Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

*. Avengers: Infinity War, which is only the first part of a two-part story arc to be completed with Endgame, is itself two-and-a-half hours long. This is impressive in a good and a bad way.
*. The good: it’s amazing how they manage to keep so many balls in the air for so long without having the whole thing fall apart. Credit the simplicity of the basic premise, or what used to be called “high concept.” Thanos (he’s the big, bald, bad guy) has to collect six “infinity stones,” and when he does he will have control of the universe. A first-time dungeonmaster would be laughed out of town for such a hackneyed scenario, but Marvel movies like to stick to the basics.
*. That simple story, though, is also a problem. There’s really nothing much going on here, aside from our gang of heroes doing their thing. Which is to say fighting each other and the usual legions of alien mooks. The infinity stones are a joke. They look cheap and I was never sure if they had specific individual powers. More than that, however, I had to wonder: has there ever been a duller supervillain than Thanos? There may be a sort of inverse law at work here where the more powerful the bad guy is the less interesting he becomes. I mean, if you’re as powerful as Thanos, why does he even bother fighting people? It’s not like he needs the exercise. And what does he get out of all this? A chance to sit on his front porch looking out at green fields for the rest of eternity?
*. His motivation is truly hard to follow. Basically Thanos falls into the category of bad guy, very popular around this time, who is determined to wipe out a bunch of people in order to deal with the problem of overpopulation (Zobrist in Inferno, Dr. Isaacs in Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Valentine in Kingsman: The Secret Service). Except instead of doing this on one crowded planet (Earth) he’s going to exterminate half the life in the universe in some random lottery. Are there no uninhabited planets left in the universe? No more room for the universe to grow? No way to terraform currently lifeless planets? I mean, he is God. And when he says destroy half the life in the universe, does he just mean humanoids? Or all life? He seems to like green forests and birdsong. How does he define “life” anyway? These are not idle questions.
*. Being an actor cast in an Marvel Cinematic Universe movie must be like winning the lottery or going to heaven. I’m assuming they all make a lot of money, and for what? Seriously: what did Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson do in this movie aside from stand in front of the camera?
*. I’m not sure there’s much to say about this one. I thought it dragged in the second half, with too much speechifying and lots of operatic moments involving characters whose quips I can smile at but who I otherwise didn’t care about in the slightest. The ginormous cast of stars leaves many of them with little role to play. There were chunks of the plot I couldn’t follow, like what exactly Thor was doing to reignite the forge at Nidavellir. I wonder if even the writers knew.
*. I probably wasn’t as up on the MCU as I should have been to get all of this. I hadn’t seen Captain America: Civil War yet so I missed Steve Rogers falling out with Tony Stark. But I doubt it made that big a difference. The thing is, this stuff is now our Lord of the Rings, or even our Iliad and Odyssey. Future generations won’t think much of us, but then I suspect they won’t be going back to look at the evidence either. As I’ve said before, I can’t think of any reason to watch these movies twice. I give Marvel credit for putting out a dependable product, but for all their polish this is assembly-line stuff. Which is pure Hollywood, take it or leave it.
*. I mentioned Homer and Tolkien, who both created mythic worlds that in some way reflected or commented upon their particular cultural matrix, expressing the values that their audiences thought important. Does the MCU have any of the same weight? What does the immense popularity of all this (here I wave my hand at the screen) say about us? Aside from Thanos’s crude environmentalist mission (which, as I’ve said, doesn’t make sense), is there any social or political point being made about who we are or what we value? There’s some underlying message about sacrifice, but it remains so general as to be without meaning, at least to me. And yet I assume people do find a deeper meaning in here somewhere, some myth in all the spectacle. These are the most profitable movies ever made. They can’t just be popcorn. Can they?

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