THOR: This is my friend, tree.
GROOT: I am Groot.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: I am Steve Rogers.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe knows its characters.
Two-and-some-odd hours of Infinity War taught me that. Dr. Strange calling Tony Stark a “douchebag.” Sticking a de-Hulked Bruce Banner in the Hulk Buster suit. Peter Parker thinking Aliens is an old movie. This exchange:
There’s so much in just those three lines that summarizes what those heroes are all about. Typically, calling a film “fun” is up there with a food critic deeming an item “zesty.” But the MCU has fun with its super-powered players, to the greatest extent in the newest Avengers installment.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe does not know villains. Loki and Killmonger are almost a decade apart from their respective introductions. Between them lies a ravine of forgettable moguls, elves, frenemies, and aliens. Broadly, Thanos is a mixture of the last two. The Mad Titan also feels, and Infinity War wants you to know that. His goal, to eradicate exactly half of all life in the universe, weighs heavily on him. It’s not just something one can snap their fingers and do. Well, technically it is. But it’s an important snap.
Thanos is both the most and least predictably parts of the Avengers. He never hesitates to let us know he has a conscience, and yet none of his choices reflect that. He’s not immortal, but when you can manipulate time, space, and life itself, what’s the difference? (Thanos using the Time Stone at a specific moment makes for a fascinating recall of Funny Games for the superhero movie generation.) He’s — at the very least — interesting to think about, like an egalitarian Apocalypse.
In some respects, Infinity War is better than the first Avengers. Your mileage on these films depends on what you want out of them, and The Avengers gets its fun out of building up the team. The climax is that awesome shot of all of them in a circle, ready to kick butt and save NYC. It’s an iconic moment, and it’s basically the entire movie. Superhero stories are defined by an air of inevitability. The heroes will ultimately save the day. Always. Thor isn’t going to die at the hands of some anonymous Chitauri. Agent Coulson might. But he’ll come back for the spin-off. That’s how companies keep stories on the racks. That’s how we sell ad space.
Infinity War‘s fun comes from having those fully fleshed out characters interact. The destination, with all due respect to the aphorism, is more important than the journey here. Tony Stark knows who Tony Stark is, and now we know who Tony Stark is. But what would happen if he ran into a snarky space pirate angel? Infinity War isn’t about anything. It’s a blockbuster opportunity for fantasy booking. In that regard, it’s a qualified success. (Score’s pretty good, too.)
Unsorted observations, because it’s Monday:
- A PTSD-induced Banner gets the thankless, hilarious role of awkwardly reintroducing himself for the first half. The Hulk hid in plain sight with the first Avengers; here, he limps into things.
- I ask this as someone who has never cared about any romantic relationship these movies have (failed to) set up: Is Pepper Potts ever going to leave Tony? It feels exploitative at this point.
- The Guardians of the Galaxy meeting the Avengers is everything, like placing an ad for light beer next to one for the premium draft.
- I’ve heard a number of podcasts call out that Peter Quill was “done dirty” here. I don’t agree. He’s already petty in the Guardians films, it only makes sense that the chip on his shoulder would get bigger in the presence of other confident, snarky, bearded heroes.
- Peter Quill (almost) killing Gamora is a compelling echo of what Space Kurt Russell did to his mother. Also exploitative.
- Red Skull (via a fantastic impression by Ross Marquand) guarding the Soul Stone is a great spin on Charon ferrying souls through Hades.
- Conversely, repositioning Gamora as “the Daughter of Thanos” is more of a retcon than dramatic leverage. Her fate feels hollow. And exploitative. Man, these movies are not good with women huh? Maybe Captain Marvel will be good.
- Big Peter Dinklage feels too cute by half.
- Any time we go to hordes charging at other hordes, this thing loses steam — and at a cost to that setting. Between Black Panther and Infinity War, Wakanda goes from feeling essential to incidental.