HUGE, MASSIVE, NO-HOLDS-BARRED SPOILERS FOR AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR TO FOLLOW.
You’ve been warned!
How do you openly discuss one of the biggest, most ambitious films of all time mere days after it’s crushed opening box office records and set the world ablaze in conversation? How can you even begin to approach Avengers: Infinity War? How can you focus on one particular starting point in a film that smashes together 10 years worth of characters and history? I decided to start by looking at the end.
The end where half of those beloved characters (and the universe) blink out of existence in a puff of ash when Thanos wins.
It’s important to note that I didn’t say they died. Hell, even Thanos didn’t say these people, this 1/2 of the Universe, would die. He specifically states that they would cease to exist as an act of, what he perceives to be, mercy. I think this is important. Marvel Studios has long been saying that the stakes of this film were greater than any other before it, that the consequences would be large and that the ramifications would stick for years to come. What I wasn’t entirely prepared for was how sweeping the toll would be. By the end of the film, we’ve seen several beloved characters literally, actually die, and many others turn to ash in the arms of their friends. I’m convinced that those deaths will stick, but that those who were turned to ash may not. Make no mistake, Infinity War isn’t the end of anything. It’s an Empire Strikes Back style middle piece that will be finished in a years time. Everyone who walked out of the theater shocked that this is how it could end, or every think piece that bemoans Infinity War for being part of a narrative must’ve forgotten how Han was left trapped in carbonite, how Luke lost his hand, but how audiences KNEW there was no way that the fight was over. The ash isn’t death, it’s quantum realm cosmic carbonite, and we have 12 months to wait until we see how the remaining Avengers get them out of it.
Even with the weight of so many characters falling at the victory of Thanos, Infinity War is still a massive emotional roller coaster of a film, taking the audience from immense highs to incredible lows. It is jam-packed not only with characters, but also uproariously consistent humor contrasted with deep despair. The Russo Brothers have, in my opinion, taken the previous 10 years worth of Marvel films and successfully brought them together in this cosmic sci-fi fantasy war film that, even at a 150 minute runtime, leaves you still wanting more.
Acting as the beginning of the culmination of 10 years of storytelling, Infinity War finds both the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and everyone in between uniting to stop Thanos and his Black Order from obtaining 6 infinity stones that could put an end to half the life in the universe. One of the biggest draws of the film, beyond the cosmic implications of Thanos’ victory, is seeing all of these familiar character interact with one another in groupings that we’ve never seen before. Seeing Tony Stark and Dr. Strange bickering and insulting each other is a delight. Likewise is witnessing the constant game of one-upsmanship between Thor and Star-Lord, before Thor goes off with Rocket and Groot to forge a new weapon. The plot itself it straightforward enough: “Stop the big purple guy from getting all the stones and winning.” The problem is that Thanos is such a brute force of power that no one has time to prepare.
Everything is a reaction to what Thanos has done or what they think he’ll do, and he’s more prepared than they anticipate, cutting them off at every turn. Infinity War runs at a breakneck pace because it’s characters are doing the same, thinking that they’re getting ahead of Thanos when really their just keeping up. The entire sequence on Knowhere features Star-Lord faced with having to kill Gamora lest Thanos get her. It’s a heart wrenching scene as Thanos holds Gamora, urging Quill to do it. Once Quill pulls the trigger, however, it’s bubbles instead of bullets. Thanos was already prepared and ready to act, and it makes the anguish the characters go through even worse, making them suffer the emotional torment. Whatever our heroes do, Thanos either undoes or is ready for. It’s part of what makes the film feel so relentless and it’s really quite something to see them at such a disadvantage.
Speaking of the heroes themselves, everyone knows what they’re doing and does it well. This is perhaps the first Marvel film where you absolutely must see previous entries, as it helps supplement the knowledge of not only the infinity stones, but also the characters and the journeys they’ve been on. That being said, even with 2 and a half hours to spare, not everyone gets equal time to shine.
There’s about 5 or 6 standouts in the film that really get a lot of meat to work with. As previously mentioned, both Thor and Rocket get ample time together to discuss loss as they journey through space. Chris Hemsworth’s Thor really shows up for the film, and his quest for a new Thanos-killing weapon pays off in one of the best moments of the film, when he, Rocket and Groot show up for the final battle in Wakanda to the booming Avengers theme from Alan Silvestri. It’s the biggest crowd pleasing moment in the film, and it’s both visually and emotionally striking. Likewise, both Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch shine as they trade barbs with one another. Seeing Dr. Strange call Tony a douchebag might be one of the most satisfying moments of the film.
Mark Ruffalo gets an interesting, if at sometimes under utilized arc. His Hulk gets his ass beat so bad by Thanos at the start of the film that he straight-up refuses to come out again for the rest of the film. It’s both a funny joke to come back to and an interesting wrench to throw at the team, who can no longer count on one of their strongest members. Lastly, Gamora and Star-Lord get an emotionally charged storyline, what with Gamora being not only Thanos’ daughter, but also the key to obtaining the soul stone. Seeing the emotional journey of Gamora is one of the most heartbreaking arcs in the entire film, made successful in no small part by how effective Thanos is as a character.
Josh Brolin’s Thanos is the MVP of the film, and not just because the big purple bastard actually wins. Never before has a CGI rendered character, much less a villain, invoked so much sympathy in his plight. Thanos isn’t interested in power, or ruling, his goal is that of burden. Thanos believes that in eliminating 50% of the life in the universe, he will successfully eliminate any starvation, ruin, or extinction. He makes a hell of an argument, using his extinct home world of Titan as a prime example towards his hypothesis. It’s, at the very least, an interesting argument, one that the Avengers never have the time to discuss or consider, save for a conversation between Strange and Thanos. Marvel and The Russo Brothers (along with writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) deserve credit for the ball it took not only to erase half of our heroes from existence, but to then end the film on a quiet, peaceful note as Thanos looks out on a sunrise alone, satisfied. Adding ‘Thanos Will Return’ at the very very end of the credits is just dunking on the audience at that point, a move that I wholeheartedly support.
The simplicity of the plot and the way it charges forward without a second to breathe works in the films favor. Sure, there are points that stop to address previous films, but they never overstay their welcome. It’s good that we got shout-outs to the location of Hawkeye and Ant-Man, it’s even better that we see Rhodey actively betray a direct order from Thunderbolt Ross, effectively ending the Civil War debate over the Socovia Accords (and proving Cap to be ultimately right). Everyone feels like a lived in character, and none of them betray what came before them. The Guardians, particularly, feel exactly as they should even though writer/director/madman James Gunn didn’t have his hands deep on this film.
Sadly, not everyone gets equal time to shine when half the universe is at stake. Minor players get brief but fleeting moments, such as Wong at the start of the film. Other minor characters such as Bucky, Falcon, and Shuri have very little to do at all. The three biggest characters short changed are Groot, Black Widow, and Black Panther. Teenage Groot does just a bit more than play his retro video game the whole film, and I can honestly only remember one (admittedly badass) moment from Black Widow, where she takes on Proxima Midnight, one of Thanos’ Black Order. The scene of her, Okoye, and Scarlett Witch taking on Midnight is great, I wish there had been more of the girl power team ups. Lastly, Black Panther, coming off his own gigantic success, has just a bit to do here, welcoming the Earthbound Avengers to Wakanda to stage a last stand as they try to extract the Mind Stone from Vision’s forehead. Obviously, it doesn’t work out.
That being said, The Russo Brothers really know how to play the audiences for laughs and tears. As previously said, there are a number of hilarious moments between characters in the film. Stark yelling “Missouri IS on Earth, Dipshit” to Star-Lord made me laugh so hard it hurt. Drax has an extended bit about standing still that is one of the funniest things in any Marvel movie ever. At the same time, Infinity War is full of tragedy. Losing Loki so early in the film hurts, but serves to show that no one is safe from Thanos. Gamora’s death in the middle of the film is equally heart-wrenching, amazing especially because you can feel Thanos’ pain as much as her. Tom Holland once again tugs the heart strings as Spider-Man slowly dissolves from existence, begging Stark through tears that he doesn’t want to go. It’s an excellent remind not only that Holland has the goods, but also that Spider-Man is still just a kid, a kid who can get really scared and vulnerable.
The action is on par with the emotion, giving us some of the biggest battles ever seen in a Marvel film. Big action doesn’t always mean much if it’s not inventive, and the opening battle in New York as inventive a set piece as you can get. The combination of Stark’s new nanotech armor with the magic of Dr. Strange and the wit of Tony & Spider-Man is almost too much to handle, but it’s a great balancing act. Nothing get’s quite as inventive as that first sequence, but it gets close. Oddly enough, I found the battle in Wakanda to be the most generic, being beaten out by Thor’s quest to forge a new weapon and the gigantic battle on Titan with Thanos, the one that features him crushing a moon and hurtling it’s remains at our heroes. The action on display is just utterly massive and vast and impressive.
I don’t think that Infinity War deserves negative points for ending on a cliffhanger, because I don’t believe it to be a true cliffhanger. It’s another part in an ongoing story, obviously. Imaging switching things around, replacing Thanos with a hero like Cap or Iron Man. Then replace our Avengers with villains trying to stop them. Thanos isn’t interested in killing them, he’s interested in getting the stones and getting out. Hell, he even avoids killing people after getting one stone after the other. If we had a hero that we knew with the same goal, and the film ended with them sitting quietly in reflection of their success, we’d be fairly satisfied. But this is Thanos’ movie, and he’s the villain, so to see him succeed and then peacefully enjoy that victory is hard for audiences to compute. I understand that, but to dismiss it as ‘half a movie’ is, in my opinion, flippant, and completely discounts the way Marvel has been telling its stories for the last decade.
Avengers: Infinity War certainly isn’t perfect. It may be one of, if not the best Avengers film, but doesn’t quite reach the heights of Black Panther or The Winter Soldier. That being said, it is all the more impressive that they managed to mash all these characters together, give us a compelling villain, and do so with a even mixture of laughs and heartache. As an individual movie, it’s lacking a bit in some of it’s characters and it’s incredibly long, but as the beginning of the end for a decade of storytelling, it’s hard to imagine how they could’ve done it any better.
The Final Pop
Avengers: Infinity War is a massive, impressive display of character juggling and fantasy action. Although long, manages to give the majority of it’s characters time to shine deeply through layered moments of emotion as well as bombastic action. If you’re not caught up on the MCU, you’ll be lost, but if you’re a devote Marvel fan, there are numerous rewards to be found. The 12 month wait to Avengers 4 is going to be fascinating.
Movie Theater Popcorn