Directors: Joe and Anthony Russo
Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) will almost definitely love, or at least highly enjoy, Infinity War. Those who are apathetic or even averse to the ever-sprawling juggernaut of superhero films will hardly be won over. In fact, the latter group may very well despise this movie.
Tying together many tiny threads that have been laced throughout the previous 18 MCU films, Infinity War follows Thanos, the "Mad Titan" from the so-named moon, whose grand ambition is to gather all six of the immensely powerful Infinity Stones, gems that allow dominion over aspects of existence such as mind, space, time, and others. Most of the stones have been intermittently introduced in previous MCU films: the Space Stone back in Captain America: The First Avenger; the Mind Stone in The Avengers, and so on. Thanos is an incredibly powerful alien who has long waged a campaign to basically "thin the herd" of populations which have grown too unwieldy to manage themselves. When he determines that a planet has reached such a point, he brings in his armies to kill half the population, at random, leaving the remaining half more than enough resources to flourish. Thanos's ultimate scheme now is to gather and control the six Infinity Stones, granting him the power to eliminate half of the population of the entire universe with no more than the snap of his fingers. To stop him, the many heroic characters from the previous films must use every resource at their disposal.
Right off, I'll admit that Infinity War isn't the best MCU movie. The scale is so epic, and the number of balls needing to be juggled is so large, that there was no way that a single film could provide satisfaction on every possible cinematic and storytelling level. In this movie's case, what gets sacrificed is real emotional depth and notable character development. The movie does actually provide a bit of depth to the imposing Thanos, a character who has only been shown in brief glimpses a handful of times in the previous six years. And there is a sense of loss concerning a couple of key characters. Also, for those who have followed and enjoyed any of the individual characters from previous MCU film series, the third act is bound to have some impact for you. On the whole, though, this is as purely plot-driven a film as the MCU has offered us to date. Anyone who has preferred the smaller-scale MCU flicks like Ant-Man or Spider-Man: Homecoming, thanks to those films' greater focus on a few people and their relationships, may find the flashy, rip-roaring pace of Infinity War too dizzying and shallow.
For my part, I greatly enjoyed the movie. The directing duo Russo brothers had a lot of moving parts to rein into a single narrative, and they actually did an admirable job of it. This movie is bringing together no less than twenty different characters from well over a half dozen different movie "franchises," and having them band together to try and save quite literally half the universe. The main appeal of such an enterprise boils down to two things: what will the dynamics be when different characters interact, and how exactly will they stop an immensely powerful and determined force like Thanos? Well, the tale does an excellent job of entertaining us through these aspects of the film. Within the first few scenes, we get Spider-Man and Iron Man meeting up with Doctor Strange, and before long Quill and the Guardians of the Galaxy run into a very familiar Asgardian. As the disparate characters begin to coalesce into various teams and fill each other in on exactly who Thanos is and what he wants, the tale comes together in a rather satisfying way. As the heroes attempt to rebuff the initial attacks by Thanos's underlings, their powers, creativity, and mettle are tested in ways that make for some fun viewing.
The ending of this film is already causing some mixed reactions among movie-goers. Though one can assume that certain developments will be undone (the Infinity Stones are virtual game-breakers), there were certainly a few heroes who seem to have truly met their ultimate end. This was bound to upset fans of those particular characters. And while I was expecting a slightly more self-contained movie, I found the ending fine for what it is. The MCU overlords have always billed this movie as the first of what is basically a two-part story, with the second, still-unnamed, chapter set for release in May of 2019. It will feel like a rather long wait for the follow-up, but I believe that it is set up to actually be the stronger of the two films. Much of Infinity War had to be given over to set-up and Thanos's blitzkrieg attack, and when it is all said and done, it will likely feel more like acts one and two of the greater whole.
Infinity War is a success, for what it is. It's what DC films like Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman were trying to be in many ways but mostly failed to be. Short of making a TV-style, five or six-hour mini-series, this movie was never going to have enough time to please everyone across the movie-viewing spectrum. I think the Russo's trimmed away what they needed in order to create a cohesive movie. It's far from the most heart-felt or ponderous MCU flick, but it's strong popcorn entertainment for those looking for fantasy action/adventure of the superhero variety.
Spoiler Section!! Beware!!!
Here is where I get into a few of the details that I enjoyed or didn't, and nearly all of them could potentially ruin some of the fun for you, if you haven't seen the movie yet.
As covered generally above, the greatest weakness of this movie is simply that there just isn't enough time for any character, or even group of characters, to particularly shine. One thing I've loved about my favorite among the MCU movies is that several of the characters have developed clear personalities, which themselves can carry a movie. Tony Stark and Steve Rogers are the two most obvious, but even less prominent characters like Doctor Strange or Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier have compelling enough backgrounds to make them engaging. Due to the reality of time constraints, however, no character is given much more than fifteen minutes of total screen time, and much of that is action. Amazingly, the writers did work in several solid dialogue exchanges that included some solid humor, but the scope of the film and its plot demands were such that one was bound to be disappointed by how little exposure their favorite characters would get. Ant-Man and Hawkeye aren't even in the film at all, despite the former having one film on the shelf and a sequel coming in a mere two months.
Another unfortunate result of the massive scale of the movie is that the losses don't have the emotional impact that one would hope for. Part of this is because of the limited dedication to emotional depth. Again, if one has fallen in love with certain characters, then the impact will be there, but that will have to have come from your previous viewing(s) of those characters' own movies. The deepest emotional tale in the movie involved Gamora and Thanos, but Gamora's death will only have resonance if one has enjoyed the two Guardians of the Galaxy movies (and for my part, I never found the connection between her and Quill terribly organic). And the demise of Steve Rogers, one of the linchpins of the MCU and its clear moral compass, lacks the power that it could have had in another stand-alone "Captain America" movie. This is all to say nothing of the fact that the mere existence of the Infinity Stones tells us that whatever happens can be changed or undone, which is what I fully expect will happen in next year's follow-up film.
Oh, and we never get to see the Hulk really "smash," which is something I've greatly enjoyed in the previous two Avengers movies and Ragnarok. It is pretty cool that Thanos's raw physical strength is made clear by his almost dismissive thrashing of the jade giant early in the picture, but it would have been nice to see him leaping around and pounding a few platoons of alien invaders into Wakandan rhino meat.
Those are my "superhero fanboy" gripes, and they are what keeps Infinity War from being among my absolute favorite MCU movies. When I set aside my fandom and just look at it as an objective cinephile, the movie fares worse, for reasons I mostly cover in the first section of this review. But I am a massive fan of these films, so it is in this vein that I describe what I enjoyed.
As stated, I think the actual plot is extremely well-managed. While Thanos's motivation is rather simplistic, I can justify that when I consider that most massive-scale zealots become that way by oversimplifying complex dilemmas. Rather than try to use creativity or imagination to solve large-scale population problems, Thanos falls back on brutal genocide and justifies it by telling himself that he is doing an honorable and difficult task which only he has the strength and will to carry out. I'm glad that the writers did find a way to add a couple of extra layers to the giant purple killing machine in the way of his backstory and his connection to Gamora. They weren't exactly high emotional drama, but they worked well enough.
And the many heroes' planet-jumping dash to find and stop the Mad Titan is spun very well. Especially if one has followed the various characters in the previous films, there is a very logical progression as to how they seek each other out and ultimately muster for their grand defense in Wakanda. Speaking of, I actually rather enjoyed the movie's use of the fictional African country as the staging ground for much of the ultimate battle. Even though I had just rewatched Black Panther the weekend before seeing Infinity War, I was far from tired of the setting.
With where things stand in the MCU currently - with literally half of the population obliterated, including half of our beloved heroes - this should be a great moment for the MCU to "clean things up," so to speak. I think if Infinity War shows us anything, it's that there is a breaking point for just how many "superhero" characters one put in a a movie and still have that movie provide depth as well as rousing action. Captain America: Civil War was just barely on the right side of that line, while I think Infinity War crossed over to the wrong side of it a bit, watering down what is in many ways a fun flick. Now, however, if MCU president Kevin Feige and his creative team play their cards right, they can pare things back a bit. Once Thanos is dealt with and much of his damage undone (I presume the Time Stone will play a fairly big part in this), the universe can probably be reworked a bit, allowing the future films' creators to go in directions different from what we've yet seen. I'm still well on board, even these ten years later.
by Scottt Hearon of Scott's Film Watch