The Thing Is... Avengers: Infinity War works,
and Justice League doesn't
- SPOILER FREE -
The battle has been fought; the dust has settled; and there is a clear winner. As much as I love DC, and as much as I wanted to love Justice League, having seen what Avengers: Infinity War accomplished, I have to admit; Marvel knows what it's doing. There's no denying they've had the hype-train to back them up nearly every time, but in this case, Infinity War is every bit worthy of the hype.
Here's why I think Infinity War comes out as superior:
Slow-burn vs Instant Gratification
Almost every member of the Avengers (yes, bafflingly Black Widow still doesn’t have a solo film), got their own stand-alone film, giving us their own personal story arc. This allowed each of them to come together in Infinity War, without any need for exposition or explanation. We knew these characters already, and we were ready to jump straight into the action with them.
Justice League introduced us to new characters right off the bat, with no back stories. This can work for a couple of characters at most, but when almost the entire team is based on this formula, there's no real investment from the audience. It's difficult to care about a character, when we don't really know them yet. And with having to juggle multiple newbies in one film, JL never really gave us a chance to care. We were spectators watching on the side-lines as it all unfolded, versus fans rooting for our favourite heroes.
Foreshadowing vs Stating the Obvious
Over the course of a decade, the MCU expertly teased and foreshadowed it's future characters and villains, with name-drops, hints and elaborately planned post-credit scenes. It all snow-balled into the perfect build up, that left fans guessing and speculating as to what each tease could mean, and Infinity War was the ultimate reward.
The Justice League team members were introduced via short video clips, clearly showing each character with their abilities on display. There was absolutely nothing left to the imagination, and it all happened just a couple of movies before their own titular film. The villain got a bit of less obvious foreshadowing, thanks to some well-placed "ding ding dings" from an imprisoned Lex Luthor, and an incoherent warning from a future Flash.
Long-term Planning vs Lack Thereof
There's an obvious master plan at work within the MCU, and their confidence in the plan is evident in their unwillingness to be too flashy with it. The setting up of the Infinity Stones as objects of interest in Infinity War, was carefully played out over multiple movies. But the stones themselves were hardly ever the focus. More often than not, they were hiding in plain sight, and the audience were more invested in the story surrounding the hero, than the stones themselves. When we finally reached Infinity War, suddenly we all felt the true weight and importance of these immensely powerful objects. Even the scattering of the stones across multiple locations in the galaxy was a genius move, allowing for a neat scavenger hunt type story, and gave the film an excuse to break up the huge MCU roster into little mix-and-match teams that we could digest easily.
As for Justice League; well, here's some ancient artefact that no one has ever mentioned before. It's important, trust us, it really is. Also, the bad guys are after it, so it needs to be protected. And... go!
Real Stakes vs Abstract Danger
Here's an area where the MCU has previously faltered in. The complaint has always been that the characters never really feel like they're in danger. Infinity War course corrected this in a huge way. Watching the film, it was apparent from the get-go that no one was safe. One wrong move could literally mean the end of life as we know it. And with every mistake and setback, we as an audience felt the tension and weight of impending doom. Infinity War set up some massive stakes, and then committed whole-heartedly to them.
The threat in Justice League felt isolated and impersonal. DC changed it up from their previous films, which never shied away from showing realistic casualties of battle, and instead bowed to their critics, hoping to win them over. What resulted was a tepid movie, where there was never a doubt that pretty much everyone was going to make it out of this alive and well.
Villain vs Caricature
There's no denying that Infinity War was Thanos' movie. This was another course correction for the MCU, which, in the past, had suffered from a slew of forgettable villains, not counting Loki of course. But Thanos delivered just the right amount of backstory to let us see some depth to his actions, but maintained enough mystery that we were never really ever sure what his next move would be. Also, he felt like a real person, with emotions, complex motivations, and convictions. It's easy enough to watch the film from Thanos' perspective and see him as the hero of his own story.
Steppenwolf, the villain of Justice League, was aloof and melodramatic. He felt like the typical throw-away baddie, who's only real purpose was to give our heroes something to cobble.
Realistic CGI vs Video Game Environments
MCU movies for the most part, have never really garnered much praise for stunning visuals or ambitious cinematography, and that's because they've always kept their visual effects streamlined to depict our real-world as much as possible. They always felt grounded and dare I say, even a little boring visually. But that philosophy paid off in spades for Infinity War. When your story takes place across multiple planets, and mythical locations, it can be hard to keep the audience feeling like their still watching something real. The grounded-ness of the visual effects really helped to balance things out, so that the surroundings never felt like a distraction.
Zach Snyder's heavy use of green screen environments, which we know, can be supremely beautiful on-screen, really tipped towards video game territory come the final act of Justice League. It became harder and harder to suspend disbelief, with the obvious CGI background surrounding the action. What started off as artistic, ultimately ended as a distraction.
Avengers: Infinity War is a masterclass in Comic Book cross-over events. It had perhaps the heftiest weight to carry for any superhero movie thus far, and it somehow managed to live up to weighty expectations and even surpass them. Now let's all hold out hope for one day getting a Justice League film that does the same. Well done Marvel, I salute you.