REVIEW: Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

The following is a review of Avengers: Infinity War — Directed by The Russo Brothers.

“To challenge them is to court death,” the Other, a servant, said to the ‘Mad Titan’ Thanos in the mid-credits scene of 2012’s The Avengers, which was the culmination of the first phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Four years earlier, at the end of 2008’s Iron Man, the mysterious Nick Fury kicked-off the cinematic universe by telling Tony Stark about the ‘Avengers Initiative.’ A lot has happened since then — misfits and unlikely heroes have teamed up to save foreign worlds, a teenage wall-crawler has protected his neighborhood, and long-lasting friendships have been torn apart by the actions of a brainwashed super-soldier.

Now, ten years after the release of the first Marvel Cinematic Universe film, the long-awaited Avengers: Infinity War is here, and it is, for the most part, another amazing chapter in the super successful connected universe from Disney and Marvel. The film brings together all of your favorite heroes for a battle with a Mad Titan hellbent on using powerful gems to bend the universe and its inhabitants to his will.

Avengers: Infinity War starts right after the events of Thor: Ragnarok, when a large spacecraft captained by Thanos (played by Josh Brolin) and the Black Order had intercepted the Asgardian spaceship with Hulk (played by Mark Ruffalo), Thor (played by Chris Hemsworth), and Loki (played by Tom Hiddleston) on board. What exactly happens in that scene is for the film to show you, and for me to stay silent about. But what I can tell you is that Thanos is on a mission to find all five of the infinity stones — powerful gems full of color that have been talked about for about as long as the Avengers films have been popular.

What does the Mad Titan intend to do with all of that power, you ask? Oh, well, he only intends to wipe out half of the universe. Those attempting to stop him include both Earth’s Mightiest Heroes — the Avengers — and the Guardians of the Galaxy. But they also have to protect the two infinity stones that are located on Earth — the time stone held by Doctor Strange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) and the mind stone powering up the Vision (played by Paul Bettany).

As you may have gathered, this is not a standalone film. You could watch the first handful of Marvel Cinematic Universe films on their own without prior knowledge of this or that other film in the universe. Heck, you could even watch films like Black Panther and Ant-Man with only a cursory knowledge of the other characters in the universe and still have a good time. Avengers: Infinity War, however, is a different beast altogether. I can’t exactly tell you that you are going to have a fantastic time with this movie, if you have only vested an interest in one or two characters, and that may be a dealbreaker, for some.

On the flip side, however, this is also the kind of film that rewards those people that rewatch the films religiously. In that sense, this film is very much like a crossover comic book event that brings together all of those very important characters for an event that halts the progress of the characters’ individual storylines. When you read through a major comic book event nowadays, you haven’t always had the money, patience, or time to go through the additional required reading, which includes multi-issue tie-in comic books in other characters’ series.

Thankfully, the Marvel Cinematic Universe series of films is, by now, so ingrained in our collective Western pop culture that the ‘required viewing’ for this film is not as daunting as it might have been. So, in a sense, Avengers: Infinity War is the most comic book-like superhero event movie yet. Also, unlike many major comic book events, the spectacle of Avengers: Infinity War actually lives up to the hype.

With Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel Studios is leaning into and accepting the popular notion that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is cinema’s answer to long-form storytelling. Like television episodes or comic book single issues, the movie doesn’t make much sense without being evaluated as a piece of something greater. Issue #19 of any comic book series, or the nineteenth episode of any television show would not make any sense without greater knowledge of the universe.

Reviewing the issues, films, or episodes on their own is certainly possible, but you cannot expect each issue of a comic book, each episode of a television show to stand on its own. We should at no point expect Infinity War to stand on its own. This is the third Avengers movie. It is Robert Downey, Jr.’s ninth Marvel movie appearance. It is the nineteenth Marvel Cinematic Universe film.

I would expect people to look at it as such a thing — a natural evolution of the cinematically unique long-form narrative that Marvel Studios has been telling since 2008. This does in no way, shape, or form take away every problem that one may have with the film, but it is an attempt to explain exactly why this film should be viewed and reviewed as what it was always meant to be: a new and spectacular point of convergence for the many character-specific storylines of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Avengers: Infinity War will be described as the Empire Strikes Back of Marvel movies, and that comparison is fairly accurate. Infinity War does, indeed, split up its heroes but to a much larger extent and with very many different subplots to keep track of in the middle of a war for colorful gems. Also, like The Empire Strikes Back, Infinity War has a bold ending that is hard to wrap your head around — one that will shock and surprise most audiences around the world. I think it might be the craziest ending to a blockbuster film ever, even though it likely won’t become as easily referenced as the ending of The Empire Strikes Back.

The problems that some might have with this film, however, are not limited to the fact that the film cannot stand on its own without the support of the other films in the series. Unlike The Empire Strikes Back, Infinity War doesn’t contain a high level of intimacy with all of its central characters, and some major characters’ arcs are virtually nonexistent. And even though characters like Thor, Iron Man, and Gamora are given a lot of time to have complete and memorable character moments, the film’s subplots do tend to start and stop a lot as we jump from planet to planet — as a result you will absolutely start to wonder when we’ll see more of this or that character because they disappear from the film for too long.

Some scenes that you may expect to see — like a Banner-Romanoff reunion scene — are not at all satisfying. And, yes, some of the most beloved characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe only get a couple of lines of dialogue. You will be surprised — and, perhaps, disappointed — to see which now iconic characters aren’t given more than a handful of scenes. For better and worse, this film is jampacked full of action and comedy moments.

But, of course, we must understand exactly how ambitious this film is. This is the toughest superhero movie balancing act that we have ever seen, and, you may say, that it is a miracle that it doesn’t fall apart, which isn’t to say that it is ever about to. It works. It really is amazing to think that the Russos have managed to take an unwieldy juggling act with haunting imagery and made it as entertaining as it ultimately is.

I was never bored, even though the film is as long as a theatrical release edition of a Lord of the Rings-film. I don’t think any fan of the film series will be bored either. You get your money’s worth — and then some. But it may, to be perfectly honest with you, feel like the full story hasn’t been told. For some, the film will absolutely only feel like the first half of a spectacular story — and thus an incomplete film — but I did, all things considered, think that the film worked really well as a new chapter for the entire series, as well as the first villain-centric Marvel movie.

That’s right. This is absolutely Thanos’ film. Marvel has gone to great lengths to bring us a well-realized cinematic representation of the infamous Mad Titan, and Josh Brolin does a great job of giving an actual strong performance in spite of the fact that his character is a CGI-creation. With Killmonger in Black Panther and the Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming, Marvel seemed to have fixed its villain problem, and Thanos confirms the fact that Marvel films can, indeed, feature great, well-realized villains with motivations that are explained fairly well.

I must also say that although some characters, as I mentioned, are underserved by the film, most of the beloved and iconic characters in the film are handled well, thoughtfully, and with a lot of care. The Russo Brothers do such a great job with these characters, even the ones that they had never worked with before — like the Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange. Whenever you see these characters, it feels like you’ve stepped into their films for a moment or two. Doctor Strange is as important as he should be, and he will have you begging for another film about the Sorcerer Supreme.

The crossover elements never feel forced. In fact, the humor that comes out of seeing Iron Man and Thor interact with the Guardians of the Galaxy, which I only mention because they have been hinted at in the trailers, is probably the thing that works best about the film. Another beautifully realized and touching relationship that the Russo Brothers reward us with is the unique romantic relationship between Scarlet Witch and Vision.

Ultimately, Avengers: Infinity War is an emotional, haunting, and action-packed event movie that doesn’t disappoint. It is uniquely ambitious. It is quite frankly astounding that it works as well as it does given the amount of characters and subplots that the Marvel-savvy filmmakers have had to juggle. It shouldn’t work, but somehow it does. It may only tell half of the story, but its jaw-dropping ending will make sure people will be clamoring to find out what happens next for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.

9 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen

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