Part wish fulfillment, part self-fulfilling prophecy, part playing with your expansive action-figure collection in endless combinations, Avengers: Infinity War—the culminating chapter (well, the first of two, with Avengers 4 arriving in a year’s time) of 10 years’ worth of Marvel’s unprecedented, interconnected films (19 in all, including this one)—arrives with the sole purpose of blowing our minds over and over again…with varying degrees of effectiveness.
There’s no denying that the filmmaking army that is the MCU machine—led by directing siblings Anthony & Joe Russo (who previous helmed the last two Captain America films)—has packed as much as it possibly can into Infinity War. The finished product alternates between awe-inspiring and utterly exhausting.
It goes without saying—but here I go anyway—that the idea of packing virtually every Marvel movie hero (and a handful of baddies) into one engorged film is a bit daunting, even just as an audience member. We’re tasked with giving a damn about several dozen characters all fighting against a common enemy—the mad Titan known as Thanos (Josh Brolin)—whose only concern has been collecting six Infinity Stones scattered across the stars so that he can carry out his mission of “mercy” by destroying half the life in the universe.
His unwavering commitment to this task has come at a high price in his lifetime, but Thanos and his four powerful dark lieutenants (none of whom are actually named to my recollection, but they are a combination of motion-capture performers and voice actors, including those played by Terry Notary and Carrie Coon) move to location after location—separately and together—to collect the stones, some of which are so remarkably easy to locate and retrieve, I’m shocked Thanos didn’t come for them sooner.
Infinity War picks up in the immediate aftermath of both Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther, which should be encouraging news for all of us, since both are among the best Marvel has produced. And indeed the sections of the film that deal with Thor’s quest to stop Thanos with a newly crafted weapon (to replace his shattered hammer) and an epic climactic battle in Wakanda are absolutely two of the best story threads.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is teamed with Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) of the Guardians of the Galaxy, and while that may seem like an odd combination, it’s actually rather genius as the God of Thunder and the blood-thirsty rodent have a similar energy in their desire for maximum firepower.
Revisiting Wakanda so soon after Black Panther almost seems like too much of good thing. I remember last year after seeing Wonder Woman, thinking how fortunate we were to get two films (including Justice League) featuring that landmark character in a single year. Eesh! So I was cautiously optimistic about the prospects of Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) returning. And while it is certainly heart-warming to see the likes of Okoye (Danai Gurira), Shuri (Letitia Wright), and M’Baku (Winston Duke) back again and ready for battle, it feels like half the time the battle is for screen time and not against Thanos and his minions.
Another standout character is Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange, who is sent into outer space in the company of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and members of the Guardians, including Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Drax (Dave Bautista), and Mantis (Pom Klementieff). In his origin story film, Dr. Strange was still figuring out his new abilities and learning humility, but here we see the full force of both his skills as a sorcerer and his barely tempered arrogance. It’s one of the few examples in Infinity War of character growth.
Perhaps the film’s greatest strength lies in the storyline involving Gamora (Zoe Saldana) who likely stands the greatest chance of stopping her adopted father Thanos and helping her vengeful sister Nebula (Karen Gillan). Being both the favorite “child” of Thanos and his greatest disappointment, Gamora’s arc is one of the only ones that seems to rise to the occasion and gravitas of this story of universal genocide.
While it’s great to see Captain America (Chris Evans) return to the Avengers fold (along with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), and even the former Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) after the events of Civil War, I can’t honestly say much of what this group does in this movie before the finale in Wakanda really stuck with me. I liked that Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) is having an internal struggle with the Hulk to the point where the green goliath refuses to emerge and he is forced to don the Hulkbuster Ironman armor in order to fight.
The subplot involving the relationship between the Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany), and the possibility of foiling Thanos’ plan by removing Vision’s stone and destroying it without killing him the process, leads to one of the most truly dramatic and emotional payoffs in the film.
Naturally, I promise not to spoil anything for you. But I’m guessing that most of you who have been following these films for 10 years suspect that tragedy befalls some characters by the end of Infinity War. But even knowing that’s a possibility doesn’t quite prepare you for the nature and mortifying atmosphere of the way the Russos (working from a screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) conclude this movie.
And while knowing that a great deal of what should have been an emotionally crippling conclusion could all be undone in a year (or in already announced sequels for certain characters), the way the film plays out remains some of the most shocking and moving storytelling this universe has offered us to date. Hell, even the post-credits scene (and there’s only one, all the way at the end) is exceedingly well done and equally harrowing.
Something that the film has also taught me is to ignore fan theories about anything. For example, all of your educated guesses about the location of the one unseen Infinity Stone, the Soul Stone, were all wrong. And I’m happy to report that the way the retrieval of said stone plays out is exceptional and devastating.
You can choose to be cynical about how these films and characters are nothing more than fodder for marketing machines, or you can claim you have superhero movie fatigue (if you are suffering from this, by all means take two aspirin, settle your affairs, and stop attending superhero movies). But I choose to remember my more devoted comic book-reading days and how much I looked forward to and loved so many team-up storylines where characters would come together and we’d find out whether their personalities meshed or clashed (and then usually meshed because of a common enemy).
I can’t remember the last time I felt that sort of rush watching a movie, certainly not to the magnitude I did watching Avengers: Infinity War. Some of the plotlines are fraught with problems; there’s no denying that. But a great deal of the movie works remarkably well and sets up a version of the unknown that this shared universe simply hasn’t dealt with to this degree.
I can already see how this will impact the next two Marvel films—Ant-Man & the Wasp and Captain Marvel—before the fourth Avengers film debuts to pick up a whole lot of pieces. These films still have my attention and my interest for at least another year.