Directed By: Joe & Anthony Russo
Release Date: April 27, 2018
Note: Considering how highly-anticipated this movie is, I've done my best to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, more so than any review I've done in the past, hence why I don't get too in-depth with specifics.
After nearly two and a half hours of eliciting cheers, applause, gasps, and cries of horror from a packed theater, Avengers: Infinity War ended in stunned, shell-shocked silence. The decade-long culmination of a journey that began back in 2008, Infinity War feels just as much a definitive end of an era as it does the beginning of something entirely brand new. In the grand scheme of things, the events and consequences that occur in it will be further explored in next year's fourth Avengers film, a fact that may leave some unfulfilled knowing that they have to wait a year for the second half of this tale to arrive, but on a smaller scale, Infinity War is a complete, satisfying story all its own if you're willing to approach it a little differently.
It brings together a decade's worth of plot threads and characters together, from the usual roster of Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy to separate players like Doctor Strange and Black Panther to a slew of other major and minor supporting faces who have popped up over the years, and does so with incredible ease. Many of these characters have never interacted on screen together, and much of the fun in this film stems from seeing certain personalities come together for the first time, like how the egos of Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) clash or how two damaged characters like Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) form an unlikely bond. Despite its huge cast, Infinity War gives everyone a moment to shine, however regulated to the background some longtime characters are forced to be, and the wealth of new combinations that allow for characters to spend time out of their comfort zone in the company of others they know nothing about provides for an experience that feels entirely fresh.
That said, for all the heroes that show up throughout the film, Infinity War isn't their movie. Sure, Avengers may be in the title, and a handful of characters get to go through their own arcs, which is particularly great for characters like Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch, Paul Bettany's Vision, and Zoe Saldana's Gamora, all of whom finally get to take the spotlight in ways heretofore unseen, but at the end of the day, what Infinity War is for most of them is simply an event, the result of which is something that they - like us - will have to deal with next year. Instead, the one character whose film this truly is is the big bad at its core, Josh Brolin's imposing Thanos, a villain who has been on the periphery of the MCU ever since making his first appearance halfway through the end credits of The Avengers. For all the heroes, the threat of Thanos is a storm they're attempting to weather and quell before it gets any worse, but for Thanos, Infinity War is an experience, and that's how directors Joe and Anthony Russo, writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and everyone else involved wisely frame the film.
If you're somehow at a loss right now - "Who is Thanos? Why are the Avengers and the Guardians crossing paths? What's going on?" you may be asking - here's a quick recap: Thanos, the most powerful being in the universe, believes in the idea of balance. After seeing his home planet destroyed due to overpopulation that decimated his world's finite resources, Thanos dedicated himself to “saving” others across space from the same fate, wiping out a clean fifty percent of populations at random so that worlds could have new starts and become paradises, one in which children would no longer starve and where cultures could flourish. In seeking to balance out the universe, his eyes have also been set on collecting the Infinity Stones, six items of power - five of which have been introduced in past films - that, when brought together, could give Thanos dominion over aspects of time, space, reality, and more, and the strength to merely snap his fingers and wipe out half the universe.
Such is how Infinity War begins, not long after the ending of last year's Thor: Ragnarok, with Thanos finally making his move to gather all the Stones in one go. How it plays out from there is part of the rollercoaster ride that is the narrative, but what matters is that this is a heroic movie where the villain is its main character. As I said, for all the familiar faces within it, this is an event in their lives, one whose impact is far from over, but for Thanos, this is a journey, one that has a complete beginning, middle, and end by the time the credits start to roll. Infinity War takes the time to flesh Thanos out, explain his motivations and his purpose, force him to make personal sacrifices, and - in a way - make audiences sympathize with him. The decision to make Thanos the focal point of the movie works wonders, wonderfully subversive for taking such a risk and refusing to make him a one-note antagonist. It's often said that villains are the protagonists of their own story, and Infinity War actually puts that idea up on screen, positing the heroes we've come to know and love as the obstacles in the way of doing what he believes deep down is right. And as I mentioned at the outset of this review, if you approach Infinity War from the viewpoint that this is Thanos' show, you'll find a complete, satisfying film at the end of it even if the overall story is far from over.
That's not to say that everything up to this point is ignored, though. The repercussions of Captain America: Civil War are still very much felt throughout Infinity War in terms of story and how certain characters interact (or don't interact) with one another. The ultimate outcome of Thor's experiences in Ragnarok weigh heavily on him, giving the character far more to do than the first two Avengers films, particularly Age of Ultron, which never felt like it knew exactly what to do with him. The setting of a pivotal final stand in Wakanda carries real weight due to just how recently people all over the world fell in love with Black Panther. The direct and indirect relationships with Thanos that the members of the Guardians of the Galaxy have play heavily into the film. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
It is a huge juggling act to service this many characters and stories, but Infinity War pulls it off, though there are a few pacing issues as a result that mean certain characters disappear for long stretches before we catch up with them again. However, that seems almost inconsequential considering the fact something of this scope has even been pulled off at all, with so much going for it from beginning to end. As hilarious as it can be, particularly thanks to the scene-stealing Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff), the stakes always feel insurmountably real. Thanos presents the biggest threat anyone in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has faced to date, and we feel every bit of it. Longtime characters die. Others suffer worse fates. The last stretch of the movie alone had my audience dropping the laughs for tears, gasps, and more than one loud, collective "No!"
It helps that there's not a weak link in the cast, too, and people will be praising a number of actors here for years to come, particularly Brolin, Downey, and Tom Holland, whose lovable performance as Peter Parker/Spider-Man results in an incredibly standout, unforgettable moment in a film already packed to the brim with them. There are a few noticeable absences in regards to characters one would've expected to see, some who get lip service, others who don't, but it's clear that Avengers 4 won't disappoint in making sure that everyone ultimately has a part to play in this two-part endeavor.
All in all, as a fan of this universe - something I covered in my review of Thor: Ragnarok - I came out the other end of Infinity War feeling both satisfied and as though I had been kicked in the teeth. Character arcs end while new ones begin. Dangling threads from a number of films, like the fate of a character who I've wanted to see return for years, are tied up while new ones are laid down for the future. There's payoff and heartbreak, elation and disaster. There's action unlike anything else in the MCU that manages to never forget that the franchise's lasting strength rests more in its characters, their personalities, and how invested we are in them than how much CGI can be thrown up on screen. It's a fantastic end to the first ten years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that proved to be worth the wait, and it's hard to imagine a world where the second half of this tale disappoints in paving the way for another ten.
Pick a Month: