So I’ve seen Infinity War twice now. That’s rare for me to do before I write a review. I saw it originally Thursday night and then again on Friday. I wanted to really think it through so I could find a way to review it without spoilers. I did write up a “call for comments” for my podcast blog (cheap plug, go subscribe to my podcast!!!) as our next episode is going to be about film franchises as a new media type, but I went out of my way there to address the movie as little as possible to avoid spoilers for people who haven’t seen the movie yet. And then I realized that the reason this is so hard is that this isn’t really a “movie” per se… not in the traditional sense. It’s not even just a Hollywood blockbuster… and it’s not just an entry in the MCU Franchise TV show that we only get to watch in movie theaters. This is may be the greatest ever entering in a different type of motion picture altogether. This is a spoilerogram!
Sometimes people complain about my star scoring on some movies. Especially the superhero or otherwise genre based blockbuster ones because I never put them that high. As I’ve explained before, I try to rate movies on the same scale just so that the rating have some sense of meaning, even though in reality I know it’s impossible to really compare say a Ladybird to a Logan. They’re different types of movies, trying to do different kinds of things. This also allows me to analytically take my personal enjoyment out of the review. My key example is always Suckerpunch. A movie that I personally LOVE!!! Even though I am completely aware that it isn’t very good.
When I do this I try to think of how the movie stands up to classic rules of cinematic story telling. How well does this tell a complete story with a beginning, middle and end? How well can a person who has no experience with this world become invested in it and enjoy it? Are the characters fully developed and realized and engaging? How does this piece of art stand as a complete and cohesive work in and of itself? And if I had to judge this movie on THOSE merits alone, it might very well get a zero. A one at best.
I’m not sure this is a movie.
It does not stand alone. Even more so that other films that are part of long running series. I don’t expect Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers to stand alone. It is a part of a greater narrative. Similarly, I especially don’t expect Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 to stand on its own. In both of those cases we are looking at a film that is intended to be part of a much greater whole. And yet, there is enough there that they feel like complete movies. There is a beginning to the narrative. There are character introductions. There is a building action and a decisive end point that makes it feel like the end of one story and makes you excited for the next one. They are complete.
Infinity War is more like picking up a 24 chapter novel and skipping to chapter 19, reading it, and then setting it down.
It’s a good thing that those two chapters just happened to be really good. But they’re not a story.
At least not by themselves.
Crossovers have been a staple of super hero comic books for over seventy years. And the comic book mega-event crossover for over thirty. Up until this point, attempts to bring this to the movies have worked by movie rules. There can be related to other things but each one stands in and of itself. Essentially, both the first and second Avengers movies were Secret Wars. There was an assumption that the reader had some passing familiarity with the characters at least. There is an awareness that there are other movies in the franchises, and that the moviegoer is looking to see all of these characters in the same sandbox. But if you aren’t aware of what was happening in some of the individual franchises, it just didn’t matter. Thor even tells you this in the first film Avengers film. There’s a question as to why he is even there, since according to the continuity between his first and second film, he should have been trapped in Asgard. He basically says “magic, don’t worry about it” and the film moves on never thinking about it again. Because, despite it’s protagonist being one of the stars of the film, the concerns of the Thor franchise are outside of the scope of that film. This is similar to other blockbuster franchises. If I am a fan of Star Wars movies, I am able to watch the films and ignore all the side novels, comic books, cartoons and other supplemental media. Everything that is important to the main narrative, happens in the main films.
This one is different. This is more like a more modern comic book crossover event. The narrative is split over a billion separate parts in different series and the main series assumes you are following all of them. From the very first scene of Infinity War, it is readily apparent that the concerns of the Thor franchise are very much relevant to this film. As are the concerns of every other MCU franchise. But since this is chapter 19, of the novel, the film isn’t going to bother to recap chapters 1-18. They matter, and you should have read them asshole! It feels like that’s what this film is saying to you. So much so that the inconsistencies in the film with other chapters seem to REALLY STAND OUT from that very first scene (mostly due to the absence of certain characters, presumedly for budgetary reasons).
That’s not to say that this is bad. It has emotional stakes. It has pathos. The actors make you care about the events that happen to their characters. It’s just that the film relies on you being “all in” to the greater narrative that is the MCU. Whatever this is, it’s bad… it’s just not… a movie.
And that’s what makes its hard to talk about without spoiling anything. There’s no building action to this. It starts out in medias res and doesn’t let up. It’s hard to talk about any specifics of the film because it really is two and a half hours of continuous pertinent plot points. The film is nothing but spoilers.
What I an say is that it does pose interesting thematic questions. What has made the Marvel films so successful is that at heart they have attempted to be movies first and superhero movies second. A large part of this has been, rather than focusing on big beefy guys punching the shit out of each other, many of the previous films have been built around the same complex thematic questions that one would construct any other speculative fiction film around… and then having big beefy guys punching the shit out of each other. What I found most interesting about the film is that the narrative, such that it is, is built around a very fascinating moral question that places moral objectivism in conflict with relativism and asks you to consider, not only whether or not philosophical objectivism can even exist, but which side is even subscribing to it. If deconstructed to its bare bones, the central conflict amounts to a trolley problem… one where I’m not sure which side of the conflict is trying to throw the switch and which one is trying to hold it.
And that is fascinating… it is a question that I think in a different film, could be debated for hours, with no one ever coming to a conclusive decision. In this film, even though it is central to the narrative and a constant question throughout almost every scene, there is so much more going on with regards to the greater MCU narrative, the worry of who will live and who will die, the ramifications of those events, the incredible amount of pathos that Marvel has frankly completely earned through the previous films even if it doesn’t come from this one in specific and the constant visual spectacle from the very impressive beefy guys punching the shit out of each other, that the thematic philosophical question kind of seems to fade into the background.
And that’s a shame. But maybe that’s just what we do. After all, how many people really understand the deeper philosophical ramifications of Atlas Shrugged anyway… it’s easier to just say “oh, this means I can be selfish and lower taxes for the rich!” than it is to question which side of the ideology you are actually embodying. And Galt or Taggart had been a giant purple alien with a magical bejeweled oven mitt would it have made any difference? Wait, which one are we supposed to be be admiring anyway? *shrug*
((∞✊??????)/√-1)☆☆☆☆(STACK OVERFLOW – RUNTIME ERROR out of 5 stars)