'Avengers: Infinity War'
It’s been a long ride bringing us to ‘Avengers: Infinity War’. A dozen or so films have served as puzzle pieces leading us here, with disparate characters from all over the galaxy uniting to confront the baddie of all baddies, Thanos.
I’ll say straight up that for this non-obsessive (about this comic book stuff, at least), it’s been difficult to keep all the details straight (which one’s the witch, again?), but the film does a pretty decent job of reminding viewers what took place without spending too much time on exposition.
One of the biggest challenges for all these ensemble gatherings is to find time within the smorgasbord of superheroics for each element to shine, something that was never particularly successful in previous entries. The writers this time seem to have a better hand with the tonal shifts in plot, matched by the character appearances, making the jostling of attention in keeping with the nature of the plot. Rather than wasting our time watching heroes engaged in useless fisticuffs, we get pointed banter, which is a far better way of making sure our attention is focused on the main baddie rather than empty internecine silliness.
My major issue with the past group of films is that they often had very little in the way of consequence or sacrifice. (Have a messed-up Hawkeye murder Nick Fury in the first ‘Avengers’ and I forgive almost all of its maddening aspects.) The Russo brothers have eschewed such delicacies and given us the darkest iteration by far, one that may even be difficult for general audiences to stomach without the inevitable reversals to come in future films. As a standalone piece where we only have conjecture of what will happen later, this really does serve as an ‘Empire Strikes Back’-like downer, where the characters are left worse off than when they began and all hope appears lost.
It’s a bold strategy, and despite the bloated running time and certain needless elements, we’re treated to, dare we say, an almost adult tale of sacrifice, responsibility and humility. Even Thanos is given more dimensionality than just a big dumb baddie, and the work is all the better for it. It’s a mature vision of this world fueled by all that’s come before. Past success has made some room for risk of audience alienation, allowing things to get this dark before lightness shines once again.
The strongest of the individual pieces continue to be the best of the standalone films – the playfulness of the Guardians, the brashness of Thor, the master/ward dynamic between Iron Man and Spidey. Others fit less elegantly, including newly minted megahero Black Panther, who takes a lesser role that may be off-putting for those only signing-on to the MCU recently. Some battles bizarrely break down on gender lines, but even they play fairly well and without overstepping their welcome.
By having to cram in so much, narrative beats aren’t allowed to fester, thus making the long-ish film feel pretty invigorating for the most part. It still manages moments of quiet and reflection, but doesn’t waste too much time on mega-battles save for the close of the second act. When it begins to wrap, and the results become clearer, we’re in for some pretty exceptional genre storytelling, messing with audience expectations in pretty delightful ways.
The film’s central visual metaphor – that integrating these disparate storylines manifests in actual disintegration – makes this cliffhanger (with plenty of bodies littered in the valley below) feel both ambitious and somewhat cold. It’s clear, however, that there’s a great deal of deliberate plotting here, a well worked-out plan that allows us to feel like we may be at the bottom, but have pieces in place to climb out of it in future installments.
This is ‘Avengers: Disassemble’, a dark but deliberate film that, despite some flaws, is easily the best group flick that Marvel has yet produced. Seeing it now, when we don’t yet know how the story will be made right, just might make for an anxious time in the cinema. Given how rarely we’re required to have any complex emotions with these films, feeling some existential angst from this motley crew is no small victory.