Film

Shitting All Over Superhero Movies Is Getting Tired And Sad

The way we talk about superhero films is broken.

A decade worth of Marvel films have all been hurtling towards the mega blockbuster that is Avengers: Infinity War, which was not only billed as “the most ambitious crossover event in history” but also as a turning point for the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. There’s been years of buzz, millions of dollars spent in advertising, and the only question left to answer is whether or not Infinity War lives up to expectations.

The answer is — probably.

Infinity War is definitely epic, a sprawling mega-showdown with the mad titan Thanos that was foreshadowed back in the very first Avengers film. Almost the entire roster of heroes from the MCU throw down with the villain, and nobody can deny it’s a massive, punchy explosion of light and noise. But that’s about where the consensus stops.

There’s plenty of positive reviews for the film — USA Today called it “a glorious, multilayered and clever comic-book adventure with loads of emotional stakes and a perfect foe for Earth’s mightiest heroes”. Variety said that “taken on its own piñata-of-fun terms, it’s sharp, fast-moving, and elegantly staged.” What more do you want from a genre film than a piñata of fun?

But reviewers also had some problems — Rolling Stone, for example, criticised the the sheer volume of characters, saying that the film was “straining to give everyone a seat at the table”. Another popular problem critics have with Infinity War is the dramatic cliffhanger ending, which left many feeling cheated of a resolution.

Which is fine — not everyone has to love every movie, and there’s only one way to truly judge Marvel films without devolving into subjectivity anyway. It’s not a perfect film in any sense, and not even the best Marvel has to offer.

But along with all the considered, measured discussion of the film, there was also the kind of gleefully ruthless, arrogantly dismissive hatchet jobs that you only see from Very Important Film Critics at the release of popular genre films, designed entirely to shit all over the medium — and the things they’re saying about superhero films are getting repetitive and tired.

Old Man Shakes Fist At Cloud

New Yorker review by Richard Brody ruffled feathers with its heavy-handed criticism of the film.

Avengers: Infinity War would make little sense in the absence of its pack of predecessors. Its characters aren’t introduced; they just show up, and their behaviour is entirely defined by the template set for them in other movies,” says Brody. “Not only does Avengers: Infinity War presume that viewers have seen all the preceding films in the Marvel series but, worse, it presumes that they’ve thought about them afterward.”

Meanwhile, over at the Daily Review, Luke Buckmaster called Infinity War “a celebration of mediocrity on a scale the cinema has never seen before” in a review so floridly disgusted you can only imagine it was delivered over the brim of a brandy snifter that’s absolutely littered with monocles. He also criticised the “virtually non-existent” backstories and “thin” characterisations.

“This is like a soap opera where you’re supposed to remember previous episodes,” said Buckmaster.

The thing is, neither of them are technically wrong. But it’s a lazy criticism to make.

An Entire Cinematic Universe Of Hot Takes

It’s such an outdated notion to review a film like Infinity War in isolation of the 18 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that preceded it. It’s like pulling one leg off a table and trying to eat off it — it’s not designed to stand alone.

We’ve never really dealt with a film franchise of this magnitude, and really the only others that even come close tend to be more tightly linked, linear stories — like the Star Wars films. With the MCU, we’re seeing an entirely new way of connected universe storytelling in film.

It’s fair to say that we should be treating Infinity War more like the penultimate finale in a season of television — would a critic ride in on his high horse and review the finale of Stranger Things season two without seeing the rest of the episodes? Wouldn’t the criticism be much the same — wouldn’t they be baffled by the huge amount of characters roaming around with apparently inscrutable motives?

Can we honestly say that Tony Stark’s every movement in Infinity War, from the thinly-veiled moment of panic when he realises that Thanos is coming to the decision to take the fight to him, isn’t heartbreakingly established from Iron Man’s 1-3, Avengers 1-2, Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming? It seems like we’ve had hours of character development that are all leading to this moment. The backstories aren’t thin and non-existent — we have a wealth of narratives in the extended universe.

We can say the same thing about the majority of the Avengers in the film — not everyone gets as much time as Tony or Bruce or Cap or even Gamorra, but that’s fine. We did not need Infinity War to create a backstory or motive for the characters, we’ve had 18 films to do that already.

We’ve Moved Beyond The Comic Books

One of the perennial lines trotted out in every criticism of a superhero film is the phrase “one for the fans”, such as in this review by EW. It’s such a sneaky way of diminishing the entire genre — it says that it’s okay to shit on the film because they aren’t made for everyone.

It’s a phrase that still evokes the idea of an underclass of basement-dwelling nerds, who somehow inherently “get” the shitty superhero films more because they are giant dweebs who spent time reading comics instead of, I dunno, boning?

But considering the ridiculous, overwhelming box office success of these films, this is clearly a ludicrous notion. Superhero films are broad interest vehicles that have evolved way beyond the ‘for the fans’ mentality. They’re the poppiest of popular culture.

What we’re seeing with these same kind of criticisms is that people aren’t keeping up with how fast superhero films and massive interconnected franchises are moving, and are failing to correctly use the right tools to talk about them. It’s not that they’re above or beyond criticism — frankly everything DC is doing shows us that there’s problems to dissect — but that superhero films need to be taken seriously as a genre, and given proper measured consideration, rather than the same lazy write-offs.

And folks, we’ve got another decade of films in the Marvel Universe alone to keep reviewing and enjoying. Let’s not spend those 10 years enduring the same tired, unimaginative criticisms.

Patrick Lenton is an author and staff writer at Junkee. He tweets @patricklenton.