Avengers: Infinity War Review
Much has been said about Marvel putting together the “most ambitious crossover event in history”. From a business perspective, the success of Marvel Studios is undeniable. The only films that can compete at the box office with Marvel at the moment are close cousins, Star Wars. For critics, the success has been more hot and cold. For every “Captain America: Winter Soldier”, there might be a “Thor: The Dark World”. Now after 10 years and 18 movies, Marvel has not only mastered the ability to construct a cinematic universe but also how to sacrifice it.
This is your formal warning for spoilers about The Avengers: Infinity War. I am one that chooses to avoid any form of media possible when it comes to a big movie like this. If you haven’t yet seen Infinity War but want to, the best advice I can give is to go in blind. Go in with as little information as possible. Of course I’d love for you to come back after you see the movie and read the rest of this post, but until then enjoy the movie.
Fans of game of thrones will tell you the season premiere and finale of each season are events. People throw parties, order pizza and drinks, and enter Westeros together. Avengers Infinity War is the cinematic version of the premiere. In isolation, it is an exciting romp through the cosmos with some interesting characters. For fans of the universe, it is a harrowing fight for their lives. For fans like myself, this is a Godsend. The serialized movie universe that we’ve dreamt about for years may actually stick the landing. For others though, it may be exhausting. Recently, friends of mine who have not seen a single Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie asked me if they should go see Infinity War this weekend. I had to take a surprising amount of time to come to the answer of “maybe not”. I’m not saying that those people wouldn’t enjoy themselves, but much like Game of Thrones, a lot of the emotional punch of this movie is delivered because of movies and character moments that came before it.
The story itself is simple enough to follow, even without knowledge of the 17 movies that preceded it. There’s a villain who needs to find shiny stones, and you’ll learn about why as we move along. A newcomer could easily keep up with the plot beats. Although, that same newcomer will have a really hard time investing emotionally with the cavalcade of Hollywood stars that share the 156 min runtime. The film makers understand this and don’t spend much time (if any at all) introducing characters. The moment the bass line of “Rubberband Man” begins, the movie assumes the audience will have an idea of who will be coming up next. With less time needing to be spent on character introductions, there’s more time to jump straight to character interactions.
From the moment Nick Fury appeared on screen in the end credits sting for Iron Man, to the first time Tom Holland’s spider-man swung onto the screen, fans have concocted countless ideas about how their favorite characters would bounce off of each other on screen. To a certain extent, those connections are the reason people want to see these movies. To avoid overwhelming the audience, the enormous roster of characters is split up into smaller groups early on in the movie. The New Yorkers defend manhattan, the globetrotting avengers defend Vision in Scotland, and the Guardians of the Galaxy meet up with Thor to defend other worlds. If you have a favorite Marvel character, you will likely have at least one moment in this movie where you cheer or gasp. Each group is not only given the opportunity to have some amazing battle moments with each other (Spider-Man easily catches a hammer aimed at Mr. Stark and casually exclaims “sup dude?”), but also character building moments. Rocket begins to fill the shoes of a leader by talking to Thor about his tragic past, which sets up Thor to have a truly heroic finale. After his terrifying run in with Thanos Hulk struggles with PTSD, which forces Banner to be a fighting member of the team. The only weak point in this formula is that not every character gets much deserved screen time. Steve Rogers and Bucky finally reunite as friends, but the moment is over as soon as it begins. While one might say that the Russos did that intentionally to create a sense of urgency, it ultimately removes weight from the tragic ending that Thanos brings.
There is a phrase that is said in the comic fan community that Marvel focuses on compelling heroes, while DC focuses on interesting villains. Of course there’s no black and white here, but this has been somewhat true for Marvel and DC movies. While Loki is a thoughtful and formidable villain, you can’t find many that would argue he is better than Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker. Marvel seems to have heard this in recent years and has brought us villains like Baron Zemo, Adrian Toomes, and Erik Killmonger. All of whom have taken on a noble cause, but with extreme methods. Following in their footsteps, the writers of AIW have taken Thanos in a more empathetic direction from his comic roots. Rather than have him attempt to woo a literal embodiment of death (seriously guys, comics are out there), Thanos wants to bring balance to the universe. His goal of combating overpopulation is emmpathetic considering we share the same problem on earth, but his methods are extreme and lack compassion. Thanos’ battle with the Hulk is disturbing and sets the tone of the movie extremely well. In contrast, Thanos’ children, The Black Order, are not given as much menace. They fulfill their job of distracting and challenging The Avengers, but without much information other than their power, they are never quite as compelling as their father.
One would assume after all these movies and buildup, this big bad Thanos would be a force to be reckoned with. With that force comes loss. While superheroes are known for sacrificing themselves for the greater good, Infinity War forces our heroes to question whether or not they can sacrifice more than themselves. Some characters like Heimdall sacrifice their lives to protect others, while numerous characters are asked to sacrifice what they love. Peter Quill and Scarlett Witch are both asked to sacrifice a loved one. Even though neither of our heroes actually succeed in their sacrifice, the decision to act on it changes them. The villain is the only one to succeed in this sacrifice. Thanos struggles to kill Gamora initially, but he always knew nothing would stop him from achieving his goals. Thanos even watches these heroes grapple with what they have to do, and he tells Gamora “I like him” and tells Wanda “now is not the time to mourn”. The end game is easy for him. For all the talk of D.C. being dark and Marvel being too “light-hearted”, the theme of sacrifice is challenging and discomforting. Marvel demonstrates that you do not need to have a dark color palette and gruesome deaths to have challenging and adult themes.
It is fitting that a studio that produces a film with such strong themes of sacrifice may soon be sacrificing much of what they’ve built. Infinity War is a film that takes everything Marvel has learned over the past 10 years of translating comic books to film and attempts to put them in a pressure cooker. They mostly succeed in delivering the cinematic version of what comic book fans have had for decades, and by the end of this movie it seems that they are ready to start anew. Infinity War sacrifices almost all of their newest and most popular characters, with a strong and emotional moment. Those familiar with comic books can assume that these characters will be returning in the finale, but I think Marvel is preparing us for what will inevitably be a bittersweet final movie. Marvel is ready to move in a new direction, and Infinity War is the first step in sacrificing the old to bring in the new.