Avengers: Infinity War (minor spoilers)

Avengers: Infinity War delivers on its promise of being the biggest superhero event of the season, year, and decade. It’s exactly what you’d expect it to be, and a little bit more. Between two to three dozen superheroes in one movie, viewers will get tons of blow-ya-mind fight scenes in the movie’s 160 minutes, which, admittedly, never feels too long.

At its core, Avengers: Infinity War is a crowd-pleaser. And it’s a damn good crowd-pleaser laced with equal parts existential dread and PG TV morality (slash humor, because let’s not forget all of the borderline corny dad jokes coming from Thor, Star-Lord, and Tony Stark).

Basically, the plot revolves around Thanos (Josh Brolin), a wrinkly mauve Titan with one clear-cut quest—to gather all of the prized Infinity Stones in his gauntlet and rule the universe. While most might have just settled for a nice retirement community in Florida, Thanos stays dead-set on acquiring these stones. Because of power, duh. There’s not a lot of stakes for Thanos if he loses but the writers add a stake by having him confront his adopted daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana). It’s a move that I don’t entirely buy, but it does add more clarity to the narrative. With so many characters, Infinity War streamlines its narrative around three basic storylines: Gamora hanging out with Thanos; Captain America (Chris Evans) figuring out what to do with Vision’s (Paul Bettany) Mind Stone; and Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Iron-Man (Robert Downey Jr.), and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) tracking down Thanos. That’s to say, it’s not too hard to follow the plot. Everything ties in together.

Given the scope of Infinity War, I harbored low expectations for character depth. But a few characters did pleasantly surprise me, like Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). I’ve been a fan of Elizabeth Olsen since seeing her performance alongside Jeremy Renner in Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River. Olsen truly has a gift for emotional depth in her understated performances. In Infinity War, she’s a concerned lover, an underestimated heroine, a missing key. Ruffalo also brings a touch of comedy as the frustrated Bruce Banner who can’t become the Hulk. More than just a gag, the struggle to turn into everyone’s friendly neighborhood green monster also gives him room for character development. His frustration is one that a lot of people can relate to when their game gets salted. And I guess Tony Stark. But we kind of expected Tony Stark to have some sort of character arc in an Avengers film right? Small request, Marvel: fewer dad jokes for RDJ, please.

The film ends on a mind-blowing note that is probably as philosophically delicious as the twists in season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or season one of The Good Place. Some have been quick to call it a cheap shot for a cliffhanger to keep us in hungry anticipation until May of next year. It’s a tad gimmicky, but you have to admit that it definitely disarms our expectations of what would happen in a normally feel-good superhero franchise.

It’s time for film buffs to succumb to the powers that be at Marvel Studios or at least engage with its films more earnestly. No, Marvel films are not the darling subjects for Marxist film theory (they’re produced by the most capitalist production company of them all—Disney) but they speak volumes about contemporary politics and, unlike much of highbrow cinema, include room for actors from traditionally excluded backgrounds to have meaningful characters. Plus they’re getting funnier by the day. Think Black Panther. It’s a film with a Black director and a predominantly Black cast. It explores themes of nationalism, isolationism, and colonialism. Thor: Ragnarok investigates the impact of trauma and displacement. Infinity War questions superheroism and introduces existentialism. While I’m still keeping my fingers crossed for more dialogue from female characters, I’ll inevitably feed money to the Marvel machine for years to come.

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