Disney/Marvel is releasing their Avengers: Infinity War on the 10th anniversary of their lavish, mammoth successful experiment, the creation of the Marvel Comic Universe. It began a decade ago with the still-wonderful Iron Man and now concludes with this new phase. While the films themselves are hit and miss, the overall goal of the MCU earns a hearty Mission Accomplished so far. The ambitious notion was of creating shared worlds, characters and ongoing plotlines in films to exist in the same way they do on the printed page.
Nearly every competing studio failed in their similar attempts to match Marvel (hence, no Ghostbusters or “Dark Universe” universe). Marvel, with the exception of a few underwhelming installments, has succeeded in fusing the narrative architecture of 18 prior works and given fans a stack of really good movies. This latest feels like a distinct closing chapter, an end to a era and a satisfying way to look back before moving forward. I haven’t liked the other Marvel movies with the word “Avengers” in the title but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Alternating between being grim and light-hearted, there’s enough here to excite and stun anyone who feels these movies have nothing new to offer.
We begin with the reminder that Thanos (played by Josh Brolin) is a ruthless intergalactic villain, in search of collecting the all-powerful “Infinity Stones.” Although The Avengers have ostensibly broken up, there’s additional help found in “friendly neighborhood” Spider-Man (Tom Holland, again best taken in small doses), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), the citizens of Wakanda and the Guardians of the Galaxy (who steal the movie with much needed comic relief).
This one has some of the same problems as the other, over-stuffed, super-packed, superhero, smash n’ bash team-ups. It’s obscenely long and switches focus on wildly contrasting characters so often that there’s no momentum. It’s all stops and starts, with vastly shifting tones from scene to scene.
Note how there are 22 characters on the movie poster! That’s too many for one film and, as usual, some of the less popular characters are sidelined. While Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch has never had more to do in a Marvel movie, Anthony Mackie’s Falcon is stuck in the background.
There’s clear fatigue in the performances of the elder Avengers: Robert Downey Jr. still has a way with biting quips but his chemistry with Gwyneth Paltrow is tired. Scarlett Johansson seems game but all but asks why she’s still doing these movies (and hasn’t had a long overdue Black Widow vehicle for herself). Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner remains woefully unimpressive but Chris Hemsworth’s Thor has never been this interesting.
Nearly every Marvel supporting cast member makes a return appearance. My reactions to the non-stop cameos ranged from Wow-I-forgot-you-were-in-this (William Hurt’s Thaddeus Ross) to Time-to-retire-and-search-for-a-better-role (Idris Elba’s Heimdall).
Here’s where Avengers: Infinity War goes right: it’s long but allows every scene to breathe and properly develop, which wasn’t the case of the choppy Justice League. Also, whereas Justice League forcibly shoehorned the eagerly awaited Wonder Woman portion, this movie finds the proper place to include new scenes of the Black Panther cast. While the screenplay’s format is redundant (stage a huge battle, stop and talk, fight more, give more exposition, etc.), the action impresses and the cast seems to relish the uniquely grave mood of the story.
While comic book movie fans run a wide range of ages, the majority of Marvel aficionados I encounter are children, who are likely to find this movie distressing. Scenes of torture, mass killings and characters forced to kill someone they love (in a PG-13 presentation) occur constantly. This is an exceptionally somber film and a better choice for adults, who ought to see this and decide for themselves if they want to subject their keiki to this.
Brolin is basically doing what Oscar Isaac did in X-Men: Apocalypse, though Thanos is more developed than Apocalypse was. The dark journey of Brolin’s deranged character leads to a strikingly bold finale (which would be risky for any film, let alone a mainstream, $300 million franchise product). The conclusion is the film’s greatest, most calculated creative risk and what makes Avengers: Infinity War truly special. Audiences will be talking about the ending of this one for years.