He is inevitable.
Avengers | Infinity War was going to appear somewhere on this list at some point. It’s the best case example of the most ambitious films being the most impressive to watch if made to their full potential. Half the entertainment value of Avengers | Infinity War is the fact that it even exists, that someone was able to actually make it – and that they didn’t disappoint.
They say a superhero film is only as interesting as its super-villain and Thanos is the greatest super-villain of the decade for several reasons. He has a developed perspective on the universe, the kind not usually seen in action-packed blockbusters. He’s a real character rather than a plot device and arguably, in an ensemble of heroes from across the universe, the protagonist of the film (something rarely seen, if ever). His ideology makes sense, the psychological arithmetic behind it checks out. He’s not a “villain” per se – just an individual whose experiences in life have informed his view. He’s a real person, not merely an excuse for the Avengers to assemble again. He’s also empathetic, in a disturbing way.
The issues which motivate Thanos will need addressing for real when the Human population reaches 10, 000, 000, 000 in the mid- to late 21st century – during most of our lifetimes. In spite of everything, he compels you to at least listen to him – the sign of a great villain.
Which is not to say the other characters are in any way less interesting as a result. The joy of a film like this is of combining a universe of characters together to first see how they come up against each other before eventually combining their respective abilities to find a common solution. When pulled-apart to be examined clinically, these interactions are probably revealed to be nothing more than algorithms in which each character is one functional piece of a larger puzzle but they’re all written consistently so this is hidden by the appearance of everything they say and do being what would naturally happen.
Such a large ensemble cast could’ve threatened to capsize the plot with its own form of overpopulation, so what’s satisfying is that, despite the scope and scale, everything is self-contained and still happens for a reason. The cross-cutting between the three action scenes taking place simultaneously on Nidavellir, Titan and in Wakanda may be a perfect representation of the experience of reading whole-company crossovers with great, double-page spreads but the crucial thing is that it manages to feel weighty and substantial without seeming bloated. The form and function are, like the humour and darkness, perfectly balanced (as all things should be). None of it is ever forced, it all happens for a reason. The crowd-pleasing presentation style comes after the content of the scenes, as opposed to the other way around (something far too many blockbuster filmmakers completely fail to understand).
This is the kind of film which I could spend much longer writing about – a good thing but inconvenient. I’m ranking this 5th amongst the films of this decade in its genre because of how the almost impossible task of bringing together an entire universe of characters was accomplished with simplicity and how the desired spectacle was delivered within that simplicity in order to still be coherent. This is, in a way, the ultimate comic book film and as such demonstrates the appeal of the genre in the best way as well as demonstrating how to avoid some of the genre’s biggest problems. Every character has a least one key moment that proves crucial for the plot yet none are included simply for the sake of being there.
On paper, this must surely have been the most ambitious film to make and therefore the most difficult to do well, never-mind in a way which achieves its full potential – and they did and it does. Simply as a piece of film-making, it’s an unrivalled achievement and is the most easily re-watchable blockbuster – not because it requires no engagement but quite the opposite.
Plus, it’s the first comic book film in which the heroes fail and the villain succeeds. Thor could’ve decapitated Thanos there and then and everything I’ve said about it already would still be true. But it managed to still crawl over that one last, unclaimed inch to deliver an ending which defied everyone’s expectations – and which everyone who, like me, grew up with these films – particularly with this franchise – will remember for the rest of our lives.