Avengers: Infinity War movie review: it’s all been leading to this

Avengers Infinity War green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Ten years of Marvel superheroism culminates in a battle for the universe itself. Exhausting, bitterly humorous, and gripped in a stunning finality, it’s almost too much to take in, yet somehow not enough.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): big MCU fan
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, male protagonist
(learn more about this)

Previously on The Avengers:

Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, Marvel’s The Avengers (aka Avengers Assemble), Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther.

Ten years and 18 Marvel movies; 19 now, with the arrival of Avengers: Infinity War. This must surely be the most remarkable movie series in history, at least since the time when film was the TV of its day and moviegoers got endless installments of Sherlock Holmes fighting Nazis and Charlie Chan solving mysteries. Except the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been one big interconnected story: sprawling, yet also economical, with the chapters and multimovie threads standing pretty much on their own while also sending tendrils out to take root in others. And how they finally come together here… *whew.* It’s almost too much to take in, yet somehow not enough at the same time. I’m not ready to see this story end.

This many faces on a movie poster almost feels like a joke...
This many faces on a movie poster almost feels like a joke…

Infinity War is to the decade of MCU storytelling what huge-ass battle finales are to the modern comic-book movie. A single movie may end with 20, 30, or 40 minutes of random mass urban carnage caused by CGI heroes and villains punching one another. Ten years of story gets ya two and a half hours of smash-crash-bash ranging across multiple locales on Earth and multiple planets out in the wider galaxy. Now, Infinity War does not fall prey to the problems that have made some of those big battles tiresome, such as forcing the plot to come to a standstill: the series of interrelated and escalating fights is the plot, anyway. And more importantly, complex and compelling characters don’t take a back seat to the action. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo, returning from two of the three Captain America movies, treat the many fight sequences with clarity and originality. We never feel like we’ve seen these huge-ass final battles before. But this may still feel like a slog to anyone who is tired of how this has come to dominate the subgenre, because there’s not much else going on here.

Then, too, there’s an almost a grueling number of characters to keep track of; sometimes it takes forever for the movie to get back to a thread you were particularly intrigued by; other times you’ve completely forgotten someone else was left hanging (sometimes literally) until the movie jumps back to him (or, very more rarely, her). It’s not everyone we’ve ever met in the MCU — there are some notable absences — but it might as well be. Still, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who’ve written or contributed to the scripts for a bunch of MCU flicks, manage to advance the tales of a few of the most beloved of them, mostly Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr: The Judge, Chef), Thor (Chris Hemsworth: 12 Strong, Ghostbusters), and Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans: Snowpiercer, What’s Your Number?). Gamora (Zoe Saldana: I Kill Giants, Live by Night) gets a meaty chunk of story, too, though it might feel that way only because she has not been a character explored in much depth before, so there’s lots to learn about her. And also because it is through her and her connection to the villain, Thanos (CGI’d Josh Brolin: Only the Brave, Hail, Caesar!), that we begin to understand how enormous a task the Avengers and friends are facing this time out.

Gamora gets a meaty chunk of story, though it might feel that way only because she has not been a character explored in much depth before.

“It’s not overselling it to say that the fate of the universe is at stake,” Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch: Zoolander 2, Black Mass). It seems than Thanos, your basic run-of-the-mill alien madman, is trying to collect the six Infinity Stones, “elemental crystals” leftover from the birth of the universe, which, when gathered together, will allow him to perform evil on a scale previously unknown in the cosmos. Worse, he thinks the evil he wants to do is a mercy. He must be stopped, natch.

Many exciting interstellar venues and planets are visited in this movie; my favorite might be the badass dying-star-powered forge that Thor drops in on in the hopes of getting a replacement for his lost hammer, Mjolnir. But two of these Infinity Stones are on Earth, so our poor planet is a draw for bad guys once again. Apparently these Infinity Stones have been lying around in plain sight! One was in the Tesseract, which has been all over the MCU, including lately in the possession of Loki (Tom Hiddleston: Early Man, Kong: Skull Island); one is in the forehead of Vision (Paul Bettany: Journey’s End, Legend), helping to power the android AI’s personality; another is in Strange’s keeping, and fuels his magic. Did we know that these objects were even more than what they appeared to be? I can’t remember. Infinity War has given me a little satisfied tickle of “aha! that’s how it all fits together!” but that might be just because, while I’ve seen all these movies, some more than once, I haven’t studied them.

Star-Lord’s crew decide that Thor is a “pirate-angel,” and OMG yes.
Star-Lord’s crew decide that Thor is a “pirate-angel,” and OMG yes.

That might be the sweet spot from which Infinity War is best appreciated, the one between being a complete Marvel neophyte and being too overindulging a fan of these movies, too steeped in the minutiae of their lore, and in that of the comics behind them. I cannot imagine how anyone who hasn’t seen most of the 18 previous movies will find any kind of foothold here from which to appreciate anything that’s happening or any of the people it’s happening to. Never mind missing some of the fun nuances that comes with realizing that, holy crap, so many of the characters here are suffering from major daddy issues — Stark, Thor, Gamora, Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt: Passengers, The Magnificent Seven) — while Thanos is serving as a sort of ultimate stern father to a cosmos that, he believes, has been very naughty and thoughtless, like a child. But without all the backstory of mostly traumatizing experiences almost everyone here has been through, the humor that wends through the movie might come across as unseemly, what with the fate of the universe at stake and everything, rather than a bitter coping mechanism for all these damaged heroes. On the other, I’m sure I can’t even imagine all the inconsistencies and incongruities that have popped up across all of these movies, and I’m glad my head was not full of them as I sat with Infinity War. It’s more than enough for me to have noted that Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland: Pilgrimage, The Lost City of Z) appears to have jumped back in time from the events of his standalone movie, which seems to have been set a good few years after the events here.

From my middle ground — not too geeky, not too mundane — the superhero orgy of Infinity War was a whole lotta just right. And I include in that how it exhausted me, and ultimately how it stunned me. The MCU has been no stranger to darkness, but the darkness here has a depth and a horror that rattled me like the MCU never has before. Yes, there’s another (last?) Avengers movie coming next year, but there’s a finality to this one that, I suspect, will be difficult to dispel.

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