“Infinity War” is a tour of the MCU’s worst qualities


This article was originally published for the University of Denver newspaper, the DU Clarion. It has been republished here with permission. The original can be found here.

When the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) began 10 years ago with “Iron Man,” it represented the birth of a grand cinematic experiment. It would bring together disparate characters and stories to form an overarching universe driven by one singular element: the lingering presence of a villain who would seek to send it all tumbling down. The moment has arrived in the form of “Avengers: Infinity War,” with the mad titan Thanos (Josh Brolin, “No Country for Old Men”) looking to finally complete his mission of collecting the six Infinity Stones, which will allow him to wipe half of all life from existence and therefore bring balance to the universe.

It’s a colossal disappointment.

The film, which brings together nearly every existing MCU character together in an effort to stop Thanos from completing his extreme rock collection, is an exhaustingly long collection of special effects vignettes and half-baked jokes strung into some sort of semblance of a plot. When closely examined, it becomes clear that the selling point of “Infinity War” is exactly what causes it to crumble under its own weight; with over twenty starring characters struggling to get their moment in the spotlight, the film struggles to break free from the chains of being overstuffed.

Many came after “Captain America: Civil War” for the same issue, but the difference was the characters in that film at least had discernible motivations for what they were doing. Motivations are in essence what make these characters interesting in the first place; they add depth underneath all the shiny effects and tight costumes. As an audience, we’re invested in the MCU because of what these characters strive to achieve, not what they actually do to get there. Just as in real life, we care about the melody and harmonies of the music. The lights show is just an added bonus.

The problem with “Avengers: Infinity War” is that it’s the lights show and the lights show alone. Outside of spare amounts of hit or miss humor and some interesting (if forced and unearned) moments of backstory for Thanos, the film doesn’t offer up anything worth the 10 years of anticipation. The film is mostly emotionless action sequences that aren’t worthy of the hype, giving its characters almost nothing interesting to do or say. When it sinks in that the star and moral compass of the franchise, Captain America (Chris Evans, “The Avengers”), has only around five or six simple lines, one starts to realize Marvel may have had too much to handle from a narrative perspective. So the lights show it is.

What makes “Avengers: Infinity War” so depressing is that it makes clear how Marvel knows exactly what its doing, which is churning these things out as money-making machines with no respect to the power of its influence or place in pop culture. A mere two months after “Black Panther” arrived to represent an important cultural shift in the nature of superheroes, this film arrives to remind you that Marvel isn’t actually interested in any of that. It’s interested in getting us back in our seats for the next film. It’s difficult to think of another franchise where its tentpole films are so dependent on you seeing the next film to find any worth in the one currently unfolding in front of your eyes. The film has a predictably bleak ending, one which will dominate the pop culture conversation until this film’s follow-up arrives, but its stakes and narrative weight mean nothing when you realize it’s all a cheap device to make one emotionally invested in next year’s ticket purchase. Perhaps it’s time to accept that if Marvel is to be worthy of its place upon the pop culture throne, the variables of the experiment need to change.

Ryan Ninesling