AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018, Anthony & Joe Russo)
I’ve said it, others have said it, it’s becoming a cliché, but it’s very true — the MCU plays like a big-budget, overblown TV series. And in a season of modern TV, the penultimate episode is always the action-packed, bleak climax to the story, leaving the last episode to pick up the pieces and restore order in the universe. Just as you wouldn’t jump into episode 7 of STRANGER THINGS without having seen the others, you wouldn’t want to sit through this without the benefit of films like AGE OF ULTRON and CIVIL WAR.
Because as much as this is an artless, thundering, exhausting spew-fest of digital debris splattered across the big screen at 160 mph with Defcon 2 audio levels and more colors than a Sherwin-Williams factory, it’s still a floundering attempt at a serialized story with character arcs. And Marvel has done their best to try to maintain continuity across several sub-series: the split from CIVIL WAR is still a thing, as Iron Man and Captain America won’t share a scene or speak to each other, with Spider-Man on Stark’s side, and Black Widow/Panther on Steve’s. But now the writers and directors are getting older, as they start putting parenting jokes into their material: cf. Tony mentoring Peter Parker and Quill getting annoyed by Baby-now-Teenager Groot. There’s also a through-line about hurting/killing the ones you love the most – family or not. GUARDIANS 2 had Quill facing off against his own father (who killed his mother); RAGNAROK had Thor facing off against his own sister (after battling his brother in the first AVENGERS); and now we’ve got Elizabeth Olsen having to make tough choices with Vision, while Zoe Saldana has to bear the burden of being the adopted daughter of the evilest villain of all time, Thanos.
If that last paragraph made no sense to you, you shouldn’t be reading this review or bothering with this series. I can barely stomach it myself, despite having enjoyed a few of these movies (IRON MAN and RAGNAROK are particular delights). It’s all fairly goofy, and any sense of individual artistry is rendered invisible by Marvel’s gung-ho commercialism: the floor is high, the ceiling is low, and you know what you’re gonna get when you walk in. A lot like McDonald’s. Despite a blistering pace, this is still a deadening bore at times, as the CG becomes a sandstorm blanket destroying your eyes, and all the hurtling plot can’t hide the fact that there is nothing really developed here in terms of anything personal or meaningful. It’s just 5-10 minutes of screen time granted to 20 different heroes, all surrounding Josh Brolin’s Thanos (the obvious lead by a country mile).
Seated directly to my left at my Sunday matinee was a father with his 6-7 year-old son (too young for these movies, I think) who kept asking, “Is this the big fight?” “When is the big fight?” “Is this the big fight?” “Is this the big fight?” “Is that Thor?” “Where’s Thor?” “Is this the big fight?” It was one of the most irritating things I’ve ever endured in a theater (even worse than the dad himself taking his phone out to text halfway through, which I swiftly stopped with a “Can you not, please?”) and my favorite part of this movie was when after 90 minutes or so, the dad finally just grabbed the kid and they exited for good. (Horrible timing, since it was about 3 minutes before Thor made his magnificent hammer-wielding superstar return to the Arclight audience’s whooping applause, and about 10 minutes before The Big Fight started, which lasts the final 45 minutes of the movie or so). But it got me thinking: a lot of us complain that all Marvel movies suffer from the same disease, which is an average/pretty good first two acts that devolve into a merciless upchuck of CG vomit in the form of a climactic battle between the cape-and-tights humans vs. aliens destroying a city. For us, that’s the worst. For this tyke, it’s all he wants. Hey kid: someday you’ll learn that it’s the little stuff (a scene involving Drax eating candy is the movie’s best moment by far) that makes The Big Fight matter.