“Avengers: Infinity War”: A Review

Infinity WarIn the Western film canon, few films can compete with Marvel’s new offering of The Avengers: Infinity War. Featuring over 20 characters, the movie could have lost track of its focus very easily. Surprisingly, it did not; rather the film provoked an atavistic sensation, the likes which is rarely seen in films these days. Although some will consider it blasphemous to compare the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the works of Homer, the movie nonetheless has similar Homeric elements that cannot be ignored. The plethora of characters in Infinity Waris reminiscent of the amount of characters in The Iliad. Moreover, the audience fully knows what the characters will do and how they will do it, lacking ambiguity, and therefore lacking humanity. Captain America will always try to be righteous, Spider-Man will always try to defend Aunt May while using a youthful sense of humor; there are certain non-negotiables for the superheroes. In a particularly impressive fashion, Infinity Warkeeps characters separate with the use of an excellent score and good pacing to keep different parts of the action distinct. Both techniques helped maintain clarity in the midst of action and character separation despite such a large ensemble of heroes. Marvel maintained this separation particularly well given the wide-ranging motivations, from the developing Wanda-Vision love story to the sanctimonious heroism of Dr. Strange. In addition to keeping characters well separated in the mind of the audience, the movie also accomplished the impressive task of maintaining separation between the powers of each of the Infinity Stones. The movie does not seek to make a political statement, although Freudian constructions will be discussed later, but rather it seeks to entertain, at a seemingly primeval level. Many in the film community will no doubt chastise Marvel for eliminating the depth that films such as Logan provide, but nonetheless, the critics forget that in more ambitious terms, Infinity Waris not a movie. It is not a film. It is rather a culmination of pop cultural elements to form a spectacle, an event. Infinity War is a film in the sense that it is a synthesis of sound and image contained on a screen, but it is not a film in the same way that Citizen Kaneis. Rather, it assumes that the audience has seen some of the previous movies; it all leads up to this, until it doesn’t.

The movie prides itself on raising the stakes one last time. While in previous offerings, planet Earth was at stake, in Infinity War,half of all life is at stake. All the life in the universe, or at least half of it, is unquantifiable, impossible to portray on screen. Ergo, the film wonderfully switches the focus from the victims of the violence, and even one step further from the heroes, to the villain himself. This focus on the villain, however is also an avenue for an unsatisfactory background. While Thanos is by far one of the most complex villains in recent Marvel movies, he still lacks a sufficient backstory, albeit the one that is presented is not necessarily weak. When, near the end of the film, Thanos explains his motives for attempting to destroy half of all life in the universe, the near-environmentalist explanation creates a powerful eureka moment for the audience. Despite the good use of time to illuminate a relatively complex character however, Thanos’ backstory was nearly entirely explained in the latter half of the movie, leaving room for development in the first half. However, one can only assume that Marvel will develop him in a future film, either in a standalone sequel or in the next installment of the Avengers. The latter would be the most effective way of going about this, as a standalone film would remove a lot of the mystery that Thanos has and would eventually neuter his seemingly unstoppable nature. A compromise would be to analyze and develop his philosophy rather than just his character in the subsequent installment of the film series.

The film has major downfalls mainly from a film language perspective. Interesting editing techniques were lacking throughout, settling for plainly showing what is happening. A variation on how things are happening can prevent superhero fatigue, as the audience is introduced to new ways of digesting superhero action and ultimately superhero films. The script presented serious errors in dialogue, ranging from stale jokes to kitsch melodramatic filler. While nobody expects the dialogue in a Marvel film to be in iambic pentameter, it would not hurt to have script doctors cut the filler or add more developed lines of dialogue. Hearing Bruce Banner say “Hulk, you got to help me buddy” for the fifth time is Chinese water torture on the ears. Hearing Peter Dinklage’s new character referred to as a “dwarf,” but then appearing to be at least fifteen feet tall fell flat on the audience, not evoking a single laugh in the theater. This episode seemed to be made worse by mistakes made in the continuity of perspective, falling far short of high expectations from films such as The Lord of the Ringsand Elf. In the sound department, the film shows a blatant disregard for acoustics and perspective. For example, in a scene where Iron Man and Spider-Man bicker about being in a spaceship, they speak as if they were in a living room, within proximity to a minor villain. In another scene, Thor and Dinklage’s character have a room-level conversation across the distance of a dwarf star. Not only is this distracting to the audience, failing to convey a sense of scale, but it could have easily been fixed in post-production. While the special effects were impressive, especially with regards to Thanos’s motion-capture, some of the interactions between real objects and computer-generated objects leave room for improvement. In one scene where Thanos throws a character into a glass case, it looked as if he threw a blurred-out mannequin. While the scenes in Wakanda make sense from a plot perspective, from an action perspective they defy even the most basic of logic. While initially, T’Challa and his army try to defend Wakanda from the hordes of enemies, they then charge wantonly against the enemies. Although they have ranged energy weapons, why would they ever renounce their higher ground? Not only do they charge down a hill, but they cross a river, which makes retreat insanely difficult. Furthermore, T’Challa declares that if the hordes outflank them, then they would easily reach Vision who is in a tower. Therefore, he decides to open the wall to distract the enemies. However, the enemies still breach the tower; T’Challa’s military strategy makes General Ulysses S. Grant’s assault on Cold Harbor seem like Alexander the Great’s victory at Gaugamela.

While the change in scenery, from another generic city to the savannahs and jungles of Africa is a much-needed change, Marvel nonetheless has an uncreative vision of what a battlefield is. The movie could have benefitted from Captain America or Okoye (T’Challa’s head of security) leading the fight, instead of wasting them fighting inconsequential monsters. Perhaps the only good military tactic that anyone uses in the entire film is when War Machine (Don Cheadle), drops Napalm near the force field. Given that he and Falcon have aerial overview, and military experience, there is no excuse for such a horribly executed battle plan.

From a writing perspective, Infinity Waralso makes substantial mistakes, where characters do things that are uncharacteristically stupid, such as Thanos teleporting to the base of a large mountain, and then climbing it or Starlord losing control to his emotions at great cost. Perhaps least forgivably to avid fans, the film frequently forgets the personality and motivations of characters that have been well-developed in their respective franchises. For instance in the very first scene of the movie, it makes no sense that Heimdall would transport the Hulk back to Earth, rather than attempting to save his king, Thor. Additionally, the self-sacrifice of Loki, uncharacteristic perfection of Gamora, and forgetfulness of Thor towards his now dead people sharply contrasts with what is portrayed in Thor, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Furthermore, the substantial powers afforded by the Infinity Gauntlet raises some serious questions. If Thanos hopes to kill half of all life in the universe, does this include the flora and bacteria in the universe? What about the collapse of ecosystems? If Thanos’s motivation was that his species faced extinction, why did Thanos not bring back his civilization? Why does Thanos not make all the species in the universe smarter? The Pandora’s Box of the Infinity Gauntlet is to an extent, self-defeating.  The cinematic language is not, however, the only disappointing feature of Infinity War, as the film has some serious ideological downfalls, more that cannot be excused by saying ‘it’s just a superhero movie.’ Some downfalls are due to factors that are subliminally political, factors that very well affect the reality we live in, and therefore affect the fantasies that we watch.

Although at a glance the film is not as politically obnoxious as say Black Panther, the film dissolves into a sequence of paranoias upon further examination. The first and most obvious of these are the endless masses of creatures that are trying to penetrate Wakanda’s wall (sorry, “force-field”).  Marvel’s insane proposition is that these creatures are supposed to fulfill the audience’s requirement for blood, but in fact showcase a much deeper paranoia. Many in the audience saw substantial parallels between these creatures and Muslim refugees entering Europe. These audience members point to the loss of life and limb that the creatures suffer while trying to enter the pristine lands of Wakandan paradise. In addition to such hidden political messages, Infinity Waralso pushed many, far less subtle propositions. For instance, the film made sure to keep men and women segregated during most fights, maintaining the long sexist tradition of avoiding imagery of men hitting women. It is worth pointing out that about 40% of domestic violence is perpetrated by women against men, so this avoidance is likely due to Marvel trying to avoid shocking representations rather than trying to prevent the normalization of such violence, as some might claim. Furthermore, the film drastically undermines the powers of the female characters by doing so. Interestingly, Marvel also avoided connecting Thanos with the none-to-subtle environmentalist comparison. After all, the reference to the difficulty of finite resources supporting an ever-growing population, which eventually leads to extinction-level events is very much in line with typical thinking on the environmentalist left. Even if Thanos never once referred to “climate change” or offered up lamentations about the death of “Mother Earth,” his strong tree-hugging tendencies remain obvious. As a final point, and perhaps a dog-bone to the more conservative side of the spectrum, the last standing major heroes at the end of the film also represent the most conservative heroes in the franchise. Captain America stands in for the nationalist wing of the conservative movement; Thor represents the socially conservative end of the spectrum; and Iron Man plays the fiscally conservative capitalist part of the movement. While some other heroes survive, including the Hulk and Black Widow, they have not had their own movies in the film franchise are primarily function as side-characters. On the horizon of the sequel, anyone without strong social justice tendencies should beware, the final image in the after-credits scene is of Captain Marvel’s logo. After the new Carol Danvers takeover of Captain Marvel in 2012, the character is widely considered to be one of the most far left characters in Marvel Comics. There are many reasons as to why the inclusion of Captain Marvel is pure audience-pandering. The first of these reasons is that Marvel wants to create excitement (which is currently non-existent) for the new Captain Marvelmovie that will be released before the second installment of Infinity War. Not only does it ride the coattails of movies such as Wonder Woman, but with so many characters already in the film, it truly makes you wonder what Marvel’s motivations are for the inclusion of Captain Marvel. Why not develop Black Widow, or even Hawkeye; perhaps making them more important in the process? Why is Captain Marvel even a viable solution even within the context of the film? If Thanos killed half of all life in the universe, then how in the world does Nick Fury know for a fact that Captain Marvel did not wither away like other superheroes did? Considering that even Spider-Man, whom even non-Marvel fans know he did not die permanently, got the axe, one can only assume that the Deus Ex Machina of Captain Marvel is purely economical and not artistic in nature. It is become evident in films such as The Post, that such pandering is a symptom for post-Election anxieties among the left. The complaint is not that Captain Marvel is a female identifying character, but rather that she is being used to appeal to customers, in essence making her the object of attraction, and not ironically, progress. Additionally, the nature of Captain Marvel coming in at the last minute to save the day will likely remove the need for the dramatic character development that seemed foreshadowed throughout the movie. In particular, the last several movies have focused on building up the power of Thor to a point where he could actually compete with Thanos. This movie included a scene where Tony Stark was forced to watch his fellow heroes, including protégé Peter Parker, disintegrate to nothingness. The most prominent actor in the franchise, Robert Downey Jr. admirably portrayed a subtle but dramatic hurt that destroyed his structure that he built up. The set-up for Iron Man to become the hero that stops Thanos may prove for not, simply because of Marvel’s need to have Captain Marvel lead the rescue of the franchise. Whether this proves successful remains to be seen.

In the end reviews typically choose one score to summarize all of the merits and demerits of a film. We have chosen an A- (B median) as the culminating description of Avengers: Infinity War.