I have to give it to Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel decided to stop fucking around. One of the biggest criticisms of their expansive cinematic universe is that no one ever in any real danger and no one of significance ever truly dies. Well, the bodies start dropping a few minutes in and continue throughout. Some are relatively minor in the grand scheme, and not all of them are destined to remain corpses, but quite a few are permanent and substantial game changers. With that, more than any other Marvel movie in their ten-year history, this film carries a legitimate edge of peril most don’t have. Right away, they establish a scenario where death, for anyone, is a real possibility, and the film’s better for it.
But even with various surprises and unexpected bits, Marvel is very good at doing one thing: delivering the movie audiences expect. Infinity War may pack an extra punch now and again, but it’s exactly the movie promised. It looks and feels like so many other Marvel properties, events unfurl largely as anticipated, and it builds and grows in that specific way the comic book behemoth favors. It’s entertaining and thrilling in all the usual capacities, giant CGI battles and epic set pieces pop up at regular intervals, and we see all of the big names supes doing their thing. Fans will be more than satisfied, but you always feel like you’ve been here before.
The basic plot revolves around Thanos (Josh Brolin), the Mad Titan, finally delivering on the looming big bad status Marvel has teased us with through countless movies. He tracks down the Infinity Stones, and once he gets them all, he’ll “balance” the universe by killing half of its inhabitants. That’s a rather nefarious plan if I’ve ever heard one. As far as villains go, he’s better than most MCU offerings. More drives his actions than the usual vague lust for power, and a lingering shadow of haunting sadness makes him an engaging antagonist. Still, with Killmonger so fresh in our memory, it’s hard to get too jazzed up.
Because killing half of the universe is, you know, bad, the various superhero factions try to stop him. Simple. Only not so much. Things get real convoluted. Different groups meet up, split apart, and circle back around. Thor (Chris Hemworth) hooks up with the Guardians of the Galaxy. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) follow their own path. Captain American (Chris Evans) and his cadre of outlaws—Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen)—crawl out of their hole. We even get to go back to Wakanda and hang out for a while. That’s not even close to all of it. And if it sounds exhausting, it can be.
Infinity War is a goddamned monster of a movie. Even with a few noteworthy absences, this thing overflows with superheroes—a majority of the roster is present and accounted for. And holy shit is this thing long. 156 minutes, to be precise. At times it roars by, but it juggles so many threads that various elements remain woefully underdeveloped and it loses track of narratives. Multiple times the script returns to a strand only for you to realize it’s been 20-plus minutes since we checked in.
Thor bantering with the Guardians crew is a total blast. When Cap shows up, it’s a stirring, triumphant thrill. We get daddy/daughter time between Thanos and Gamora (Zoe Saldana). Watching Natasha and Okoye (Danai Gurira) fight side-by-side is every bit as badass at you hoped. All of these moments, and many others, are fantastic and fun and will make fans giddy. There’s just so damn much going on.
To call Infinity War unfocused isn’t entirely accurate. It never spirals, it never gets away from directors Joe and Anthony Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. The construction is all deliberate and intentional. It comes together and has purpose—it’s ambitious and novelesque in the way the pieces fit and complement one another. But that’s also the problem.
With a novel, there’s unlimited space. You have ample room to develop each thread and allow relationships and situations to breathe. But trying to cram so much in, too much falls by the wayside. Characters in certain arcs fade into the background—one fight in particular, I totally forgot Spider-Man, one of the biggest comic book characters ever, was even there. Thor and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) have a touching personal exchange, but for every one of those, three others the film desperately needs don’t occur.
One moment in particular—I won’t ruin it, don’t worry—stands out. It should crush one character; it should absolutely devastate this person. But it’s rushed over to the point where it carries little comparative weight and leaves almost no lasting impression. We never see the gravity of the situation settle. And it’s a damn tragedy. Instances like this leave an incomplete feeling, a sensation of unfinished business. And not in the way comics leave unfinished business to propel the continuing narrative, rather things that need to happen for characters that don’t happen.
Like so many Marvel movies, Avengers: Infinity War very much mirrors reading a comic book—a really, really long comic book in this case. One arc may be over, but another waits on the horizon, so nothing’s ever truly done. I know they won’t stick to their guns on the holy-fucking-shit of an ending—on a logistical level it’s impossible, and superhero narratives are notorious for wiggling their way out of sticky situations—but if they do (fingers crossed so hard), it will be the gutsiest move any studio has ever pulled. All I’ll say is that they don’t pull back an inch on the conclusion. This is very much intended as Part 1 of a larger whole, and even though I know the cliffhanger can’t last—it’s an obvious con—for now, it’s a hell of a move.
The Avengers movies always mark a change, a shift in the overarching narrative that carries through all of the Marvel movies. It’s where the various individual franchises come together to denote the end of one era and kick off a new epoch. In this case, we close Phase 3 and gear up for Phase 4, with the events here destined to cause ripples throughout. The Avengers movies always mark a change, but Infinity War alters the landscape in dramatic fashion—that doesn’t even do it justice—to the point where I’m honestly curious where the serialized super-franchise goes from here. [Grade: B]