(Warning: There are spoilers in this review. They’re not necessarily huge spoilers but they’re there. Read at your own risk.)
Avengers: Infinity War is a lot of things. It’s big, it’s thrilling, it’s emotional, it’s colorful, it’s loud, it’s flamboyant, and, clocking in at two and a half hours, it’s occasionally a bit exhausting. It’s overwhelming but it’s never boring. It’s a nearly perfect example of pure cinema, where the story is less about what happens and more how it’s told. It’s a tribute to not just the Marvel Cinematic Universe but also to the audiences who have been flocking to each movie since Iron Man was first released way back in 2008. Avengers: Infinity War is a pop art masterpiece, one that provides the first part of a climax to a saga that’s been unfolding for ten years.
In the days leading up to the release of Avengers: Infinity War, the main selling point was the assumption that this movie would feature every single character that’s been introduced as a citizen of the MCU so far. Though the film comes close to including everyone, there are still a few characters who are notable for their absence. Ant-Man and the Wasp are nowhere to be seen. None of the Marvel Television characters show up, which is a shame because I’m sure Jessica Jones would have had some choice words about the potential end of the universe. Two familiar SHIELD agents make a brief appearance, though you have to wonder where they were when New York and Wakanda were being invaded.
That said, all of the big heroes show up. Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) flies into space with Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Thor (Chris Hemsworth) teams up with Rocket Racoon and Groot (voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel, respectively). When Wakanda is attacked, Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), White Wolf (Sebastian Stan), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Rhodey (Don Cheadle), and Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) are all present to defend it. Meanwhile, Vision (Paul Bettany) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) continue to pursue their odd relationship while Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) search for Gamora’s father, Thanos (Josh Brolin).
It’s a packed film and the fact that it works as well as it does is a testament to the power of perfect casting and movie star charisma. At this point, we feel as if we know these characters. We know that Tony Stark is going to be haunted by what happened the last time Thanos’s minions involved New York. We know that Spider-Man is going to be desperate to prove that he belongs with the adults, just as we know that Dr. Strange isn’t going to be particularly impressed with anyone he meets. Needless to say, some characters get more screen time than others. Despite a good deal of the film taking place in Wakanda, Black Panther largely stays in the background. I personally wish that both Natasha and Captain America had been given a bit more to do. Considering just how talented both Anthony Mackie and Don Cheadle are, it’s a shame that neither one of them ever gets to do much in these films. At the same time, Infinity Wars allows both Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany to come into their own and Chris Hemsworth again shows that he may be the most underrated star in the MCU. I’ve read a lot of criticism of certain actions taken by Peter Quill towards the end of the film but actually, it’s exactly what you would expect his character to do in the situation and, up until that moment, Chris Pratt is a welcome presence. It’s important to have someone around who appreciates good music and who can make you laugh, especially considering that Thanos is planning to wipe out 50% of the universe’s population…
Oh yes, Thanos. After spending years lurking in the background, Thanos finally steps forward in Infinity War. In fact, it can be argued that Avengers: Infinity War is actually much more of a Thanos film than an Avengers film. While our heroes are continually spending the film trying to catch up to Thanos and reacting to his latest action, Thanos is always one step ahead. Thanos is the one who steers the narrative and, for once, you really do believe that an MCU villain views the heroes as being mere distractions. Thanos is the one on a quest and the film follows him through every step of his search. In fact, the film’s most emotional moments belong to Thanos. For all the death and destruction to be found in the film’s surprisingly dark narrative, Thanos is the only character to ever shed a tear. Like all great villains, Thanos doesn’t view himself as being evil. Instead, Thanos speaks very sincerely of his desire to bring balance to the universe. The scary thing about Thanos isn’t that he claims that he’s being merciful when he slaughters millions of beings. The scary thing about Thanos is that believes it.
Thanos, you see, is a bit of an intergalactic environmentalist. As he explains it, the universe only has a finite number of resources. By killing half of the universe’s population, he is ensuring that the other half will be able to survive in peace and harmony. Most people would call Thanos’s actions genocidal but Thanos would probably say that he’s merely making the difficult decisions that others don’t have the courage or intelligence to make. It may all sound rather far-fetched and melodramatic until you consider that, just last week, bureaucrats and doctors in the UK decided it would be better to starve a sick infant to death rather than allow his parents to take him to be treated in another country. With his mix of narcissism and absolutely belief in his own moral certitude, Thanos is a far more familiar villain than a lot of viewers might want to admit. As opposed to the forgettable villains who have appeared in so many MCU films, Thanos is a compelling and complicated figure. It’s interesting to note that two of the best performances of the year so far were given by actors appearing as villains in MCU films, Michael B. Jordan in Black Panther and Josh Brolin in this one.
As befits the film’s subject matter, Infinity War is a sprawling film, one that skips from world to world. The visuals are frequently spectacular, as are the many battles. From the opening attack on New York to the final battles in Wakanda and in space, the action is non-stop and thrilling. (It helps that, as opposed to some of the previous MCU films, it’s always clear who is fighting who and why they’re fighting.) For me, though, the most memorable scenes are the scenes where Thanos looks and considers the worlds that he’s destroyed. There’s a scene where an exhausted Thanos rests on a placid planet and it’s one of the strongest images in the history of the MCU.
I’ve been told that I shouldn’t worry too much about all of the characters who are killed over the course of Infinity War. From what I’ve been told, it’s apparently something of a tradition in Marvel comics to kill off a bunch of recognizable characters and then have them come back to life an issue or two later. And the fact that the sequel to Infinity War has already been filmed and is set to released next year leads me to suspect that nothing’s permanent. I mean, if all of these people are really dead, there aren’t going to be many heroes left to make any more movies about. That said, I still got far more emotional than I probably should have at some of the unexpected demises. Especially … well, no. I won’t say the name. But seriously, it was upsetting.
2018 is shaping up to be the year of Marvel. So far, Marvel has released two of the best films of the year. To be honest, a film as huge as Infinity War shouldn’t have worked and yet, it does. It’s a masterpiece of pop art.*