Avengers: Infinity War – What Just Happened?

Was anyone really ready for this movie? Avengers: Infinity War is the culmination of ten years and eighteen films of storytelling and world building from Marvel Studios. We’ve met countless memorable characters and gone on countless memorable adventures with them; from a cave in Afghanistan, the fields of Africa, Malibu and New York City, to the halls of Asgard, the city of Xandar, and the farthest reaches of the galaxy. Marvel made something that has resonated with audiences over and over again. We know and love these characters and their stories. Infinity War is the first part of their endgame, and because of our attachments to all of this, the whole thing ends up feeling like emotional abuse. The film changes the universe, theirs and ours, forever.

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Infinity War’s plot is fairly simple. Super villain Thanos is on a journey to collect all six Infinity Stones; gems of unlimited power that will give him complete control of the universe. Thanos has a plan to wipe out half of all life, and only The Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy can stop him. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo had their work cut out for them. Dozens of characters need to come together for this mega-crossover, and fans would likely riot if any of them didn’t get their due. The Russo’s hop back and forth between everyone, trying to give each their time to shine. For the most part, it works. The Avengers and company are scattered after the events of previous films, and all of the characters are split into two groups during the film: A group in Wakanda to stop Thanos’ army, and another on Thanos’ home planet of Titan, to try and stop the mad titan himself.

The greatest moments of these crossover films come from the characters meeting and interacting with each other for the first time, and Infinity War delivers on this. The heroes on Titan, including Iron Man, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Star-Lord, Drax, and Mantis, get the most time together, and the bizarre style and humor of the Guardians of the Galaxy mixing with the likes of Tony Stark make for hilarious banter. Like every Marvel film, humor is plentiful here. There are plenty of moments to laugh and cheer and have a great time with in the theater, but there’s also a somewhat different vibe running through this film compare to the others. It’s dread. We know the good times won’t last.

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Thanos is the most intimidating villain the Marvel universe has ever seen. The film establishes this right off the bat, showing us the unstoppable power and brutality of him. Josh Brolin delivers a stunning performance, breathing life and humanity into the entirely-CG villain. Brolin finds a balance between horrifying physical presence, utmost confidence, and vulnerability. As scary as Thanos is, he can also be heartbreaking, burdened with purpose, believing that there is no other path to salvation. To Thanos, his quest to balance the universe is something that must be accomplished, no matter what, and he must steel himself through all of the grief and pain he has to endure to make it a reality. Make no mistake, this is his movie, he’s our main character, and it makes the core of the film very strong and solid.

The stakes are as high as they’ve ever been, and yes, there is death. Some are predictable, some are genuinely shocking. Marvel’s dedication to secrecy has allowed them to still be able to surprise audiences, something that’s rarely accomplished by huge blockbusters (the only other one to do this in recent memory was last year’s The Last Jedi). The deaths are never brushed over either, each resonate strongly and with purpose. We’ve spent so much time with all of these characters, and they’ve gone through and survived so much. It is sorrowful to see some of them meet their end. If even just one of these deaths affects and upsets you, then the film, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole, has done its job.

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Infinity War delivers on the promise of its title and marketing; it’s an enormous action spectacle that never lets up. The film simply begins right away, and from start to finish it’s an adrenaline-fueled thrill ride. With the fate of the universe at stake, against the most powerful villain ever, every hero is pushed to their absolute limit, and we see them use everything they have in their arsenal. There’s plenty of jaw-dropping moments, including unlikely but amazing team-ups and combinations of characters working together (my personal favorite being Bucky and a certain someone who’s also skilled with guns). The Russo’s have always consistently delivered the best staged and choreographed action sequences of the MCU, and they do not disappoint here.

What doesn’t work? Infinity War is a two hour, twenty-nine minute movie. A runtime like that is what people normally call excessive, but in this case, it sometimes feels like it’s actually not long enough. There’s a whole lot of things that happen in this film, and the Russo’s do their best to squeeze it all in. But we don’t just want to see nonstop action, we also want (and need) to see these characters slow down and talk to one another. We need to know what they’re thinking and feeling about the situation they’re in and the people they’re facing it with.

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We get that good blend of fighting and reflection / conversation with the group on Titan and the third party of Thor, Rocket, and Groot. We get almost none from the Wakanda group, who includes the likes of Black Panther, Captain America, and Black Widow, among many others. That particular group of heroes barely speaks to each other, and it’s a shame, they’re the more grounded characters who probably have a lot to say about what’s going on around them. With everything that needs to happen in the film, I suppose it was inevitable that some characters would get the short end of the stick, but it still feels like a waste of what could have been great character moments.

It’s tough to decide on what is allowed to be acceptable criticism of Infinity War. It’s not a film that’s meant to stand on its own, it never was. It’s the first part of the finale of eighteen films, and it only exists on the merits of what came before and what’s going to come after. Are we even able to critically analyze a film that’s only half-complete? Whatever criticisms people throw at it might be addressed and fixed in the second part, and it could end up being that Infinity War was never meant to be viewed by itself, only working by being viewed back-to-back with its sequel. Is that a problem in itself? It all depends on the context you choose to place the film in, and that could be different for everyone.

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Avengers: Infinity War is an event. It’s something that demands to be seen by as many people as possible. Through the ten years that Marvel Studios has been churning these out while maintaining quality, there’s at least one or two characters for everyone to have fallen in love with by now. Placing them all together in one film has created something that everyone on the planet feels involved with, and this time around it feels bigger and more urgent than even the first Avengers. It’s the first movie filmed entirely with IMAX cameras (so, you know, please go watch it in IMAX), and it has the capacity to become a landmark of popular culture like the first one was.

However, unlike the original, Infinity War isn’t exactly a celebration. The fireworks display is punctuated by the darkest moments of the mega-franchise, filled with heartbreak and hopelessness. The ending of the film is unlike anything I’ve witnessed in a theater. The laughs and cheers of joy from the audience turned into a weighty silence that stuck all the way through everyone leaving the building. Infinity War will surprise, excite, and upset you. The mere concept of it all is enough to cause unrest among audiences, and the dramatic boldness of its ending may end up polarizing people. Marvel has never been one to shy away from risks, and this certainly is one. It’s an incredibly dense film with a lot to take in and process,  which practically forces you to view it more than once and come back for the second part. Infinity War is everything you expect and hope for. Just be careful what you wish for.

4/5 Stars

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