Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Infinity Bore

I’ve been mulling over The Avengers: Infinity War for the past few days, and I am ready to offer some evaluative comments.

On the plus side, Thanos is maybe the best villain the MCU has produced so far. And there was some witty banter.

On the minus side: everything else. This is the only Marvel movie I’ve seen that made me wish I could get my money back.

There are certain elementary rules of storytelling that no honest worker in the narrative arts would ever knowingly violate. Characters who are intelligent and thoughtful at one moment do not become moronic in the next. Characters who have certain abilities – to play the piano, say, or to emit powerful force fields from their hands – do not exhibit dramatic but unexplained alternations in those abilities from scene to scene. Characters with certain essential traits, traits which they pride themselves on – mercilessness, for instance – don’t occasionally and (again) for no reason exhibit the opposite traits. Characters who die by precisely the same (magical) means do not experience that death in dramatically different ways according to whether the writers want to squeeze out some extra pathos or not. Above all, no honest worker in the narrative arts would try to extract emotional impact from the deaths of characters whose inevitable resurrection in the next film is repeatedly gestured at with big broad winks.

This sheer incoherence of the movie almost put me to sleep. By the time I left the theater I had already forgotten most of what happened, because there was no meaningful sense in which it, you know, “happened.” Every movie has inconsistencies and plot holes, and this is especially true of superhero movies, we all know that; but at this point Marvel has simply stopped trying to tell stories that make sense. You’re just expected to move along from scene to scene, making the prescribed responses in the moment in complete disregard of whatever happened three minutes ago and what might happen two minutes later. But the MCU doesn’t care; why should we?

6 comments:

  • Had a similar reaction to 'Three Billboards.'

  • So it sounds like Infinity War (the movie) successfully replicates some key aspects of the experience of reading a series like Infinity War (the comic book). I remember those mega-crossovers regularly sacrificing plot and character consistency for cheap thrills--which could only be fully appreciated by those with a comprehensive commitment to the Marvel mythos.

    I wonder whether it's a deliberate recreation of that effect. The first Avengers movie certainly tried hard to replicate the excitement of that original super team--Iron Man and Thor in the same comic book!--and layered on it the thrill of seeing all the headlining actors together too. So is this an attempt to nudge a new fanbase into feeling it must consume everything to get the punchline?

    Or is it just that putting all these heroes together that makes it impossible to tell a good story?

  • I certainly agree that the deaths of characters at the end felt more annoying than tragic. But my sense of this wasn't from 'big broad winks' in this film that they would be resurrected in the next (if there were any, I missed them), but rather from the fact that the entire MCU has worked this way, for example with Bucky/Winter Solider/White Wolf: characters are regularly killed off/frozen/exiled and brought back, and there's no expectation that this time should be different, particularly when we know that some of these characters are slated for upcoming standalone films. So now we need to wait a year and see 'Captain Marvel' along the way to the sequel to find out how they intend to bring these characters back. We could call it a cliff-hanger, except the characters fell off the cliff and died, and now we need to wait for the mode of resurrection.

    I also agree with M. Gubbins that it seems to require a pretty comprehensive commitment to the Marvel mythos even to see the movie in the first place (though Gubbins was talking about the comic books). My teenage daughter has only seen 'Black Panther' (which she liked), and wondered if she would like this one. I started thinking about what minimal set of films would be needed to have any sense of what was going on in this one, and the list got pretty long.



  • SPOILER ALERT:

    David, the big winks come from Doctor Strange: first he tells us that there's only one winning scenario; then, in his last line, he tells Tony "This was the only way." So it's going to turn out that the way to defeat Thanos is to let him win — Strange clearly does this in their confrontation, and then gives the Time Stone to Thanos in exchange for a single human life, which of course makes no sense by any logic we know — and then later on reverse the deaths. My guess as to how this will work: Captain Marvel will prove essential to defeating Thanos, and one of the Avengers will put on the Infinity Gauntlet and rewind all the deaths caused through it — though not the ones that came before — and then the Gauntlet and the Stones will be destroyed.

  • I say "Captain Marvel will prove essential to defeating Thanos," but in the end he will be killed by the self-sacrificial teamwork of Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. That's how the rift between them will be healed, and they'll go down together like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I would bet big bucks on this.

  • Just for the record, there are only two ways I would want to see Thanos destroyed. First, by an arrow through his brain from Hawkeye, who would then say, "I went for the head." Second, I would be thrilled if he were killed through any means at all by Cable.

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