Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

(In theatres, May 2018) The second most interesting thing about Infinity War is that taken on its own, it’s not that good a movie: Far too many characters having too little to do, with meaningless battle sequences and an ending that is nothing but a bit cliffhanger inviting audiences to pay again to see the real ending of the story. That’s all true, and inevitable in light of what is the most interesting thing about Infinity War: The TV serial storytelling model has finally achieved its dominance over the typical way movies are told. It is the culmination of ten years of effort from Marvel Studios to piece together a mostly coherent shared universe, and this effort is paying off here by allowing fans who have seen all 18 movies to date. It does mean that you should show up to the movie with as encyclopedic a knowledge of the series so far in your head—a lot of the finer details of Infinity War are best appreciated when already knowing about the characters involved and their relationship with each other. It also means that whatever audacious ending the film has in mind is likely to be partially dismantled in time for further instalments of the ongoing series. (I remember the end of Winter Soldier even if the series doesn’t.) But that’s almost in the implied contract when purchasing the ticket—the difficult calculation is whether fans of the series will get what they expect from a major crossover event. Here, fortunately, Infinity War does well: At a frantic pace, it does find things to do for a roster of over three dozen characters, and while some of them get short thrift, there’s an impressive virtuosity in finding multiple flavours of science fiction and fantasy co-existing together in a single story without tonal clashes. The “Marvel House Style” does help a lot in unifying characters that can be noble, silly, supernatural, materialistic, alien or young … but it’s still quite a juggling act to make everything feel at home in this cross-stitch of a story. For once, Marvel also benefits from a good credible villain—in fact, Infinity War is most satisfying when considered as a story from the villain’s point of view—all the way to a happy ending in which they get what they’ve wanted all along. Is suspect that reaction to Infinity War will change quite a bit once the next chapters in the series are seen and digested—but I can’t quite say whether this will be seen as a frenetic mishmash, an apex for Marvel Studio or an aperitif for something even better. Such is life in a serial model, though—either the series grows too big for itself (as we suspect that a number of stars will not return for further instalments of the series by dint of being too expensive), or it grows stale and abandoned (leading to an end through disinterest), or it keeps finding a middle ground with occasional spikes of interest. Marvel’s been in the serial business for decades, though, so let’s leave them to figure out what’s next. Tune in next year for the next episode.

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