Avengers: Infinity War - To the Infinity Gems and Beyond
It was 2008 when the first Marvel Cinecomic arrived in theaters. The arduous task of presenting to the world the first Marvel Studios project fell on Iron Man’s strong, metal shoulders, a comic books fan favorite, played that first time and in the 10 years which followed by an actor in search of his own revival on the Hollywood scene, a Robert Downey Jr. who would prove perfect for the role of Tony Stark.
It's been exactly 10 years and with the third chapter dedicated to the Avengers phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe mega-project is about to conclude. The end is set for the coming year, with the second part of Infinity War. After 18 films that introduced and deepened some of the characters and merged many of them into choral films like Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron we have reached the most awaited event: Avengers: Infinity War.
The expanded universe: a matter of detail and coherence
The movie, directed by the Russo brothers, carries with it a great boulder of responsibility. If it’s true, as Spider Man would have it, that from great powers come great responsibilities, then Kevin Feige and the Russo brothers must have felt a pressure that few other authors and producers must have felt before in the history of cinema: bringing together an impressive number of stories and characters within a single universe, one great story, one immense goal.
Scrolling through the memories of these 10 years of Marvel movies and watching Infinity War, one wonders if the real superheroes are not actually the people who have made all of this possible, the various directors and screenwriters who have alternated helming the movi ddedicated to Thor or Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America or Dr Strange, Ant Man and <strong Black Panther. Behind the scenes, weaving all these treads together, there’s always been on man: Kevin Feige, supported by the entire Marvel bandwagon and an absolutely wonderful marketing and technical department. If 10 years later we’re still here celebrating Marvel (and not DC, for example) we must recognize that everything started and developed because of this man, a man who has managed to create a whole expanded universe that finds its strength in details and is strengthened yet as each new movie is release, expanding and at the same time keeping the universe itself within the tracks of the desired narrative.
In fact, what most stands out in this first part of Infinity War (the second chapter will be released on May 5, 2019) is the narrative force, the cohesion between the storylines and various characters, even though these come from different worlds, sometimes different planets, and have unique and specific backgrounds and paths. Seeing them all together never seems forced, there is no scene that feels out of place or repetitive, nor does anything feel like it was written merely for an easy wow effect.
There’s more. Those who have seen the previous 18 movies will have enjoyed seeing the small breadcrumbs left here and there which led us crumb by crumb to Infinity War, the sign of a meticulous work done in these 10 years on every single movie. For sure, without someone holding the reins sooner or later this carriage would have gone off its track. Bringing together fifteen major characters, whose presence would be cumbersome for anyone in any other movie, within the same narrative and perfectly balancing each of them within one complex structure is something incredible at least as much as Hulk.
The ultimate villain
A masterpiece in the masterpiece lies with no doubt in the characterization of the villain, chosen to stage an endless war that saw all our heroes fight against a common enemy to save humanity from a universal genocide. The choice fell on Thanos, whose name evokes the personification of death itself and whose appearance inspires fear. But it is not on the name or appearance that a true antagonist is built, one of those to be carved in memory. Who helmed the movie knew it very well and built a character that will remain in the annals not only of the genre but of cinematography as a whole. I would not be surprised to see Thanos counted among the best characterized movie villains of the last 30 years.
Thanos is not your average bad guy, he does not rely solely on his muscles and power, he’s not merely moved by an overwhelming desire for revenge. Thanos is fueled by his will to be strong enough to save the universe, in his own way. Like any self-respecting villain his convictions and energies lead to acts of violence and abuse, and the road that he chooses is morally deplorable and insane. But the leader of the Titans proves to be very human, very rooted in his convictions yet able to feel pity and love and human enough to fight for something he strongly believes in, into which he pours all his energy in the hope of saving the world. We would hardly root for a character so ruthless, so bent on his own will to exterminate half the population of the entire universe, yet for large sections of the film we can’t despise Thanos, also thanks to Josh Brolin’s amazing interpretation which manages to give the Titan a very varied and stratified range of emotions even behind a mask of CGI, visual effects and digital manipulations.
We all side with the Avengers during the movie, obviously cheering for them, we laugh with them and hope with them, but we fear Thanos because he is not just a figurehead, he’s not just a bad and mischievous madman driven by bloodlust and revenge but he’s a very powerful and very determined anti-hero that bases its inhumane actions on very solid foundations. This is why he frightens us much more, that's why it inspires an unhealthy respect in us and in all the Avengers, and we fear that this time no one might be able to stop him.
The use of flashbacks to show us the dawn of the relationship between the "monster" and Gamora is a skillful focal point in the narration and gives the whole affair a very marked and very well managed drama. Thanks to those few seconds in which the Russo brothers show us the nature of the bond between these two pivotal characters, we are able to feel real pain for both in the tragic moment that sees them involved: victim and executioner become worthy of equal understanding. Thanos’ actions increase our fear in him not because they are inhuman, but because the pain of the Titan is as human as possible and necessary in order for him to fulfill his destiny.
155 minutes of pure drama and honest entertainment
Who said that drama can’t also make people smile? Who said that a comedy can’t also have tragic and lacerating undertones? Aren’t those the greatest movies, the ones that can make us smile and despair at the same time?
Infinity War is not an autorial movie, it can’t be and doesn’t want to be. But it’s a great movie, nonetheless. A movie which will definitely set the bar for everything that’s to come in comic movies and beyond.
The seventh art purists won’t be swayed, but this movie has very few faults and a multitude of things that work, in addition to the awesome way it manages to weave together all the threads laid down in the previous 18 movies. Just think about the embarrassing way DC Comics tries and fails to do the same, putting together a bundle of masked heroes ready to save the world with no substantial characterization or backstory to support them. By mere comparison it can’t be denied that Marvel did an excellent job of it.
But the defining trait of Marvel cinecomics is definitely the ability to infuse all (or almost all) characters with a healthy dose of charm and irony that serve very well for purposes of comic relief, and this movie is no exception.
The scene in which the Guardians of the Galaxy finally meet the Avengers is a great example of this. Despite being in a desperate situation and at the dawn of a potential destruction of the known universe we are gifted with some great banter between Thor and Peter Quill, with Rocket
RabbitRacoon acting as sparring partner. Exchanges of hilarious jokes that serve as background to much more dramatic events. The same can be said for the dynamic created between Stark and Dr. Strange or with regards to anything going on with Hulk.
The humor is particularly strong with regards to the Guardians, though, which is understandable give the lighter and more ironic slant of their previous two solo movies. This is another great victory for Marvel, which managed to keep each individual character true to their original spirit, while also blending them into a common plot that accommodated the peculiarities of each component and allowed everything to successfully merge together.
The movie exudes both awesomeness and drama. The air is think with tension, sincere fear for our heroes’ fate, and worry about how events will unfold. We lie in spasmodic and consuming wait of the beautiful finale, with the last 20 minutes incessantly moving us from Wakanda to New York and from New York to Titan. We are everywhere, following our heroes closely. We stand next to Steve Rogers and his beard, a clear Thor rip-off, hoping for a happy ending. It’s true drama, not just unbridled action running towards an epilogue, even though the tone is light and the pace flows easily, using visual effects and continuous action to set a compelling rhythm and not vice versa: another challenge matched. Building a compelling, spectacular, colorful, entertaining movie without losing track of the plot, without ever leading to ridicule, without being trivial or obvious, without ever telling what will happen but always showing us what could happen as one among infinite possible situations. Just as Dr. Strange, the spectator explores a thousand possible universes in search of the one that can guarantee a happy ending and as Dr. Strange we, too, are astonished by the giant Thanos’ invincibility.
Beginning and end
A movie of this kind could start and end in millions of ways. And yet we walk out of the cinema with the conviction that what we’ve just seen was the only possible way it could have been shot, with a perfect finale and a perfect beginning. The initial cold opening takes us directly in the midst of the action
, with a broken down ship, a fight among gods about to unleash, and the hunt for Thanos already begun. Not a random choice. The movie could have started with a prequel scene, a flashback, a few scenes setting the stage and updating us on where each character was and what they were up to in their quiet, ordinary lives before the storm hit, it could have shown us Thanos planning his attack or it could have started with a segue to the lates Marvel hero to hit the screen, Black Panther. They chose, instead, to delve straight into an attack that’s already in its final stages, merely showing us its tragic epilogue and its consequences. It’s an apt choice, since after 18 movies we are already familiar with the characters
, we’ve been forewarned about Thanos’ arrival and we don’t need any further presentation or introduction to what we’re about to watch. We’re ready for the final battle, even before taking our seats in the theater, and we’re therefore ready to plunge by that ship gutted by Thanos and his children and ready to suffer with Thor, and pay with blood.
And where the opening was spectacular, the ending was no less, closing a circle and reaping what has been sawn for the last 10 years, playing with the viewer’s emotions and ripping his heart out multiple times. The courage displayed by the authors is noticeable: reaching such an inevitable ending while constantly keeping our hopes up that a last heroic moment could still have saved the day wasn’t easy. Each character plays a fundamental role, despite each having just a small amount of screentime to work with.
Without Captain America, we wouldn’t have been able to reach Wakanda and Black Panther. Without Loki and Heimdall, Hulk wouldn’t have been able to get back to Earth and he wouldn’t have been able to bring Dr. Strange and Tony Stark together. And without Stark and what he sawed in Spiderman: Homecoming, we wouldn’t have had Peter Parker, without Black Widow and Cap we wouldn’t have gotten to Vision and Scarlet Witch, without the Guardians Thor would have kept on floating in space, and so on and so forth. A series of cross references which collectively lead us to those final, convulsive 15 minutes, spread along parallel planes and locations, flowing back to one great climax, that fingers snap which froze our hearts.
Everything created in these last 10 years engendered Avengers: Infinity War, which much like a secular plant owes its prosperity and its beautiful greenery to the seeds planted long ago and the strong roots grown over time.
10 years ago we rejoiced over the arrival of cinecomics on the movie scene. Many speculated that the bubble would have deflated in a couple of years, after a few hits. A decade later we can attest to the fact that not only the bubble hasn’t exploded yet, but that with Avengers: Infinity War we reached a new peak or excellence and revenues. This Russo brothers product is certainly the most complete and compelling Marvel creation to date and it will most likely set the bar for future movies in the same genre, cinecomics, fantasy and action movies.
After 19 movies and more in production, it’s definitely time for some evaluations and Marvel definitely ends up on top, thanks to the awesome and unprecedented results reaped from a clever use of all its assets. These results will never be recognized by the traditional cinematic awards, nor by raving reviews of movie experts, but that’s reasonable for products of pure entertainment value which don’t feel the need to teach or demonstrate anything except the fact that man can reach very far indeed, to the infinity stones… and beyond.
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