Exploiting our Archives: Scalding Hot Takes: Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
At this point seeing the new Avengers or Star Wars movie represents something resembling a civic duty. I saw Avengers: Infinity War for my pop culture website and my podcast and because I like Marvel movies but also because I feel a weird sense of obligation as an American consumer to support commercial enterprises of this enormity so that the economy doesn’t fail and we’re not thrown into a new Dark Age.
It’s become our responsibility as Americans to watch the adventures of Captain America and company in all of their many, many forms. We pay taxes, we vote, and when a new Marvel or Star Wars movie comes out, we see those motherfuckers opening week because we're not Communists.
I fancy myself a good, if not great citizen of the Marvel world. I see about eighty five percent of the movies, and enjoy most of them. I belong to the Marvel Collectors Club, which sends me a box of crap every other month that instantly becomes property of my three year old son Declan and in the eternal battle of DC versus Marvel, I’m team Marvel all the way.
Yet there are limits to my devotion. In anticipation of what Marvel has infamously dubbed the biggest crossover in history, a lot of folks on my various social media timelines have been re-watching all of the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so they can be completely caught up for Infinity War.
I would say that you could not pay me enough to do that but that’s not true. I certainly would have been willing to re-watch all of the Marvel movies in exchange for cash money but there’s no way I would have been willing to make that level of time commitment just for the sake of being up to date on the biggest Marvel movie of all time.
Marvel has enough of my time and money and energy. I’ve given freely over the years, both at home and at the office. Yet there’s something undeniably oddly attractive about participating in a culture-wide ritual of nerdy immersion like the Marvel marathon. We live in such a fractured, divisive, niche-oriented pop culture universe that it’s both refreshing and a little oppressive when seemingly everyone seems to be seeing and talking about the same movie, and/or the roughly three bazillion Marvel movies leading up to it.
There’s another advantage to the big Marvel binge, I imagine: understanding Infinity War. Watching an opening sequence featuring Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and big bad guy Thanos (Josh Brolin) I was immediately lost even though I’d seen, and loved, Thor: Ragnorak not too long ago.
That’s because a lot has happened over the course of the 879 superhero flicks that comprise the Marvel cinematic universe. It’s an entire universe, man! Do you know how big the universe is? It’s big enough for Avengers: Infinity War, which is a a massive, cumbersome, impossibly huge Spruce Goose of a movie that never quite manages to become airborne during a lumbering, talk-heavy first hour but not only takes flight but takes down the Red Baron in a furious dogfight in the hour and a half that follow, if I might hopelessly abuse a metaphor.
I told my wife that the movie was the biggest superhero movie of all time and she said that I say that about every superhero movie. That’s not true, but I could see where she could get that impression. Each new Avengers films has a bigger cast and higher stakes and a greater sense of urgency than the last. In terms of scope, Infinity War feels like the biggest superhero movie ever, and its sequel promises to be even bigger and more important, if only because it will be the final entry in the epic Avengers saga.
It’s almost easier to say who isn’t in this movie: pretty much only Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, both of whom apparently got notes from their doctors saying they had permission to not be in the movie because they had the measles and besides, no one would even notice their absence anyway.
That’s certainly true of Hawkeye. If I were Jeremy Renner, I would take recuse myself from this project on account of my character sucking and being a waste of everyone’s time. Infinity War goes big and cosmic with the space-despots and invading alien armies, so a guy who is good at archery would be even pointless.
I am a little bummed that Ant-Man is nowhere to be seen, although it is possible he’s in every scene; he’s just so tiny we never see him. I thought the Ant-Man movie was merely okay but that he was a lot of fun in Captain America: Civil War and could have brought a fun comic energy and lightness to a blimp-sized enterprise like this.
The fun thing about the Avengers movies is that you get to see all your favorite superheroes in the same movie! The less fun part involves watching them grappling with a broken and violence-ravaged world and the ghosts of fallen comrades and the people they themselves have killed in the name of justice.
Infinity War is nowhere near as ponderous as Justice League or Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Nothing is. But in its first hour Infinity War is weighed down by the past, by its elephantine size, by the demands of being a second sequel and a bridge to the fourth and final film in the series and by the analogous demands of having to be part of the continuity for all of the various franchises of the individual Avengers, who include Spider-Man for the first time here.
It takes a fair amount of time and space just to get everyone caught up with the happenings on planet Earth and in Space, where much of the film is set.
With Infinity War, the Avengers franchise goes cosmic, with intergalactic God of Thunder Thor joined by the scruffy outlaws in the Guardians of the Galaxy, whose members include Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the stepdaughter of Thanos, the big purple outer space tyrant played by Josh Brolin whom the Marvel universe has been relentlessly promoting as a figure of central importance to the Universe's mythology who is going to blow us all the fuck away when the time came.
Marvel hyped the fuck out of Thanos, just as it did the Infinity Stones, gems scattered throughout the galaxy that give their owners almost unimaginable powers. Thanos is that one bad guy who totally wants to take over the world, and seizes upon the Infinity Stones as the means to domination.
What makes Thanos compelling to me is not that he’s a malevolent, giant purple space God but rather that he’s someone’s complicated asshole stepdad. He wants to destroy to create, to kill to cleanse, to obliterate in order to perfect. He’s a complicated villain for complicated times and he serves as a big enough threat to unite seemingly the whole of the Marvel cinematic universe against him, with the notable exception of Hawkeye, who I bet fell down and broke his bow and arrow and consequently is out of commission for the indefinite future.
The excitement of Avengers: Infinity War lies in no small part in seeing nearly all (my man Hawkeye’s MIA, FYI) of your favorite superpowers pair off in various combinations.
Thor, for example, was far from my favorite Avenger going in, but he has really proved himself over the course of these films. Thor’s chemistry with the Space Raccoon That Wears People Clothes and the monosyllabic alien talking tree is a highlight; I grinned like a fool when he called Rocket “sweet rabbit.”
I’ve come to really enjoy Hemsworth as an actor, particularly in these movies and his effervescent comic delivery helps set him apart from the many, many semi-interchangeable dude-bro superhero guys he shares the screen with.
Paul Bettany’s Vision sets himself apart by being AI brought to life in realization of Neil Breen’s wildest dreams, as well as his ability to look okay in some of the ugliest sweaters known to man or android. In Infinity War, Vision and his normcore sweaters are paired with Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch, a very promising character who would undoubtedly have a lot more to do if she wasn’t something like the 63rd superhero introduced in this sprawling and sometimes overwhelming universe, whose size and ambition are both great strengths and pervasive weaknesses.
Marvel has the enviable problem of having too many characters audiences love. I saw the movie in a sold-out show with a primarily black audience at the North DeKalb Mall that clapped for a solid minute when Black Panther’s homeland of Wakanda was introduced, only for the action to shift locations almost immediately and not return for a good hour. Black Panther mania may be good for Marvel and good for the country as a whole but it does create a problem for a movie that needs to squeeze Black Panther and Wakanda into a narrative that doesn’t have a great deal of space for them.
So it’s enormously satisfying to watch Wakanda and its guardians figure prominently in the film’s rousing and haunting climax. The Russo Brothers, who directed Infinity War, previously directed Captain America: Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War, which was essentially an Avengers film in everything but name. They’re adept at attending to the demands of superhero filmmaking at its most impossibly vast and all-encompassing without losing sight of the melodramatic emotions at the core of these epic narratives, a gift they bring to Infinity War and that keeps it from collapsing in on itself, done in by its unmanageable vastness.
Infinity War ends on an impressively bleak note that prompted an audible gasp of surprise and horror from the packed audience I saw it with. We’re conditioned to expect happy endings as Americans so the movie’s despairing, apocalyptic final scene requires real audacity even as it shamelessly teases a follow-up where the tragedy we’ve just seen will presumably be undone.
It’s a savvy combination of artistic daring and commercial calculation that epitomizes Marvel’s gift for balancing the demands of art and commerce, or at least entertainment and commerce. I very much enjoyed Infinity War and look forward to never seeing it again. Until the big binge for Infinity War’s second part, of course.
My plan, and don’t even try to stop me from doing this, or copying me, is to then rank all of the Marvel movies in order of quality! Verily, I will be performing a valuable public service by doing so. For years, no decades to come, movie lovers with a limited amount of time on their hand could google “Marvel film ranking” and the first and only entry will be for the list I will write for this site.
Comic book geeks in the future consequently won't need to watch these movies themselves. They'll be able to print out my list and know definitively whether or not Thor: Dark World is objectively better than Doctor Strange.
Forget Ronald Thomas Clontle's Rock, Rot & Rule. This revolutionary "ranked list" I will someday write be the real ultimate argument settler. Oh phooey. It looks like I have talked myself into re-watching not only this movie, but all of the others in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the not too distant future. I at least take comfort in knowing that in doing so I will not only be performing a mitzvah, I’ll also be making enough money to retire on. When you look at it that way, it’s probably worth revisiting, lumbering first hour and all.
I rely upon Patreon money to live so if you would consider donating as much as a dollar a month over at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace I sure would appreciate it. You could say that you are the true superhero, since you’d be helping me continue to realize my dream of writing about pop culture for a living.