This isn’t a cry for help.
I’ve seen Infinity War five times now. (Just one more and my Infinity War Gauntlet is complete!) With the rest of summer movie season underway, I suppose it’s time to bid farewell to the most ambitious superhero crossover – that is, until the Blu-ray comes out. Of course, the film’s theatrical run is nowhere close to being over. The film is principally eyeing down The Force Awakens’ global tally, with Titanic soon in its crosshairs. (We go live to James Cameron in 5…4….) Infinity War will enjoy a storied box office run, but it’s cultural moment has surely come to an end.
It’s surreal to think that Infinity War is behind us. I remember waiting forever for a trailer. (Some of us made do with the bootlegged footage from Comic-Con.) We were desperate. Then, Good Morning America debuted the teaser. We were salivating. Before we knew it, Infinity War got moved up a week, and it was here.
Believe it or not, I wasn’t singing the film’s praise coming off my first viewing. I was thrilled, but frustrated. Satisfied, but wanted so much more. I had a running tally of complaints and concerns:
- Heimdall dies 😧
- Loki dies. No more Get Help 😢
- No. Not Gamora 😭
- Steve and Bucky barely spoke
- Natasha is just…there
- Wong straight up ghosted
- Shuri is literally only in the one room
- Not enough M’Baku
Then there’s that cliffhanger ending, which I dismissed so offhandedly that upon exiting the theater (*after* the credits, I’m not stupid) I was LIVID. When Marvel announced they were dropping the “Part I” from the title, I was relieved. It seemed like an assurance that we weren’t getting half of a movie. Which we ended up getting anyway. We knew sequels for certain characters were on the docket. Their “deaths” felt cheap. I felt betrayed.
My friends and I wound ourselves in circles about this:
“They’re not dead.”
“Of course they’re not dead.”
“But it felt like they were.”
“But they’re not tho”
I was so in denial, so firm in my expectations that I robbed myself of the experience of the movie as a prism, as a capsule of time. We may know certain sequels are coming for those seemingly departed, but neither they nor their compatriots know this. What if I freed myself from that knowledge? I thought about the ending, Thor’s head hanging low, the ominous thunder heralding their defeat.
This is a film featuring every superhero on the MCU roster, one by one securing the convention that the good guys will win 14 million times over. I considered the reality of Infinity War’s ending. They lose. It’s the giant smirking eggplant who wins. I couldn’t recall any other superhero movie that had done that.
I saw it again the next day.
That second viewing did wonders. My expectations – like the strength of the Black Panther – were stripped away. I can’t tell you how liberating it felt to give up my checklist of things that I wanted fulfilled. I let go. Because what I was given was still the most massive, overwhelming viewing experience I’ve ever had. It just took a while to process. Going again, I could now observe the machinations, see how this gargantuan thing comes together.
I didn’t realize how seamless the transitions were, from Thor to Strange and Stark in New York, followed by the handoff to the Guardians. The Russos command total control over this entire universe of heroes, respecting their tones, their arcs. They savor this endless meeting of titans as spectacle in its own right.
The finale was pulverizing on my first viewing; there was SO much audio-visual wonder to digest. It’s one mammoth set-piece intercut with another. Whatever I couldn’t process, I might’ve missed because the crowd was cheering, or I was too busy laughing. The more I saw Infinity War, the better it got.
It was easier to grasp the sheer scale of the battle in Wakanda, just as it became joyous to watch the showdown on Titan unfold: Quill skipping across Strange’s spell discs, Spider-Man slinging in and out of portals, Thanos chucking the moon like a giant tennis ball; the whole thing is wildly, superbly imaginative.
Strange’s mystic/cosmic standoff with Thanos is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. (It clocks in at under a minute so it pays to pay attention.) As is Tony Stark’s pivotal confrontation – his suit’s nanites pulling from where it can spare, leaving him half-exposed. Every move feels like his last. Infinity War asks us the impossible: what if this truly was the end for these characters? That Marvel can rattle our complacency ten years on (where most franchises fizzle out between the 2nd or 3rd entry) was reassuring to me as a fan.
I admired the hell out of Infinity War a second time. I loved it after the third.
You’d think three times would be overkill. But the thrill of re-watching a movie with a new audience each time is you get to experience everyone else’s first time. Isn’t that what we chase, reference, wish we could go back to? The magic of movies – certainly the shock – tends to dissipate with subsequent viewings. Infinity War felt new to me each time.
I wielded a certain power; I knew when lines were about to drop (WHY 👏 IS 👏 GAMORA 👏) yet I was caught off guard. From Drax’s “this is a man,” Quill’s mockery of Thor, to Mantis’ lovely mention of a prior Kevin Bacon joke (the Guardians ensemble, basically), Infinity War’s humor never fails to land. Even knowing when characters come in didn’t deter the experience. Because now I’m anticipating their arrival. When the crowd cheers at Cap’s entrance (or are those moans, I can never tell) I am right there with them. The bumbling rhythm of Rubberband Man, or a familiar tribal beat heralding a certain nation we had visited months before. Thor’s landfall in Wakanda in particular is so rapturously chill-inducing that I often listen to the track just to grasp that cinematic high. (Gamora’s death number, by comparison, is my version of cutting.)
That’s what I love about cinema and the crowd experience. We may go in with different people and walk away with our own opinions, but we all surrender to the same screen. If there was ever any doubt as to whether people are invested, audience reactions to Infinity War stand as a testament to the MCU’s impact.
My fourth time, I took my daughter and I didn’t realize the trauma I was setting her up for. (She regularly watches Disney films so it’s cool.) I was surprised to see how much she didn’t want to part with characters like Loki and Gamora. Parents and kids alike stifled gasps when Thanos drove a blade through Tony Stark; when Bucky vanishes, and the other heroes that follow, *especially Peter Parker.
After ten years, no one can bear the thought of losing these characters. Some of us have matured alongside them, others like my daughter can now attach their childhoods to them. It’s that bridge in time and of generations that makes Infinity War so special. That something could feel so remarkably new in a day and age where stories are remade, rebooted, recycled. That people are still lining up weeks after the fact, it reaffirmed my own reverence for cinema as a communal space, a gathering of rabid fans and casual moviegoers, where, walking in, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart.
We go to the movies in search of something mythic, larger than life. Infinity War is the first one in a long time that made me feel small. I needed a step back to behold what felt like a proper cinematic event. Every film in this era of the month-to-month blockbuster is sold as an “event you can’t miss.” (By that metric, how do you distinguish the ones you can safely skip?) Infinity War is among the few worthy of the banner because after eighteen movies leading up to this, the film had irrevocably earned that status, us bearing witness. Like Jurassic Park, like Indiana Jones, like the original Star Wars trilogy and the respective generations that got to experience them duly, this whole superhero thing was ours.
My fifth time was my most emotional. I thought about when I saw the first Avengers, waiting in a line that stretched around the theater and wondering how a little film called Iron Man brought us here. I thought about Age of Ultron, waiting in an even longer line and chatting with people whom I wouldn’t remember their names, only the excitement on their faces. Years later and the anticipation in seeing a Marvel film is once again at a fever-pitch. Bigger? Perhaps, but isn’t that what it felt like in 2012?
I was giddy going in with my brother and our cousins, their amount of times varying. On the way we talked about the scenes we were eager to see again and whether this was gluttony, specifically in my case. When we sat down, the people next to us introduced themselves and apologized in advance. They said they were gonna get loud, as if we and the rest of the theater weren’t about to get rowdy in a moment’s time. I said have it, I promise we won’t mind.
When the lights dimmed and the Marvel logo came into focus, I was momentarily disoriented. How many times had I seen these movies, how new each of them felt despite this routine of seeing an MCU film every few months. Was it truly my fifth time seeing Infinity War? Heart throttling, myself grinning like the Mad Titan, it didn’t feel that way. This last bit might sound cheesy, but it’s superheroes we’re talking about so who cares. When Strange drops the infinity stone mythology on Tony Stark, revealing the gem embedded in his necklace, it was then I realized that cinema, in its own powerful, universe-altering way, is our infinity stone, one we can ably hold onto for one glorious moment in time. Or two. Or five.