The following is a non-spoiler review of “Avengers: Infinity War.”
3 out of 5 stars.
“Avengers: Infinity War” had a lot it needed to accomplish in the space of two and a half hours. But it also had a lot it needed to prove. That feels like a weird thing to say about the nineteenth film in a franchise that began ten years ago and has spawned numerous heroes, uniting them for two previous “Avengers” movies and even crossing them over into each other’s films. “Infinity War,” which is helmed by Joe and Anthony Russo (and who are no strangers to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, having directed the previous two “Captain America” films), is the first film in the series that unites all (well, almost all) of the characters from the MCU to date, as they come together to stop Thanos (played by Josh Brolin), a being from another planet who is collecting the six Infinity Stones, gems that will give him unlimited power.
With “Infinity War,” Marvel Studios needed to prove that they could cram so many heroes (the original Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and relatively new faces like Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and Spider-man) into one film and still craft a coherent story. They also needed to set that story apart from the previous two “Avengers” films, which both essentially ended the exact same way, with our heroes battling an army of faceless henchmen brought to Earth by the villain. The portrayal of the villain in “Infinity War” was another important aspect to get right. Ultron was an underwhelming foe for a group of the world’s greatest heroes to battle, as was Loki, the brother of Thor who is more mischievous imp than threatening baddie. Thanos is one of the greatest, most iconic, and most powerful villains in the Marvel comics, and this film, most of all, had to make it clear that the stakes are high. We often consider these movies (especially many of Marvel’s more recent films) as overall rather light-hearted entertainment. We’ve never suffered a major character death in the MCU before, and this film needed to have the guts to do that, and to show us just how much peril the planet and the Avengers are in. It needed to show us that our heroes aren’t invincible.
In many ways, “Infinity War” does manage to do that. The opening plunges the viewer straight into the action, picking up where “Thor: Ragnorak” left off, and it’s apparent right off the bat that battle against Thanos and his children isn’t going to be an easy one. It isn’t long before the film effectively splits our heroes up into groups, giving everyone their own task to accomplish, switching between characters and introducing more of them as the film progresses. It is fun to see the character interactions as these heroes meet for the first time. Egotistical Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) goes head-to-head with the equally egotistical Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), while Thor (Chris Hemsworth) meets the Guardians of the Galaxy in the middle of space. These encounters and the dialogue that ensues between the characters occurs organically; these actors are very used to stepping into these characters by now, and those characters remain true to themselves even when thrust into very different, and much more dire, situations.
“Infinity War” also does a surprisingly good job balancing all these characters, giving all but a few ample screen time (hi Captain America). But, similar to the previous “Avengers” films, virtually all character development happens in the heroes’ solo movies, with this film assuming that you’ve watched all those and know these characters enough that they can be thrust into the middle of the action without any explanation. We don’t learn anything new about the characters, and rarely linger on the quieter, emotional moments before zipping into the next frantic action scene, which makes it easy for the viewers’ interest to wander at times. There are a few exceptions to this, however, namely in the form of Thanos and Gamora (Zoe Saldana), his adopted daughter. We’ve seen Gamora’s outrage over her father’s cruelty and her desire to end him in the “Guardians” films, but “Infinity War” forces her to confront him head-on. Gamora’s existence provides the human connection that Thanos so desperately needs. Marvel has been teasing the coming of Thanos since the first “Avengers” film, and even with expectations running high, Thanos is the greatest villain these heroes have had to face. He’s extremely powerful, but obviously not invincible, and does have feelings, however misguided they may be. Brolin gives an exceptional performance, and it is in fact Thanos who is the most complex and interesting character in this movie. Even the Infinity Stones themselves, and how Thanos is able to harness their power, is extremely interesting, with the film alluding to the fact the stones may even have wills of their own, and that their user has to prove themselves worthy in certain ways in order to utilize them.
There is a good deal of hilarity in this movie, most of it brought forth by, not surprisingly, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and the Guardians, but this movie also strikes a much more serious tone than we’ve seen any Marvel movie to date. From the beginning, the movie shows us that these characters are not invincible, and the team does indeed suffer losses as they face setback after setback—those setbacks often caused by their own errors. Visually, the movie is also quite dark, many scenes looking as if the color has been sucked from the environment (maybe too dark, as sometimes it’s hard to distinguish exactly what is going on or who is who, but that could be due to a subpar projection in the theater I watched the film in). The film even ends on a much more somber note that we’re used to, with a melancholy version of the score playing as the credits roll over an otherwise black screen. But while a decent chunk of this movie does take place in space, this threat, as it’s portrayed in this movie anyway, feels contained solely to the Avengers, as opposed to affecting the Earth or the universe on a larger scale. The pacing sometimes feels a bit off, with “stop Thanos” the only story thread running through the film. While the characters do all get their time to shine, that doesn’t prevent “Infinity War” from feeling overlong and bloated, as it overindulges in a dizzying array of action scenes that only increase until the film just ends.
That’s perhaps the largest issue “Infinity War” faces. The film, which was originally titled “Avengers: Infinity War Part I,” with next year’s follow-up initially labeled as “Part II,” will never truly feel like its own movie. The film does reach somewhat of a discernable climax, but as the film reaches its conclusion, the epic war we’ve all been preparing for starts to feel merely like setup for an even more epic war in the next “Avengers” film. We were never going to get all the answers in this movie, but even in films telling a continuing story over a series of multiple movies, it’s crucial for each film to have a solid beginning, middle, and end. “Infinity War” feels like it’s all middle, leaving behind numerous loose threads that will likely be picked up in the next film. But even so, it’s hard to fully and fairly evaluate the effectiveness of the story here without its second half.
“Avengers: Infinity War” does handle a lot of what it needed to accomplish quite well, thanks in part to the Russo brothers, whose familiarity with the MCU and previously proven ability to juggle multiple lead characters in the same movie (“Civil War”) was necessary here. It is the best “Avengers” movie (maybe that isn’t saying much, since neither “Avengers” nor “Age of Ultron” are especially great), but it’s far from Marvel’s best, particularly following films like “Thor: Ragnorak” and “Black Panther” that proved that the MCU had the ability to tell solid, character-driven stories that rose above the average superhero movie. There’s a lot here for Marvel fans to love, hate, and anguish over, as well as some fun Easter eggs to look for, but despite some scenes that do really resonate, I can’t fight off the feeling that its concluding scenes are merely a gimmick existing to lead fans on and keep them talking until the second half of the film is released next year. For all this film accomplishes, there’s still a lot this story needs to do—and to prove.
Runtime: 149 minutes. Rated PG-13.