Now that we have a film with nearly every Marvel character that has appeared in film on the clock, it’s hard to avoid being reminded of some of the earliest films that really got this ball rolling. Unfortunately, looking back at efforts like Iron Man and Captain America: The First Avenger make it difficult to figure out how we got so far off track in point and purpose over the course of a decade. From films that cared about their characters and delivered an actual story to the deepest reaches of Michael Bay-esque destruction porn in what is apparently a series of calculated moves designed to get us here.
Fresh off the adventures of their respective films, a variety of superheroes are alerted, by Bruce Banner, that Thanos is coming to Earth in his quest to collect all the infinity stones. Banner, having been launched across the galaxy into Dr. Strange’s living room, is going to need to get everyone on board with their new focus of attention, which is an endeavor somewhat stymied by the facts that the Avengers have split into factions and sort of tried to off each other, and no one knows the Guardians of the Galaxy yet.
The film smashes all our favorites together in one of the most glorious fan-service vehicles to ever come along and throws in a collection of villains that no one knows, which means you can’t exactly argue that they aren’t supposed to have a certain magical power. It all gels into one of the best roller coasters you’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. Unfortunately, roller coasters don’t have stories.
While certain superhero films in the past have given the impression that they were made by people who didn’t exactly get the source material, Avengers: Infinity War goes the further step of apparently being the work of people who actively dislike their audience and certainly don’t think much of their intelligence. From the smallest of nitpicks having to do with the consistency of the film’s world-building to any examination of the plot, nothing about the film makes the slightest bit of sense, and spinning ever deeper into the nonsensical begins to feel like it is a point of pride for the film.
One of the film’s only moments of actual comedy, which involves Peter Dinklage, who can carry anything, is something of a sign marker letting you know just how flagrant the lack of respect for the genre in general has become. In order to get the magical whatsit, that is given no explanation, that can hurt Thanos, by way of… reasons, Thor must subject himself to something that absolutely will kill him. As Dinklage’s character, Eitri, a Dwarf from magical space town where Thor’s hammer was created, tells Thor, “You will die.” Thor ultimately resigns himself to his fate, and indeed, if this can’t kill him, nothing can. With some gnashing of teeth, a spectacularly shiny display of special effects, and a singe to the beard, Thor not only lives, but is hardly the worse for wear. Perhaps more importantly, the whole “quest” turns out to be a red herring. The overall structure and delivery of the scene makes you imagine asking someone who admittedly hates comic books, “What do you think happens in comic books?”
The rest of the film misses no opportunity to dive into the answer to the question, “What do you think of people who read comic books?” Heroes have powers and abilities, or don’t, as fits the needs of a particular fight scene. Villains who were recently battling immensely powerful heroes, and winning, now rather easily fall to heroes who are either not nearly as high on the food chain, or have absolutely no power at all. Force fields that can withstand being smashed into by a spaceship can’t keep out a dog. Not only is that simply the beginning of the film’s blatant thumbing its nose at you, it doesn’t even dive into the more plot-based deliveries that it hopes it has enough shiny bits to keep you from looking at. Thanos has a henchman that is obviously fantastically more powerful than he is himself. Dr. Strange could obviously “win” this entire conflict any time he wanted. We have the power to destroy an infinity stone, despite the fact that even to put that sentence together requires a misunderstanding of most of the terms, but don’t just aim that power at Thanos.
As if it all weren’t bad enough, and you could go on forever, because every second of the film is built around something nonsensical, Thanos, a character who is rather interesting in his original form, has everything about who he is stripped away and replaced with a commercial for eco-consciousness. I’m not opposed to a Marvel film wandering a road toward generally positive ideas about sustainability, and they’ve done it before. You might find it a commendable idea that we put such ideas into a space of cultural conversation, but they seem to only be interested in connecting such ideas with psychopaths. Josh Brolin can thankfully deliver a bit of character that goes above and beyond what he’s actually given to work with, but it still doesn’t offer something to invest in.
Even considering it’s many problems, many of which may well be neither here nor there for a lot of viewers, this is a film that not only doesn’t have a story, but treads into the largely untested realm of having something akin to the opposite of a story. I mentioned that Thor’s quest for his hammer replacement is really a red herring, but this is a film put together with nothing but red herrings. The vast collection of characters here can’t all fit in one room at a time, so they are off chasing their own versions of potential solutions to Thanos himself, and/or the getting of all the infinity stones, but it is all distraction and repeated excuses to have fight scenes and/or watch something explode, implode, or get smashed to bits.
It’s a movie that can be a fun ride, if you don’t mind that it’s laughing at the fact that you showed up, but when a story only has distractions and they are only distracting you so that you don’t realize there’s nothing there to distract you from, then you’re no longer dealing with a story.