It’s hard to believe that it’s only been ten years since the Marvel cinematic universe began in earnest with the first Iron Man. To put that in perspective, George W Bush was still president, we still thought Kanye West was kind of sane, and Batman was the superhero box office king. The world has changed a lot since then. But in that time we have had an ever increasing number of films based off their Marvel comic properties from the obvious like Captain America and Thor to the lesser known Ant Man and Groots of the world. Hell, it’s been so long that in the time this has been going on, Sony produced two Spider Man movies, Disney bought back the rights and released one of their own. Enter Avengers Infinity War, part one of the culmination of a decade worth of work. Did Disney pull it off? Did they finally figure out how to juggle 85 characters in one movie? While the big team up movies have historically been the weakest in the Marvel catalogue, Infinity War finally gets it right.
The success of Infinity Wars lies in two major areas: segmenting and pairings. Gone are the days where the whole Avengers team is together for most of the film, all of them jockeying for screen time. Now that the roster of characters is almost unbearably large, the smart decision was made to keep them apart for most of the film, where we are watching numerous side stories that are working together towards the same goal instead of just one big one where everyone is pretty much in the same place doing the same. And yes internet, I know that isn’t always the case with the previous Avengers movies, but they have never been segmented the way that Infinity Wars is so just shut it. The walling off of certain storylines not only reduces the onscreen clutter, but it makes the scope feel that much grander. These characters are literally scattered throughout the universe working towards the same goal and it feels like an actual war instead of just an isolated conflict.
The other thing that Infinity Wars did well was not only knowing what characters to let shine, but who to put them with. Captain America? Nah, boring. How about Iron Man trading quips with magic Iron Man, Doctor Strange? Or putting Thor with Rocket and Groot? It is the pairings of characters from different films that had me most excited for this, and the screenwriters knew which ones to put together, and perhaps more importantly, which characters to push to the background (or which ones to remove entirely, HI Hawkeye). At times it felt like I was watching the third Guardians of the Galaxy installment. Which is not a bad thing, not only are they my favorite characters in this world, but they have always felt the closest to Thanos and the Infinity Stones story due to Gamora’s connection to the antagonist. And speaking of Thanos, for someone who has taken such a back seat in the movies leading up to this, I did enjoy him and his motivation. As has been said before, the best villains are sympathetic and that they think they are the heroes. Yes, he may be a mass murdering sociopath, wanting to blink half of life in the universe out of existence, but he’s doing it for the better good. You just gotta believe him.
But with Thanos comes my two biggest gripes about this film and the Marvel movies in general. The first, and smaller, is that the nature of these macguffins, I mean Infinity Stones, renders actions relatively meaningless. Thee who controls the stones, but more importantly the one that can rewind time, has the power to reset anything that has been done. While the stakes for the universe may be real, the stakes for the individual characters aren’t so much, because well, comics. It also doesn’t help that we know the next few years of upcoming releases and Disney is not one to let a cash cow die. But still with these movies, it’s never a question of will, but always how, and the how here is set up very well.
The bigger complaint is how the buildup to this was handled in the context of the Marvel universe at large. While this film worked in showing us why Thanos is such a bad guy and needs to be stopped, most of the movies preceding this lacked a meaningful connection to the overarching story of him and the Infinity Stones. Which is understandable in a way, the individual movies needed to stand up on their own merits as standalone experiences. Someone should be able to walk into Thor and know what was going on without having to have seen Captain America or Iron Man. But still, most of the references to this big upcoming event were only sprinkled in via small references or post credit scenes (oh hi internet, it’s me again. I haven’t seen a handful of the marvel movies, but have seen most, so please take your BUT ACTUALLY’S and shove them somewhere). The point is while the stones and such may have been parts of these movies, they were never enough to tie the Avengers in with say, Black Panther, to the point where they felt meaningfully connected. It was a tough spot to be in initially, needing these movies to work on their own, and also not knowing how this would all turn out. But once we all figured out that this wasn’t going to fail, a little more connectivity with some of the non Avengers focused franchises would have been welcomed.
Infinity Wars worked better than the previous Avengers movies (and I’m including Civil War in that category) because they finally figured out how to manage so many characters in the same story, like Peter Jackson did with the Lord of the Rings so many years ago. Jokes aside, it was nice having these characters that have existed on their own come together and interact on a stage where real shit is going down. Not only coming together, but doing so in a way that felt natural. And it doesn’t hurt that Thanos is a badass and the villian that these characters have deserved all along. And that scene where <REDACTED> was <REDACTED> was off the fucking hook.