If you’re one of the millions of moviegoers who helped Avengers: Infinity War to gigantic box office over the weekend, and would now like to discuss the movie in more detail — with full spoilers for the whole thing, like in one of my TV episode recaps — then I have many thoughts on the affair, coming up just as soon as I mistake you for a rabbit…
There’s so much going on in Infinity War, which features nearly every major hero (and at least one more villain than you might expect) from all the previous MCU films, in action that takes place around the globe and across the universe, that it makes more sense to do what the Russo brothers and Markus & McFeely did and break the whole thing down into more manageable chunks than to try to consider the whole thing at once.
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It’s been clear going back at least to Avengers: Age of Ultron, if not to the first Avengers, that the MCU movies operate as much like a serialized TV drama as they do a set of connected films. Some movies like Black Panther or Iron Man 3 are relatively standalone, while others like Captain America: Civil War or the three Avengers movies so far are the mythology episodes, tying together major plot threads and characters in ways that are most satisfying if you’ve seen and cared about the previous installments.
It’s not an exact match, any more than we should consider Marvel’s Netflix dramas to be “13-hour movies,” and when the Marvel films struggle, it’s often because they’re trying to be movie and TV show at the same time. I had a lot of fun watching Infinity War, but mainly for the individual moments and team-ups than for the story as a whole. Thanos had been teased in previous movies and talked about a lot in both Guardians of the Galaxy films, but this was his first time front and center and really part of the action. Despite some good work by Josh Brolin and the writers’ attempt to give him more nuance than Thanos has in the comics, he’s still a relative newbie to the saga, and our interests are more with the heroes we’ve been watching for a decade than with him. (Civil War wasn’t perfect, but it was also smart enough to make Zemo all but irrelevant to the conflicts between the characters we already knew and cared about, which may be the safest approach in a movie with that many heroes — only a fraction of what Infinity War had on display.) If these were being made as an actual TV show, I imagine we’d have seen a lot more of Thanos before his big moment, the way Buffy or Justified would slowly but surely increase the screen time for each big bad over the course of the season so that they really mattered by the time their plan went into full bloom. Instead, the more frequent presence throughout the earlier films were the Infinity Stones themselves, and only a very specific brand of nerd cares about them at all. And Thanos’ key relationship is with Gamora, who’s easily been the least well-written of the Guardians, even if the sequel devoted a good chunk of time to her and Nebula talking about what a terrible father figure Thanos was to them. So the emotional core of the movie — whose writers consider Thanos to be its protagonist — isn’t quite strong enough to keep the audience from wanting to jump back to any of a few dozen other character pairings.