Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo | Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely | 149 min
Since the mid-’80s, Marvel’s been finding their sales figures spiking with summer crossover series—pitting their popular heroes against each other and/or a terrible, frequently cosmic, threat—with titles like Secret Wars, Civil War, Secret Invasion, House Of M, and, yes, Infinity Gauntlet. Now, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has followed suit, with 10 years of features culminating in a massive crossover event including most of the Avengers—with a few notable absentees—and the star-hopping Guardians of the Galaxy, all fighting the fellow on the giant space-toilet, the Mad Titan, Thanos (Josh Brolin).
There are about a dozen ways this could’ve gone south given so many—what’s the collective noun for costumed heroes? A manifest? A galaxy? A spandex? But, as usual, Marvel and its creative staff keep all the plates spinning. This is an enormous, exciting, and yes, exhausting action adventure—and it’s terrific.
Thanos is the first Marvel cosmic or robotic villain in ages who’s genuinely soulful, even while he executes his plan to off half the universe. His reasons for doing so are a bit thin—in the comics he’s more of a religious fanatic, in love with death and wanting to sacrifice all life to “her.” Here he seems something of a galactic environmental nut, but he still manages to have an emotional foundation.
He also delivers a genuine existential threat. Here’s a villain mightier than all of Earth’s heroes put together, as he demonstrates in an early scene, wiping the floor with two of the most powerful of their number. His relentless mission, to collect six macguffins—stones of cosmic power that’ve played key roles in the plots of many of the previous 18 films—splits our heroes into unlikely teams in attempting to thwart him. The fact that they’re so outgunned raises the stakes into the stratosphere. Not only are they unlikely to beat him, they’re also unlikely to survive.
What works well is the typically smooth handling of character amidst all the chaos, and the impeccable casting. MVPs include Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Vision and Scarlet Witch (Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen), Peter Parker (Tom Holland), and a new character played by Peter Dinklage, but really, there’s no weak link in this chain, which is saying something when there are dozens of links. Everyone has their moment, and some more than one. Jags of well-placed humour help lift the heavy plot elements, romance and camaraderie deliver real heart, and the special effects are state of the art.
I didn’t notice much lag in the almost two-and-a-half hour running time, but I am starting to feel that some of the CGI battles are getting stale—little in a sprawling sequence of heroes facing demonic alien hordes seemed like it had been updated or improved over the New York battle of Avengers 2012, or the Sokovia battle of 2015. Better was a space-set-piece of heroes having to team up to try and stop Thanos himself. Maybe that’s just a personal preference for superhero battle scenarios—I prefer the single super-powered antagonist facing heroes than the dizzying, digital masses.
Also, I missed the delightful moments of breathing space. Though I can’t imagine adding scenes of down time would do much for the pacing of a film like this, some of the best parts of this movie’s immediate predecessors include parties, kitchen canoodling, philosophical arguments, and plain old dick-measuring, and there’s precious little time here for indulging in any of that essential nonsense. Am I the only one who wants an Avengers movie entirely devoted to what Avengers do on their days off (with added Wonder Man)?
This said, Avengers: Infinity War is still an impressive achievement, borrowing emotional grace notes from the original Star Wars, and Lord Of The Rings, while delivering a level of emotional resonance I compare favourably to the recent season of Game Of Thrones. This is where the investment pays off for the longtime viewer, and you know heads are going to roll.
A surprisingly downbeat conclusion leaves more than a few questions—and the feeling that the Russos having claimed that Avengers 3 and Avengers 4 are self-contained and separate is an outright lie—but I very much enjoyed the film and look forward to seeing it a second time. And what more would anyone want from a superhero extravaganza but anticipating a second helping as soon as you exit the cinema?
Beyond this point lie SPOILERS. Go see the movie, then come back and read ’em, if you’d like.
I very much enjoyed the constipated Banner, and his “condition” makes all kinds of sense. If Hulk is his rampaging ID, it was the first time he’d ever been beaten, and beaten badly. It’s no wonder he didn’t want to come out and face Thanos and his minions again.
Someone called Tony Stark a douchebag. They say a good script gives audiences the things they don’t know they want, and I clearly wanted to hear that.
I find Peter Parker’s Spider-Man armour totally ridiculous, and I hope this is a one-time thing with the extra legs and such.
The return of the Red Skull was maybe the biggest single surprise cameo, and made the film feel more like a one of those psychedelic ’70s Marvels than anything I’ve seen from the MCU. It’s a wacky idea and I loved it.
It’s extremely hard to believe that Marvel just killed off half its most popular characters, including Black Panther, Groot, Peter Quill, The Winter Soldier, and Spider-Man—especially given a Spider-Man movie is expected in July 2019. There’s some kind of twist to this ending where Thanos achieves everything he’s ever wished for. If I had to guess, it has to do with Doctor Strange, who swore he’d protect the Time Stone until death. It makes no sense that he’d hand it over in exchange for Stark’s life, and the slightest suggestion of a smile on his face indicates he has some kind of plan:
Is it a spell to show Thanos the dream he always wanted? Or did he use the stone to trigger an alternate timeline, one that would somehow allow him to step backward and engineer a solution? Or did he plan these events knowing the one way the good guys win (as he envisioned) is if Stark had a key role to play the next time out? I’d be interested in hearing any alternative theories on this.