Perhaps the greatest compliment you can pay Avengers: Infinity War is that it doesn’t disappoint. Ten years and 19 films in the making, there are seemingly limitless ways in which directors Anthony and Joe Russo might have stumbled in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (almost) grand finalé. Indeed, they juggle multiple storylines and dozens of superheroes in the service of a surprisingly emotional denouement.
It’s difficult to comprehend the scope of Avengers: Infinity War. Your brain is tempted to re-assemble the puzzle pieces strewn across dozens of post-credit Easter eggs and dangling plot threads. Luckily, this meticulously constructed universe coalesces into a simple story about superheroes trying to stop a CGI monster from collecting shiny rocks.
The powerful purple Titan named Thanos (voiced by Josh Brolin) — teased countless times in other Marvel outings — finally emerges from his donut-shaped spaceship to raise a little hell. He needs to collect the six Infinity Stones in his magical gauntlet in order to become a god. What are Infinity Stones? As explained by Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) in a mercifully brief expository break, they are remnants of the Big Bang; stones that contain the essence of Space, Reality, Power, Soul, Mind, and Time. To possess them is to have dominion over all things. Think of it like collecting all six of the vintage 1988 California Raisin dolls, only with more carnage and less racism.
The Brothers Russo let you know immediately they aren’t fooling around, as they throw Thanos directly in the path of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his mischievous brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). It’s a grim, withering sequence that introduces the full scope of not only Thanos’ power but his particular brand of madness. He’s obsessed with tipping the “Universal scale toward balance”. Basically, he wants to snap his fingers and annihilate half of the Universe’s inhabitants. Delightful rush hour traffic implications aside, the Avengers aren’t copasetic with this extreme form of population control.
Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark / Iron Man (© 2018 – Marvel Studios)
The whole gang assembles to obstruct Thanos. And when we say “the whole gang,” we mean everyone who has ever appeared in a Marvel film. Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely probably needed a NASA computer to calculate the balance of screen time amongst these iconic characters. With the possible exception of Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), they do a remarkable job of giving each character a chance to shine, no matter how briefly. In the writer’s defense, nobody knew Black Panther would induce more hysteria than The Beatles when the script for Avengers: Infinity War was being penned.
This is a film about choices. On multiple occasions, characters are forced to decide who will live and who will die. Sometimes even pacts are made to do the unthinkable if things go catawampus — which never happens in the movies! Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans) are plagued by the moral choices that a monster of singular obsession like Thanos is incapable of comprehending. Marvel has always understood this conflict is what forms the emotional core that keeps their larger-than-life characters relatable.
That’s not to say that Avengers: Infinity War is a dour affair. Far from it. The wisecracks arrive with welcome regularity, thanks largely to the contributions of Guardians of the Galaxy alums Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Drax (Dave Bautista), and Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper). The filmmakers do a nice job of taming the anarchic spirit of James Gunn’s creation while still delighting in Quill’s unjustified bravado and Drax’ deadpan nonsequiturs. Even with the Universe at stake, it’s impossible not to laugh when Thor earnestly bids the Guardians, “farewell and good luck, morons.”
It’s this focus on character dynamics that prevents CGI trickery from overwhelming the frame. The Russos do a wonderful job of choreographing their action set pieces, ensuring that each skirmish crackles with dramatic heft. When people are fighting, we actually care about the outcome. They even manage to create a few memorable visuals, as when Thor must re-ignite the massive foundry within a dying planet’s core. It’s the kind of goosebump-inducing moment that you don’t expect from a movie teeming with spandex and leather.
Benedict Wong as Wong (© 2018 – Marvel Studios)
The flaws here are mostly inconsequential. Thanos’s henchmen (whose names only matter to comic book enthusiasts) are complete zeros; motion-capture creations that do nothing but glower and die at the appropriate times. The score, too, by Alan Silvestri is so overwrought as to be distracting at times. The efforts of the writers and directors are more than adequate to punctuate the emotional moments, but Silvestri insists upon making these crescendos painfully obvious. Some of the sequences feel overly long, as well. True, this isn’t a film that requires the same ruthless editing efficiency of a Christopher Nolan mind puzzle, but we should never be asking, “Whatever happened to Iron Man?” because Thor’s story is running long.
The battle in Wakanda (teased heavily in the film’s trailer) is the closest Avengers: Infinity War comes to becoming a bore. Thousands of faceless, poorly articulated CGI baddies converge upon the city to be swatted away like so many irritating insects. It also sets in motion a series of tactical decisions that won’t make Black Panther a candidate for Secretary of Defense anytime soon. Still, none of these weaknesses are particularly detrimental, even if they feel especially noticeable in a film that gets so much right.
It’s true that darkness permeates Avengers: Infinity War, but it’s also a masterfully crafted popcorn movie. Audiences have invested a great deal of time and money into these beloved characters, and Marvel is paying off that loyalty with one hell of a show.