TV + FILM
‘Avengers: Infinity War’ Infinitely Entertaining, but Fails to be More
Writer, Speaker + Podcast Host
T ake a moment today, if you will, to feel sorry for all the movie critics out there charged with writing a spoiler-free review of the new Avengers: Infinity War film. Writing a vague plot synopsis of this film is pointless for two reasons: 1) nearly everything worth discussing about this film is a spoiler. 2) 90% of the people reading this do not need a primer on infinity stones (the “one ring to rule them all” Marvel MacGuffin), Thanos (a surly purple thumb), or what a Gamora is. So I’m going to skip all that and divide this review into two parts: a bullet point list of non-spoiler thoughts about inconsequential parts of the film, followed by a far more intense and spoiler breakdown of Infinity War’s broader themes.
Ready? Here we go.
1. Have you ever wondered what would happen if Stephen Strange and Iron Man had to work together? So did the Russo brothers apparently, and it’s everything you would hope.
2. Of all the things I expected this film to do one of them was not “make Thanos into a fully formed, multidimensional character.” And yet here we are. Thanos lands on the admittedly short list of memorable Marvel villains, below Loki and Killmonger, but equal to or above anyone else. A lot of this is Josh Brolin somehow crushing this role while CGI’d into a Grimace costume.
3. There are two humans in this film I did not know would be in this film and both are a delightful surprise.
4. Rocket’s artificial body part fetish is my favorite recurring Marvel joke because you can tell Bradley Cooper believes it.
5. This film is supremely entertaining, and if you are a Marvel fan, you will enjoy it.
SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!
What makes our heroes different is directly stated not once, but twice: “we don’t trade lives.” Steve Rogers uses this line to directly combat Vision’s Thanos-esque calculus that his one life should be sacrificed to save trillions potentially. Considering the recent news about Alfie Evans, or the decades-long debates over abortion or the death penalty, this is a theme worth examining. It’s a fascinating subversion of the most archetypical superhero value, the hero sacrificing himself to save others. Rogers, the most worthy of the superheroes, is saying “human life isn’t subject to situational ethics. It is always, no matter what, the greatest good.”
But then Infinity War walks this view back. Quill tries to kill Gamora. Wanda does kill Vision. Tony gives up a life with Pepper for near-certain death (BTW Marvel: nice fake-out on that one). Thor knows he very well might die to forge the ax (one of the few side plots that didn’t work for me, Tyrion cameo notwithstanding). To be sure, there’s a key distinction between Thanos and everyone else in that he is deciding for other people that they should make that sacrifice. But is the lesson then that Rogers is wrong? That human life can be sacrificed for others if the people are cool with it?
And then there’s that ending. On the one hand, it is haunting and perfect, and it made several people in my theater loudly utter profanity, so the emotions landed, I think. Maybe this movie should be viewed independent of the Hollywood system of actor contracts and casting announcements, and other films in pre-production because I do think the Russo brothers nailed the landing of the conclusion.
But there’s no way to watch this film as a Marvel fan and not know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Black Panther ain’t dead, because you don’t kill off a hero whose recent movie just made all the money in the world. And it seems pretty unlikely that Spider-Man is going to be recast again (although if Donald Glover still wants in, I’m down with that). Also, Chris Evans has made it clear he’s ready to be done with superheroes, and it’s likely Robert Downey Jr. won’t be helming any more standalone Iron Man films. You do the math on all this and realize most of the heroes who dissolved (were raptured? no? Okay, no. But maybe? No you’re right. Okay.) are the ones coming back.
And so even here Infinity War undercuts Rogers’ message, as Cap, Iron Man, and The Guilty Remnant will almost certainly sacrifice themselves to bring back the other Avengers in Infinity Wars II: Tribulation Force (sorry, I’ll stop). And when they inevitably walk back these characters deaths, it cheapens life in the Marvel universe even more. Now there will be no stakes because whenever a hero dies the next magic Marvel MacGuffin can bring them back.
In some ways, Marvel is becoming Thanos in how it treats its characters. Whenever the Marvel world gets overcrowded, they can eliminate certain characters to make room for others, and because life is treated so flimsily, it doesn’t matter.
The movie ends telling us “Thanos will return.” It’s a nice, funny twist, but maybe more prophetic about Marvel’s future than they meant.
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