I want to try something else this time. I want to talk about a movie. Namely Avengers Infinity War.
As far as I can tell people love it. They‘re excited by it. They are reeling from the experience of watching the events unfold on a big screen. And to be honest, I‘m not feeling it. I don‘t think it‘s a badly made movie. There‘s room to quibble or nitpick, but people‘s reactions to the movie proves that it delivers exactly what it sets out to do. In that sense the movie might well be one of the best Marvel movies out there. I just happen to think it‘s a bad kind of movie. And not in the „oh no, Infinity War is the end of Cinematic Art!“-sense. I think it‘s bad in the way „burgers and fries at McDonald‘s“ are bad. Where you know you‘re not dining on fine cuisine, but it‘s not a problem, because nobody demands or expects that walking in. You‘re just looking for strong blast of sugar, fat and fancy food additives, and you‘re satisfied. Everyone involved in creating that menu might have been at the top of their game, even if much of it is automated and prescribed by HQ, but the end result is still just burgers & fries.
I guess this is the drawback of judging things only by the goals they set out for themselves. You eventually end up with a film that delivers fantastically on its own promises, but in the overall tapestry of pop culture and entertainment, it‘s kind of… bland and meaningless. If anything my main criticism stems from the fact that for all the storytelling craft and skill that went into creating this third act of 18 combined Marvel movies, the film as a whole is not very ambitious. It‘s like finding out that some producing genius managed to get the 18 greatest living musicians to perform live together, overcoming infamous rivalries and combining the most diverse range of pop musicians, only to play an 8 1/2 minute rendition of Smash Mouth‘s Walking on the Sun. You can‘t help but applaud the huge effort it took to make it happen, or the insane balancing act to create a cohesive piece of entertainment… but Smash Mouth? Really?
The thematic through-line of the movie, of being defeated despite being on the right side of history, surely resonates with any American who isn‘t a white supremacist, fascist or Nazi sympathizer (sorry.. the political correct term is ‚centrist‘); but the emotional intensity of that thematic point is brutally undercut by the commercial realities of the franchise(s). There is a sequel coming. There are in fact numerous sequels coming, that will feature characters that we are supposed to consider dead. Then there is the metatextual narrative of death in comic books being more of an inconvenience than some existential tragedy. All of which simply spells out that the movie‘s consequences will soon find their limits.
In fact, the reality of actors‘ contracts running out, and those actors growing tired of playing their franchise-bearing characters, does far more to spoil the events of this movie, than any blurting out of plot details might. The stark and sudden ending of the movie foregoes any sense of denouement, of decompressing after being bombarded with visual effects and sight gags. It‘s a cheap storytelling trick to send moviegoers out on an emotional peak, but it also means that Infinity War‘s thematic arc evaporates pointlessly. There is no conclusion to Thanos‘ argument about failure; it‘s merely enacted at the end of the film and then…. credits.
Some people claim that Infinity War makes some courageous storytelling choices, but I‘m not sure that‘s true. At most it puts definitive narrative statements on two character relationships, which robs those dynamics of a lot of their tension in future installments of their respective franchises. Although an argument could be made, that only one of those franchises will see future installments. So it puts a cap on one franchise, while merely derailing the emotional core of another. Which is daring in a way, I guess.
The other allegedly amazing decision has to do with the ending, which again only really surprises you, if you assumed that the identical storytelling structure of Marvel movies, was somehow ironclad and invariable. That stories that repeatedly pose the same dramatic question from one movie to another, can only have the same, unwavering answer. If so, then yes, Infinity War is a mind-blowing experience. The most daring thing about Infinity War is that it panders to the long-term comic book fans, as opposed to the inexperienced blockbuster audience.
Avengers Infinity War is not a movie I see myself wanting to revisit any time soon. To be fair, though, I don‘t think I‘ve seen any Marvel movie more than once. But those I remember fondly (like Guardians of the Galaxy or The Winter Soldier) I have on my Netflix queue, in case the mood should ever strike me. Short of finding a shot of Tobias Fünke in the background, I doubt I‘ll load up Infinity War when it hits any of the streaming platforms I use.
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