“This movie is for fans, not critics.”
Defenders of bad but popular films love trotting out that maxim as a justification for their affection. And while the statement itself gets caught in an epistemological knot (critics can’t be fans?), it does contain a kernel of truth. Some movies exist simply to give fans what they want.
Avengers: Infinity War might be the purest example of this genre. I could tell you it’s plot — nearly all the Marvel Cinematic Universe heroes team-up against the evil Thanos (voice: Josh Brolin; body: a team of CG animators), who seeks to kill half the universe with the aid of six magical Infinity Stones. But you already know what the movie is, and you probably already know if you’ll like it.
Less a narrative and more a 2 1/2 hour sizzle reel, Infinity War features nothing but superhero team-ups. Half the Guardians of the Galaxy help Thor (Chris Hemsworth) rebuild his hammer; the other Guardians try to beat Thanos to a missing Infinity Stone; Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) joins Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Spider-man (Tom Holland). Everyone else, including Captain America (Chris Evans) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), meets up with Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) in Wakanda.
Quips are traded, battles are fought.
That sounds dismissive, but it’s really not. As a fan service delivery device, Infinity War succeeds marvelously. The primary pleasure of the MCU has never been its thematic content or complex narrative. It’s always been about affection for the characters, and if you like spending time with Starlord (Chris Pratt) or Okoye (Danai Gurira), then you’ll have a blast with this movie’s pairings. And while they sometimes run into pacing issues, going too long without checking in on certain groups of heroes, directors Joe and Anthony Russo present well-staged action sequences, with a clear sense of stakes.
Well, sort of. As with most other MCU movies, Infinity War involves a lot of Macguffin-centric mini-quests: Thor needs to open this portal, Shuri (Letitia Wright) needs to remove the Infinity Stone from Vision (Paul Bettany), Gamora (Zoe Saldana) needs to rescue Nebula (Karen Gillan), and so on. The only weight to these quests comes from the characters shouting about the tasks’ importance. If you like the characters, then you’ll go along with it; but if you don’t already care about the romance between Vision and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Infinity War won’t change your mind.
Fans’ love for Marvel covers over nearly all the movie’s shortcomings, save one, and it’s a big one. Infinity War makes good on its promise to kill off a lot of characters. For long-time comic book readers, like me, superhero deaths are largely meaningless. Everyone from Superman to Batman, from Captain America to Spider-man has died in a comic book, and they’ve all came back 2-20 issues later.
But even Hollywood actors cannot escape age or boredom, so it seemed like Infinity War may very well be the last time we see certain characters on screen, as the men and women who play them move on to different roles. But while some of the Infinity War deaths will be final, too many involve financially lucrative characters, especially in the film’s last act. We know they’ll be back, if only because the market demands it. Even the most dedicated MCU zombie sees through the plot device.
Then again, the MCU’s biggest fans won’t be too bothered by this clumsy move, anymore than they are with the Infinity War’s other narrative flubs. They came here to hang out with superfriends, and no one wants to see them leave for good, especially when everything leading up to the death has been so much fun.