An Infinity in the Making
Avengers: Infinity War is the best definition of a movie event. No less than eighteen movies, five independent movie series have led up to it. It’s way more than your average summer blockbuster, it’s the climax of a vast interconnected universe that’s been running now for ten years. Marvel couldn’t have picked better people to helm this movie either, as Joe and Anthony Russo have already directed two of the best movies the MCU has offered. And in a number of ways this film meets expectations; in others though, it does fall short.
The alien warlord Thanos (Josh Brolin) finally begins his quest for the Infinity Stones, powerful objects that together could cause destruction and manipulation on a galactic level. Adding them to his giant gauntlet, he scourges worlds and civilizations for them, coming into contact with the heroes both on Earth and elsewhere in the galaxy. So each of these heroes we’ve been introduced to over the last decade (minus Ant-Man) have to band together in an effort to preserve life as they know it.
A smart thing the Russos did was not try and force everyone together to take on the big villain as one large group; rather they’re spread across a number of storylines to interact with just a few others, though nonetheless aware and united in their mission to stop Thanos. As you’d expect, these storylines favour the franchise characters, so one will focus heavily on the Guardians of the Galaxy, another on Thor, etc. Thanos too is given a thread and more effort is put into defining his character than many of the Marvel villains of the past. However a repercussion of this and one of the fears going into the movie, is that it’s at times too crowded with characters -the poster alone features twenty-four. A few of the secondary characters such as Falcon and Bucky get lost in the crowd, and greater figures like Black Widow, Loki, and even Black Panther aren’t as major players as they deserve to be. Obviously though, this was going to be inevitable in such a packed plot that had to act as a direct sequel to six different movies, and overall it’s handled decently -everyone at least gets a moment to shine. The coherence of the story is more important. But while that story is a good one, the pacing has problems. There’s a side-plot for Thor for instance that’s strictly not necessary, and more than a few scenes of characters meandering and occasionally quipping that could have been dropped without consequence.
Everyone gives good performances though -as far as the cast is concerned there’s no weak link. From Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and Chris Pratt to Tom Holland, Scarlett Johansson, Chadwick Boseman, Mark Ruffalo, Don Cheadle, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, and Elizabeth Olson. The movie’s even nice enough to give some spotlight to secondary cast members of the more recent Marvel movies like Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff, and Danai Gurira. A few stand-outs though include Benedict Cumberbatch, bad accent aside, who’s definitely one of the more indispensable players in this conflict, Paul Bettany whose character undergoes a significant personal struggle, and Zoe Saldana who plays terrifically the drama of Gamora’s connection with Thanos. As for Brolin, he does a good job as one of Marvel’s best villains. Thanos is the lead if there is one, his reasons and philosophy for doing what he does is interesting if severely logically flawed, and he’s definitely an intimidating force given his level of power.
A lot of this movie is fan service in terms of the countless references to past films and the interactions between characters we haven’t seen meet before (it’s no coincidence the three or four most egocentric heroes are together for most of their screen-time). These scenes are a lot of fun, the humour, though not as prevalent as it was in any of last years’ Marvel movies, most of the time hits the right notes. There are some incredible introductions as heroes enter the movie, and the action scenes where they work off each other, particularly one where a group of them team up on Thanos utilizing each of their skillsets in tandem, are both rewarding and creative. The effects, with some minor exceptions, are pretty great. But ultimately this is a bleak movie, one of Marvel’s most serious. It’s taking a lot of chances and upping the ante considerably. The stakes however don’t feel as high as they should. Everyone’s expecting this to be the Marvel movie with the body count, and the one that will completely change the course of the universe here on out. Without confirming how much of that it does, Infinity War rarely conveys a sense of real permanence. There were no heavy emotional moments or earth-shattering shocks. The ending twist especially is kind of unbelievable, because of, rather than despite the extent that it goes to. On its own the ending is tonally astounding, but difficult to take any stock in.
If you’ve been a fan and follower of the MCU, this movie is certainly made for you. There’s no attempt to cater to newcomers at all. There are a few glaring issues -issues that were expected given a movie of this magnitude, but there are likewise a number of truly great single scenes, including a really evocative final shot. And seeing these characters we’ve loved interacting, working together, often in cleverly executed ways in service of the most heroic of causes, is worth the price of admission alone. It’s certainly not the best Marvel movie it was promised to be (Black Panther and Captain America: Civil War for instance doubtless have more meaning), but it is a crucial episode to this universe and a movie event like no other.