Latest posts by Alexander Vandewalle (see all)
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About a month ago, Marvel Studios released this beautiful gem of a trailer for its up-coming Avengers: Infinity War (2018, Anthony & Joe Russo):
The trailer goes back to the very beginning of the Avengers (recognize that quote from somewhere?), has amazing music and promises to be the biggest superhero film event of all time. The shown footage is epic, and I’m happy that the wait isn’t all that long anymore. At the same time, I have some particular worries about how it all might go down, which I thought I would list below. I do want to note, however, that this short list of “concerns” doesn’t mean that I’m not incredibly hyped for its release. I honestly believe that Infinity War is going to be a massive event, and its financial box-office success is basically a guaranteed given. That being said, I must admit that there are some points where I remain skeptical, even though Marvel has often proven me wrong in the past. So let’s get to it!
Even though CGI technology has drastically improved over the last couple of years, I believe superhero films to be at their absolute best when they rely mostly on human, non-computer generated characters. This is one of the reasons, for example, why I believe the DCEU films are failing: having its heroes fight fully CGI villains as Doomsday, Incubus, Steppenwolf and even Ares to a certain extent, jeopardizes the audience’s identification with the films’ villains, which is necessary to fully understand and grasp the stories’ dramatic twists and turns.
The trailer for Infinity War shows some large-scale battles (set in Wakanda, I assume?), as well as a huge circular object hovering above New York City and the arrival of Thanos (Josh Brolin) on Earth. It is, therefore, to be expected that CGI-based objects, characters (possibly motion-captured like Thanos) and maybe even armies, will play a big role in this film. I truly hope that Infinity War doesn’t overdo it, though, and that fighting Thanos, for example, doesn’t seem meaningless or takes us out of the overall visual experience. The finale of Justice League, for example, where DC’s mightiest heroes went up against the CGI Steppenwolf & his so-called Parademons, didn’t quite have the dramatic weight it needed to fully deliver what was happening.
My concern, therefore, isn’t really about the quality of the CGI: with exceptionally visually strong films recently, such as Doctor Strange (2016, Scott Derrickson), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017, James Gunn) and Thor: Ragnarok (2017, Taika Waititi), Marvel has proven its technological expertise and savvy. I’m more worried about the way in which CGI will be used. As with everything that’s listed in this blog post, however, we will have to wait for its official release to see what will really happen.
Crumbling under its own weight?
As mentioned before, Infinity War is a massive film. It has a huge list of characters (at one point, the Russo brothers mentioned something about Infinity War consisting of no less than 67 characters, though they nuanced that number later) and has a big list of things to do:
- It has to serve as a meaningful sequel for all of its characters, a lot of whom we haven’t seen since Captain America: Civil War (2016, Anthony & Joe Russo);
- It has to deliver on the overarching Infinity Stones-plot line that started with the introduction of the Tesseract in Thor (2011, Kenneth Branagh);
- It has to successfully combine the Avengers with the Guardians of the Galaxy, two superhero groups that as of yet have never interacted with each other (more on this below);
- It seems highly probable given Marvel’s specific franchise structure that it also has to set up upcoming films like Ant-Man and Wasp (2018, Peyton Reed) and maybe even Captain Marvel (2019, Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck) in a certain way;
- Of course, apart from all this, it also has to deliver a good and well-paced story of its own.
Now, Marvel Studios and the Russo brothers in particular have proven their adequacy to successfully combine multiple story threads into one unified whole, though some critics did have their doubts around certain plot points in Civil War, for example. I, for one think, that Civil War was overall an impressive achievement, but that it nevertheless rushed certain story points (Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) & Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), most notably) for spectacle purposes, and that the main drama went at the expense of fully developing Zemo (Daniel Brühl) as a villain. The fact remains, however, that Infinity War is the story event that Marvel Studios has been building up towards for ten years. This film is a vast enterprise, and the hype surrounding it is almost surreal. One seems justified in being a little bit skeptical in how Marvel is going to handle it. Prove me wrong, please.
Guardians of the Galaxy
One of the main points of hype around Infinity War is that it will finally bring together the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Avengers. Up until now, the only points where these two superhero teams crossed over were (correct me if I’m wrong) Thanos’s presence in both film franchises, Thor: Ragnarok‘s Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) being the Collector’s (Benicio Del Toro) brother–although the film did not mention this explicitly–, and Valkyrie’s (Tessa Thompson) brief mention of Xandar in Thor: Ragnarok, one of the planets featured in the original Guardians of the Galaxy (2014, James Gunn). The trailer for Infinity War shows Thor (Chris Hemsworth) meeting the Guardians, and this encounter has been one of the most often broken-down aspects of the trailer. (Comparing Thor and Banner’s (Mark Ruffalo) situation at the end of Thor: Ragnarok with the situation in which the both of them find themselves in the trailer, actually allows us to make accurate guesses about the beginning of Infinity War, I believe, which I won’t go into detail to here.)
With everything that seems to be going on on Earth, including the Guardians might seem superfluous despite its making sense in the larger scope of things. I really hope, therefore, that the Guardians are given the appropriate narrative function they deserve, and that they’re not reduced to some basic secondary plot techniques as ex-machinas and the like. That would be ‘too easy’, and would undoubtedly disappoint many fans who have longed for these two groups to meet.
Captain America: Civil War two years ago was one of the MCU’s biggest game-changers to date. Not only did it have friends fight friends over political and ideological conflicts, but it also added to the drama of these characters’ backstories, most specifically Iron Man’s (Robert Downey Jr.), with that incredible Bucky (Sebastian Stan) twist. At the end of Civil War, Captain America (Chris Evans) was established as a ‘criminal’ (see for example the way in which secondary characters talked about him in Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017, Jon Watts)) and we haven’t seen him since. In the trailer, he’s presented to us more or less as a secluded character, rugged and seemingly psychologically beaten. Having him, as well as other Civil War members of Team Cap, back in the fold in Infinity War problematizes the political sub-narrative told in Civil War (did Cap break them out, as hinted towards at the end of Civil War? Which legal ramifications does this have for his character? Or was Team Cap released, and if so, why?), and I sincerely hope that this change of events is given the proper attention it requires. Marvel has often been criticized for its apparent lack of stakes (one-off villains; no one actually ever dies; etc.), so it would be nice if they could subverse this pattern and flesh out the aftermath of Civil War‘s fallout.
As many fans may remember, the MCU’s film treatment of the Infinity War comic book storyline was originally conceived as a two-film event (I still blame Harry Potter for the popular tendency nowadays to split coherent & unified stories into two or more films). This is the way it was announced by Kevin Feige several years ago: 2018 would have Infinity War: Part One, with Infinity War: Part Two to be released in 2019. Later, however, Infinity War was confined to 2018, and the 2019 Avengers film was left untitled (which it still is, and I don’t expect this to change until after Infinity War hits theaters). Exact specifics about the content of Avengers 4 or the ‘Untitled Avengers film’ is, to my knowledge, not known (which is good), except for the fact that it will also feature Brie Larson as Captain Marvel–a seminal Marvel character that will be introduced in her own film before Avengers 4 comes out (yeah, Marvel is pretty busy nowadays).
Since many characters, including Thanos, have been confirmed for Avengers 4, it seems likely that the decision to divide the two movies may have been less consequential than it initially looked like. It would be a pity in this respect, if Infinity War only served as a build-up to its sequel rather than a complete story in its own right. I do expect certain story threads of Infinity War to be continued and expanded upon in Avengers 4(everything in the MCU is connected anyway, #ItsAllConnected), but I’m hoping that this doesn’t go at the expense of intricate plot development in each individual entry into the overarching multi-franchise.
The months to come
Regular Screenanigans readers will undoubtedly have noticed my discontent with the way Hollywood tends to over-promote its big blockbuster films. I often quote the Spider-Man: Homecoming campaign as symptomatic of this tendency, since anyone with even the most basic understanding of filmic three-act story structure inevitably got the entire film’s narrative from watching the trailers. Ever since, I have abstained of watching too many trailers and promos, and I can only say it really makes the movie-going experience all the more satisfying. With an event as huge as Avengers: Infinity War, it seems only logical that this tendency will repeat itself–though I must admit that, up until now, Marvel has been particularly silent on the film, especially by releasing its first trailer relatively late. (This was probably orchestrated this way so Disney could have the trailer shown in theaters when people went to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017, Rian Johnson), which of course attracts a particularly large audience.) The fact that Marvel’s Black Panther (2018, Ryan Coogler) still has to be released in February might also be a contributing factor, as showing too much of Infinity War, especially with its seemingly Wakandan setting, might give too much Black Panther content away. I just hope this means that March and April won’t be cramped with Infinity War teasers/trailers, set photos, plot details or promos, which would really spoil the experience. From a business standpoint this all makes sense, but film–however popular it may be, as is the main reason for Screenanigans’s existence–is still very much an artistic medium that we need to be able to dive into with only a limited amount of prior knowledge.
As I mentioned before, these points of skepticism don’t mean that I’m not extremely hyped for the film. I just believe there are some points that need proper addressing, and I hope to have done that in this post. When Avengers: Infinity War hits Belgian theaters April 25th, I will be among the first to see it, and I will undoubtedly post my review on this blog. Up until then, all we can do is wait, and re-watch that epic trailer again and again, as I, for one, surely will.