Taking a cursory glance at today’s cinematic landscape it would appear that Marvel, or more accurately Disney, rule the world. Since 2008’s Iron Man the Marvel Cinematic Universe has built itself up into a box-office behemoth with huge cultural influence. I have never quite got the superhero hype, however. A long-time lover of ‘proper’ cinema and arthouse flicks, in recent years I have fought against this tendency to be a ‘film snob’. My Marvel Diary is a challenge to myself to watch all 23 MCU films, perhaps proving my prejudices correct, or perhaps turning me into a lifelong fan of all things superhero.
Release Date: 26th April 2018
MCU Phase: Three
Director: Joe & Anthony Russo
Writer: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Starring: Josh Brolin, Robert Downey Jr., Zoe Saldana, Chris Hemsworth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Holland, Chris Evans, Chadwick Boseman, Elisabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Karen Gillan, Anthony Mackie, Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira, Tom Hiddleston, Sebastian Stan
Well, well, well. That was quite something I have to admit. Throughout My Marvel Diary I have always had my reservations, but I have become steadily more and more absorbed into this world. All leading to this. Avengers: Infinity War is invariably right near the top of everyone’s MCU rankings, and so carries with it the weight of huge expectation from me. First thing’s first, I really enjoyed watching the film. I also didn’t feel entirely satisfied by it. However, after much arduous reflection, I’m pretty sure that this is a good film. It was not always everything I wanted it to be, but I think it was everything it needs to be, and achieved all of its aims very well.
Infinity War really feels like a ‘part one’, much more so than I was expecting. Come the end of the film I felt that, despite sitting there for two and a half hours, I had only watched half a film. There’s so much I want to see these characters do, and so many emotional beats I want hit that frankly they really did need two films. The fact that this is a ‘part one’ film does not make it lesser in quality, as this is a very good first instalment, but it does put a lot of pressure on Endgame to make this satisfying as a whole story.
Most of what I wanted but didn’t get from Infinity War was character-based. I wanted to see Peter Parker being torn between small-scale happiness and Avengers action. I wanted to see the fugitive members of the team fighting for their right to defend Earth. Mostly, I wanted to see Cap and Tony together again after the events of Civil War. Very little of this type of character-focused drama happens, the kind I get a real kick out of in the MCU. Yet, the more I think about it the more I agree with the approach taken here, and am happy to wait for Endgame for these moments.
We know the characters very well by now, so we do not constantly need to add extra layers to them for the sake of it. They are fully-formed people and as such we can just sit back and enjoy watching them work through the plot. Besides, this is a film about a war after all. In wars, people don’t often stop to talk about their feelings or recount their backstories. Also, with such a massive cast there was the danger that either the film would be overstuffed and overlong, or that they would take the too formulaic approach of giving precisely one line/scene of ‘depth’ to every character. So I think, actually, given the amount of story and action they get through here, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely took a well-judged approach to character development.
That said, the film does rely heavily on us having a pre-existing love for and understanding of its characters. With the likes of Captain America and Black Panther, who have had strong solo films, this works fine. But in the case of Falcon, or the Wanda-Vision romance, we start with something underdeveloped and are therefore left with something bland or inauthentic.
Luckily, though, Infinity War does not do an Age of Ultron and actively not provide character drama. We still see Wakanda’s decision to open up in full effect, Cap as a fugitive, Peter Parker’s eagerness to please, and Tony Stark’s guilt complex. They are not expanded on in any great sense, but we are elegantly reminded of the many facets that make up our heroes.
Deciding not to spend unnecessary time on small character details leaves Infinity War with the room for its big play, and the real key to the film’s success: Thanos. The main fresh angles this film provides surround the non-snap deaths. Thor as an embittered, broken man we have not seen before, and is a brave move following Ragnarok. But, with Loki’s death and good work from Chris Hemsworth, it works. More importantly, though, this really gives Gamora the attention she deserves. Her relationship with Thanos, where hatred is peppered with love, is the film’s emotional core, and her very well-handled death packs a punch.
Crucially, Gamora’s storyline tells us a lot more about Thanos too. He is not just a bland intergalactic wrong’un as feared, but a real person with heart and soul. His logic for ‘rebalancing’ the universe is well-enough explained that we can reasonably believe that someone really would think this is the right thing to do. Then, when he kills Gamora despite loving her in order to enact his vision, we understand the near-desperation of his need to succeed. Like all great villains, he is powered by a compelling mixture of ideology and ego. Essentially the lead of the movie, Thanos is Infinity War’s secret weapon, giving us something new and engaging to complement the greatest-hits reel of the other characters. Infinity War, like The Avengers, has its own strengths, rather than just feeding off those of other films.
It is apt, actually, to compare this with the film that in 2012 seemed huge. Both marshal their action and big casts well, and both are enormous amounts of fun. Infinity War has a brilliant balance of emotion, action, and humour. The character-clash comedy, especially as large male egos collide, is very enjoyable, and the battle for Wakanda is excellently staged. The division of characters in the plot works really well. Cap, T’Challa, Black Widow and the other more military-minded characters are all together in Wakanda, helping to really sell the ‘war’ element of the film. Keeping Peter Parker and Tony Stark together gives us some nice moments, and I love the Thor-Rocket friendship that is created. One of the biggest credits you can give the Russo brothers and Markus & McFeely is that they really know their characters. Each person is surrounded by the right people and put in the right place, which is no mean feat for a film of this scale.
All of this well-judged plotting and tonal balancing comes together to make moments like Thor’s arrival in Wakanda really soar. Now adoring the man after Ragnarok, him landing down in a bolt of lightning with his new hammer is, for me, the biggest, most ostentatious, incontrovertible ‘fuck yeah’ moment in the entire MCU. It is the kind of scene Marvel have always done well. Like The Avengers on steroids, Infinity War tops the list for effect on my heart rate so far, which is something that cannot be ignored. This is fantastic entertainment.
Avengers: Infinity War does good things with its villain, has some great humour and action, and delivers the moments you want from a blockbuster. There is now just the small matter of ‘the snap’ to discuss. Firstly, I knew the snap was coming. I may not have seen these films before, but I haven’t been living under a rock for the last two years. That the film’s big finale was not a shock to me is a shame, but I still have bits to say on it as a dramatic device.
Many people have called the snap brave, bold, or groundbreaking in its darkness. In terms of its execution in the film, and in fact as a general idea, I think the snap is really good. However, if anybody for one second didn’t assume this will all be reversed in the next film (which we knew was coming when Infinity War was released), then I will be very surprised. You’re seriously telling me that a mega-franchise that has barely killed off two meaningful characters in 18 films are going to let half the universe die? Including all its new characters? Pull the other one, mate. I also don’t think that ending a film on a surprisingly sad note is that revolutionary or brave when that sad note baits millions of people into watching another film one year later.
That said, in filmmaking terms, I thought the snap was great. I think it is extremely well-executed, largely because the way it takes place counteracts all the cynicism I just described. Not having big swelling strings pushing to make you cry means that the likely false deaths do not come off as insincere. Instead, it is an eerie and rare quiet moment in a blockbuster like this, which actually is quite a bold move. The emphasis, with simple fading to ash, is put not on the deaths but the fear of them (Spidey’s really got me) and on the people left behind. Perhaps the greatest tragedy of it all is that Tony Stark, so fearful of this very thing, is left alive and (nearly) alone come the end. The snap as a device invites criticism, but the way it is filmed avoids much of it. I just hope that when it is reversed, the melancholic beauty of this ending doesn’t feel too diminished.
It is no random choice that the heroes now left alive are predominately the original Avengers. They are the ones who we know the best, so are best placed to lead us through Endgame. They are also the ones who have had full story arcs, so are the heroes that may be chosen to die for the cause. With potential actual deaths, less characters to juggle, new emotional beats, and a lot of plot intrigue to come, Endgame could be brilliant. It’s a lot of pressure, though.
We have only actually seen the effect of Thanos on our heroes throughout the film. This nicely melancholic sting shows us the wider repercussions, with random members of the public turning to dust along with Nick Fury and Agent Hill. Just before he goes, Fury tries to send a message on his pager. A close-up reveals the logo of Captain Marvel, who we have not yet seen but will presumably play a key role in Endgame. With no funny second sting to take the edge off, this is a well-judged ending point.
Where it Ranks
This is clearly top-tier Marvel. However, a lot of its best bits are easily built on top of previous films’ good work. The other entries pitched it up, and Infinity War knocked it out the park. It offers less new challenges for characters and audiences than Civil War, and lacks the sheer invention of Thor: Ragnarok. Where those films offered something new for the MCU, this does some more of the same but bigger and, largely, better.
- Captain America: Civil War
- Thor: Ragnarok
- Avengers: Infinity War
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier
- The Avengers
- Black Panther
- Iron Man 3
- Spider-Man: Homecoming
- Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2
- Guardians of the Galaxy
- Iron Man
- Doctor Strange
- Captain America: The First Avenger
- Avengers: Age of Ultron
- Iron Man 2
- Thor: The Dark World
- The Incredible Hulk