Real Talk By: Cmack The Don
It’s a general rule that if you invest more time into something, the more you’ll get out of it. This could apply to studying, cooking, maybe a good solid nap, or a good video game. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is no exception. Anyone who knows me even in a casual sense can tell you I’m pretty into Marvel Comics. I can still remember all the way back to the early 90’s (all the way back, because, I guess it was a long time ago now) when it was a combination of friend’s comics, a few select arcade games, and those awesome trading cards that had character stats on them that first infected me with the Marvel bug. I remember seeing that art and the style, and what the characters represented, and what really blew my mind as a youngling was when I realized that not only were these characters incredible, amazing, and mighty in their own right, but that they knew each other! These guys are a part of a whole universe!! I think that realization was maybe my first time that I experienced a story with an overarching lore. Stuff that was read to me by my parents as a kid, The Little Engine that Could, or Peter Cottontail, didn’t feature outlandish team ups where everything was on the line (not that I’d necessarily be opposed to Clifford the Big Red Dog and The Bernstein Bears teaming up to knock the stuffing out of evil aliens).
I think one of the rewarding parts of a whole universe like Marvel, and their contemporaries, is the sense of reward that the fans feel when they see characters that have their own self-contained franchise and world meet each other and work together. To someone outside of the know, it just looks like a band of superheroes, big deal, right? But to fans, you’re seeing characters that have their own harrowed origins, unique powers and motivations, supporting casts, and mythology interact with other characters who are their equals, their peers, and have all of those same elements as well. When you center that kind of team-up around very, very high stakes, like the fate of an entire city, or maybe the world, or possibly, even further, all of the universe and known reality, the excitement and scale of the fictional world that these characters inhabit takes on a whole other level of importance and depth.
But how do you communicate something like that in a movie, where you have a limited amount of screen time, actors with restrictive schedules, and budgets to balance? I’m sure that for most of film history, something like the Marvel Universe, in its scale and entirety, was considered something strictly for printed, comic book material. You can see in past comic book films that studios that owned the rights to a whole universe of characters never had them meet, never thought of their headliner superheroes meeting each other, and how that would operate. In the past 10 years, Marvel Studios, in conjunction with a few other distributors until they could finance, film, and distribute movies on their own, has become a giant in the entertainment industry, and it’s all because of that same idea and concept that drew me to this world when I was in kindergarten. The right minds at Marvel Studios realized that bigger picture, the overall story, was what mattered, and that if it could be communicated properly, would be something that would change superhero storytelling on-screen forever.
We thought that everything had changed back when Avengers first came out in 2012, after about 5 and 1/2 years of build up, and that with the follow ups, things had changed even more, but I can definitively tell you that after Infinity War, there’s truly no going back. There’s often a lot of talk that the superhero genre is going to burst like a bubble at some point, like Westerns and the macho-action films of the 80’s and 90’s, which is still possible, but fans of the genre and characters should be grateful that Infinity War has been released before that point. After the great reception and revitalization that the well-received Spider-Man: Homecoming and Black Panther movies generated, Marvel couldn’t have timed this latest entry any better.
With this being the 19th overall entry into the series, Infinity War keeps the energy alive in the saga by addressing some of the criticisms that often gets levelled at the MCU by impatient critics and people who might not be as familiar with the overall story: that the stakes aren’t high enough, the villains aren’t threatening and compelling enough, and that there aren’t any consequences for the main characters, that they’re insulated and protected to keep the franchise going.
One of my main concerns about the MCU since the first Avengers, is that since there’s so many moving parts in the saga, how would Thanos be handled and introduced? In the 6 years since he first appeared post-credits, we haven’t seen a whole lot of action and development from him as a character. He’s a looming background presence, and despite being teased and established in a very basic, general way, we haven’t really seen much from him, despite having the opportunity. I’m relieved to be able to say that any worry I had about his authenticity is gone. Thanos is one of the most dynamic, ruthless, yet also fascinating villains in the series and for all of comic book movies yet. Josh Brolin’s matter-of-fact and stoic delivery, occasionally dipping into a few surprisingly heartfelt moments, really ties the movie together. The CGI on Thanos captured his expressions, overwhelming power, and menace very well, he blended right in with the cast for me. One could almost say that Infinity War was really about the journey and development of Thanos as a character, and that The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Wakandan tribe are really just obstacles for him that he needs to get past, to accomplish a goal that while sounding insane and vicious, has justification from his point of view. The movie does a great job of taking a character who could so easily be a cardboard cut-out of a villain, evil and cruel just for the sake and fun of it, and makes him into a guy that, yes, while definitely all of that, has a reason for doing what he’s doing. It doesn’t have to make rational sense, but that his motivations are present and well-illustrated in a few scenes makes him dynamic. Despite how flawed and disgusting they are, even the worst despots from their point of view have some kind of reason for doing what they do, and delivering on that aspect was crucial, and makes Thanos a very engaging villain for us to watch. I now understand that the early movies set the stage for who you thought was going to be a madman of great strength but little character, and then surprised you with a bit more depth once he finally made his anticipated entrance.
I can see why the Russo Brothers were chosen to direct this entry, Joss Whedon brought the team together skillfully in the first installment, but I think his peppy dialogue and lingering on petty conflicts, while perfect for the very first time the team has to work as one, wouldn’t have worked for a conflict and story on this scale. The Russo Brothers balanced those inter-personal relationships with a huge, multi-faceted story in Civil War, and were brought back to do the same on a level 10 times bigger than before. (Side note: way to rep for Ohio, boys!!!)
I won’t talk a whole lot about what I thought of each individual character and actor’s performance of them, or the action scenes, the powerful emotional moments, or affects, which are all more or less completely spectacular. Infinity War is long, and this only part 1, and there’s just too much to address in this review about all of those topics, this would become a long, long essay. Just know that the huge multitude of relationships are handled well as long as you the viewer know these characters, understand how they fit together, and are able to keep track of what their importance to the overall plot is. I’d be interested in the take of a first-time viewer, who watched the end result of a decade of cinematic storytelling, and wonder if they thought it was worthwhile or not. I can certainly tell you that this experience is mainly for those who’ve invested the same time and energy into this saga that the creators themselves have, and are arriving at this journey after all this time.
It’s tough for me to view Infinity War as a stand-alone movie, to judge it completely on its own merits, because in my opinion I think that’s wrong. I think that’s unfair to the design of the story itself, and while I know that there are critics and people out there that will do this (which they’re completely valid in doing), it’s tough for me to, but I’ll try. I do think that it bounces around a lot and the pace can be fast sometimes, but shouldn’t it get a pass for this? It has to cram so much into its nearly 3 hour runtime, and even that was split from it being 6 hours with the second part (if anyone from the studio is watching, I would gladly, gladly watch a cinematic re-release of the full cut with intermissions peppered in like they did back in the day). The fast pace and character juggling in a standalone movie without context would be terrible if this were our first time getting to know these characters, but it’s not, this movie is a collection of multiple threads that have been established for years, with its own overarching narrative thrown in as well. So while I’ll take just a few points off for some scenes that I think could’ve breathed more, or times where I think it brushed past something a bit quickly, again, take that with a grain of salt, because those criticisms come from trying to look at I.F. as its own movie, when really it’s a summary of what came before, and I would posit that looking at the movie that way would be the viewer simply digesting the material wrong.
I give everyone at Marvel Studios a huge hand for making something for the fans. Fans have supported this genre long before it was popular in the mainstream, on the scale that its accepted on today, and the fans deserve the recognition and reward for their investment, and Marvel Studios understands this. There would be any number of other MCU films I would introduce someone new to this universe with, movies that I think do tell a neater, more self-contained story, but that’s just not what Infinity War is. It’s the big dessert at the end of an intricately planned 18-course meal that has a ton of toppings and sauces on it that in their own right are spectacular but as a whole are Marvelous. This Marvel fan gives Avengers: Infinity War 4.5 MF’s out of 5. Excelsior, true believers.