Avengers: Infinity War, 2018.
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo.
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Brolin, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Don Cheadle, Peter Dinklage, Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira, Karen Gillan, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Carrie Coon, Pom Klementieff, Terry Notary, Sean Gunn, Benedict Wong, Benicio del Toro, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angela Bassett, Idris Elba, Tom Hiddleston, Jacob Batalon, Kerry Condon, Winston Duke, Florence Kasumba, Callan Mulvey, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, and Stan Lee.
The Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.
Thanos is not here to mess around and neither is Avengers: Infinity War (Joe and Anthony Russo take over for Joss Whedon’s overall successful work uniting Earth’s mightiest heroes, with the brothers having recently helmed what is arguably the greatest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date, Captain America: Civil War), which cold opens smack in the middle of an ongoing physical confrontation allowing Josh Brolin’s intimidating CGI presence to set the tone for the near three hours to come. Forget worrying over time who lives and who dies, clench your fists and start sweating from the beginning. For the first time across 18 films, there is a real sense of danger looming over these superheroes, some more than others due to obvious business strategies, but it’s still fear that has never been felt watching these blockbusters and has remained a recurring criticism now for over a decade.
The other common complaint leveled against Marvel’s brand is the weak characterizations and generic motives for their nefarious bad guys, something that is slowly being corrected and here is a non-issue. Surprisingly but absolutely welcome, the strongest dynamic here is Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and her messed up relationship with her adoptive father Thanos (not a spoiler as it is heavily focused on in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2); it is an easy in for the writing team (Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely pulling from multiple comics as inspiration) to flesh out Thanos as more than another psychopath hell-bent on world domination. Initially, he seems to simply be a lazily constructed spin on that stereotypical antagonist, only wanting to annihilate exactly half of the universe to restore balance, generally coming across as insane, but giving him a few emotional moments with the closest thing he has to family adds a twisted layer of complexity and yields effective results. Honestly, going one step further, they share the best scene in the entire movie.
Haven’t seen any of the previous entries leading up to this grandstanding showdown of unprecedented cinematic proportions? Don’t worry, Avengers: Infinity War is still an accessible experience for casual moviegoers, but the 160-minute running time will probably wear down anyone purchasing a ticket solely out of obligation to be a part of the big event. Sure, there’s a seemingly endless amount of explosive encounters (so many that there is only two minutes of plot exposition dedicated to the six Infinity Stones and a small handful of dialogue exchanges that feel clumsily delivered in an attempt to get from point A to point B with the least amount of lines possible, including occasionally jarring cuts and wonky wording), but it’s overkill.
The second half of Infinity War is almost flawless (from the large-scale battle containing just about every superhero imaginable to the absolutely stunning sweeping aerial shots of Wakanda to the fate of many beloved superheroes’ lives at stake), but if you asked me my favorite action sequence from the first half I honestly have no idea what I would say. To be fair, witnessing new character interactions is far more entertaining than digitally rendered battles anyway. Thor repeatedly calling Rocket Raccoon “Rabbit” is the best thing about the movie, and that’s not a knock on the rest of the experience. There is simply more fun to be had whenever an exciting new duo is forced to team up. Naturally, Dave Bautista’s Drax is another clear standout; he has chemistry with anyone and everyone.
Characters split up into various different teams in order to accomplish a number of objectives (there are numerous subplots going on here from finding gems to securing gems to retrieving deadly weapons meant to give the universe a chance at defeating Thanos), Infinity War actually does a fair job balancing all these popular names. Admittedly, there are times where it’s impossible to shake the feeling that a superhero has been missing in action for quite some time, but there was never going to be a way around that. Instead, the editing process ensures that the transitions between characters feels organic, working as a logical advancement of the overall narrative’s next step. The closest comparison one can make is a very long video game (20+ hours broken up into segments) playing as different characters for extended periods of time where it just feels right any moment there’s a shift. Still, a few dramatic beats feel shortchanged, and yes, would probably benefit from an even longer version of the film. One can only hope that the Russos go all Lord of the Rings on us for the Blu-ray release.
Also worth noting is that Infinity War apparently follows no traditional three-act structure. Presumably, this is because there is still another, even longer, chapter left to come next year, but the one thing my mind comes back to whenever I attempt to formulate cohesive thoughts is the opening. There is no other way to start a movie like this off, but the only reason a creative decision so bold works in the first place are due to familiarity with these characters. Equally rewarding, the film never settles into any pattern aside from trotting around the galaxy for the next big piece of spectacle; the quest is in motion from the very first second with no breaks. The proceedings actually only take place over a few hours. There are no boardroom politicians discussing how to deal with the intergalactic threat or other such nonsense; watching Infinity War is like riding the most exhausting Six Flags roller coaster in existence three times consecutively.
To close out with a few remaining quick thoughts, the score this time around from regular composer Alan Silvestri is ominous and heightens the unwinnable sensation looming over any potential fight with Thanos. Nearly all the characters have amusing one-liners but don’t expect any notable development from anyone unless they are a part of the old guard or are named Gamora. The CGI is fantastic all around although Mark Ruffalo looks weird exposed inside of the Hulkbuster, as if the top half of his body is superimposed onto the heavy armor. Thankfully, the Guardians have a much larger role than expected. Also, the ending is going to piss people off, but it has to be that way for the sake of the narrative. It’s a discussion better saved for a spoiler analysis, so please try not storming out of the theater even though the text at the end of the credits is basically a giant but playful “fuck you”. Besides, anyone with a brain can probably piece together the exact plot of the second chapter, which isn’t exactly a good thing but all that matters is that the road ahead looks supremely entertaining.
Ambition isn’t enough to grant a film glowing praise, but Infinity War is, for all its shortcomings, the most fun that will be had in theaters this summer. Would I ever watch this again? Honestly, probably not, it’s too long and draining likely with no substantial value to be found on repeat viewings, but I absolutely could have sat in the auditorium for another three hours; there is still a hell of a lot more excitement left to come.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com