This article contains spoilers for “Avengers: Infinity War.”
As a devoted Marvel fan, I shamelessly endeavour to find the good in even the most subpar installments. I’ll stick up for “Iron Man 2” and even parts of “Thor: The Dark World” with a straight face. However, I can admit when I have my work cut out for me, and unfortunately, there were a lot of problems with “Avengers: Infinity War.”
As the 19th installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), I didn’t have high expectations for “Infinity War” before I saw it. I knew that two hours and 40 minutes of screen time was not going to be enough time to delve into the inner lives of all the characters in a movie that boasts such an enormous cast, but it was even worse than I feared. Popular characters such as Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) are given almost no substantial lines, and many of the “main” superheroes, like Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), formerly known as Captain America, or King T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), have maybe 10 meaningful lines in the entire movie.
I might be able to forgive a lack of substantial dialogue in a movie like “Infinity War,” but the characterization of the heroes is also terrible. It seems as though most characters were written as if they only possessed one defining characteristic. For example, as her love life goes up in flames, along with half of the known universe, Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch’s (Elizabeth Olsen) assigned characteristic was “tragic.” With Hulk refusing to make an appearance after a nasty encounter with arch villain Thanos, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) gets “frustrated.”
One of the notable exceptions to this one-dimensional writing is Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who is allowed a partial hero’s journey. He watches his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his best friend Heimdall (Idris Elba) die and finds a few moments to genuinely reckon with his grief and his place in the universe. Thor also has a few funny scenes with the Guardians of the Galaxy, and he almost dies having his hammer rebuilt by Eitri (Peter Dinklage), a morose dwarf of Nidavellir. And at the end of the movie, he swoops in to try to stop Thanos and even almost succeeds!
Some of the weakest moments of this movie were the battle sequences, and they receive even lower marks than they would have initially because of how much screen time they waste. The majority of the movie showcases one fight sequence after another, as Avengers vs. Thanos fight for possession of the all-powerful infinity stones. I would have preferred 20 minutes less of action which instead could have been dedicated to fleshing out the emotional stakes of this movie.
As a rule, the worst part of the MCU franchise is its villains. Many are simply not memorable, and the vast majority are not compelling. Anyone else remember Malekith the dark elf? Yeah, me neither. In “Infinity War,” Thanos (Josh Brolin) is perhaps more memorable than Malekith, but not for the right reasons. Despite Brolin’s valiant efforts, thoughts of Thanos bring to mind his bulbous chin, his tendency to act creepily paternal towards girls whose lives he’s just destroyed and his wacky theory that half of the universe has to die in order to achieve perfect balance, or whatever.
Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), the villain from “Black Panther,” is a shining exception to the weak villain tendencies of the MCU; in fact, he perfectly demonstrates what’s wrong with Thanos. Excessive CGI and genocidal tendencies are never going to be more gripping than a villain with a compelling backstory.
Unlike Killmonger’s desire to help oppressed people through the use of Wakanda’s advanced weaponry, Thanos’ plot to kill half the universe makes no logical sense. Viewers are supposed to accept that he believes that genocide will help protect failing resources across the universe and achieve a mystical perfect balance. But wouldn’t the birth of even one additional child throw off this balance? Why does the universe even need perfect balance? I suspect that “Infinity War” doesn’t answer these questions because it has no answers.
Of course, viewers also have to reconcile the ending, wherein Thanos wins, the Avengers lose and half of the universe dies. As Thanos promised, the deaths aren’t especially violent, and the chosen victims simply fade into dust. I, along with the group of 12-year-old boys I was sitting next to in the theatre, thought there were a few compelling moments among these scenes, as evidenced by the way we collectively burst into tears. The most notable of these moments is the death of teenager Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) as he tells surrogate father Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) that he feels strange, collapses and devastatingly starts crying “I don’t want to go” as his body disappears.
However, right around the time T’Challa disintegrated into dust in the process of trying to help a wounded Okoye, I was reminded of how fake all of this death was. “Black Panther” has grossed a billion dollars and is beloved by the world. T’Challa isn’t going anywhere, and not even a gripping on-screen death can change that.
Accordingly, the movie’s absolute biggest failure is its treatment of death. The deaths are sad, tragic even, but most importantly, they’re impermanent. Superheroes rarely stay dead, and with Thanos left undefeated and a sequel set to be released in May 2019, the stakes in “Infinity War” aren’t incredibly high despite its massive death toll. Now that Thanos has acquired all the infinity stones and has seemingly unlimited power, literally anything can happen. People can easily come back, and death has no real meaning.
Looking ahead, in order for the currently untitled Avengers 4 to succeed, the stakes have to be raised. Viewers must believe that death is real. Unfortunately, that means that some of the cherished MCU heroes are going to have to stay dead.