It goes without saying that ahead there be spoilers. I'll even give you an image as a buffer.
Okay, spoilers start now!
Fan service is almost universally derided as a commitment to populism over artistic integrity. It's the unbelievably large breasts of Japanese video games, the needless posing in comics, the "How you doing?" and "Bazinga!"
For Avengers: Infinity War, it's the way you make a movie.
Let’s be honest: all the talk of the movie being complicated has proven unnecessary. The film isn’t complicated. It reads like a mishmash of major franchises (especially Star Wars) and has too many characters and plotlines to be a serious attempt at a film with plot, development and consequences. The tropes are all there: the reluctant apprentice, the Basically-Magneto, the monster with ED, but that's all setup. The whole movie is about setup. It's dependent on it. It perpetuates it.
What’s left is not really much of a movie considering it ends at the second act (or twelfth. It’s hard to parse out with the maelstrom of storylines doing whatever the opposite of dovetailing is). And honestly, it’s fine. No. It’s better than fine. It’s incredible.
Everyone gets a moment. Even Falcon. Well, except Ant-Man and Jeremy Renner. But you won't notice.
While most blockbusters jump from plot point to plot point, Infinity War jumps from fan service moment to fan service moment. Thanos makes for a compelling villain, sure, but everyone knows why we came. We didn’t buy tickets for Purple Joss Whedon finally enacting his plan. We came for Steve Rogers emerging from the shadows. For Shuri putting Banner in his place. For Bucky picking up Rocket for a spin-move thing. That’s all this movie wants to be. It's all it is, really. The usual ways we evaluate film are now just the dressing, the "if we have time" between what really counts. Infinity War is the inverse to what we've been taught to do when evaluating art. To dig deeper is to miss its point. To try and extract further significance is to try and read every superhero comic ever written. It's impossible. More importantly, it's pointless.
And why not give thyself whole-heartedly over to the fan service? They earned this cinematic experience based not on art or importance but familiarity and love. When Marvel Studios flashed across the screen, turning the “IO” in “Studios” into "10," a smile crossed my face and stayed there for most of the film. And that smile isn't going to be taken away by something so banal as cynicism.
It’s hard to imagine the pre-Iron Man blockbuster landscape now but it was basically fallout of Lord of the Rings coupled with 9/11 trauma. It was Troy, Batman Begins and King Kong: long, dark and dirty epics filled with indulgence and running times that make Infinity War feel like a network sitcom. Their stakes were high and the characters adored, but they weren't making franchises. Hollywood wanted to make trilogies (Harry Potter notwithstanding and obviously two of three of those are bad examples).
But Marvel? They’ve spent every minute of the past decade making a new kind of franchise, one that's officially eclipsed Star Wars and shows no signs of stopping (except, I guess, for all those “dead” Avengers).
Iron Spidey 2.0 is here and I am also here for it.
There is the accusation that fast food companies have mastered the perfect balance of salt, sugar and fat to hit you in your subconscious and make you love garbage. The right combination, the theory goes, is not unlike nicotine or carbon monoxide: the body prefers it, desires it, is somehow hard-wired for it, and yet it’s bad for us. Infinity War is that salty-sweet-fatty almost-burger. It’s that cigarette you have after a few drinks when you say “screw it.” It ups your endorphins, speeds up your heart rate and floods you with the familiar. And there’s nothing wrong with the occasional trip to McDonald’s. Do what all the white women are doing and lean in.
tl;dr: Infinity War is Marvel’s algorithm pushed to its limit. It's fan service not as a ploy but as the only pillar holding it up. Have a drag, my friends, You’ll enjoy it.