Wow. The term epic gets thrown around a lot when describing films these days, but it is truly applicable here. Marvel and Disney swung for the fence with this movie, making a film worthy of being considered the culmination of 10 years and 18 films in the most successful big screen franchise of all time, and knocked it out of the park. How does this movie even exist? As a movie-going audience we have come to accept big blockbuster film events consisting of superhero crossovers as the norm. It is difficult to remember only 10 years ago when Iron Man suddenly made “shared universes” a thing. While I was driving to Thursday’s midnight showing with my wife, I was geeking out over the fact that when I was growing up we had Superman, Batman and Ninja Turtles as options for comic book movies and now the Avengers are fighting alongside the Guardians of the Galaxy and Black Panther (a relatively unknown character outside comic book circles who just appeared in a sensational solo movie that continues to rake in massive box office dollars) battling Thanos across the globe and cosmos.
All that being said, this is one of the most difficult reviews to write. That sentence usually means “I wanted to love this movie but it sucked.” Don’t worry that’s not the case here. This review is difficult because Infinity War is only half a movie. In this day and age there are tons of movies each year part of planned franchises that leave dangling narrative threads at the film’s conclusion. That’s not what I’m talking about here. Yes, the movie tells the complete story of the Avengers battling to prevent Thanos from obtaining the six infinity stones in an attempt to wipe out half of existence and ends at the correct place with a major cliffhanger, but the fight against Thanos does not conclude within Infinity War’s timeframe. A full review of cannot be provided until the second part of this story arrives next summer. That said, here are my comments on Avengers: Infinity War as a standalone feature.
2012’s The Avengers did a great job of very quickly providing some backstory/context for each of the heroes as they were introduced in the movie, which helped in case an audience member failed to see Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Incredible Hulk or Thor prior to that team up film. Due to time constraints and the sheer number of characters sharing screen time, Infinity War does not have that luxury. This movie dives right in, assuming you are already familiar with the massive cast of characters, and moves at a breakneck pace to get to the climactic battles of the movie. The pacing may suffer at times by not giving certain plot points time to breath before whisking you off to the next locale/story thread, but overall it was very cohesive for a movie attempting to cram so many characters and storylines into 2 hour and 40 minutes.
The biggest thing I must applaud Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus (screenwriters) and the Russo brothers (directors) is how they accomplished the impossible in balancing screentime for all the heroes. A handful of characters were given more to do, sure, but by and large every hero had their moments to shine and played a part in the grand narrative. Thor, Tony Stark, Gamora and Doctor Strange were featured more and were the standouts for the protagonists, while I felt the only main characters that were shortchanged were Captain America and Black Widow. That said, it is crazy to consider the balancing act of giving 28 heroes (give or take) stuff to do without feeling overcrowded or destroying the pacing of the film, but somehow they managed it and made it feel natural in the over-arching story.
Doubling back on my statement that the movie assumes you have already watched all 18 preceding Marvel Studio releases, there is a major emotional payoff at the end of the film that is tied to the audience’s journey with these characters over the past ten years. If you frequent movie sites and have witnessed the common Marvel vs. DC cinematic universe feud, the typical criticism of Marvel films by DC fans is they are popcorn fare that steers clear of dark/mature themes by cracking jokes every 2 minutes (also comments regarding lack of villains with depth, but more on that later). That was one of my biggest qualms with Age of Ultron, which should have been more in the vein of Empire Strikes Back but instead felt Disney-ified and defanged. Infinity War is not DC level dark and dour, but it is easily the most somber film released by Marvel and strikes more of an emotional chord than any film that has come before it. Avoiding spoilers, this movie took guts and was not the safe way out that Disney/Marvel could have taken to ensure repeat viewings.
Infinity War would either sink or swim based on Thanos as the big baddie. As stated above, a common critique of Marvel flicks is they contain one-dimensional villains with precious little screentime or character development. If Thanos was going to work as a true villain, a worthy adversary of the entire MCU 10 years and 18 movies in the making, he could not fall into that same trap. He didn’t. Personally I would not call Thanos my favorite bad guy in the MCU, but he is a far cry from Steppenwolf in Justice League, which is exactly what this type of big bad could have been in the wrong hands. He has a motivation that oddly enough comes from a place of benevolence. He believes that by wiping out half of existence it would allow everyone else to survive without the risk of exhausting finite resources. He is not an antagonist bent on world domination or destruction, but in his warped thinking he believes he is saving everyone. Josh Brolin plays him with gravitas and creates a surprisingly empathetic character. There’s no doubt, he is the main character of the movie. He is a threat, yet you get the chance to peel back the layers and understand his motivation and witness the sacrifices he is forced to make in attempt at making his goal a reality. The only negative criticism I have with the bad guys is outside of Ebony Maw the Black Order (Thanos’ henchmen) are underwritten and felt disposable.
Let’s get to the reason people flock to blockbusters like this and that is to be entertained by the spectacle of the action sequences. Infinity War ups the ante here as well. The scene in particular that stood out to me was the battle on Titan. The writers did an amazing job allowing each character to showcase what they’re capable of in creative ways and cemented Thanos as a menace worthy of the combined efforts of every hero thus far introduced in the MCU. Think the airport scene from Civil War cranked up to eleven with actual stakes. Iron Man and Doctor Strange stole the show and I hope moving forward future directors make use of the Sorcerer Supreme and his array of abilities to the same effect.
Will you enjoy Avengers: Infinity War? Infinity War is not simply a “fun” Marvel movie and I have no doubt the ending will surprise and possibly divide audiences. Most people who have seen a Marvel movie in the past ten years and have any investment in the characters should enjoy the film and come out feeling the emotional impact of the ending. Those casual fans simply venturing to theaters because it is the big event movie advertised as “the end” may come out disappointed or feel deceived because they will have to wait until next summer for the conclusion of the story. However, for the most part Marvel fans and casual movie-goers alike should be satisfied with a movie that brings it on every level. The much-prophesized superhero fatigue will have to wait at least one more summer because Marvel is still at the top of their game. My one sentence review: Marvel does the impossible, establishing Thanos as a villain worthy of taking on the entire MCU while balancing screentime for all the characters we’ve come to know and love in a truly epic summer blockbuster that must be seen in theaters.