I’m going to talk about Avengers: Infinity War root and branch. I’m going to talk about other films like it. If you don’t want to know what goes on in the film, don’t read much further.
I will say this at the outset: A:IF is a well made film and the visuals are terrific. So go see it.
There. That’s out of the way.
There’s an interesting trend in the Marvel universe that I very much like—and, in fact, see rarely in comparable films about the fantastic. That is, the stories are not about the fantastic at all. These are not films about superheroes; they are films about human beings that happen to have superpowers.
I think I first started noticing the distinction back in 2002 with Firefly. But I couldn’t have articulated it at that point. That came when I saw Hancock.
Hancock is a film where the main character, John Hancock (Will Smith) is endowed with superpowers and lives pretty much as a bum in Los Angeles. He’s an amnesiac drunk who does heroics in the worst possible way. It was poorly received. I don’t really know why—I thought it was terrific because it had no super villain. The protagonist is his own worst enemy—the story is how he figures out who he is in the absence of having any memory of who he is. Possibly the expectations were a superhero movie. What they got was a human being coping with problems who happened to have superpowers.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I hate what I call high school movies or high school television. By that I mean teenagers (or people who act like teenagers) that have angst about who they are, flip through relationships and the stories devolve into will he/won’t she fall in love? My own experience in high school was that it was a great place to escape. Adulthood was much more fun and way more complicated. Hancock had no high school and there was little romance and the protagonist doesn’t get the girl. The girl is happily married and stays that way.
So: a long path to the Infinity War.
Marvel has been building up tp A:IW for ten years. It has a main cast of maybe forty people? Fifty? If you haven’t been watching the previous films you won’t know who they are. This film is for those of us who have.
That said, how do you film a movie about forty people?
Answer: you don’t.
It reminds me of the kid’s riddle: you don’t get down off an elephant; you get down off a duck.
The film is, instead, a situational biography of the “villain” of the piece, Thanos. The forty people are the supporting cast. We learn who Thanos is. Why he’s doing what he’s doing. How he’s doing it. And how he ultimately succeeds.
It reminded me of Spielberg’s Lincoln. Lincoln encapsulates all of the relevant biography of Abraham Lincoln in his struggle to pull together the 13th Amendment after the war is over. The action circles around that work but must reflect who Lincoln was and who the presidency and the war has made him.
Similarly, A:IF is all about the struggle of the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Dr. Strange, Spiderman and everybody else to keep Thanos from his goal: to halve the population of the universe.
(One pet peeve: I hate people talking about “the universe” frivolously. As if even someone with God Like Power could have much effect on a thing 13.7 billion years old and 91 billion light years across—and that size is only the observable universe. Make it “the galaxy” or even better “the local spiral arm.”)
Why? Because he has seen his own world and others destroyed by an ever increasing populace. He’s buying time. Not much time, either. We went from 3 billion people to 7.4 in 48 years. So, at best, he’s given the “universe” fifty years. But, hey. At least, he’s trying.
He sacrifices his daughter, his kingdom and everything he has to get there and nearly fails but ultimately succeeds and half the population disappears into smoke. He ends up resting peacefully by the side of a lake.
There’s a lot to unpack in A:IF. For example, we learn that heroes make lousy soldiers. Twice, the heroes almost win but fail due to their own inability to think strategically. The first time, they’re trying to pull the gauntlet off Thanos’ hand while he’s asleep. (Why Iron Man or Dr. Strange just cut the arm off is an interesting question.) But the emotionally overburdened Peter Quill beats on Thanos because of he murdered his love and wakes him up.
The second time is when Thor goes for the dramatic strike of his axe to Thanos’ chest. Even Thanos realizes this was a mistake: “You should have gone for the head.”
It’s Hancock all over again: there are consequences to actions and heroes don’t often consider them well. Super people are those endowed with the powers but aren't the best suited for the job.
We do learn a bit about the supporting cast—there’s a substory involving Banner and the Hulk,who is beaten to a bloody pulp by Thanos just for fun and then won’t come out regardless how much Banner pleads with him. Poor Peter Parker clearly doesn’t want to die—that’s a pretty sad scene. We might get a save from Captain Marvel but who knows how that’s going to come out?
Which brings us to the last bit about A:IF: what’s next?
I don’t mean just what’s going on in the next movie. I mean that Marvel may have done their job too well. This is good movie. It has profound implications for the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And they’ve announced three movies a year.
They’re clearly going to bring back the dead. What’s Guardians of the Galaxy without Gamora? No smoke for her: she was outright killed. Same for Loki. Same for Vision. Gamora was dumped off a thousand foot cliff. Loki was strangled. Vision had his brain plucked out.
And that’s just the onscreen killings. What about all those people smokified?
The problem is that if the Marvel brings them back cheaply it breaks the MCU. They potentially are going to use time travel but that is the cheapest of cheap solutions and I’m not sure if I’d watch any more after that.
My wife came up with a really good idea. One of the infinity stones is the “soul gem.” She thinks the smoked were pulled into the soul gem. We ran with this and came up with the idea that inside the soul gem is a whole world where the people in the gem saw the other people turn to smoke. They think their world is real. The story then when people both inside and outside of the gem begin to understand where everybody is and begin to push against the boundary. That would be fun.
That leaves the problem of the truly dead—Gamora, Loki and the Vision—as an exercise for the intelligent reader.