What it's about: Thanos is a galactic warlord whose mission is to retrieve the six infinity stones at all costs. These stones, each signifying a different aspect of the universe, when brought together wield immense, unstoppable power. After years in the background of the Avengers' war for control of Earth, Thanos finally steps front-and-center and is the superhero super team's biggest challenge yet. Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, Bruce Banner, and the rest of the crew [minus a few interesting omissions] fight side-by-side, for some for the first time. By the end of this showdown, the fate of the Avengers and humanity at-large will be forever changed.
After holding out a whole week, I officially became the last person to finally see Avengers: Infinity War. I did my absolute best to stay unspoiled and was moderately successful -- muting key phrases on Twitter kept me away from most of the reaction, though a few of the memes inspired by the film slipped through to my timeline.
Now that I'm late to the game, I'm not exactly sure what to say about Infinity War that could seem like an original thought. Honestly, writing a review felt pretty daunting -- as daunting as the insane cast list and runtime of the film -- in part because I ended up fairly disappointed.
Look, Avengers: Infinity War is a tough, maybe impossible task to pull off perfectly. The director, the screenwriters, the actors, the set designers, no one is to blame for the film's problems. It is all a product of the MCU's ever-growing design. Everything has been building to this point for a decade. In 2012, when the then-biggest superhero film The Avengers was released, no one had any idea that The Guardians of the Galaxy or Black Panther would have been cinematic phenomenons. Nor did anyone realize Spider-Man would have been wrangled away from Sony. Or even that Robert Downey Jr. would be sticking around this long.
And now enter Thanos, who has been a fixture of post-credit sequences and in the shadows of the MCU villain universe, but now he gets his time to make a run at those pesky infinity stones -- that it took him a decade to get even one has been a long-running joke that actually spotlights a challenge for Infinity War. The capture of the six stones is jammed all together 149 minutes. This makes for a reliable structure and is basically the only plot in the film among the action setpieces and character work.
Going into the film, one of my biggest questions was how would Thanos fair in the long line of mediocre Marvel villains. Without even realizing that so much of this would be Thanos' story, how difficult would it be to care for a giant, stoic, purple animation? Surprisingly easily, as it turned out. The character isn't perfectly drawn, but he is just tactile enough to feel real in the world and he has emotional depths I wasn't expecting. Josh Brolin should definitely be commended for a very good performance through the motion capture.
And seeing all these characters coming together, some now for the first time with the melding of the Earth stories and the space stories, is fun. The heroes and Thanos facing off for the first time is especially fun -- the film quickly establishes the sheer size and strength of the character in comparison really well. There is also a strange reverence between Thanos and many of the Avengers. You can feel the awe in the characters, which does as much to make Thanos threatening as any of the kick-punching.
Seeing Thor mixing it up with the Guardians or Doctor Strange exchange witty barbs with Tony Stark is probably when Infinity War is at its best. The character dynamics does lead to some problems, though, as I was constantly having to do the mental gymnastics thinking back to every MCU film to remember who knows who or where relationships have been left.
Whenever someone doesn't like a MCU movie, a standard criticism is that we don't like movies that are solely designed to set up other movies. Infinity War is sort of the opposite of that. It is a movie that exists because it was set up by some many other movies.
Though these films seem to constantly be coming out these days [Black Panther was only a few months ago], there are big gaps in time for some of the characters, especially those whose storyline's were most wrapped up in Captain America: Civil War. In the two years since that rift happened, Steve Rogers and his closest teammates have been on the lam, for example, with a number of exploits untold. To its credit, Infinity War runs through all the backstory fairly painlessly. There are so many tabs to keep up with, though.
Probably the biggest issue is the visual and structural monotony that builds to the end of the film. Nearly each and every scene can be boiled down to one of a few templates: set pieces of either a conversation or a conflict between a few characters in big, otherwise empty spaces. Outside of the battle sequence in Wakanda, there is a strange lack of anyone in the universe other than the principle characters [something that has been a direct criticism of the DC films, btw]. Despite always moving forward, Infinity War often feels stagnant and long.
Though there are many big action moments, none of the action beats are particularly memorable; certainly nothing like the standout Battle of New York sequence in The Avengers.
A few rabid-fire opinions: In 1 stand-alone film and change, Tom Holland has already proved himself to be the best Peter Parker in films; Thor cements himself as a bad ass and the unlikely best Avenger; the Black Panther crew are all given incredible short shrift, especially since they are the closest characters in our minds; T'Chala especially feels unnecessary here; there is a shot involving Nebula that is incredibly creepy and well designed; the henchmen characters are usually among the worst aspects of these films, but I think they are done suitably here, they at least are distinguishable; are we really supposed to care for Scarlet Witch and Vision the most?
Finally, OK, the ending. It is audacious and controversial and rightfully so. The more I think about it, though, the more bullshit it comes off. Marvel wants it both ways -- they want us to feel in the moment that this is something monumental happening but we also all know that the specific moments don't really mean much in a vacuum. Because of this I had a hard time feeling anything at all. It's true, I expect next year's follow up to fully approach this situation in ways that will change all of these characters in important ways. And I'm sure they will go for something a little more clever than the obvious path this could take to create the balance we all expect to happen. I just can't help but see it as ham-fisted and manipulative.