(The following is a spoiler-free review of Avengers: Infinity War.)
When Marvel first embarked on their universe-building cinematic journey with 2008’s Iron Man, there’s little chance they could have predicted what kind of place the world would be in 2018. Would people still care about superheroes? Hell, would people still care about movies?
The answer was a resounding “Yes.” Marvel Studios took a gamble that has paid almost unfathomable dividends over the last ten years, to the tune of $15 billion dollars over the course of 19 films. Film #19, Avengers: Infinity War smashed the box office with a $258 million domestic opening, with a $630 million worldwide take in its first weekend, a number which now sits well over $2 billion. The success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has revolutionized the way stories are told at the movies, and many other studios have tried (and mostly failed) to hop on board and do their own connected universe to try and get a piece of the pie.
But money doesn’t always equal quality, as anyone who has seen even one of the 27 Transformers films can attest. Sometimes we all get hyped up to see a movie, and it’s only in the following years that we realize that the blue-alien science-fiction version of Pocahontas meets Dances with Wolves maybe was just an average film at best. But sometimes…sometimes we get it right.
I’ll just get straight to it. Avengers: Infinity War is worth every cent it has taken in, and doubly worthy of every cent that will be rolling into Disney’s coffers in the future. It’s everything right with serialized storytelling, and it shows that ambition and persistence (with just the right amount of patience) can yield wondrous results.
Whether you’ve followed the universe vigorously for the past ten years or have been only a casual observer for a few of the films, there is something in Infinity War for you. If you’ve frozen every frame of every movie to search for juicy Easter-eggs, you’ll find yourself satisfied. If you fast-forwarded through most of Thor 2 like the rest of us and skipped a lot of the more mediocre films, you’ll still find yourself pleasantly surprised by what Infinity War has to offer.
The film is, unsurprisingly, carried by it’s star-studded cast. Despite the absolutely colossal size of the Infinity War roster, every person gets a part to play. Everyone who is on-screen matters, and nobody feels neglected except for the people who weren’t in the film to begin with. #FreeHawkeye #JusticeForAntMan
But it’s Josh Brolin’s Thanos who absolutely steals the show. He’s had a few moments to flex his muscles as the Mad Titan before (first in 2014’s Guardian of the Galaxy), but that did nothing to prepare the audience for just how remarkable Brolin’s “Thanos” really is.
One of the few critiques about Marvel’s universe over the years is its lack of compelling villains. Aside from Loki and Netflix’s fantastic versions of Kingpin and Kilgrave from Daredevil and Jessica Jones respectively, there haven’t been many villains that leave the audience wanting more. There haven’t been a lot of villains with any significant amount of depth, who feel like actual characters who exist outside of the constraints of “Villain-because-the-film-needed-a-bad-guy-for-the-good-guy-to-punch.”
Thanos is what we’ve all been waiting for. He’s compelling in all the right ways, equal parts sympathetic and ruthless. He is a shining example of how to do a villain right: the villain must feel like the hero of his own story. He shouldn’t be evil for evil’s sake, but because he sincerely believes that he’s doing the right thing.
And for all intents and purposes, Avengers: Infinity War is a Thanos origin story. The film could have just as easily been called Thanos: Rise of the Mad Titan instead, because it really is his film. We’ve seen all of our heroes have character arcs and overcome adversity in their own films, so it’s incredibly fitting that Avengers: Infinity War chooses to give those things to their villain instead. It was an excellent choice, even if it was mostly made out of necessity. With a roster of 28 heroes (including the lesser-known heroes like Nebula, Heimdall, M’baku and others), there wouldn’t have been enough time for even a fraction of them to have compelling character arcs. It almost had to be the villain that goes on the journey of self-discovery.
But that’s not to say the heroes don’t have their time to shine. With such a large cast, the movie breaks them down into smaller, more manageable groups. This leads to several interesting pairings, chief among these Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy. There’s something to be said for the way the cosmic side of the Marvel universe meshes together so well, and Thor’s seamless transition into the interstellar “Bunch of A-holes” is one of the better parts of an already great film.
Call me biased, but the Guardians are probably the most interesting part of the film. Anytime the point of view switches to the Guardians characters, you know you’re in for a good time with great writing, courtesy of James Gunn himself. They steal almost every scene that they’re in and were responsible for by far the most laughs in the film. A lot of the character driven narrative also is framed around the Guardians, as Thanos is Gamora’s adopted father and also the murderer of Drax’s family as we found out in 2014’s original installment. So while the Earth might have the huge catastrophic risk of annihilation to worry about, for the Guardians their quarrel with Thanos is very personal and in my opinion these personal issues comprise most of the best drama in a film that has more drama than the rest of the MCU films combined.
If you’re looking for your old-favorites, don’t worry. Robert Downey Jr.’s “Iron Man” and Chris Evans’ “Captain America” are still around to save the day and are still as perfect in their roles as ever. The film alludes to the feud between the two in Captain America: Civil War, and both characters feel justifiably changed after the events of that film. Benedict Cumberbatch’s “Doctor Strange” proves that he can keep up with the best of them, feeling like a certified Avenger the moment he first appears on-screen. Unfortunately, if you were expecting a lot out of Chadwick Boseman’s “Black Panther” after it’s phenomenal box-office success, you may be a bit disappointed with how little of a role he plays in the grand scheme of things. He is there, but he doesn’t feel like a character who made box office history just a few short months ago: he feels a bit more like an afterthought. In fact, if there’s one thing about this movie that the executives could have changed, I bet it would have been to include more Black Panther. They now realize (a bit too late) just how popular the character is and probably see it as a missed opportunity that he didn’t have more to do in the film.
But at least he was in the film. Despite marketing that essentially revolved around having every character you care about in one blockbuster movie, Hawkeye and Ant-man are nowhere to be found. They get a throwaway line about house arrest, and that’s it. That’s a bit of a shame considering that both characters are full of potential, but with Ant-man and the Wasp right around the corner, it’s possible that Disney has other plans for the duo.
There isn’t much left to say that won’t in some way or another slip into spoiler territory. There are a lot of fun pairings and character interactions that are best left as surprises, as well as a few interesting cameos and revelations that should make at least a few people gasp. If there’s one complaint to be made about the film, it’s that it isn’t the entireculmination of the last ten years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If you were looking for a complete resolution to the arc that Marvel has been carefully crafting since 2008’s Iron Man, you won’t find it here. Despite dropping the Infinity War: Part 2 moniker from the next Avengers film, it is very much going to be Infinity War: Part 2. There is simply too much to address after the credits roll, and a thousand questions that remain to be answered. While Infinity War itself doesn’t suffer too much from what I’m going to call “Part-One Syndrome” (in which a film serves very little purpose other than to advertise Part-Two) it is a bit frustrating having to wait another year and some change to see how all of this plays out in the long run.
Despite that frustration, the film is every bit worth watching, whether you like the lighthearted side of Marvel or need something with a bit more of a dramatic kick. There will be laughs. There will be tears. There will be plenty of all of the emotions in-between. But most importantly, you will walk into the theater and you will have fun. And if that’s not synonymous with the Marvel brand, then I don’t know what is.