Avengers: Infinity War is not only ambitious, it’s pretty damn good

They did something no other Marvel movie has even attempted.

Avengers: Infinity War is easily the best movie I’ve seen since Thor: Ragnarok. To truly understand the greatness of the movie I think we’ll have to, as usual, go into spoilers. But before we get there let’s get one thing straight. Alan Silvestri is a music scoring god. At the ripe age of 69, he’s still knocking scores out of the park. His work was tremendous in the terrible movie that was Ready Player One where he played up the cheesiness of the film to the hilt, highlighting moments that thematically matched Back to the Future with stings from that score. His work was no less tremendous in this film even though the intent and execution were entirely different where he dealt with a far more serious tone.

The movie is pretty dark, especially for Marvel fare, so you might want to take that into consideration when deciding whether your kid is ready to see it. Or whether you really want to watch it, yourself. The movie earns that darkness with quality writing and there’s still a fair amount of humor but it’s something to keep in mind.

I also want to address the five points from my preview article and I think I can touch on one of them without getting into spoilers. If even that seems like too much for you and you haven’t seen it, yet, turn away now. You have been warned.

I worried that the movie would turn into a Transformers flick with tons of incomprehensible CGI battles. I can assure you now that that is simply not the case. Yeah, there are plenty of CGI battles to be had in this movie but the stakes and players are always crystal clear. The choreographers, costume crew, and animators all do a terrific job highlighting who is who with different costumes, moves, and frequent, brief pauses to allow the audience to reorient themselves. The movie also did a great job varying the scale of the various conflicts so that they didn’t all feel the same and when it goes big they really go all in. That might honestly be the motto of this movie, “Go all in, all the time.”

OK, so let’s hit the spoilers.

Spoiler alert! Turn back if you don't want any spoilers!

I’m already doing these out of order so I’m just going to keep going with that to make things fit the new order I want. Cool? Cool.

Did they kill off characters just do prove Thanos was a badass?

The fear that got me started on the preview article even if it didn’t show up until second on the original list was that lots of characters would die for this reason. And I nailed that one. Heimdall (Idris Elba) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) die at the beginning of the movie for absolutely that reason and that reason alone. This was incredibly frustrating for me as I had just watched Movies with Mikey about Thor: Ragnarok earlier the day I saw this movie. Mikey goes on at length about how that film eliminates the chaff of the prior two films and reboots it with just the necessary and good characters. And then this film eliminates at least two of them without preamble. So, yeah, two characters – one minor, one major – killed off in the first 10 minutes of the movie and I was prepared to riot before the title had even appeared onscreen.

The good news, however, is that every other character death felt earned. Even the ones in the final moments that will almost certainly be undone by the end of the next film. Particularly moving was Vision’s (Paul Bettany) death – which happened twice. Wanda Maximoff (aka Scarlet Witch) (Elizabeth Olsen) must murder her lover, Vision, in order to prevent Thanos (Josh Brolin) from completing the Infinity Gauntlet by collecting Vision’s Mind Stone. She has spent the entire movie trying to find a way around this but ultimately has failed. Just as she finishes destroying the stone and him he mouths, “I love you.” to her and it’s a gripping moment in a movie that doesn’t otherwise really deal in character drama outside this and a couple other moments. That isn’t the end of the scene though. It leads to the moment when Thanos finally drives the point home that he absolutely cannot be stopped (yet). He uses the Time Stone that he just recently acquired from Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), and company to reverse time until Vision is revived. He then takes the gem and kills him, again, without any hesitation whatsoever.

So you get a nice, strong bit of character drama, you are reminded once last time (in this film, anyway) how terrifyingly unbeatable Thanos is, and you are reminded how utterly ruthless he is when it comes time to kill people in order to achieve his goals. There’s a ton of quality stuff happening in that single moment. And it’s far from the only moment in the film to work that hard or that well.

The movie did chicken out when it was given the easy shot at Iron Man after setting everything up for him to get offed. Though it did it in a way that was traumatizing for the character and offers him new opportunities for growth and/or movement.

Was Wakanda screwed?

One of two climactic, simultaneous battles of the film took place there but it looks like they either never had any intention of allowing my specific fears to come true or they did some serious re-working. For one thing, perhaps the most memorable scene from the trailers, which provided the screenshot that became the headline for last week’s preview article, doesn’t currently appear in the movie. Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and his Wakandan cohorts were given equal billing at the very least when the fight came to their turf. T’Challa actually did lead the fight, Okoye (Danai Gurira) continued to hold her own with superpowered beings all around her, and Shuri (Letitia Wright) had a terrific moment when she mocked the brilliant Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Tony Stark for not thinking of something that was blindingly obvious to her as well as having the tech and acumen to pull off a tricky bit of malware removal that they couldn’t have hoped to manage.

The country doesn’t escape unscathed. There are fires and destruction all around the capital but for the most part, they held their own nicely. At least until Thanos used the gauntlet to implement his ultimate plan. When he destroyed half of humanity T’Challa was one of those who was killed. This seems like a huge mistake. T’Challa was already missing for a large chunk of his own movie and now, while it seems unlikely he’ll stay dead permanently, he’s likely to miss at least a large chunk of the next movie. Honestly, I would have been far more interested in seeing Okoye “die” in his arms and how that affected his character as he fights through the next film. It also would have been more believable that she might stay dead.

Wakanda deserved to have their hero be one of those who was front and center in the next film. It’s possible that Shuri, Nakia, or even M’Baku might take over the role. However, Black Panther made that seem like a pretty unlikely outcome. Even if they do choose to go that route or otherwise ensure that Wakanda’s heroes are able to continue the fight without their king in the next film, it’s getting to be a bit frustrating that Marvel can’t seem to let Chadwick Boseman develop any kind of momentum in the role.

Did many (or any) characters get interesting arcs?

This was the biggest question I had to ask myself when I walked out of the theater. Did anyone actually get an arc? The answer turns out to be quite different from anything I’d considered before seeing the movie so let’s break it down into two parts.

For one thing, some heroes were utterly missing. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Antman (Paul Rudd) got only passing references. Hawkeye is an original Avenger and he merits only a single line about being under house arrest. And he has to share that line with Antman who may or may not even actually have ever been an Avenger. Even worse, to my way of thinking, were the omissions of Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Korg (Taika Waititi). Last we saw them they were traveling with Thor. They had just been introduced in his latest film, last year, and it seemed like they were going to be terrific sidekicks going forward for him. It seems unreasonable that they might have perished without even a tiny bit of screen time in this movie but we only ever saw one Asgardian refugee ship and it definitely got blown to pieces. In addition to that, it seems unreasonable that the MCU would want to continue with Thor as the only Asgardian. Hopefully, we’ll discover in the next film that they acquired another ship somewhere and that Valkyrie and Korg were leading the other half of the Asgardian refugees somewhere else.

The other issue with most of the heroes arcs is that they’re either ignored or repeated. Captain America (Chris Evans) has apparently been running his own version of The A-Team (which could have been an interesting stand-alone film) but is more or less the same as we last saw him. He was also, oddly, barely in this film. Tony Stark has reverted to the same argument he’s had with Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) in seemingly every film since the second: she wants him to stop being Iron Man and he can’t/won’t do it. Banner has lost control of Hulk, again, though in a different way. Loki betrays everyone he sees, again. Spiderman wants to save the world from threats that probably outclass a high school student and conflicts with Stark’s paternal instincts while he’s at it. The Guardians seem almost dull without their characteristic conflict.

It was a bit jarring to realize that absolutely none of the heroes change in any noticeable way and some reverted a bit. That’s when I realized. This movie isn’t about the heroes at all.

It’s about Thanos.

Someone referred to this movie as “Our generation’s Empire Strikes Back” and I can see why someone would say that. But this movie is far more like the prequels than Empire, except it’s actually pretty good at what it does with a couple notable exceptions. This movie reveals the backstory and motivations of Thanos, which makes him a far more interesting character. Obviously, his motivations are monstrous, he’s cruel, and he’s incredibly ruthless but you can at least see why he’s doing the things he’s doing and it’s for more than just the sake of ruling/destroying the universe. He actually thinks he’s saving it.

The second biggest problem with Thanos is that his plan is, as half of the internet has pointed out by now, pretty dumb. I’d argue that if you have a gauntlet that will allow you to change anything you want to change and you’re worried about the finite resources of the galaxy that it would make far more sense to just use this infinite power to create infinite resources. For one thing, killing half the population of the universe delays the problem rather than eliminating it. Living beings reproduce, that’s how they live. Half of the population of the universe will continue repopulating until they reach this level again. Is Thanos going to just destroy half the universe again, at that point? Also, if you absolutely must destroy half the universe and you have a gauntlet with powers that specifically control minds, souls, time, and reality and you’re “doing it for their own good” maybe you could do it in such a way where everyone forgets all those people were ever alive in the first place instead of in such a way that causes them to watch, horrified, as their loved ones disappear in a puff of ash one by one? Just a thought.

When you introduce an artifact as powerful as the Infinity Gauntlet – or even one as powerful as any of the gems/stones used on it – you’re going to run into plot hole issues like this. It doesn’t make sense that a creature who can control reality itself could ever actually be threatened by any of our heroes and yet he was. You’re just going to have to kind of ignore those if you’re going to enjoy the film so the job of the writers is to make the plot holes as small as possible and then make you want to ignore them. They mostly succeeded in this film.

Did it ignore opportunities to delve deeper when the story offered them?

Yes. Absolutely. Easily the weakest part of the film is the one moment where they try to be a bit deep. Thanos and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) travel to a distant world, I forget the name but it’s unimportant, they run into Red Skull (Ross Marquand, doing a passable Hugo Weaving impression) who informs Thanos that in order to gain the Soul Stone (no, not the World of Warcraft spell) he must sacrifice the one thing he loves the most. A single tear drops from his eye as Gamora taunts him because he has never loved anything in his long life.

Of course, it turns out that Thanos did “love” someone. Despite having dozens of “children” that he forced to fight to the death and otherwise abused physically and emotionally, he apparently “loved” Gamora. She realizes this to her dread just as he decides that his love for her will not allow him to stop his quest to save the galaxy from itself. He throws her from the top of the cliff, she dies from the fall, and he gains the power of the Soul Stone.

I’m sorry, but no. Thanos does not “love” Gamora. He is an abuser and a bully. He has abused and bullied everyone he has ever known. His feelings for Gamora might seem like love in his twisted mind but they absolutely are not. It literally (literally) gave me pain to see Marvel treat whatever he felt for her as if it were the same as love because it categorically was not. She was an object to him. At best, she was an idealization of what he wanted her to be. He never saw her for who she was and most definitely never loved her. They could have had this be a different kind of moment. A realization that what he felt for her wasn’t love after he’d killed her and that he’d have to get the stone another way. ANYTHING except to treat whatever twisted, vile emotions he felt toward her as if they were the same as love. It was gross and more than a little despicable.

The one thing I will allow from that scene that wasn’t wholly terrible is that when Gamora realizes that he thinks he loves her she does not for one instant have an, “Awww. He cared about me the whole time!” reaction. She immediately tries to kill herself to prevent him from using her. Then she fights him tooth and nail until her demise. At no point does she consider for an instant that his “love” might be a good thing or wonder if she should have seen it sooner. Good for her for never losing sight of the one thing the writers did, that he’s terrible and his “love” is not a good thing to have.

This movie tried to do something that had never been done before; make a villain the star. The fact that they even attempted this is impressive. How very well they accomplished it is even more so. I wish I had a time stone so I could go back in time and convince them to clean up a couple of these issues, particularly the Gamora thing which I cannot stress enough is absolutely terrible in every way, but it was a far, far better film that I had feared it would be. It was almost certainly the best of the “Avengers” movies, so far.

Ultimately, the way people perceive the quality of this film will rely heavily on the sequel; this was really just the first half of an incredibly long movie, after all. The number of characters who are returned to life as well as the manner and timing in which it happens will also weigh a great deal on how people ultimately view these two films. If my decades of consuming media have taught me anything one of the hardest things about writing a story is getting the ending right. You can see this in everything from Mass Effect‘s complete audience revolt to George R.R. Martin’s reluctance or difficulty in finishing A Song of Ice and Fire. If Joe and Anthony Russo along with whatever writers they get (Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely did Infinity War, but I can’t find listings for who will be writing the next part) want to really make sure the audience views both films favorably they’ll have to figure out how to stick the landing.

What did you think? Did you enjoy it enough to look past the flaws? Did I miss something? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter!

 

Author: Hokius

I'm an avid gamer, reader, baseball nerd, and developer. I have a lot of thoughts and I want to share them with you!

One thought on “Avengers: Infinity War is not only ambitious, it’s pretty damn good”

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