Review: “Avengers: Infinity War”
Every review of this film is going to start by talking about this film as a culmination of 10 years of effort and 17 other movies. If this is your third review or more you’ve read, it may sound tiresome. But the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a grand achievement, and while it is not the first crossover in cinema, it may be the most grandiose as far as film budgets, amount of time taken, story-telling, and creative effort go. Ignoring the marketing budgets, these films have cost a total of $3.762 billion in net budget. That’s no small stack of cash. Marvel is lambasted by many for being a giant cash cow, but all these films are planned with a creative vision in mind that such critics can’t or aren’t willing to appreciate. This isn’t Michael Bay endlessly making visually bland and creatively uninteresting Transformers films. This is a mosaic of movies, with each patch made by a unique quilter contributing to an artistic whole.
Avengers: Infinity War is the big final patch in the first section of the quilt. It’s a finished image after artists with different ideas of the color blue worked together on a paint by numbers. At times it is an unwieldy movie, but given how sloppy it could have been, the direction of the Russo Brothers is remarkable and economical. Each scene conveys information propelling the story forward and keeps us moving towards the finish. There is some great imagery from the visual designers and the Russos themselves. The look of a planet called Vormir is gorgeous and appropriately haunting.
If you’ve seen a trailer or any of these previous films, you have some idea of the plot of this film. Thanos (Josh Brolin), known as the Mad Titan, wants to balance the universe by wiping out half of all life on it. In order to do so, he wants to gather the six Infinity Stones: powerful objects capable of massive power (as seen in previous Marvel films). The Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy as well as other heroes must try to unite to stop him from gathering the stones and accomplishing his goals.
The film is highly rewarding for the dedicated Marvel fan, with references and plot points converging from previous films and paying off. Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) are wayward in the galaxy due to the events of Thor: Ragnarok while the other Avengers remain fractured on Earth after the events of Captain America: Civil War. The film is layered with callbacks, including one from a Phase 1 film that I thought would never be referenced again. The strength of the script, however, is that even a casual viewer will be given enough information to understand it.
The Russos also make some great direction choices including letting some emotional moments resonate where some other Marvel films have too often given into temptation to undercut them with a joke. When Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) dubs Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) an Avenger, the Russos hold their camera and allow us to see Tom Holland’s reaction, making for a great moment. Another great moment comes in the form of holding the camera on Stark after he reacts to certain actions by Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista). Though this moment is played for comedy, it again shows some great directing instincts from the Russo Brothers.
With so many characters and interactions to handle, though, a lot of the background and nuance between characters is reduced to one or a few minimal interactions. The dynamic between Stark and Peter Parker is that of mentor-mentee, but it’s only addressed in a couple of lines of dialogue. Without having seen Spider-Man: Homecoming, a casual viewer might wonder exactly how that relationship started. This kind of shortcut might weaken the film as a standalone cinematic entity, but at least it makes some effort to keep non-completists in the loop.
Thanos’s main pawns in the film, four of his “children,” don’t receive much in the way of actual characterization. The best of them is Ebony Maw, who is given a creepy unnerving presence by his actor Tom Vaughan-Lawlor. The others are fairly one-note and forgettable, though references to their comic book powers are included, such as Corvus Glaive’s eponymous weapon that can pierce any substance. But there are many more elements of the characters that are only briefly touched on, likely leaving some comic book fans wanting.
All of that said, the film does a great job of bringing many of these characters together. Thor’s interactions with the members of the Guardians of the Galaxy such as Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) bring some great humor into the film. Though some scenes fall back on Joss Whedon-esque quips, others bring about situational humor just by having these actors play off each other. Tony Stark and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) get into a snark match throughout the film, demonstrating the similarities and differences of the two characters and making for a great on-screen pairing. Another great set of interactions is the equal enthusiasm Spider-Man and Star-Lord share for pop culture references, bringing out some strong script points. Tom Holland should also receive accolades for some really well-acted scenes including one near the end of the film.
Infinity War is also full of great comic-book action. A grasslands battle on the plains of Wakanda features a full-scale war between the Wakadans and many of our heroes against multi-armed alien invaders. While this repeats the trope, seen in many Marvel movies, of heroes fighting off waves of drone enemies, this epic full-scale war pulls off a sense of grandeur that many of the previous battles have lacked. There are other battles featured, such as one between Doctor Strange and Thanos in which the Russo Brothers upstage Scott Derrickson in unleashing the visual zaniness that Doctor Strange deserves. There’s almost too much action, though, and this lends itself to the film feeling at times unwieldy.
Yet what helps separate Infinity War from other overstuffed action films is the emotional resonance of many parts of the film. Tony Stark is still dealing with the emotional trauma of past Avengers films, while Thor is dealing with his own losses. In many ways, Stark and Thor are our main hero characters here, and help carry forward many of the Marvel universe’s thematic elements. The relationship between Vision and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) also provides moments that speak to the central theme of the film: how much does a life mean?
Infinity War threads this question into the film by posing it to the audience in various ways from the outset. Thanos’s motivations contrast with some powerful moral statements from Captain America (Chris Evans). Most action blockbusters wouldn’t bother with such debates, and this commitment to ideas helps elevate Marvel films above their peers. The movie also takes some major chances with its ending; to say more would of course involve spoilers, but the comics fan within me was pleased.
Despite the hype for Infinity War as a big capstone for what the MCU has built so far, in many ways it seems like the fourth Avengers film will be more conclusive. Yet Infinity War still feels like a culmination of efforts from the past 10 years. It isn’t the strongest film in the Marvel universe by any means and it probably never could have been, given how much material it had to juggle. There are too many heroes for even this long film to do justice to, and central characters like Captain America and Black Widow (Scarlet Johannson) are almost criminally underused. Infinity War accomplishes the strange task of being too short and too long all at once.
Yet it accomplishes what it sets out to do by giving the audience the thrills they came for. That classic Avengers theme of quick violins and other strings instruments followed by blasts of triumphant brass horns is used sparingly in the film, but comes at just the right moments. The Russo Brothers’ sure direction keeps everything under control. The script focuses on core emotional themes and doles out enough information to make it a functioning film as well as allow it to be the big event we all wanted — without being a massive mess like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It’s far from perfect, but Infinity War doesn’t need to be. It’s a modern day space opera that carries forward a proud tradition in human fantasy storytelling.
As long as the MCU continues to deliver event films as strong as this one, you can continue to Make Mine Marvel.