There has never been a box office force with the power of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Nothing comes close. They release so many films a year it’s hard to even remember what has come before, and even the flops (like Venom) end up being hits by today’s lofty standards. Marvel has built its brand well. But its storytelling shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Marvel is creating box office wonders. It’s such a well established brand at this point that all competition on the superhero front has effectively been stifled, which admittedly, is a huge shame. Although there is the positive that we do get at least a couple of entertaining films a year, among the more forgettable instalments. Yet, increasingly there is one element of story telling that this powerhouse keeps stalling at – the pace of a story.
Marvel can grip audiences with wonderful characters, environments and concepts. It’s easy to get hooked even if the films, with the odd exception, often lack in wider subtextual detail these days. Infinity War was the most successful (and arguably celebrated) Marvel films to date. It was a decade in the making and fans finally felt their investment in the MCU was starting to pay off – which probably alludes to more worrying trends about fandom attitudes. However, Infinity War was not a great film. It was three potentially very good films thrown together with an ending about as dramatic as the portrayal of the death of Sirius Black.
The brand can, and will, continue to ride high on its name and it will dominate the box office for many years to come. In fact, it’s almost impossible to see an end to that domination (but it will come). We can enjoy their stories, and we can also look at how they can be made better still. That isn’t rude or insulting to do so and nor does it diminish the joy other fans had watching the films. Stories are supposed to be talked about.
Infinity War will go down in history but it is unlikely to be as the greatest film ever. It was exciting. It was also flawed. Just as one story was starting to get going there would be a huge jerk of the lead and like enthusiastic puppies, we’d be watching chaos somewhere else somewhat disorientated. It felt disjointed and it had a big impact. It’s really difficult to care about the end deaths as a result of this terrible pace, except for possibly Peter. Everyone just fades away and it feels anti-climatic. We knew they were going to die but we had so little depth to the characters and interactions that it felt more predictable than it needed to be. Not only that but the scale of the loss was difficult to fathom. We start out seeing Iron Man planning for a family, but as he watched Peter die he was very much alone and separated from his loved ones who we didn’t see. It was difficult to feel this isolation however, when the film hadn’t put any investment into his connections. We didn’t really get any loved characters who were not Avengers and that made their story feel separate when the loss to the galaxy, and what it meant, should have been hammered home. Even the most beloved characters had their stories rushed. Were Marvel moving too quickly they just forgot to show us what happened to Shuri? It didn’t come off as a mystery or cliff-hanger. It just felt like they forgot she was there.
Logan showed that Marvel can slow stories down and tell them well. But Logan was the eulogy to a beloved brooding character. With Infinity War it felt like Marvel just couldn’t resist focusing all on the action, and forgot to show how so much of it would influence the characters. Gamora was one of the best Marvel characters of recent times and yet her death had little impact because there was no time to cry. The most we got to see was Star Lord’s anger, but the audience themselves were barely allowed any time to process. The quiet scenes can contribute as much to the power of a story as the explosions and the twists, but Marvel tossed them aside.
The lack of depth became ever more clear through Thanos. The villain was refreshing to this universe in that he had a motive outside himself. He saw the destruction of how the universe was run, and the waste. There was finally some ideology. Yet, under closer scrutiny that ideology was very troubling. Thanos is furious at how resources are being wasted and the strain this is putting on the galaxy. His response? To cause a cull of people. It links green and environmental politics with extremism, at a time when we are facing a rapidly changing world due to climate change and politicians are ignoring climate change activists and scientists who say we need to do something now to avoid mass deaths. Climate justice is inherently linked to social justice. Those who want to protect the environment are the ones who advocating for saving lives, while those who stand in opposition are causing real harm.
Additionally, it was only Thanos who seemed to represent any ideological beliefs at all (even if they were terrible). The heroes though only had to overcome their personal grudges. We only got a mention of politics when it came to uniting with Black Panther and working with the people of Wakanda. And that is a problem. The fate of the universe is dealt with in countless stories, most of which offer far much more range. Marvel seemed lacking in any understanding of the political landscape. The idea of a largely white band of heroes getting through on their own, due to meritocracy against an evil tyrant seems one dimensional (at best) and this is why Infinity War is great to watch one time, and one time only.
Ultimately, the movie cast too wide a net, and at the expense of making everything feel shallow and stretched. It was a good and entertaining film, but one that could have been made into two or three stunning films and really set up the end to see how Thanos will be defeated.