Friday, April 27, 2018

'Avengers: Infinity War': Dust In The Wind

Wakanda Forever!

Ten years ago I saw the first Iron Man movie a week after seeing the first Sex and the City movie. It was an interesting contrast to see two films with equally eager, albeit demographically opposite audiences. Imagine an opening-night Iron Man crowd where everyone is dressed as their version of Tony Stark, and you'll understand what that Sex and the City opening night was like. I couldn't help but compare the two films, as they were both among the top movies of the summer. Ultimately, I decided I preferred Sex and the City's version of a New York fantasy (better shoes), but I could certainly understand the appeal of Iron Man and its new kind of comic book movie.

After the first Avengers film in 2011, I realized that I enter a viewing of most new superhero movies, especially those with multiple heroes, like it's going to be the last. Maybe this time, the big battle will end with the world being saved forever, and everyone will get to enjoy a life full of relaxation, sunsets...and a different kind of summer movie.

And in its own dark way, Avengers: Infinity War, an event Marvel has been building up to for the past decade, does satisfy that fantasy. One could walk away from it never needing to see another Marvel movie again, though I seriously doubt anyone who sits through its almost three hour running time isn't going to watch the sequel, due out next year.

And that's the thing; Infinity War deals some extreme blows, and some devastating losses. Moments made me tear up, and I left the theater genuinely sad. Of course, I've come out of superhero movies depressed before, but that depression was usually centered on disappointment (and OK fine, has only really happened after viewing a DC movie).

After a while, that feeling of grief was paired with a bit of anger. Marvel films rarely have true consequences, and what's the point of grief if the stakes aren't as high as they seem to be? How dare they dick me around just to insure I buy a ticket to part two? AND WHEN WILL THOSE TICKETS BE AVAILABLE??

It's ironic that one of Marvel's darkest films is also one of its most fun, with the character banter and personality clashes that have made so many Marvel movies memorable in full abundance. All the fan favorites get some screen time, some more than others (unless your favorite Marvel hero is Hawkeye, in which case, sorry, in so many ways), with multiple franchises coming together to fight Thanos (Josh Brolin), the Marvel Universe's ultimate big bad.

Thanos has been after six powerful "infinity stones" since the first Avengers movie, and as Infinity War opens, (immediately follwing the events of Thor: Ragnorak), he's gotten his giant purple hand on one more. Once he finds them all, he'll have the power to wipe out the universe with the mere "snap of his fingers."

One of my biggest gripes with comic book movies is villains whose goals never really make sense. They're usually centered on a desire to destroy the city/country/world/universe/whatever, with no real sense of why, or just what kind of existence they expect to have after that. All right big guy. You've destroyed the world. Now what?

But Thano's goals are very clear. He doesn't want to destroy planets or eliminate entire populations. He only wants to wipe out half of the universe's populations, indiscriminately, in an attempt to restore order to it all. With half of everyone gone, he believes, there will be no more fighting over resources, and those who remain will never want for anything again.

To Thanos, this is a noble goal. He chillingly rationalizes the destruction of half of the universe's population as necessary, as I imagine every perpetrator of a genuine genocide probably has. And he even earnestly presents a vision of his post-destructo life, which includes sitting on a mountain top, enjoying a sunset, satisfied with the knowledge that he's restored order to the universe.

Keeping the remaining stones out of Thanos's hands becomes the work of the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man, the nation of Wakanda, and some assorted cameo players, and for the most part, directors Anthony and Joe Russo do a good job of plate spinning. It's only near the end, as battles begin to take place at multiple locations, that the cross cutting becomes a little ridiculous. Nothing kills the excitement of a battle at Wakanda like cutting to Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) crying on a planet in another part of the universe.

But really, it isn't the epic battles or fights that have made Marvel movies such pleasurable experiences, and the same holds true for Infinity War. What makes it memorable is seeing Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) butt heads with the equally egomaniacal Tony Stark; it's hearing Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) try to convince his fellow Guardians that Thor (Chris Hemsworth) isn't the ultimate specimen of manhood; and it's seeing Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) come down with a serious case of Hulk-itile dysfunction. It's the charm of all of these heroes that has made Marvel movies what they are, and it's the fear of losing even some of that--as unfounded as that fear may be--that will keep us coming back for more.