I mentioned in my review of the Snyder Cut of Justice League that I had recently rewatched Marvel’s grand finale of the Avengers films. I did this partly because I enjoyed the films but also because I had a theory that having watched WandaVision would improve the films.
On the WandaVision thesis, I think I’m correct. The mini-series made both Wanda Maximoff and Vision more approachable characters and also made their relationship feel more real. That was important for Infinity War were their early scene in Edinburgh originally felt a bit disconnected (a sort of by the way these two characters are in a relationship but are either side of the break-up of the Avengers) whereas now the relationship is a given. Likewise, the final battle in Wakanda has added tension and tragedy as the heroes try to find a way to destroy the stone attached to Vision without killing Vision. The horrible circumstance where Wanda is forced to kill Vision, only for Thanos to reverse that and then kill Vision all over again has extra force, which (bouncing back) adds to WandaVision.
Which takes me to an obvious point about shared universes and DC’s struggles: common plot points between shared films are less important than shared characters that we like and care about. For DC their current best player is Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, despite the first Suicide Squad film suffering from DC’s current movie curse and the sequel Birds of Prey being released in the worst possible year to release a movie (2020). Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman has had better films but less of an impact but still is the obvious second pillar on which DC can build a set of films with shared characters.
That people will keep watching rambling, inconsistent plots that feature characters they like is a fact soap operas have known for longer than I’ve been alive. Soap operas have maintained large ensemble casts with story lines that have had poorly established continuity but viewer investment in characters. Although I’ve not really got into DC’s “Arrowverse” TV shows, the success and popularity of these shows as a set of shared characters points to the basic formula of creating characters that people will follow.
Watching modern films as segmented TV shows using blocks of 20 to 40 minutes does little damage to many of them as dramatic experiences. The first Star Wars film by borrowing from older film serials, had a very segmented structure that has been repeated by the subsequent films. Likewise with the Marvel films, they typically have multiple smaller dramatic arcs with a few scenes that take the characters from one point to another with shifts from victory to defeat or vice versa. Infinity War groups set of heroes into different plot lines and has those plots interact. The tone and visual style shifts.
- Thor’s cosmic setting
- Captain America’s international Earth setting
- Guardians of the Galaxy’s cosmic setting
- Iron Man shifting from an Earth setting to a cosmic one
Other characters connect with one of these aside from Bruce Banner who move horizontally across them (starts with Thor, travels to Earth to warn Dr Strange and Stark, then re-joins Captain America).
Watching these various parts play out in smaller segments, works quite nicely for Infinity War. Of course, having already watched the film theatrically, I’m not actually wondering what will happen next when I stop at a roughly 40 minute mark. Even so, the beats of the film work out in a way that the initial issue confronting the focus characters has been partly resolved and some new issue or broader problem/objective has been introduced.
While Infinity War works as a TV-style mini-series, Avengers:Endgame is vastly improved. I enjoyed it as a film but mainly because I was invested in the characters and the time I’d spent funnelling too much money to the coffers of the Disney Corporation (who, let’s not forget, still haven’t paid Allen Dean Foster). However, it is a really odd film with quite distinct chunks and shifts in tone and even sub-genre.
The first act follow the immediate aftermath of Thanos murdering half the universe. With the intervention of Captain Marvel, what is left of the Avengers pull themselves together and set off to literally avenge… Only to find that the Infinity stones are gone and Thanos is no longer the threat he was. The huge defeat at the end of Infinity War never felt as subversive to the genre as it appeared because it was clearly not going to last, but this initial sequence in Endgame is more threatening to a superhero narrative. Thor kills Thanos but it is an utterly hollow victory and the heroes return to Earth even more defeated than they were previously.
The film/show shifts tone and pace to look at the world in the aftermath. Then, with the return of Ant Man shifts again with both the possibility of a solutions but also an emotional obstacle — both Stark and Banner/Hulk have found a degree of peace and even success in the new world. Another shift then into the semi-comic heist movie and unto the Captain America/Stark time-travel hi-jinks, Thor’s bittersweet return to Asgard and then into the darker sub-plots with War-Machine/Nebula and Black Widow/Hawkeye. There are entertaining bits and deeply flawed bits and as a single film, it is a dog’s breakfast but treated as episodes in a TV show, the shifts in tone feel less off.
The final two or three parts (depending on where you want your cliff-hangers) are the Avenger’s attempt to create their own Infinity Gauntlet and past-Thanos’s attempt to get it having used past-Nebula to infiltrate the Avengers. That’s all just following the natural gravity towards the humoungus fight scene and is the brainless superhero content we all signed up for.
Altogether, depending on where you take breaks, its 8 to 9 episodes long to watch both films as a single ‘season’ of a weird TV show.