When discussing the “Avengers” franchise, you have to separate audiences into two groups: millennials and everybody else.
Millennials grew up on comic books. Meanwhile, books like “Dumbing Down: Essays on the Strip-Mining of American Culture” by Katharine Washburn have taken note of the fact that comic book reading outstripped serious books circa the 1970s. The coastal ivy leaguers still read substantial books. But if America in general is reading anything these days, it’s comic books.
And watching comic book movies and thinking they’re awesome. Which is fine. Hollywood gives the people what they want. But as a baby boomer, my impression is that “Infinity War” is a massive, yawning dye-vat of mediocrity.
New/Improved, Industrial-Strength Storyline? Not.
The movie opens by establishing the protagonist gods—Thor, who is the Norse thunder god (Chris Hemsworth), and his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston)—confronting the antagonist mega-god, Thanos (Josh Brolin).
Thanos is a fictitious type of Zeus, or Odin, or Jupiter, or Chronos (one of your larger gods, basically) who can destroy everything in the cosmos if he so desires, and who espouses the same philosophy as Marlon Brando’s Kurtz (“The horror … the horror”) in “Apocalypse Now”: basically, that you need massive willpower to cleanse the logjam of superfluous life. I think that was Hitler’s thing too.
Anyway, Thanos looks like a big lump of purple Silly Putty molded into a steroidal, shaved-headed, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, World Wrestling Federation-contestant-looking type, with some sculpted grooves running down his rubbery chin, which look goatee-ish.
But Thanos can’t just up and destroy the universe anytime he pleases. No. He’s gotta collect some magic rainbow-colored “infinity stones” first, and put them in his giant metal gauntlet, for purposes of enhanced awesomenesspower. That’s one word: awesomenesspower.
And that’s the movie, basically: Thanos looking for jujubes to put in his glove so he can cancel the cosmos, and a whole mess of little minor gods trying to stop him. Here, in no particular order, is a list of the minor gods (Thor, etc.); the mechanically contrived, godlike humans, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman); the radioactive freaks—Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland); and the Guardians of the Galaxy, trying to stop him:
War Machine (Don Cheadle), Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Vision (Paul Bettany), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Rocket (the raccoon, voiced by Bradley Cooper), Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and Captain America (Chris Evans). Oh, and baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel).
I’ve left a bunch out because, as you can see, it’s already ridiculous. And everybody gets, like, 20 seconds to do their superhero schticks, all of which bounce off Thanos. Well, Hulk Hulk-smashes Thanos a little bit, but then Thanos counter-Hulk-smashes Hulk, way, way more. Suffice it to say, it all amounts to heaps of superhero, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink, asinine spectacle.
More Is Better Because It’s an Adrenaline Fix
Underlying all is the fact that superhero movies are a mild form of adrenaline junkie-ism, and that the dose needs to constantly be upped to keep it interesting, to the point where there’s no attempt whatsoever to present any of the already vastly unreal things as possibly being even a little bit real.
For example, Spider-Man now has an enhanced suit (compliments of Iron Man’s lab) that can sprout eight metallic spider legs, which move of their own accord, and help Spidey get leverage and stability while pushing and pulling heavier objects than he can normally handle.
But what does that even mean? Is there a difference between imagining that one could sling synthetic spiderweb from wrist-located web-gizmos, like the original Spidey, and, then on top of that, sprout mechanical spider legs?
Isn’t it all useless twaddle? Endless escapism and fantasy? There’s got to be a point to this! I insist there be an actual beneficial take-away of some sort! No? People just want to be entertained with the mindless nonreality of 76 comic book characters in one place (76!) and eat popcorn? Worldwide opening box office: $630 million—so yes.
Who’s holding the standard? Snooty film critics? Hardly. The people know what they like, and Hollywood’s job is to predict what the people like, but also to program our minds to like what Hollywood is putting out there, for purposes of mint-making.
Film critics then try to re-program our minds, try to attune America to standards born of a range of experience (from lifelong movie-geekdom to ex-film school professors). But these are cultural fingers in the dike—that would be the massive dike holding back a reservoir of mediocrity that’s grown to oceanic proportions and will eventually drown us all. Yea, so be it.
‘Avengers: Infinity War‘
Directors: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Pratt, Josh Brolin, Tom Holland, Vin Diesel, Zoe Saldana, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany
Running Time: 2 hours, 29 minutes
Rated: PG-13 (violence, language)
Release Date: April 27
Rated 2 stars out of 5