Like with our Star Wars Reviews, the first half of this review will be spoiler free, and the end will have a spoiler section that better develops the critiques in the first half.
Is the glass half full or half empty?
Well folks, they did it. After ten years and *checks note sheet, raises eyebrows* 18 films, Marvel Studios has reached the first half of their master plan. Avengers Infinity War represents the finish line of a project that had never been achieved before and the culmination of years of work.
I have long been been a critic of Marvel movies and I still am. Their footprint on the movie industry over the last decade has caused a shift in how and what movies get made, and, as I argued in my Ready Player One review, they have ruined the summer blockbuster. There are notable standouts like the first Iron Man or Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but nearly all the rest are hot trash. However, people find enjoyment out of them, and their lasting and widespread appeal cannot be ignored.
Pardon the pun, but it really is quite a marvel that this cinematic universe hasn’t imploded yet especially when considering studios like Fox, Warner Bros, and Sony have all tried their hand at this and failed in explosive fashion. But does that make this film any better than the rest of the MCU? Well, yes and no. Perhaps the simplest way of putting this is, “It’s good… but also not really.”
Avengers Infinity War is set shortly after the events of Thor Ragnarok and Black Panther. The long promised villain Thanos emerges onto the scene to collect the six Infinity Stones and carry out his mission of restoring balance to the universe by wiping out half of its entire population, but in his way stands The Avengers, Earth’s mightiest heroes. They not only have a two stones in their possession, but must stop Thanos from obtaining the remaining few, or end up facing mass genocide on a cosmic scale. The result is the Avengers’ most dire challenge yet, and one that will push them to their limits like nothing before.
So far up until this point, the MCU’s biggest and most persistent problem is its lack of stakes. The way these movies have treated death for so long is rather careless, so when a movie like this comes along (one that promises to shake up the MCU and subvert expectations), it’s hard to believe any of the deaths in this movie are permanent at all, especially when it is two part story and anything can happen in the next chapter. Not only that, but the existence of the franchise itself and the future sequels within that franchise often eliminate any believability that anyone will remain dead.
Which leads directly into the emotional resonance of the film. How can I feel any emotion if the stakes are not real? Can the film illicit believability in the transpiring events (particularly at the end) when the fates of our characters are not yet sealed? Many of the hard hitting emotional moments are predicated on the certainty of character deaths. However, as explained above, those moments don’t hold any currency when it comes to emotional depth the film is trying to achieve. The film is very much a two part story that isn’t finished yet; the ending of this film (which aims to tug at your heart strings) is just the middle of a much larger, 5 hour cut, and I believe the ending of that version will have greater potency because of its concluding, finite nature.
Another contentious element is the film’s sense of humor and tone. As with all Marvel films, there are comedic elements that serve to lighten the tone. The use of these elements are in full force here and often overbearing. While everyone seems to beware of the threat looming over them, no one seems to be taking it all too seriously. From the opening scene, the stakes are established very well, but it is the film’s inconsistency to maintain that threat throughout the film where the problem arises, and that can be attributed to the film’s incessant need to remind you, “Hey, look we’re still having fun here.” That isn’t to say the film should have no comedy at all (i.e. the interactions between Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy are great), but it is where that comedy is injected that makes it problematic.
Depending on how you look at it, the film can either be half full or half empty. I like to side on the former simply because there are commendable components to this film. It is the most memorable Marvel film to date thanks to character interactions, story elements, and of course Thanos. Getting to see new characters meet up and interact makes for memorable dialogs and fights that audiences are sure to love. Plot revelations and narrative elements combine with spectacular set pieces that have so much more grandeur to them than prior films. And Thanos IS the best Marvel villain because he embodies an unrelenting doomsday while also maintaining a brooding demeanor that defines every scene he is in.
More impressively is how the film manages all these characters within the narrative. While initial suspicions may indicate this film will be a colossal mess (I’m looking at you Justice League), I constantly found myself impressed by how clear and cohesive everything flowed. In fact, At 2 hours 34 minutes, the Russo Brothers juggle all these characters very well within the longer than usual run time. It balances them well enough to keep a consistent through line for the duration of the film due in large part to logical sequencing and decent pacing.
Your mileage with Avengers Infinity War will vary depending on how much you connect to these characters. The man next to me was cheering, gasping, and in shock at various moments in the film and it was clear this film was connecting with him far more than it did with me. I don’t have the same bond to these characters as many others do (in part to my distain for the superhero genre in general), but I recognize that those people will have a richer experience because of their connection. While I try to judge movies on their core merits, I think this connection will vastly help your viewing experience. If you’ve liked the rest of the MCU films, then this will knock your socks off.
The core problems of the film lie with its lack of consequences, failure to connect emotionally, and tonal inconsistencies, but the film succeeds at balancing dozens of characters at the same time while crafting the most memorable Marvel movie to date. Avengers Infinity War is a two part story, and because of it, the film ends up adopting unintended problems. In a year’s time when we have Part 2 and can see the whole picture, this review may look antiquated, but as of right now, I am more interested in the prospects of the TRUE finale and what that film has in store than this one.
Score: 3/5 Stars
This section contains a few additional points about my critiques or side points that I have to make about the film, but do contain spoilers, so you have been warned!
-The film aims to create a shock and awe moment at the end with the “deaths” of half of the Avengers, but that makes for a rather unsatisfactory ending when you know they’re coming back. It doesn’t work because the stakes are not real, or at least not until next year when Part 2 comes out.
-The only “death” in this film that mattered was Peter Parker’s. His reaction as he crumbles into ash works not only because of Tom Holland’s spot on acting in the sequence, but also because it represents the failure of Tony Stark as he assigns guilt on himself for letting his under ruse die. Every other character “death” falls wildly short of this, and I can only expect the Soul Stone to bring everyone back because come on, Black Panther just made over a billion dollars; are we really gonna kill him off so soon? Uhhh, fat chance.
-Literally as of writing this, news broke about Kevin Feige stating that Marvel has already held meetings about films through 2025. This should tell you everything you need to know about the state of these characters at the end of Infinity War.