Star rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Prior to watching Avengers: Infinity War, a question occurred to me that I spent some time debating before the film. As a culmination of 10 years worth of Marvel films come to a close with Infinity War, I think it makes sense to not just look at how far Marvel has come since they released Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk in 2008, but also where are the next 10 years going to take Marvel. Will Marvel films stand the test of times? Will we look back from 2028 and think Marvel films look like garbage and wonder how we let these films pass, or will we look at them fondly for the stories they told and the place they hold in cinema history for creating such a rich world full of heroes wherein each film builds on the back of those that came before? It is tough to say. I think the deteriorating quality of the special effects in the more recent films may lead us to question the quality, but it is hard to deny what Marvel managed to pull off by connecting 17 films to tell one overarching story, but also telling individual stories within each of those films. The culmination of those stories being Infinity War. Thanks to the direction by Anthony and Joe Russo, Infinity War is a surprisingly enjoyable, and fitting ending to what has become the Marvel legacy.
The Avengers are in shambles. After the events of Captain America: Civil War, Captain America (Chris Evans) and some of the other heroes are on the lam, while Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is still doing Tony Stark things and trying to keep the world safe with the help of the United States government. Unbeknownst to them, a threat greater than the Avengers have ever faced called Thanos (Josh Brolin) has been making his way across the galaxy collecting six gems called infinity stones, which will give their wielder infinite power. When the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) smashes through the roof of Doctor Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) Sanctum Sanctorum heralding the coming of Thanos, Tony Stark is called upon to suit up as Iron Man to fight against the mad Titan and stop him and his black order from gathering the stones. Along the way, various heroes are pulled into the fray including the Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther, Black Widow, Spider-man, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Thor, and more, in order to save the world.
This film is incredibly dense with characters, but it is never difficult to follow each of the individual story-lines that are happening in the film. Sadly, some characters who have been thoroughly developed in other films, like Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), barely have much bearing on the plot, and only say a few lines. Even Captain America feels like a background character compared to what some of the other characters are doing. Some minor characters from previous films make appearances too like Wong (Benedict Wong) from Doctor Strange, Pepper Potts (Gwenyth Paltrow) the on-again-off-again girlfriend/fiance of Tony Stark, and Heimdall (Idris Elba) from the Thor films. In a way, you feel cheated because of how little some of these characters are in the film, but it also works for a film of the magnitude because not only does it help to make this crossover feel like a well-rounded machine rich with characters that have been seen before, but each character appearance feels like a fun call-back to the previous films. It is as if Marvel is saying, “Hey, remember this character? We do too, and even if they’re in the film for less than five minutes, they’re still important for us to include.” This is a great way for Marvel to look back on their legacy, the issue is that the inclusion of some of these minor characters feels forced at times, like Wong showing up and then conveniently leaving. The more characters Marvel tries to cram into this film, the harder it is to emotionally connect with any of them (more on that in a minute). As more and more characters are brought into the film to fight side by side, some of them bare little importance to the plot other than to help fight. Which is fine, but part of me wants to know what has been happening since the Avengers were last together fighting against each other at the airport in Berlin This film has a few lines to acknowledge the events of the previous film, but it also feels like those same events are swept under the rug, and I have a hard time believing Marvel will come back and address them in a future film. Despite how crammed this film is with characters, it is still enjoyable to watch characters interact who might otherwise never been in a film together was a unique experience. Every instance of Thor calling Rocket Raccoon a rabbit put a big goofy grin on my face, and watching Spider-man finally interacting with the rest of the heroes in the Marvel universe was a spectacle.
Not only is Infinity War crammed full of characters, it is also crammed full of plot threads and events happening. I’d argue there is too much going on. Everything that happens in the film makes sense and follows a logical plot progression (most of the time), but there is very little time during scenes to allow the audience to emotionally connect with the scene or even process what happened. Roughly halfway through the film, there is a significant character death. It is one that I wanted to be emotional about. I wanted to be sad, but the film moved on so quickly from that moment I barely had a chance to comprehend what had happened. Now, as I sit here processing it, I don’t feel sad about it, because I am no longer in that moment and Marvel has, in my mind, already undone that death (like Marvel tends to do). I wish I could’ve been sad about it just for one second. Even the opening scene is moved on from so quickly it is hard to digest all of the destruction that Thanos leaves behind. The film does a good job of painting large brushstrokes of feeling throughout the film, but it lacks detail within each of the scenes. Infinity War could probably benefit from an extra 30 minutes to help fill in some gaps from the events of Civil War and to further establish characters and the things happening around them.
My biggest issue with the film as a whole is the lack of stakes. For a while leading up to the film, it was speculated and marketed that Infinity War was going to shake the Marvel Cinematic Universe to its core. People were theorizing which characters would die, and what would happen. There was a lot of secrecy involved with the release of this film, including a hashtag, #Thanosdemandsyoursilence, in an attempt to prevent spoilers from decimating the internet; hinting that the events of the film are too significant to let out into the wild. For the most part, Marvel was extremely successful, but at the same time, they have failed miserably. We’ve known for several years now that Infinity War was going to be part one of a two-part story. Which leaves a whole film for the Avengers to undo the events from Infinity War. Not only that, but Marvel has already announced the next slate of sequels for some of their individual characters. As of this writing, James Gunn has announced that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 will be released two years from this week. Even though we don’t have any idea of what that film will look like, it feels disingenuine like the events of Infinity War are meaningless. Marvel is too excited about what is coming next. While the last ten years of Marvel have been building to Infinity War, now that Infinity War has been released, Marvel is already focused on hyping the next phase of their cinematic universe. It is my greatest hope that Marvel will change their formula and I will be proven wrong about the stakes in this film.
With all of that being said, Infinity War wouldn’t work without its main villain, Thanos. After being teased in several films prior to this, audiences are brought face to face with the mad Titan himself. Marvel put in all of the hard work by giving all of its heroes several solo films prior to Infinity War, which eliminates the necessity for character building the heroes. Which means Thanos is the only character who needs to be developed. Infinity War casts Thanos as the protagonist of this story. His goal to save the galaxy from overpopulation (the same problem that decimated his planet) is almost noble in his pursuit. His heart is in the right place. The film follows Thanos as he travels the galaxy to collect the infinity stones. Along the way, more is revealed about his relationship with Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and his other children and what drives him to seek the infinity stones, which in turn reveals a deeper aspect to him as a character. Thanos may be the most developed villain since Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in the Thor films. At the end of the film, you get a deeper sense of what Thanos had to sacrifice in order to achieve his goals. Apart from actual storytelling, Thanos is the most impressive CGI creation Marvel has brought to the screen. A majority of the time Thanos looked more like makeup and prosthetics than he did computer effects. Even though there are moments and aspects of his character where it is obvious he is CGI there are a dozen other moments where it is difficult to discern what kind of effects put Thanos together. After complaining about Marvel CGI in the last few films, they finally delivered the quality that one would expect from such a large studio. The same cannot be said for the rest of Thanos’ children, but being minor characters it doesn’t matter as much.
Whether or not Infinity War succeeds as a film is difficult to say. On its own, there is no character development except for the villain, the plot tries to fit too much information into a short amount of time, and it lacks emotional weight behind any of the events that happen. But, Infinity War is not really a standalone film, its an event. I know I’ve said it once in this post but Marvel has been building toward this for ten years. I can’t think of a single series of films that have been as successful as the Marvel franchise. Infinity War doesn’t need to develop its characters because they’ve already been developed in the 17 films prior to this one, because of that, it strips away the cramped story and it adds weight to character deaths as they happen on screen. Regardless of what sequels Marvel has already announced the ending manages to pull on the heartstrings a fair amount. There’s still that “what if they don’t come back?” question nagging at the back of your mind. Infinity War even diverges in plot similarities from the first two Avenger films. For the first time in a long while, I actually enjoyed watching a Marvel film. The film is by no means a cinematic masterpiece, but I think it will be remembered as a piece of cinema history. I am excited and proud to have watched this cinematic universe unfold over the past 10 years, and I think the payoff was worth it.