Review: Avengers: Infinity War
Avengers: Infinity War is Marvel’s colossal size crossover event, the first of a two-parter story with the latter half set to release in May 2019. The project serves as the culmination of what has transpired in Marvel’s cinematic universe to date, as it assembles Earthbound and intergalactic heroes together for one massive storyline, amounting to 149 minutes of pure action spectacle against a foreboding tone (with some cheeky one-liners sprinkled throughout).
Infinity War adapts the classic comics crusade of the mad titan Thanos (played by Josh Brolin), an all-powerful being with a genocidal mindset of wiping out half the universe to bring about order. To do this he must collect six “infinity stones” which are spread across the galaxy and have been featured in many previous MCU titles. Characters are flung in-between different scenarios, as they team up together to save half the universe from extinction. Each of these components has an array of different Avengers either meeting for the first time or reuniting after years apart, as they take the time to gratingly remind viewers of past events depicted in previous films. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) trades barbs against Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) while continuing to be an involuntary mentor to Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) meets the Guardians of the Galaxy in a quest to forge a mythical weapon, and Captain America (Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) join forces with Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) to protect one of the Infinity Stones.
Death is present throughout Infinity War, which would make this entry a fitting end to the franchise that has not only remained popular for 10 years now but also altered the very foundation of blockbuster filmmaking itself via the concept of a shared universe. With Thanos depicted as an invincible, impenetrable foe, and the sheer number of the MCU’s most recognized actors seeking a way out of their contracts and spandex suits, the sense of finality in the film and its marketing seeks to up the ante like never before.
It’s a shame that despite all this pretense, the movie fails at making this one notable aspect register on an emotional level. I’m not going to spoil anything that happens in Infinity War because, well, in a franchise where the existence of magic gems that can alter time, reality, and space; the concept of death itself is ultimately meaningless. In the comics, superheroes die and are resurrected all the time; something that hasn’t been seen much before within the cinematic subgenre. It may feel like a dramatic step forward to kill off any number of recognizable characters (and a great way to be economical for Part 2 by rendering some to cameo status), though an educated guess would show that Infinity War’s catastrophic scenario is merely a slight detour in the grander scheme of this series.
The most exhausting feature of Infinity War comes from its sheer size, as the story operates through various subplots which revolve around either fighting massively overpowered henchmen or going on a journey to retrieve a magic MacGuffin to stop Thanos. In this way, it operates like a mini-sequel to five or six different standalone MCU series, a narrative decision that will certainly reward dedicated viewers who have been along for the ride this entire time, and bore others who haven’t had the time to keep up with the 18 other films that came beforehand. That’s not to say that more casual fans won’t be able to grasp key facets of the storyline, it is still very much a homogenous, lowest common denominator blockbuster like the bulk of the MCU, straying slightly from the formula with its grave overtone (the inverse of last year’s Thor: Ragnarok, which happens to end right where this one kicks off).
But at the same time, Infinity War feels like the series has hit its ceiling if it hadn’t already earlier this year with Black Panther. A sequel like this can’t be done a second time in the future, with an ever-expanding, bursting at the seams roster and Marvel’s insistence that they remain under 3 hours, giving most characters under 15 minutes of screen time each. What many consider to be the best aspect of Infinity War on paper is in effect the very thing that works against it, as there’s next to no room for substance or thought against a flurry of CGI and heroic moments that entertain in the moment but don’t leave a lasting impression beyond that. Much like previous overstuffed entry Captain America: Civil War, it’s hard to see Infinity War having long-lasting appeal once the thrill of a first time viewing has passed, with the finessed episodic assembly line delivery approach having fans clamoring for their next fix.
The hegemonic system in place, that soon will see the bulk of Fox’s heroes like the X-Men and Fantastic Four join this franchise, ensures that there’s no end in sight for these movies. Whether or not they’re able to maintain the same level of brand enthusiasm for another 10 years is another question altogether.