So the headline describes this movie perfectly for me. Marvel’s 19th movie in its cinematic franchise is a hugely impressive piece of movie making, given the sheer scope. I’m not just referring to the visuals, since this is generally the part of a CGI fest I find the least impressive. No, the technical aspect I’m talking about are all the behind-the camera stuff, from script to production and everything in between (the legal department must have worked overtime for weeks on just the contracts). Avengers: Infinity War is finally the main event that the franchise has been building toward since 2012’s Avengers, arguably 2011’s Captain America.
It’s an incredible testament to the unified vision behind this franchise that, despite some movies ranging from the mediocre (Avengers: Age of Ultron) to the downright awful (Thor: The Dark World), the entire series has been able to more or less chart a successful path from 2008 ‘s initial entry, Iron Man, to culminate here, a decade later, with a movie of such gargantuan proportion that it looks poised to overtake Star Wars: The Force Awakens with the biggest opening weekend grosses of all time. Of course, the size of this film is not the prime factor for the numbers – despite people who are sadly out of touch with current trends proclaiming that people are suffering from superhero fatigue – it’s a simple truism that lots and lots of people enjoy these movies. I count myself among them. I’m a big fan – and also critical of – the Marvel movies, but as a long time fan of the comics, and someone who actually wrote for the company, I’ll go and see anything they produce cinematically.
Ostensibly a sequel to Joss Whedon’s insipid, lazy Age Of Ultron, it’s really more a thematic sequel to the first Avengers movie, but it also contains the DNA from the last couple of years in the franchise (less so from the wildly successful Black Panther, but I suppose given the production timeline, not so surprising). Following on from the mid-end-credits sequence of Thor: Ragnarok, the movie jumps right into the action introducing Thanos, a terrific, big ticket scene with two giant moments, that could have gone the safe route with a slow reveal. It’s definitely the right choice because the first hour of this movie is mostly about introducing the massive cast of familiar characters.
Infinity War tells the story that everything has led to: cosmic bad guy Thanos (in a fine mo-capped performance by Josh Brolin) seeks the six “infinity” stones created during the big bang, with which he plans to destroy half the burgeoning population of the universe. I remember reading the first Infinity story back in the 90s (Infinity Gauntlet), and not being terribly impressed, but nothing since – so most of my experience with Thanos goes back to the incredible, trippy run on Captain Marvel by Jim Starlin, back in the 70s (without which the latter half of the cinematic franchise would not exist). I’m not going to recap it here, but I urge you to pick up this excellent collected edition at your local comic store.
Suffice it to say that the movie completely departs from the source material in order to fold it into the franchise as a whole, yet does so admirably well. Only the combined forces of all the Marvel Studios heroes can prevent Thanos from achieving his goal, and this is what most impressed me about the movie – it’s a complete logistical, cinematic miracle. Almost every character gets screentime and “moments”, and it all feels spectacularly well-balanced. So too does the tone and action set pieces: for such a grim movie, the trademark banter between characters provide the kind of character-driven levity that Warner Brothers just don’t understand with their own characters, and the action scenes contain enough character work that the movie only descends once into a faceless CGI-fest. I’m talking about the Wakanda scenes, which I watched with a tired “LOTR-did-it-first” attitude.
But I also like to be surprised in movies, and there are two cameos I absolutely did not expect. One is an actor, one is a character, and I loved both cameos. The former’s scenes skate a little close to overextension, but the latter’s was great because it completely changed up the character through an evolution from a prior appearance. Sorry for being cryptic, but y’know …
So why didn’t I love it? Oddly enough, for the same reason I liked it: the size of it. While the Russo Brothers continue to be Marvel’s most consistently impressive directing team, I felt pretty fatigued myself about halfway through. The movie contains a couple of storylines central to the narrative, which can be better described as more befitting that of a videogame: you have the central quest, then you have the side quests, and while they all make for an incident-packed plot, they don’t add up to a completely satisfying story. There are so many characters with so many things to do, that the meat of the story is generally just found in the character interactions that happen between the plot points. I admit, this isn’t a criticism with much depth because there probably is no way to actually beef up a story that contains so many elements. Even though it’s all done well, and despite finding nothing in the movie I actually disliked, I failed to be completely engaged during much of it. I did appreciate Thanos’s plan was based on a skewed form of altruism because it added some complexity to the character, but I also wondered that if he was able to acquire all six Infinity Stones, thus giving him the power of a god, why couldn’t that same altruistic plan be accomplished with zero deaths? But on a smaller note, I loved The Russos approach to hand to hand combat (as mentioned in my Captain America: Civil War review), but the fight scenes here seemed to lack their signature style.
I’ll say though that the ending of this movie is pure genius, from a marketing point of view. Other than The 6th Sense, I cannot think of another movie where word-of-mouth advertising about an ending will generate business, and it wouldn’t surprise me if $100M alone came from people who heard about the ending and needed to see it for themselves, because it was designed to be the movie’s major discussion point. Of course, I won’t reveal it here, but suffice it to say I’ve been reading comics long enough to suspect what’s going to happen in the next installment come 2019. If I’m right, the idea is seeded around the midpoint, and it reminded me of a major plot point in the comic series The Authority. If anyone thinks the same thing, comment below and we’ll see if we’re on the same page.
I really struggled with the rating for this movie, but I ultimately settled where I did because the sheer logistical accomplishment of this movie is worth half a point all by itself.
© Andrew Hope, 2018