Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe should have been left stumped by the end of Infinity War. Yet – without giving too much away – the conclusions the film ends on are weightless, taking away the dramatic punch of the movie. Why? Because there’s a sequel around the corner and furthermore, certain creative actions of Infinity War (if followed through) would slash Disney and Marvel Studios’ future profits. This is a red line no Hollywood studio would cross.
The film has been criticised for its paradoxically sincere-yet-obviously-insincere ending, but one cannot blame the writers nor directors. The film, rather, is victim to the environment, where profits are more valuable than the endeavour which Infinity War teased us with. As a consequence of knowing what will come, the sense of peril in the film is not only seriously reduced, but the film feels almost insulting to our investment in it.
‘Cinema is not an industry; it is an art form’
For the record, I think Infinity War did nothing that wrong. It was the best film it could have been given the obvious artistic constraints of being made in the Hollywood system. With all the multiplex cinemas and the big Hollywood studios, the accountant steroid sequels and the red carpet film festivals, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking film through the language of money. But this illusion is disrespectful to the medium of cinema. Cinema is not an industry; it is an art form.
Of course, there is an industry built around cinema; just as there is around books, music, photography, and other forms of art. But in a capitalist culture, the medium – art – is transformed into an industry, and devalued by becoming a means to profit. Infinity War’s insincere ending is there because Hollywood did not treat the film with respect – the effect of this is on the films shown in our cinemas/streaming services. Paramount aren’t going to make an artsy film when they could throw another abhorrent Transformers film at us which will make £1 billion (I too am shooketh) at the box office.
The box office adds another dimension to cinema: it makes absolutely vivid the distinction between cinema as art and entertainment. Critics may despair, but Avatar – an exercise in maximised averageness–is the highest grossing film of all time. In market culture, cinema is arguably the result of what fans want, and I’m being a grotesque snob in denying the legitimacy of this. The recent musical The Greatest Showman split this debate wide open, with audiences and critics being as divided as the current Labour Party.
But such an answer isn’t good enough for Infinity War, a film trapped by studio expectations before it was even conceived.
The film industry in Hollywood began so filmmakers could use cameras which had been patented on the East Coast of America. Its birth celebrated a freedom of artistic expression without the constraints of budget. Hollywood was a place of escape from the callous realities of industrial America. It was a fantasy world; but very shortly, reality caught up.
‘Clearly, this approach to cinema does not only stretch as far as box offices; it is a culture that reinterprets film as not being something with inherent value’
One may look to the Golden Age of Hollywood with the view of those fantastic and colourful Busby Berkeley numbers. But beneath the thin veneer, studios became industrious factories for content where workers were religiously held to their demanding contracts; and putting other companies down became a top priority.
Clearly, this approach to cinema does not only stretch as far as box offices; it is a culture that reinterprets film as not being something with inherent value. Films speak and embody our cultural truth: capitalism. Despite the domination of money, people still want to watch films. An optimist may say people are voting with their wallets: what does it matter if Marvel will never harm its characters when people want to see more of them?