Avengers: Infinity War, should have been the Gone with the Wind of our time. It should have been the film, scholars could point to and say: “This is one of the greatest films Hollywood ever made.” It wasn’t. It was kneecapped by a decision which threw the film into narrative disarray and severely hurt the product. In this article, we’ll discuss traditional story structure, the importance of endings (the stakes of wrapping it up), the importance of editing, the issues of subplots, the failure of Hollywood to let an epic, be an epic film, and a treatise on Hollywood itself.
Firstly, we need to discuss traditional story structure. If you’ve taken a creative writing course, you now how this goes. There’s the start of the story, an inciting incident which leads to the rising actions. This leads us to the mountaintop of the story’s climax. Once the story climax has occurred, it all goes down from there, the falling action, and the resolution or the ending. While many people would call this boring, this is traditionally how stories are set up. They are set up this way, because it’s simple and you can’t really screw it up, unless you try. Well, they screwed it up.
Ever since the last Harry Potter movie, Hollywood has been insistent on the last part of their major literary based film adaptation cash cows to be two-parters. This baffles me for a couple reasons. One, we all know why they’re doing it: Money. Plain and simple. Two, if they just made the finale a three- or four-hour film, I don’t think you’ll lose your shirt. People have bought into the brand name already, so, you’ll make money. So, with a guaranteed box office total, you should focus on making a good movie, right? Right?
This brings us back to the structure of Infinity War. Structure-wise, the start, the inciting incident, and part of the rising action, are all the plot points in the film. The film takes two hours to say something, which could have been said in half that time.
Naturally, this leads us to issue #2, the ending, specifically, the lack of a conclusion of any kind. The movie just sort of ends when Thanos gets the final Gem, no real payoff, and the feeling the film has given up, so to speak. It should be of note, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame were filmed back-to-back. This isn’t uncommon with movie sequels, with big budgets. However this leads us to the only time this occurred with a superhero movie prior to this (which I know of anyway), Superman I & II.
Originally, Superman: The Movie was going to end with Superman easily saving Lois. However due to production issues, the studio, the late Tom Mankiewicz, or whoever it was realized they needed a satisfying ending, so they came up with one. Instead of Superman easily saving Lois, he failed to save Lois, and spins the Earth backward to save her. This was the original ending to Superman II, however the studio was unsure of how successful the film would be, so they moved it up to the first film. Why am I bringing this up? It’s simple. It showed a way to make a character vulnerable and human. It showed a way how to spot a legitimately easy problem in a film structure, and the need to fix it. Finally, it gave the story, a challenge, and a resolution which fit the rest of the film. In short, it made the story whole.
Now let’s look at Infinity War, we’ve watched non stop bickering, interesting characters being undercut by uninteresting subplots, and action sequences which went on too long. What’s our ending? Nothing, just an IOU for “See you next movie!” Which isn’t right.
Speaking of overlong fight scenes, let’s talk about issue #3, the pacing. Pacing in editing is crucial to a film’s success, you never want to watch a film and get bored, and a great editor (and Director) should have a keen eye for keeping the audience interested. Through things like shot composition, story structure, or well-acted performances this is possible. Unfortunately, editors aren’t wizards, and even the best editors sometimes have a problem with pacing. The pacing problems with Avengers: Infinity War have a lot to do with the decision to stretch the story into two movies and stretch they did. Scenes which should have ended 30 seconds to a minute early, extend 1 to 2 minutes longer, then necessary, which drags down the movie. Those lengths in scene, may seem small, but they add up, and quickly. It’s not a good sign, when your movie has two different editors working on the film, and neither can find the consistent rhythm of the film.
Speaking of the inconsistent rhythm, we need to talk about the overflow of subplots. With all the events going on the film, and the slog of the editing, it means there are too many subplots trying to fight for screen time. My rule of thumb is 1 main plot, and three subplots (total), at most, otherwise you’ll confuse your audience. Here there are at least 5 subplots: Thor, (most of) Guardians of the Galaxy, Iron Man/Spider-Man, Black Panther, and the Vision/Scarlet Witch love affair. Considering who else isn’t in this film, (right now Ant-Man and Captain Marvel) it means at least six subplots, combined in between two movies (there will probably be more).
Thus, we enter the fear of Hollywood to let an epic film, be an epic film. Once upon a time, epics roamed theaters like dinosaurs: The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, and yes, Gone with the Wind. These were films which didn’t need a 500-million-dollar advertising budget, they announced themselves as important with their first frame. Nowadays, the theory states, if a film lasts more than 2½ hours, it’s guaranteed not to make money, yet I’ve never bought that. Example: The first three Lord of the Rings films, those were films which lasted three hours and change, and you know what? Those films made a mint and won a boatload of Oscars too.
It should be something to point to, but it was a call unheeded, we didn’t get more epics, and longer movies (or better ones). We got overpriced 3D tickets, overpriced IMAX tickets, sequels upon sequels upon sequels (although this has been a problem with the business since the late 70s) or if not sequels, reboots. We have films banking on being launchpads for cinematic universes, regardless of how little sense it makes. We have a year or more of hype for a film, which if we’re being realists, probably won’t live up to its own publicity. We have independent films not being shown to the mass public, and as such are quickly forgotten after award season. We have budgets ballooning to exorbitant levels (ala GDP of a country) and no one bats an eye when the product is so generic it fails to leave an impact? Does this seem right to anyone?
Of course not, so I’ll say this. Congratulations Marvel Studios. You turned something people loved into overproduced garbage, all within the span of 10 years. To quote Gamora, “Was it worth it”?