by Angela Bourassa (@angelabourassa1)
(Minor spoilers ahead.)
I finally got the chance to see Avengers: Infinity War on Mother’s Day – it was part of my gift from my husband. Go see a movie while I watch the baby. (If you’re a parent, you get what an amazing gift that is.) When I got home after my matinee showing, I took our son out of my husband’s arms and said, “Alright, now you go. I need to talk to you about this movie.”
And that’s part of the power of the Marvel universe. It is indeed a “universe” that is so much a part of the cultural conversation it can’t really be avoided, at least not by anyone with more than a passing interest in movies. I think the brilliant A.O. Scott of The New York Times put it best:
This synergistic expression of the corporate interests of Marvel Studios and the Walt Disney Company — which now include 19 feature films and much else besides — has come to be less a creative or commercial undertaking than an immutable fact of life, like sex or the weather or capitalism itself.
That pretty much encapsulates why I wanted to see it – I felt like I had to. I didn’t want to be left out. #FOMO.
Avengers: Infinity War is set to become the first film to make over $2 billion, which is nutso, but I have to say I think it deserves it. Marvel and Disney did what they set out to do – they created a cinematic experience that simply couldn’t be missed, something that had to be seen on the big screen before anyone could spoil it for you.
Building up each of these characters one at a time and creating a world in which they could not only coexist but come together in one more-or-less cohesive story is an amazing feat. And let’s not forget the technical marvel here. The art and technology and design that had to go into creating this film are absolutely stunning.
And the movie is good! I really enjoyed it. It has its flaws, certainly, but so do most movies. I had fun watching this movie, and despite the length, I never felt like it dragged. In fact, I think a few scenes could have marinated a little longer (while others, perhaps, could have gotten the boot).
That said, I don’t think forty years from now, Avengers: Infinity War will go down as a classic. It will be forgotten, as many of the 18 films that preceded it already have been.
Did you realize that this was the fourth installment of the Avengers? If I pressed you, could you tell me the basic plots of all four? And did you realize there were three stand-alone Iron Man movies, not including Captain America: Civil War?
Already the lesser films of this world, films that did amazingly well at the box office in their day, have faded from our collective mind, and the first movie in the Marvel universe – Iron Man – only came out ten years ago.
Compare that to The Empire Strikes Back, which came out in 1980. I chose Empire because I think it’s a perfect analogue to Infinity War – they’re both the dark, down-note penultimate beats before the triumphant conclusion. (I could write a whole ‘nother article about how Infinity War was marketed as the final installment, truly shocking many of the less-in-the-loop fans at the screening I attended, and the brilliant gamble that went into that choice, but let’s stay on track.)
The Empire Strikes Back is widely revered as the best film in the Star Wars universe and is remembered not just as a great movie but a classic film. It had the technical feats of Infinity War, it had the great box office, but much more importantly, it had depth. And that’s what Infinity War lacks.
On its surface, The Empire Strikes Back is about good versus evil, but you don’t have to scratch very hard to reveal themes of friendship, sacrifice, redemption, and spiritual balance. Luke learns that Vader is his father, and that’s a thrilling twist for any viewer, but peel it back and you see that Luke must for the first time confront the darkness within himself. Then, Luke chooses to sacrifice his own life rather than accept power, greatness, and most importantly the family that he always longed for.
That’s some heavy shit.
Joel Hodge explains in The Conversation:
A viewer can enjoy the story on two levels, then: as an action-adventure of good versus evil, or as a reflection on the deepest human themes. Literary-critic and philosopher René Girard argues that the most enduring stories function on these two levels by simultaneously appealing to different audiences, with the deeper level effectively subverting and deepening the most superficial level over time.
Now look at Infinity War. Thanos wants to kill half the people in the world because his planet got overpopulated. That’s lame. I’m sorry, but it is.
They try to make it sound logical and like he has a good point from a very dark perspective, but he doesn’t. They also try to pretend like killing half the people is “balanced” in some meaningful way. What? How is that balanced? If you make all the people on one side go POOF, that’s pretty freaking unbalanced.
I liked that they made Thanos the protagonist of Infinty War. I like that they gave him a lot of screen time and tried to flesh him out. I like that he had to make a sacrifice. But it all fell a bit flat, because he was never not going to make that sacrifice. He wasn’t even conflicted about it. It made him sad, sure, but that didn’t slow him down. There’s no depth to this moment. No second level.
The same goes for the sacrifices that the heroes had to make. Kill one person you love or HALF THE UNIVERSE DIES? There’s no choice there. You just gotta do it.
My hope for the next installment is a much more thoughtful, layered film, which seems achievable given the slimming of the cast that happened at the end of this one. With fewer characters to give screen time to, maybe the actual final installment (to be followed by many more installments in an almost-certainly rebooted version of the Marvel universe) will find its second level and give us more to grapple with than good versus bad. We’ve seen it already in some of the individual installments, most notably Black Panther, so we know Marvel is capable of depth.
I’ve got my fingers crossed, because bringing in some deeper meaning is the only way these films will anchor themselves in our minds and become more than clever marketing.
Angela Bourassa is the founder and Editor in Chief of LA Screenwriter.