Earlier this week I saw Avengers: Infinity War. Having seen a grand total of four of the prior 18 (!!!) films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I knew only a few of Infinity War‘s characters by name (or sight) but as the movie very clearly designates all of its principals as either a “good guy” or “bad guy” it wasn’t much of a challenge to follow the film’s rudimentary plot. Perhaps unfairly, I had been prepared to find myself adrift in a sea of confounding proper nouns and under-explained MacGuffins—after all, this is a comic book movie at heart, with all the silly names and omnipotent objects that such a lineage entails. To my surprise, and to the benefit of similarly under-equipped viewers, Infinity War doesn’t sink too deeply into the minutiae of its lore—in fact, the opposite could be argued to be true: seemingly the only dialogue spoken across the film’s 160-minute run-time is a combination of one-liners and characters re-stating that, in case you missed it, the Big Bad is collecting rocks so that he can kill a lot of people.
As a film overflowing with players, Infinity War is necessarily limited in how much time it can devote to any given character arc; with such an expansive cast, the film struggles to explore any of its relationships with meaningful depth. Romances that are propped up as transcendent—the green woman and Andy Dwyer, that redhead and her sexbot, Captain Beard and his one-armed boyfriend—feel empty because, a few smooches aside, they simply don’t exist, at least not directly in Infinity War. The gazillion other MCU films presumably detail those love affairs and all the other relationships that make stories, even action-movie stories, worth telling, but I haven’t seen those films and, given that it would take me a full day and a half to catch up on all of them, I probably never will.
Critics like to point out that, with its serialized model, Marvel treats its movies less like stand-alone films and more like a television series and while I’d argue that the more reasonable comparison is, you know, comic books, the point remains the same. The problem with any expansive, serialized fiction is that if you don’t get in early and keep up with the material, you can quickly fall hopelessly behind. Which is why I’m not invested in the MCU or Game of Thrones. It’s why I’ve never bothered to binge-stream Breaking Bad or The Wire and why I will inevitably miss whatever cultural touchstone Netflix churns out next. Committing to any one of those IPs—let alone all of them—would be a massive undertaking requiring the consumption of hours and hours of content and I don’t have the time or passion for it. In an entertainment culture that demands lifetime viewership, I’d rather turn off the screen altogether.