Saturday, May 5, 2018

Thoughts on The Avengers: Infinity War

Yes, I've joined the ranks of those who have witnessed Infinity War, and not a moment too soon – the very next day the unspoken courtesy that prevented people from immediately posting spoilers on Tumblr was deemed over, and my dash was filled with (surprisingly high-quality) GIFs of movie scenes.

As I've said plenty of times before, I'm only a casual fan of the franchise, so I enjoyed this as I've enjoyed all the Marvel films: as relatively mindless fun in which likeable characters do cool things in bright set-pieces for a couple of hours.  That said, I obviously cared enough about Infinity War to go see it at the theatre as soon as I could, and though I had a general idea of how the ending would go down, most things came as a surprise to me.
This is not so much a review as a series of thoughts; an attempt to get all my ideas and impressions into one place as opposed to a coherent "think-piece" on the film.
Obviously SPOILERS below the cut...

After all the hype about how this would be the grand culmination of ten years and eighteen movies worth of set-up, Infinity War can't help but be just a tiny bit underwhelming. There's absolutely no time whatsoever for any quiet character moments (sans two) and anyone who doesn't have the entire Marvel canon under their belt will be utterly, hopelessly lost.
And though I don't blame the Russo Brothers for jumping straight into the action, there probably should have been a couple of character establishing moments just to remind us what is at stake should half the world's population be wiped out. We get that with Tony and Pepper discussing their future, but everyone else...? They don't get introduced, they just turn up.
But as with Civil War, I'm immensely impressed with the Russo's ability to juggle such a huge cast of characters in a fairly streamlined plot that unfolded at a quick and (mostly) logical manner, without ever feeling cluttered or confusing. Goals were established, dynamics were played with, and everyone gets their moment to shine. It's no mean feat.
My audience was a little tepid. I didn't go on opening night and I don't live in America, so not every character appearance was met with rapturous cheers and applause. And I'm not being snarky here – last night I listened to audios of audiences doing exactly this and realized it would have been a much more exciting experience if the people I watched it with had been more enthusiastic. Movies like this are made for loud audience responses.
Although most characters got their "big moment" at some point or another, some got way more screen-time than I expected (Doctor Strange, Scarlet Witch) and some far less (Captain America, Black Widow). I imagine this will be balanced out in Part II, but it was still a bit of a surprise.
I picked up on the recurring theme of "sacrificing one to save the many" (or if you prefer: "even a single life is worth protecting against insurmountable odds") which appeared many times throughout the film: from Loki giving up the Space Stone to spare Thor, to Gamora giving up the Soul Stone to protect Nebula, to Strange giving up the Time Stone to save Tony, to the Wakandan troops rallying to defend Vision. 

Yet at three points someone is asked to kill someone they love for what they believe is the greater good (Wanda/Vision, Gamora/Quill, Thanos/Gamora) and in all cases they go through with it.
What does this mean? I suspect it's all leading to either Tony or Steve choosing to wield the Gauntlet (or one of the stones) and sacrificing their own life for the greater good – presumably to reverse everything that happened at the end of this film. It fits in nicely with what we saw here: that of cold rationality versus the weakness of love, and how the latter becomes a strength when someone gives up their own life for others.
In many ways this is also the story of the male ego. Stark and Strange immediately butt heads, and continue to try and establish dominance over the other throughout the whole film. Then Quill arrives and the same thing happens: after getting ragingly jealous of Thor, he goes on to more dick-measuring with Stark over the effectiveness of their plans.
Then there's Thor, whose character flaw has always been his pride and weird insecurity complex, though it was a) played for laughs in his last movie, and b) not present here, perhaps because he's grown up, perhaps because he's grieving, perhaps because he had no other hot-blooded males to interact with for any length of time.
To quote Clara Oswald from Doctor Who: "The universe is full of testosterone. Trust me, it’s unbearable." In any case, these four alpha-males were arguably the main characters of the film in regards to their importance to the plot, with the more chilled-out and self-possessed men (Steve, T'Challa and Bruce – who notably could not summon his raging Id), playing much smaller roles in the action.
I'm not sure what to make of this, or even if the Russo Brothers even noticed, but I'd like to think there's a point to be made here – especially since it was Quill's inability to control his emotions that cost the Avengers dearly. But I'll have more to say on this plot-point in a bit.
Before any hot takes that ask "was Thanos right?" can we all just agree that killing half the universe to attain balance is actually pretty stupid? Ignoring the fact that if endowed with the power of time, space and reality, Thanos could just create infinite resources with which to save sentient life, the destruction of half the Earth's population would inevitably lead to millions – if not billions – more dying.
What would happen to all the children who are left parentless? Or those who would commit suicide in despair? How many more would die in the immediate chaos of cars crashing, planes falling, trains derailing, and other forms of transport colliding? How would all the remaining humans utilize the available resources if half the world's farmers, doctors, scientists, engineers and teachers are wiped out? Because I was spared by Thanos, but I sure as hell don't know how to grow crops, prescribe medicine, fix cars, or build houses.
It would be one thing if the film acknowledged both these fatal flaws, but given Thanos's speech about the fate of Titan and his apparent success on Gamora's home-world, we're seemingly meant to believe that his idea is a viable one, if not a good one? Please.  
The most boring statement anyone can make about the movie at this stage is that the deaths of the characters that dissolved into ash in the final few minutes will be reversed. I mean, duh. Ironically enough it's the characters that are still alive at the end of the movie who are probably in more real long-term danger, since the next movie will have them risking their lives to save half the universe – and those are the deaths that are going to stick.
On that note, it's interesting to speculate about who was chosen to live. Obviously there are two levels of storytelling at work here: on a Watsonian level I assume we're meant to believe the genocide was completely random, but on a Doylist level it's clear that the Russos made a very careful choice as to who left and who stayed.
As has been pointed out, all the original Avengers survived the purge, clearly setting up the fourth film as their swan-song. The removal of other Marvel heavy-hitters (Spiderman, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, most of the Guardians) helpfully clears the board for the other half of the Marvel roster to enter the fray, and I think it's safe to assume we'll be seeing Hawkeye, Ant-Man, Wasp, Captain Marvel and Valkyrie team up with Rocket, Okoye, Rhodey, M'Baku and Nebula to replenish the ranks of Earth's defenders (of those seemingly random survivors, I can only assume they have key plot-related skills that'll come in handy in Part II).
Then there are those characters that either dropped out of the action, or were never seen at all: Wong, Shuri and Pepper among the former, but also Nakia, Sharon Carter, Sif, Hank Pym, Korg and Happy Hogan, who may or may not appear when all this gets wrapped up. And hey, I'm still hoping for a brief cameo from the Defenders. A girl can dream, right?
I'm also not pointing out anything you don't already know when I say that Doctor Strange clearly has a plan. He looked into billions of futures and told Stark that there was only one possible time-line that resulted in a win for the good guys. Whatever it was, it clearly involved the survival of Stark, as despite initially informing Tony in no uncertain terms that he would give up both him and Peter without a second thought to defend the Time Stone, Strange a) uses it as a bargaining chip to save Tony's life, and b) says "it was the only way" before he dissipates.
Speaking of which, this comment from FandomSecrets made me laugh: "As an aside, this situation made me appreciate Doctor Strange as a being of infinite patience. At that time he knows several MILLION ways these dumbasses are going to get him killed, but he maintains his chill and lets the play go on as it must."
So whatever future Strange foresaw, it clearly involves Thanos initially winning. This might also explain why Strange didn't simply use his portals to severe the Gauntlet from Thanos's arm (we saw Wong do something similar in the opening action sequence) or intervene when Quill lost it over Gamora's death and single-handedly botched the plan.
SPEAKING OF WHICH... Quill's reaction is the other big talking point of the movie, with half the fandom defending it as in-character, and the other deriding it as the reason half of all life was wiped out. But let's be honest, the whole discussion is pointless. Quill is never going to be held accountable for what he did and there aren't going to be any long-term consequences to his behaviour. There never are for characters like him, and as I've already stated, it's likely that his meltdown was essential for Strange's long-term plan to work out anyway.
I can pretty much guarantee it's the last we'll ever hear of Quill's emotional meltdown. (And true to form, I've already seen some people claim it was Mantis and Nebula's fault the plan failed for telling Quill about Gamora's death in the first place).
As I predicted – and dreaded – much of Thor: Ragnarok is rendered pointless, with half of the Asgardian people who escaped from the last movie killed off immediately at the beginning of this one. Joe Russo is now on the record as confirming that Valkyrie and half the Asgardians escaped safely, but still...
Following the rule of Black Dude Dies First, Heimdall is the first regular character to go. Dammit, he was my favourite! Deep down I knew it was coming, and it makes me wish even more fervently that they had kept the Warriors Three alive, or found a way to bring Sif back, if not just to prevent Thor's entire supporting cast from being decimated, and for him to have at least one friend/family member left standing.
So wherever Valkyrie is, I hope that when she turns up it's with Sif (and Korg).
Oh, and Loki dies. Beyond the fact it was a pretty pointless death for a guy who has been one of Marvel's best villains for so long (though that's relatively speaking, as he's since been eclipsed by Adrian Toomes and Killmonger) I can't say I'm that cut up about it. Remember when he slaughtered thousands of innocent people during the invasion of New York? On Thanos's orders, no less? And never showed a grain of remorse for the loss of life? Before the franchise just swept it all under the rug in favour of the whacky hijinks in Ragnarok?
I didn't dislike Loki as much as I hate Kylo Ren, but I'm definitely still sick of the casual dismissal of mass-murder and the endless array of second chances afforded to villains on their quests for half-assed redemption.* And hey, if he hadn't stolen the Tesseract AGAIN, the Asgardians wouldn't have found themselves in that mess in the first place.
*(And for the record, it's not just a white male thing. I'm still aggravated that Wanda's deliberate choice to trigger the Hulk and send him rampaging through Johannesburg didn't even warrant a mild scolding).
This was a great movie for Thor, who was finally allowed the time and space he needed to grieve for what he's lost. His conversation with Rocket was one of the two quiet moments I mentioned earlier that really worked, and was the closest I got to tears in this movie: the sight of a man who has lost almost everything he's ever loved, valiantly trying to summon his default bravado but barely managing it.
Yet ironically, his plot was possibly the least interesting to watch since it was basically: go to place, get a weapon, fight bad guy.
This was a fantastic film for the ladies (despite being severely outnumbered by the dudes) and I'm glad that the Russo Brothers continued the precedence started in Black Panther: of not drawing attention to the awesomeness of female characters, but just letting them be awesome. Wanda, Natasha, Nebula, Mantis, Okoye, Shuri – even Maria Hill in the film's Stinger all have vital and interesting roles to play that are in no way informed by their gender (unless you consider Okoye and Natasha going up against Proxima Midnight to be a Designated Girl Fight – a part of me wishes they'd taken out a male member of the Black Order instead, the greater part of me doesn't really care and just hopes it's foreshadowing for an all-female Avengers line-up later down the track).
And of course, it all ends with a distress call sent out to none other than Captain Marvel. The future is female! Seriously though, it's truly exhilarating to realize that the message of hope the film choses to end on is a direct summons to a female superhero. That's awesome!
Of course, then there's Gamora, who was arguably the film's female lead in terms of screen-time and importance. More than any of the Guardians of the Galaxy films, we get insight into her relationship with Thanos and her understanding of what they mean to each other (which for the record, was a huge oversight in those previous films). She's a valuable source of intel, she takes affirmative action in the first confrontation with Thanos, and she's a lynchpin in the overarching plot.
Of course, it's this last one which has caused some controversy. Given that Thanos sacrifices her life in order to claim the Soul Stone, which he does with anguish and tears due to the fact he loves her, is Gamora rendered a fridged female who dies for the sake of man-pain?
Weirdly enough, I don't think so, despite the fact that her significance to both Thanos and Quill is of crucial narrative importance – Thanos in killing her and Quill in reacting to her death. Yet Gamora has agency and willpower right up until her sacrifice, and of all the deaths that occur pre-finger snap, it's hers that could be the most easily reversed. So in this case, I'm happy to wait and see what happens.
For me there are more troubling implications, as the idea that Thanos loved Gamora is a repulsive one. Sentient beings are complicated, but nothing will ever make me accept that abusers truly love their victims. They can say they do, even think they do – but to truly love someone means never deliberately hurting them in any way (unless it's a mercy kill or something like that, which this clearly wasn't). Up until Thanos successfully retrieved the Soul Stone, I was assuming that this set-up was the ultimate safe-guard for the Stone: anyone who loved someone wouldn't go through with killing them, and anyone who did sacrifice someone would do so in vain, realizing afterwards that they never loved them in the first place.
I guess I'll just have to accept that Thanos believing he loved Gamora was enough of a loophole to get his hands on the Stone – though I contend that it would have been a much better story if Thanos had found out years ago that he needed the sacrifice of a loved one to retrieve the Stone, and so deliberately started collecting children in anticipation of his favourite one's death. Now that would have shown the true depths of his depravity and evil.
And can we all agree that the film should have opened with the flashback to his adoption of Gamora? I mean, what a no brainer! It would have set up their relationship as the crux of the film, and made for the perfect segue into the destruction of the Asgardian ship.
Miscellaneous Observations:
All the requisite cameos are present and accounted for: Stan Lee as a bus driver, Ned as a diversion, Secretary Ross still being a dickhead, Fury and Maria Hill in the stinger, and Peter Dinklage as a giant dwarf (bwah!) But the one big surprise was the reappearance of Red Skull – it's safe to say no one saw that coming. Gotta say I missed the guy from Arrested Development though.
The great joy of the film was always going to be the interactions between unexpected characters and their established dynamics, and I'm giving special mention to Rocket/Bucky, Gamora/Thor, Bruce/Shuri, Peter Parker/Mantis, Steve/Groot, Natasha/Wanda and Drax/Strange's cloak. Some of these interactions only lasted a couple of seconds, but man, the movie made them count.
Bruce Banner had an interesting role to play – when you think about it, he achieves the most movement from one plot-thread to another: starting with Thor in space, moving to New York with Stark and Strange, and finally ending up in Wakanda with Steve and the rest of the Avengers.
Like most, I think that (with the exception of Gamora) all those who perished pre-snapped fingers are gone for good. Which means this is the last we'll see of Heimdall, Loki and Vision.
Without actually making me care, Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen did a lot to sell the Vision/Wanda romance, which is based on little more than a few scenes across the last three movies that featured them. Though in all honesty, the romances (along with the villains) have always been the weakest part of the Marvel franchise. Tony/Pepper are the best, followed by T'Challa/Nakia, but the rest...? Meh.
Full disclosure, I wasn't hugely affected by the litany of deaths that closed the film, partly because it took me a while to grasp what was going on, and partly because you know they'll be back. Even Peter's "I don't wanna go" just reminded me of the Tenth Doctor's identical last words, and by that point the whole thing felt a tad too manipulative. It's only if I put myself in the shoes of those forced to watch as their loved ones silently dissolve before their eyes that I find myself grasping the full horror of that moment.
I just wish we'd gotten a little bit of pay-off between Natasha and Ayo after their confrontation in Civil War. As much as I adore Okoye, perhaps it would have been more satisfying to have Ayo fighting alongside Natasha in taking down Proxima Midnight (or at least have her in that fight) as a bookend to their initial meeting.
Despite their interesting designs, the Children of Thanos ended up being rather dull villains. I guess there wasn't any time to flesh them out properly, and they existed mainly to give the heroes some minor victories without fully defeating Thanos, but still...
So remember the trailer's money-shot of all our assorted heroes charging across Wakanda in attack formation? Never happened. Perhaps it was never meant to happen since it featured a hulked-out Bruce Banner, whose alter-ego instead spent most of this movie in hibernation.
It kind of bugged me that despite all his character growth, Thor spent the entire movie referring to Rocket as a "rabbit". I can excuse the fact that he doesn't know what a racoon is, but after all his lessons in humility it's a little off-putting that he wouldn't ask his new companion for a name.
The little actress playing young Gamora (Ariana Greenblatt) was incredible. I haven't been this impressed with a child actor's ability to mimic the older version of her character since Bailee Madison as Snow White in Once Upon a Time.
Like I mentioned earlier, I love that every character got their moment to shine, right down to the (relatively) minor characters: Groot providing the handle for Stormbreaker, the Cloak of Levitation saving Strange, Bucky picking up Rocket and spinning around, Mantis as the trump-card in subduing Thanos, Shuri continuing to work on Vision even after the laboratory is attacked, Nebula ramming her ship into Thanos, Nick pressing his pager even as his body disintegrates – I mean, damn. I could go on, and that's just the supporting cast. There was so much movie in this movie.
Stark and Nebula were the only ones left alive on Titan. Well that's certainly going to be an interesting team-up.
The latest trailer for Ant-Man and the Wasp has been released, and I guarantee that movie is going to end with the characters sitting around and celebrating, only for half of them to dissolve into ash.
Okay... I think that's everything. So what happens next? We get Ant-Man and the Wasp as some light filler in July (which may establish plot-points that'll be important in Avengers 4), followed by Captain Marvel next March which will no doubt tie in more closely.
The sequel to all this (it's safe to assume) will involve the original Avengers and their remaining allies finding a way in which to restore all the lives that were lost, as well as the three big plot-points that were foreshadowed but held off on showing in this film: Steve and Tony's reconciliation, Bruce finally mastering/unleashing the Hulk, and whatever the heck is happening with Gamora in the Soul Stone.
It's gonna be a long wait...

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