AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR is a traumatizing, emotional gut-punch that elevates it to comic book film godhood.
By Matt Cummings
It goes without saying that the hype and frenzy for Marvel Studios’ AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR is as high as any film in recent memory. Who could blame us for geeking out so much: 23+ characters, spread out over 10 years and 19 films, and just under $4b in ticket sales. And yet, the most successful franchise in film has also been heavily criticized for its lack of real danger and the seeming carousel of villains who fall so easily. That’s not the case with Marvel’s newest release: AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR is breathtakingly heartbreaking, an epic production worth every minute of the hype and wait since the first trailer arrived earlier this year.
It’s been two years since The Avengers broke up, and our heroes have all gone their separate ways: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) have witnessed the end of Asgard, while Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) haven’t spoken since the events of CIVIL WAR. But all of that changes with the arrival of The Mad Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin), who has been searching for the six Infinity Stones and has already destroyed several worlds in an effort to find them. As his journey brings him to Earth, his heralds meet a scattered team of heroes including Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Spider-man (Tom Holland) an ailing Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), the wayward Vision (Paul Bettany) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson). Should Thanos acquire all six Stones, he plans to wipe out half of all life throughout the universe; that doesn’t sit well with Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and the rest of The Guardians of The Galaxy, even though Gamora (Zoe Saldana) holds on to a deadly secret that could bring Thanos the destruction he desires. Outwitted and out-matched at every turn, The Avengers join forces with Black Panther (Chadwick Bozeman) at Wakanda in a desperate attempt to keep half of the universe from falling to Thanos’ idea of a ‘Final Solution.’
From the moment INFINITY WAR begins, we know things are going to be different. For reasons I won’t explain, an early battle leaves no doubt just how earnest and emotional things are going to get. The effect of this decision by Directors Joe and Anthony Russo will leave audiences truly shocked; to admit that what happens is gut-wrenching and emotional speaks to the incredible following these characters have received since 2008’s IRON MAN. Such a synthesis of talent works for so many reasons, the chief of which is the portrayal of Brolin’s Thanos. The early butt of jokes (Search for ‘butt chin’ on the Web), Thanos is absolutely effective. He’s no run-of-the-mill Marvel bad guy, but a psychopath who considers his efforts to be noble and even heroic. But there’s more: at several surprising moments, Thanos also becomes nearly sympathetic, forced to make an impossible choice to receive one of the Stones. This scene early in Act 3 will send shockwaves through the theater, leaving the audience to debate one of the most layered and appealing bad guys to ever arise out of film.
Thankfully, there is a bevy of humor in INFINITY WAR, all laid out by Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Long-time veterans of the franchise (they wrote the Captain America series), this duo knows these characters intimately, granting us wonderful moments between Stark and Doctor Strange, powerful ones with daughter Gamora and father Thanos, and a scene between Thor and Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) that demonstrates how far these war-worn heroes have evolved since their initial appearances. It would have been easy for so many characters to get lost in such a heady project, but The Russo brothers elevate every one of them, effortlessly bridging the tone of recent Marvel movies with the desperate and dark morass of this one. If you read the comics, you know that massive team-ups like Avengers World sometimes leave a character without their moment of reflection: not so here. Everyone here gets a moment to either consider their situation, establish their power over one of Thanos’ heralds, or enjoy what the 19th Century Americans coined “a good death.”
That last one will no doubt be the most controversial, and it’s high time something on this scale occurred. What you’re about to see will upend the MCU to its very core, leaving some desperate to know why. I cannot answer that, except to say that even its bitter end does come with a glint of hope, although rolling back the death count here might make INFINITY WAR look disingenuous in the long run. Let’s hope the high stakes established here are etched in some sort of stone, as even the biggest fan favorites are just as vulnerable. This level of darkness has no precedent, and it happens so often throughout that I can’t imagine how and if Marvel plans to roll this back in AVENGERS 4. Until then, enjoy all the wonderful chemistry of our leads, the brazen hopelessness envisioned by its creators, and the utter cutthroat destruction of Thanos. It’s marvelously epic.
THE BOTTOM LINE
After a decade of our heroes seemingly escaping by the seat of their pants, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR jolts us out of our comic book movie complacency with heartbreaking finality. It’s also very well executed, giving each character their moment to shine and to interact with their specific team before it all hits the fan. Thanos is the most sympathetic (and perhaps one of the most powerful) villain of all time, exuding Darth Vader menace and Kylo Ren regret. For everything it resolves, the movie adds at least one new problem, most of which could leave Marvel fans in either a coma or toasting the studio’s willingness to finally put their heroes into real danger. This is THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK dialed to 12, so bring the Kleenex with your popcorn and stay for the single end credits scene that throws up an interesting Hail Mary. That might have something to do with the as-yet-untitled AVENGERS 4 film, but the journey to that one is certainly worth your time.
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, language and some crude references and has runtime of 149 minutes.