I tend to watch all the Marvel movies with my Dad - it’s one of those things that has stuck with us ever since Iron Man first powered up the arc reactor on our screens.
Over 20 films and three phases later, we still watch each one together and spend hours dissecting them post-viewing. I’m talking ‘Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ level theorising, replete with frenzied expressions (and honestly if we had an abundance of red string there’d probably be a questionable diagram on the wall).
We’ve seen the films grow, the cinematic universe expand, the characters develop and ultimately, the theories get wilder - and yet no Marvel film to date had as profound an effect on both of us as ‘Avengers: Infinity War’.
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There are few movie conclusions that leave you utterly speechless - not to mention those that have the same effect when watching them the second time around, even if that’s in the comfort of your own home. ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ is one of those films.
The film is the conclusion to Marvel’s rollout of Phase Three in the Cinematic Universe, and it’s been such a long time coming that tensions were incredibly high. Right from the outset we realise the film is not going to pull punches - the days of light, airy flicks are over.
The immediate loss of Loki was a sucker punch that leaves you in a bizarre state of flux, given the character’s proclivity for faking his own death. Is he actually gone? Surely not, you think. Surely it’s a trick. And yet directors Anthony and Joe Russo aren’t messing around - he’s gone, and it’s only the first five minutes.
From there we battle the Black Order on the streets of New York, we traverse the galaxy with the Guardians to face Thanos in person, we return to Wakanda in the hope of saving Vision and ultimately though the team is split (some fighting on earth, others stranded on Nowhere), we watch wordlessly as so many of the characters we came to love disintegrate into ash at the click of a gauntlet-covered finger.
There’s no denying the sheer scale of the film, both literally and in terms of effect. The characters span the galaxy, from the domed city of Wakanda to the star-powered forge of Nidavellir (though I’ve a bone to pick with the fact that they decided Thor needed a weapon given that the whole point of his arc in ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ was to show him the power is within himself - but sure, swinging an axe looks cooler).
But the scale isn’t purely geographic. The battles are bigger, the damage is more severe and ultimately, the consequences are the most dire. It’s one thing to be fighting to defend a city, it’s a whole new ball game when you’re clamouring to prevent the borderline genocidal obliteration of half the world’s population.
The key component of the film was its emotional depth. We’d spent so long building a contextual narrative that it was satisfying in its weight. At its core, it could be argued that ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ is a film of retroactive resonances.
The gut-wrenching conclusion wouldn’t have anywhere near as much impact had we not spent the best part of twenty movies building an intense familiarity with the characters. The only downside to this was that the balance was slightly off when it came to giving each member of the exhaustive cast enough screen time to convey their emotional state - suddenly Tony Stark’s space-related PTSD was gone? Not an accurate representation.
Having said that, this is less of a criticism and more of a practicality - with so much content to fit in one film, sacrifices have to be made. It just makes it all the more important for viewers to have seen the preceding anthology in order to see the characters with more dimension.
The concern I have for ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ was that it isn’t as accessible to those who haven’t dedicated hours to the preceding catalogue like my Dad and I had. And it’s a valid worry - the film depends a lot on context and previous knowledge to shape its impact.
Neglecting that, the characters appear as flattened caricatures of themselves, the details missed and the extensive backstory condensed to a few minutes of expositional dialogue here and there. Before recommending the film (which I would do wholeheartedly), I’d feel obliged to insist upon the viewing of the previous ‘Avengers’ titles, at the very least.
Ultimately though, the reason that ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ has such a profound impact is because it’s the first time in the series that the good guys haven’t won, and that is just as important as any battle victory.
It’s dark, and it’s not something the audience expects in a blockbuster from the same franchise that brought us the feel-good ‘Ant-Man’ and ‘Guardians of The Galaxy’ flicks. This film leaves you feeling unsatisfied - but that discomfort and tension is exactly why the film as a whole is so satisfying.
Relying on the heroes saving the day is a tired trope, and this is the exact kind of shake up that the franchise needed to reinvigorate audiences who were expecting a cookie-cutter battle royale culminating in Thanos falling on his big purple face.
Those seeking to ease the comfort should latch on to two things. The first is Doctor Strange’s last words: “It was the only way”. Bearing in mind that he had already seen every iteration of the events play out with the Time Stone, he was likely the only person to know what was to happen. The second is the imminent arrival of Captain Marvel, whose presence was announced in a fleeting logo shot as Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury crumbled mid-curse.
If there’s one thing the wonderfully bearded Steve Rogers got right, it’s that hope is paramount (especially in movies like this). The absence of hope that we all felt at the conclusion of the film is what will urge audiences to get their asses to the cinema and find out how the good guys triumph after all.
And in the meantime, we’ll just drive ourselves wild with theories.