Review: Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

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The Russo Brothers manage to masterfully direct a ten years in the making epic film that gathers a sprawling cast of A-List characters and somehow manage to make the villain a compelling character worthy of the effort.

The business of modern superhero based epic films is a tricky one in 2018. The successful game plan that Marvel started to lay out 10 years ago with the release of Iron Man and the subsequent successful Thor and Captain AMerica leading up to 2012’s Avengers was a catch lightning in a bottle moment, with Joss Whedon’s 2012 film seeming amazing and impossible at the same time. 2015’s Avengers Age of Ultron was an example of when the business of a crossover film gets in the way of its creative execution. Age of Ultron was a movie that struggled to find meaningful roles for all of its protagonists and was largely a film meant to put other cogs in motion and it showed; Thor’s subplot in the film was to set up The Avengers knowledge of Infinity Stones, a wedged in love interest sub-plot between Hulk and Black Widow created more controversy than it did pathos for the characters, and Whedon quickly wrote the film off as a result of studio mandates versus creative endeavor. Now, 3 years later, with a new pair of directors in Joe and Anthony Russo, we are at the advent of what these films have been building to for the last decade; The Avengers vs. Thanos in Infinity War. The question is, does the film deliver, as its antagonist has only had a few minutes of screen time between the first Guardians of the Galaxy film and a stinger at the end of both Avengers films. The answer is yes, as much as they did in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Russos manage both the potentially unwieldy sprawling cast of the film and the task of making Thanos (Josh Brolin) a character whose motivations and drives we can understand if not empathize with.

As Infinity War kicks off, Thanos and his Black Order, a group of his cast-off children in the mold of Gamora and Nebula from Guadians of the Galaxy have already captured the Power Stone from the planet Zandar from the Guardians of the Galaxy and have captured the Asgardian refugee ship from Thor Ragnarok. As Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) make a last stand against Thanos, Heimdall (Idris Elba) uses the power of the Bifrost to send Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) to the Sanctum Santorum in New York to warn Doctor Strange and Wong (Benedict Cumberpatch and Benedict Wong) of the coming of Thanos and how they are questing after Strange’s Time Stone. Strange informs Iron Man as the Order comes for the Stone and Spider-Man’s spider-sense activates for the first time as he swings into action to help his benefactor. Meanwhile, The Guardians of the Galaxy encounter Thor, whose mutual connection to Thanos triggers a team-up where they journey to Knowhere to find the Reality Stone. Meanwhile, Vision and Scarlet Witch sense the Mind Stone is in peril as they struggle to stay out of the fray as Thanos searches for the location of the lost Soul Stone.

As you can see, there is a lot going on in Infinity War. To the Russo’s credit, the pairings they come up with for the various heroes in different franchises work to balance out the pacing of the film, which flows quickly but could have easily dragged given the nearly 3 hour length of the film. The Russos have experience balancing large diverse casts of characters from the tenure on Dan Harmon’s Community as directors, and the juggling act they do with humor and serious pays off in dividends. Chris Hemsworth channels the jokier version of Thor from Thor Ragnarok and it works when paired with the Guardians; Infinity War feeling very much like the original Guardians of the Galaxy film in tone. Dave Bautista’s Drax, as well as Chris Pratt’s Star Lord seem to be drawn a little too much in the humor edge as far as characterization, to the point where some of their scenes with Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man seem a bit grating. However, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man once again shines, as does Mark Ruffalo who spends much of the movie struggling with the Hulk part of himself. Chris Evans’ renegade Avengers team also shines, his nomadic Captain America getting a great cheer upon his first appearance in the film. However, it is Brolin’s Thanos who gets the most fleshing out in the film. Reimagined as a messianic figure trying to balance the universe versus the Death worshipping sycophant he is in the Marvel Comics, Thanos works as a character because of the scenes we see of his early conquests serving to humanize him. As he balances the universe, he picks up “children” to raise as zealots for his cause, including a young Gamora in one of the film’s most affecting scenes. We see Thanos having to make great sacrifices to gather these stones and in doing so, its easy to see how Thanos is the hero of his own story, even if his goal is ultimately terrifying and horrible.

There’s a lot to like in Infinity War, a movie that should not work as well as it does giving how many masters it is serving in terms of franchises and building other films. But it works. It has some great and unexpected surprises and its ending definitely make sit The Empire Strikes Back of the 19 films of the MCU. Some may be shocked, but at the same time, given what we know of comics and franchises the film’s denouement seems somewhat anti-climactic, its in many ways half of a film. That being said, the film’s stinger and the audacity of the ending serve as an excellent hook to see what comes in the next untitled Avengers film.

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