In other words, Thanos, the second you got that glove you could have wished that everyone had the necessities of survival. You could have wished away the very things you used to justify cosmic mass murder. His entire speech to Gamora about how her people were going hungry, his demonstration to Strange about how his civilization fell and how he makes the hard choices because of it — these only show that he didn’t bother to actually study why these things happen before he decided the answer was just to kill half of everyone.
And dude, Thanos, my man, the Asgardians you slaughtered? They were already the survivors of a disaster that wiped out half of them.
Forgetting for a moment the problem with Thanos (who, again, is very well acted by Josh Brolin), there was a serious problem with the movie as a movie. Yes, it’s the culmination of 18 or so films. Yes, it’s the big wrap up of 10 years of Marvel Studios movies. Does that excuse it from working as a self contained film? Everyone will have a different opinion of this, but I’ll be blunt — spending an entire movie watching Purple Sephiroth go on about how only he has the will to murder half the universe in between disjointed scenes of fan favorite characters that never get a chance to do much got wearing on me after a while.
A lot of the acting varied from good to very good to even great in a few parts. Chris Evans managed to invest his Steve Rogers with a feeling of exhausted gravitas in the face of a threat so much bigger than anything he’s ever imagined. Chris Hemsworth’s Thor is a fully fledged amalgamation of every Thor performance we’ve seen to date — out of every character in the film he’s the only one who has an arc outside of Thanos that actually goes somewhere. Many other actors did excellent work with roles that felt almost like cameos. Scarlett Johansson really didn’t get enough to do here. Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillan work very hard to sell Thanos, and really are the ones to help support the emotional arc of the character. And man, Thanos, you really did play favorites with those two, huh? What’s with all the ‘kids’ anyway?
In fact, I’ll say this — from Rocket Raccoon to Spider-Man, I didn’t see a performance that felt bad. Most of them were pretty good, actually. The problem is, you never got to see any of them do anything unless they were playing Thanos. At least Thor accomplished something.
Thanos wasn’t the only one with an idiot ball, though. Star-Lord? The time to start smacking Thanos in the face is after they get the glove off him. You know, the one Spider-Man actually managed to get off? I don’t know how else to put this, but while I don’t feel like Chris Pratt was putting in a bad performance I felt like the writing for Star-Lord didn’t quite catch that, in his own movies, he’s not actually an idiot. He’s irreverent, cocky, and uses humor to deflect from the painful things in his life. This is perhaps a consequence of trying so hard to use so many characters.
The Wakanda scene was good. I liked seeing T’Challa in charge, and the way he and Captain America were the first two to reach the invasion force cemented him as a big deal in the MCU.
Again, it wasn’t a bad movie. It just wasn’t nearly as good as most reviews I’ve seen have said it was. And I can’t accept the idea that it shouldn’t be judged as a movie, that it’s really like the season finale of a TV show, because if that’s what it is? Make a tv series and put it there. Except you wouldn’t, because you’re expecting a billion dollar epic blockbuster and you know you’ll get it whether or not the film actually works as a film. And that’s fine, that’s a smart business decision. But it only works because Marvel films are by and large graded on a curve, and another studio trying this would get raked over the coals. I saw a lot of criticism of The Last Jedi and that movie was far and away a better film than this, as a stand alone film.