Is Avengers: Infinity War the greatest film ever made? Maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement. But Infinity War is certainly one of the greatest superhero films ever made, right? An astounding cinematic accomplishment on par with or surpassing Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight even.
Is this hyperbole? Maybe. But there’s a wide swath of fans who genuinely feel this way about Marvel Studios’ star-filled epic, which—along with the untitled Avengers 4—serves as the culmination event of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far. In fact, the majority opinion is that Infinity War is great from beginning to end, and given the immense weight of the MCU on its back, dissent is not necessarily welcome. Begone ye nitpickers, wet blankets, and haters! Except, isn’t the point of art that not everyone sees or feels the same thing? Isn’t art subjective? In which case, well, I’d like to get something off my chest: My name is Adam Chitwood and I don’t really like Avengers: Infinity War.
Merely typing that statement has no doubt put off a not-insubstantial number of readers who’ve already clicked away to something else. But hear me out—I promise to be as sincere as possible, and by the end of this I’ll have explained why, really, me disliking Infinity War is part of what makes the Marvel Cinematic Universe is so great.
The MCU began as an idea, but even after the tremendous success of 2008’s Iron Man (a film I like, for the record), Phase 1 of the MCU still saw Marvel Studios feeling its way around. Producer and president Kevin Feige had ambitious notions in his head, but the actuality of the Marvel Cinematic Universe wouldn’t really come to fruition until The Avengers, in which writer/director Joss Whedon assembled heroes and characters from the previous standalone films into one crossover event.
The Avengers isn’t a masterpiece, but it is a genuine miracle. While this kind of creative idea was commonplace in comics, it was a brand new notion for moviegoers, and there are a lot of ways this could have gone very, very wrong. It didn’t, though, and The Avengers made $1.5 billion while Marvel Studios forged ahead with a bevy of exciting new films ranging from the grounded and gritty Captain America: The Winter Soldier to the hilarious space opera Guardians of the Galaxy.
Infinity War is the 19th film in the MCU, and it carried with it an impossible burden. It was on directors Joe and Anthony Russo to bring together all the major Marvel heroes to tackle the greatest villain yet, Thanos (Josh Brolin). The Russos and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely made the bold decision to essentially position Thanos as the protagonist of Infinity War—he has the most dynamic arc of the film, largely because this movie had to both introduce audiences to Thanos and weaponize Thanos as the biggest bad to ever bad in the history of the universe, all while juggling 24-plus other characters.
And this is kind of one of my larger issues with the movie—it doesn’t feel like a movie. Shot back-to-back with Avengers 4, we know Infinity War is only half the story. But it doesn’t even really feel like half a movie. It feels like a series of scenes in which characters discuss exposition, move from place to place, and then CG versions of those characters punch each other. There are a few moments of solemnity here and there, as when Thor (Chris Hemsworth) laments the loss of his people when he meets up with the Guardians of the Galaxy, but because this movie has to move so quickly (by its own nature), those moments rarely land. They just kind of… happen. Then you move on.
And then there’s Thanos, the film’s protagonist. He gets the most in-depth storyline of any of the characters, and there are multiple attempts to flesh him out with an emotional backstory and a tear-filled twist. But Thanos is no Caesar from the Apes franchise. The performance-capture technology is great, but there’s still a gulf of disconnect there, and I cannot bring myself to get invested in what’s going on in this guy’s head. The grand motivation for the MCU’s greatest threat is that he’s… very passionate about overpopulation? I mean, fine, most Marvel villains are lacking, but the ones that stick are rooted in pathos—Loki, Killmonger, even Bucky. There’s an attempt to root Thanos in pathos with regards to his relationship with Gamora (Zoe Saldana), but it doesn’t track. Thanos can say he loves Gamora, and can cry when faced with throwing her off a cliff, but it’s tough to buy it when you’ve seen him do such horrible things over the course of 19 films.
Infinity War kind of just tumbles towards its shocking conclusion in fits and starts, with some genuinely compelling, funny, and/or thrilling moments sprouting up here and there (I’m lookin’ at you, Cap’s reveal and Thor/Groot/Rocket’s arrival). But the rest of the film…eh. The action sequences are largely boring and uninspired, filled mostly with animated characters fumbling about. And while the stakes are indeed the highest in the MCU’s history, the little side fights with Thanos’ Black Order feel like weightless detours. I mean, of course Black Widow’s going to defeat CG Alien Lady. Obviously Thor’s going to open the Iron Eye of Sauron and make a new weapon—why else would we spend so much time following him there? Predictability doesn’t inherently make a movie bad, but it’s this mix of inevitability with lifeless scenes that make the viewing experience a bit of a drag.
The one major aspect of Infinity War that’s surprising is, of course, the ending. Fans gasped, cried, screamed at the screen as half the population was wiped out and major MCU characters like Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) dissolved into dust. Except this ending rang completely hollow for me. Black Panther is one of the most successful films of the year (it has still made more money domestically than Infinity War); a Spider-Man: Homecoming sequel is currently shooting; and Guardians of the Galaxy is one of Marvel’s most prized franchises. These characters aren’t going anywhere. They dissolved in dramatic fashion and the Very Serious Credits started rolling in the vein of an “In Memoriam” sequence. To which I say, “baloney.”
I get that the emotional impact should work regardless of your knowledge of future MCU films or the fact that Infinity War is Part 1 of an unfinished story. But still, for me it just didn’t work. Which is sacrilegious to say around these parts. You’re not supposed to dislike that ending, or this movie. You’re supposed to applaud the achievement, to hail Thanos as the greatest villain in MCU history, to weep at Spider-Man’s dusting scene. But I didn’t, so where does that leave me? Soulless? Sad? (Don’t answer that).
Art is subjective, and not everyone is going to see the same piece of art the same way. Citizen Kane is hailed as the greatest film of all time, but there are undoubtedly folks who simply do not like that movie. Which is fine! If you can back up your argument with why you don’t like something, it’s perfectly valid. I didn’t like Infinity War, but I loved Black Panther. I think Thor: Ragnarok is one of the best superhero movies ever made. Guardians of the Galaxy is a truly groundbreaking achievement. And I adore the unabashed Shane Black-ness of Iron Man 3 and the ambitious weirdness of Avengers: Age of Ultron.
But that’s the thing. Infinity War is the 19th film of the MCU (with more on the way), which means there are over a dozen other movies to take in and potentially enjoy. Marvel doesn’t have to be everything to everyone. The MCU as a whole is beautifully diverse, and while I stan Iron Man 3, I also acknowledge that’s a film that really rocked some fans the wrong way. But it’s fine, because right around the corner came the fan-favorite The Winter Soldier. After The Avengers, Marvel Studios got more ambitious with its storytelling choices, charting new genre territory under the umbrella of “superhero movie.” Captain America: Civil War and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 are technically both superhero movies, and technically both Marvel movies, but they could not be more different tonally, thematically, and visually. And that’s great!
Perhaps Infinity War is the “most” Marvel movie ever made, and diehard fans of the franchise and the comics really sparked to what the Russo Brothers pulled off here. In that regard, it’s a smashing success (also in the regard of money, where it has earned $2 billion). It satisfied the fans most invested in this grand experiment, even if that doesn’t include me.
I dislike Infinity War, but that’s okay. Even the most universally acclaimed Marvel movie is allowed to have its dissenters, not just because art is up for subjective interpretation, but also because there’s far more where that came from. If Marvel keeps making ambitious moves—especially like the ones they’ve made in the past year or so—there will be another Black Panther or Thor: Ragnarok right around the corner.