A Review on the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Avengers: Infinity War
When Iron Man debuted in 2009 (yes I am taking this all the way back) it was a huge experiment for the little-known film production company, Marvel. They were gambling- throwing in big names like Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow to sugarcoat a superhero that for decades had appealed to mostly young boys. Could a film series about comic books thrive and find an audience? As we have seen in other historically “nerdy” film franchises (the Star Trek reboots, Star Wars) the answer is undeniably yes. But the audience they found was much larger than probably any studio executive could have anticipated. And whether or not the Russo brothers realize this with the devastating direction they took Infinity War remains to be seen.
Walking into the premiere of Avengers: Infinity War on Thursday night with my other female-identifying friend, we were met with a back row full of rowdy teenage boys discussing all the “females” at their boot camp and how much it sucked to be separated from “chicks” for the summer. We were also seated next to two pairs of guys, one pair of whom talked throughout most of the first half. The overwhelming majority of the audience was male, but the biggest fans in the theater were undoubtedly female: one young woman arrived dressed in a full Spider-Man costume, and a group of young women in front of us were the most excited in the theater. Despite the sexism Marvel has dolled out on its female fans (not making a Black Widow movie despite heavy pressure and only considering it after the success of DC’s Wonder Woman, and having a ratio of about one female superhero to every five males) women have flocked to the theater to see these beloved characters take on evil. Perhaps Marvel finally noticed this trend by writing strong, powerful, dynamic female characters in Black Panther, and by filming gratuitous shots of Chris Pratt’s abs in Guardians of the Galaxy, but the reason behind this love remains unexplored. Perhaps, at its simplest, it is because we have so few female superheros to look up to. Or perhaps it is because we root passionately for evil to be defeated, for things to be all right again, because right now our political world has turned against us.
Marvel has succeeded where the DC Universe failed by creating a world of laughter, bright colors, friendly superheros and complex villains. Their smartest choices were casting actors who were capable of delivering witty one-liners and comic-relief- which was so desperately needed in Infinity War that when it arrived in the forms of Drax, Thor and Dr. Strange you could practically hear the audience exhaling at the chance to finally laugh,and by embracing the kooky-ness of the comics. They really did make movies about a group of outlaws in outer space that consists of a talking raccoon and a literal tree, and they really did create an android hero whose emotions evolve to love. They embrace this outlandishness rather than try to mature it, giving the audience a chance to embrace the loveable and the impossible.
One of their greatest successes is in their villains, and Infinity War is no different. In their most successful films- The Avengers and Black Panther- they used the villains of Loki and Killmonger, now hugely beloved by fans, who were embraced because of their complex character traits. Rather than a shouting, alien, CGI villain, Loki and Killmonger represent people who have suffered at the hands of others and are trying to right those wrongs. Loki has since redeemed himself somewhat in Thor: Ragnarok by returning to be a loyal brother to Thor and a loyal Asgardian- finally embracing the planet that rejected him. Killmonger represented racism in America and the disadvantaged Black youth that T’Challa was ignoring from his isolation in Wakanda. And Thanos, in Infinity War, shares the common trait of truly believing in his cause. He feels powerful emotions (even described as “anguish” and “mourning”), and yet he goes forward. He sacrifices and suffers losses, but continues with a sorrowful level of restraint rarely seen from villains of his caliber. He is terrifying and you hate him, yet he carries the film. He is intriguing in every scene he is in- you cannot take your eyes off of him.
Where Infinity War swerves so greatly from the Marvel Universe is in its scope of pain. The audience will feel great, unresolved heartbreak and will be left enraged. This is a huge risk and entirely new to the MCU- the only real character deaths we have had was Pietro in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Yondu in GOTG Vol. 2– and Marvel is famous for its fake-out death scenes (Loki on two separate occasions, Nick Fury, Bucky Barnes, T’Challa, Steve Rogers), that such death on this caliber has never been seen before in any superhero movie ever. The audience was audibly gasping, panicking, crying and freaking out as the last few minutes of Infinity War unfolded. The marketing strategists clearly know how much certain characters are beloved- they featured Loki and Bucky predominantly in trailers despite their low screen time, but the same cannot be said for the filmmakers.
The Russo brothers did not give enough time or respect to the moments that made fans grieve. They plowed forward with their film relentlessly, taking us from one shot to the next unapologetically, and while this is brave from a screenwriting and filmmaking standpoint, it felt like a punch in the face to devoted fans. Not just one punch. It was like being punched in the face over and over for thirty minutes. Some of it was so needlessly heartbreaking that it was almost offensive. They seem to know how beloved these characters are, and relish the idea of our stunned and panicking reactions.
My initial feelings leaving the theater were hatred and disbelief. But no doubt this is a massive film whose power and depth will most likely never be matched, and many doubted that a movie with so many characters could support its own weight. Well, the Russo brothers succeeded, but I don’t know if we wanted them to. I can’t finish this review without saying that their loyalty to the comics is admirable, and the risk they took was an emotional gut-punch that will stay with me for years. But perhaps this will be all too much for fans (I know it was for me); The fans that Marvel did not think they would get, and an audience that has swelled to record numbers in just the past few years. These characters no longer belong to them; they belong to every person who bought a ticket, wears their t-shirts, keeps their posters on their bedroom walls and dreams of hope. The Russo brothers left the audience, and the fans, without hope in this film. Perhaps hints of what to come is sprinkled throughout the film (yes, I have read the Dr. Strange theories and I am clinging to those) but it really was not enough. In a time of such hopelessness and chaos, sometimes going to the movies to watch Captain America defeat injustice is the perfect escape: the Russo brothers denied us that this year.