AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR — 10 Things That Just Didn't Work (SPOILERS!!!)
Call it clickbait. Call it bandwagoning. Call it contrarianism of the highest order. But there’s simply NO way I could stay silent on the cinematic behemoth that is AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. Hence the bonus podcast and blog version of this review.
Oh, Marvel…what could’ve been.
Most know that I’m a diehard DC buff. No apologies there. Justice League broke my heart, and I don’t see WB righting the wayward oil tanker that is the DCEU anytime soon, Shazam fun notwithstanding.
But here’s something most of you don’t know — it was writer/artist Jim Starlin’s eye-opening, heart-wrenching, and mind-altering work on The Infinity Gauntlet that gave me a new appreciation for Marvel Comics back in the 90’s. I was a big fan of his limited series COSMIC ODYSSEY for DC, and asked the shop owner (this was pre-internet days, and they were our comic book Google equivalents) what else I could enjoy of his. He put me onto Gauntlet…and it swept me up in its operatic, complex, philosophical, psychedelic, high stakes and heavy, and most of all MEANINGFUL storytelling in a way that only the great graphic novels dare to.
So, I understandably went into AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR with some expectations. Because, overall, the Marvel cinematic brain-trust has done a pretty good job thus far. Not ‘great’, of course — cookie-cutter villains and interchangeable Heroes’ Journeys have been their bane from the start — but overall we’ve been gifted, as comics fans, with consistent realizations of silver and modern-aged 4-colour superhero awesomeness. Dr Strange DMT trips and Thor: Ragnorok Jack Kirby nods, come on!
Now, I won’t be discussing the ‘good stuff’ in the movie here. It’s a given that AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR was going to be well-produced, the action would be tight, the effects eye-popping, the score serviceable, and the blockbuster cast would range from ’emotionally invested’ to ‘paycheck-cashing’.
But none of that matters in the end. (although this isn’t really the ‘end’…but we’ll get to that)
Because for me, and I suspect for many of you, it all comes down to STORY. Which is why I’m doing this list.
So…here we go, kittens and cats — read and/or listen if you dare, SPOILERS BE DAMNED, and feel free to roast away in the comments if it makes you feel better about your precious piece of Disney-owned narrative merchandise.
10. STORY ARC? WHAT STORY ARC?
Exposition, scene, and setting. Conflict. Rising Action. Climax. Denouement.
The structure of a good story is a classic exponential curve that starts slow at first, and then ramps up faster and faster until it reaches an explosive point of ‘release’. And then, in the aftermath, there needs to be a brief period of ‘resolution’, so the characters can all process how they’ve grown and changed, and what they’ve sacrificed to get there.
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR…? Well, at least it got the whole ‘Rising Action’ thing right. Right?
‘Cause by starting the flick with a ship-full of Asgardians already slain, Thor on the verge of dying, the Hulk getting smacked down by the new Big Bad before magically getting rainbow’ed down to Earth by Heimdall, Loki giving up the Space gem, then attempting to kill Thanos, Thanos snapping his neck and dropping the lifeless corpse in front of his helpless brother, then stabbing Thor’s buddy Heimdall through the heart and finally blowing the ship to dust with a clenched fist and a flash of the Power gem?!?
You kinda know what you’re in for after that. This film is the definition of ‘thrill ride’. But with the roller coaster already positioned at the top. Straight drop. Some quick turns through ‘here’s who we are, why we do what we do‘. Couple of loops. Corkscrew. Upside-down bit. Then…OMG THE CAR JUST FELL OFF THE RAILS AND IS HURTLING THROUGH SPACE MY CONSCIOUSNESS IS DISINTEGRATING AND TOUCHING EVERY POINT IN TIME MY LIFE HAS NO MEANING WHY WHY WHYYYYYYYYY???!?!?!
End of Ride.
No denouement. No resolution. No real arc for anyone…save, maybe, the villain.
Now remember — this criticism is coming from a guy who gets cliffhangers. I love them, and I write them! But they just don’t work when you stand atop a multi-million dollar soapbox and shout ‘This is a complete moviegoing experience. It’s its own story!’
AVENGERS: Infinity War is HALF a film at best, my friends. HALF of a story.
Which leads us right into #9…
9. INSANE STAKES, BUT NO STAKES AT ALL…
Death! Destruction! More death!
Tragic loss at the hands of an unstoppable villain who is more like a force of Nature — a Universal Judge, Jury, and Executioner!
How can we stop the ULTIMATE NIHILIST?!
Well, we can wait ’til Avengers 4 to find out. Because clearly Thanos WILL be stopped, and everything will go back to how it was, or at least some semblance of how things were before the events of AVENGERS: Infinity War.
How do we know this? Because Disney and Marvel recently released their future slate of films at Cinemacon. That’s how.
Black Panther 2? But the King turned to dust!
Spiderman sequel? But Peter Parker is no more!
Guardians of the Galaxy III? To quote Monty Python:
The easiest way to create ‘stakes’ in a story is to make them ‘life and death’. But when you KNOW the death’s won’t stick? Then the stakes, the tensions at the heart of the film’s conflicts? They vanish. Just like all those heroes did at the end of the film.
RIP, half of the Marvel Cinematic Universe…we’ll see you again after Easter 2019. No coincidence, I’m sure. But bring your rosaries and chocolate bunnies, just in case.
8. EVERYTHING BUT THE KITCHEN SINK…and EMOTION
A short gripe, and one that a lot of you might disagree with because it’s really a subjective stance BUT…
I didn’t feel anything at the end of the movie. Not a smile. Not a tear. Not a quiver.
Much of this has to do with the aforementioned ‘stakes’ thing, but I think the bigger problem is that the film is just plain overstuffed. With characters. With sub-plots. With maguffins. With effects and action sequences. And yes, it’s the BIGGEST CROSSOVER EVER, so what do you expect…except…I’d kinda like to be moved by it, wouldn’t you?
That’s the price of jamming so much shit into 2.5 hours. This ain’t a slow-boil arc of Breaking Bad, or the puzzle-box first season of Westworld, or the 18hr mindfuck of Twin Peaks, or a Tolkien-paced fantasy epic like Game of Thrones. Chronological and mental real estate are limited by design. It’s just too bad that the first things to get cut in blockbusters like AVENGERS: Infinity War are the quiet moments. The reflective ones. The ones that end up making the stuff that’s supposed to matter — you know, like all those deaths — actually matter.
I’m sorry, but I didn’t believe Thor’s ‘grief’ when Heimdall and Loki died, because events were too fast and too bombastic and he could quip about them so soon afterwards. I didn’t buy into Wanda and Vision’s ‘timeless romance’ because neither character had been developed enough for us to care by this point. And the Thanos and Gamora ‘connection’? Really?! What could possibly be invested INTO it in a series of quick asides for there to be any real complexity, or heft between them. So the ‘sacrifice’ (which, oh yeah, we’re gonna get to) did NOT hit me. And this goes double for Stark’s reaction to his comrades turning to dust after the reality-changing finger-snap at the end of Act 3 — that was some paycheck cashing of the highest order and, considering the script and how it was all cut together, I can’t exactly blame him.
7. HAWK-WHAT? ANT-WHEN? CAPTAIN WHO..?
And speaking of CUTS.
If you’ve been following the marketing build-up to AVENGERS: Infinity War, then I’m sure you’re aware of the ‘Where’s Waldo…I mean HAWKEYE’ controversy. He ain’t on the posters, his fellow cast ain’t talkin’, his directors say ‘be patient’, and this original Avenger ends up barely getting a namecheck in the flick. Zero screentime. Not even a flashback.
Now, even if you’re holding back for some epic scene in Avengers 4 that rips off DC Comics’ Green Arrow and Atom takedown of Darkseid (who Marvel ripped off to create Thanos in the first place!) in Grant Morrison’s Justice League run? (Yeah, I’m hardcore) Even if you’re going THAT big, shouldn’t you at least do the character and his arc the service of planting seeds before the sequel?! That’s what pisses me off, especially from a storytelling standpoint.
And don’t even get me started on Ant Man. Not only is he MIA in Avengers 3, as well (giving more weight to a Hawkeye team-up in Avengers 4, as I just teased), but he has a sequel coming out before the next Avengers that takes place before the events of THIS film.
Confused yet? Then I might as well hold your head in the toilet and flush one more time for the heroine who shall remain unnamed until the end of this list…but who apparently is the great Marvel messiah who will save us all in the sequel with her insane power levels and random 90’s origin story that we never heard about before…but are slated to in 2019, just before the next Avengers.
Which, as it should, brings us to…
6. THE UNSEEN MCGUFFIN COST…
No messing around here, right Marvel?
The Nova Corps are decimated, and Thanos already has the Power Gem.
The Asgardian ship is in ruin, its passengers dead, and the Space Gem is just a formality.
The Collector is already dead, and Thanos pulls a convenient familial mindfucking with the Reality Gem.
Nebula was caught and tortured offscreen for out-of-nowhere clues to the location of the Soul Gem.
Especially that last one, because…
5. RED SKULLS AND SOUL(LESS) STONES
We don’t know what the Soul Gem does, but it’s supposed to be the most ‘mysterious and important’ of the six universal singularities needed for Thanos’ insane plan. The theories were across the goddamn board:
- Captain Marvel has it, and she’ll make a surprise appearance at the end!
- It’s under Wakanda, in the Vibranium meteor that powers their nation!
- It’s inside Heimdall, hence his powers and spooky-cool eye colour!
- It’s Adam Warlock himself, awaiting birth at the end of Guardians VOL 2!
It was on some random planet. And Gamora always knew where. And she shared knowledge of its existence (but not location) with her sister. And she lied to ‘daddy’ about it. And the only way to acquire it is to sacrifice ‘the thing you love most’. Which means we’re gonna be okay, because Thanos is supposed to only love Death, right? That’s the core agency of the character, RIGHT?!
But no…in AVENGERS: Infinity War, he loves his adopted daughter the most. Gamora. All offscreen, of course. So, he tosses her from a frozen mountaintop and wins his prize after a few tears drip down his purple testicled chin.
Oh yeah…and it all happens because the RED Motherf@#$ing SKULL tells him to. Because somehow, after fiddling with the tesseract back in Captain America, he became obsessed with tracking down the gems for himself, and now he’s trapped with this task until the end of Time…
…and it’s not even the Hugo Weaving version.
4. A CG ‘BOSS-FIGHT’ QUAGMIRE
And speaking of Hugo Weaving (see…I really do PLAN these things out, kids)
Ever since the godawful MATRIX sequel tried to shove the Burly Brawl down our collective craw as a valid cinematic advancement—you remember? The 60 or so Agent Smiths piling on a badly rendered Neo in a mid-res urban playground? Exactly—I have cringed too much over CG characters with no weight, no personality, and no place being the primary hero OR villain in a sci-fi or fantasy world. (yes, yes…Gollum IS the exception, and characters like Groot and Rocket are fine in doses)
Do we NEED to do a tally of the CG cast here?
Thanos. The Black Order. The demon dog army at Wakanda.
It just…feels…lifeless. It’s almost criminal.
But, believe it or not, there are indeed worse ways to use effects to change an actor.
3. DINKING THE DINKLAGE
When a supersized Tyrion Lannister appeared onscreen as the Forge Master destined to build Thor his new God-killer axe-hammer thingie, I don’t think the filmmakers got the response they were hoping for. Not in my screening, at least.
They laughed at the bad wig. At the clumsy ‘Asgardian’ accent. At the pitch-shifting voice effects.
But mostly? It feels like they laughed at the implied ‘joke’ of having a real-life dwarf—an admittedly talented and charismatic one, burned into their collective brains from countless thrilling schemes and adventures in far-off Westeros—they laughed at seeing him portrayed NOT as Pip the Troll from the original story, or voicing one of the Black Order, or even as MODOK for Christ’s sake…
But as a giant.
It was uncomfortable laughter. Squirmy laughter. Wink and nod and cringe kinda laughter.
He looked lost in the scene. Deflated. Distant. Even a little sad.
I hope he got paid well.
2. POST-CREDITS ANTI-CLIMAX
Someone who keeps ‘getting paid’ in all these Marvel flicks (see what I did there?) has been there from the start.
From the first post-credits scene wayyyy back in IRON MAN.
Sam Jackson as Nick Fury. The original one-eyed badass.
I can’t say it wasn’t good to see him at the end of AVENGERS: Infinity War. I get it. A nice little ‘full circle’, snake eating its tail kinda thing. And it almost felt poetic to watch him turn to smoke and ash before he could finish a trademark curse word. Cute.
But unless you’re a hardcore comics fan? Then the 90s ‘pager’ that he drops before disappearing, the one with the gold-star logo tease to finish things off? That just leaves folks scratching their collective heads.
Yeah..your next big ‘cosmic’ flick is Captain Marvel. It comes out right before Avengers 4. And the character will most likely play a key role in Thanos’ downfall. Awesome.
But why not take the opportunity to tease the faithful with even the briefest glimpse of what’s to come in THIS story?
You’ve shot the damn thing already.
You’re on record saying you have an ‘assembly’ edit together.
That it’ll likely clock in around 3 hours, and include EVERY character in the MCU.
This was the move to make, boys! A cinematic splash page to end all splash pages!
And you blew it.
1. NOT ENOUGH FREAKING ‘COSMIC’!
It all comes back to this, and to the kinds of stories that the creator of Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet/Gems wanted to tell with these characters.
Tales of Gods and Devils and Eternal beings locked in an impossible game of Life and Death on a scale few of us can fully comprehend. Which is half the fun. Which is what made Starlin’s stories so compelling in the first place.
They weren’t Earth-centric, and yet every star and bit player and caped cameo felt essential.
When the Mad Titan’s existence-snuffing finger snap happened, you FELT it ripple across ALL of Reality.
And when the Celestials and Eternals and personifications of Reality itself showed up for the fight?
It blew our goddamn minds.
And sure, the original story is more geared towards an 8hr limited series on HBO than a pair of blockbuster flicks, but there were ways to make the essentials work. Compromises that could’ve paid off so well within the bounds of the MCU we know and love:
- Subbing in Loki for Mephisto (from the original story), whispering sycophancy and poison in Thanos’ ear — saving his inevitable betrayal and demise for the final act to give real weight.
- The return of the Goddess Hela in place of Lady Death, spurning the Titan’s desperate advances (he wants to die more than anything!), yet needing his sacrificial tribute to return to full power. A delicious toxic relationship on any screen.
- Shelving the Black Order and the CG demon armies and all the other bullshit, and still having the heroes fall—even with their overwhelming numbers advantage—because Thanos is just that badass. We get to watch him carve his way through body after body by HIMSELF, slack-jawed at his power…at the strength of his resolve.
- Having time with the survivors to really feel the loss of their comrades…to see them tortured with grief, and guilt, and regret.
- And then the Big Guns — the Gods of the MCU — enter the fray.
That’s how you do a cliffhanger, son.
So, like I said before, Marvel, just imagine…
…what could’ve been.