It’s been a long road to this point, but six years after Thanos first flashed that infamous purple smirk in the mid-credits scene of The Avengers (and a full decade after Iron Man‘s debut), Avengers: Infinity War is officially upon us.
Billed as the ultimate culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe thus far, the film — from returning MCU directors Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America: Civil War) — has the unenviable task of tying together the disparate story arcs and dozens of characters from the preceding 18 Marvel Studios films. And, with several key cast members’ contracts wrapping up with next year’s sequel, Infinity War — inspired by Marvel’s 1991 story The Infinity Gauntlet, written by Jim Starlin and pencilled by George Pérez and Ron Lim —also serves as the first half of a grand finale of sorts for this era of the MCU. So it’s fair to say that this little $300 million production is quite the event.
First, let’s get something out of the way. Moviegoers who have shown little to no interest in the MCU thus far — or who may have found the films overblown, silly or inconsequential — may we kindly direct you to the theater across the hall playing something a little more nuanced (there’s a really solid Wes Anderson film out that you may be interested in). With Infinity War, the plotlines and characters pop up with little regard for your foreknowledge of the established canon. Although the main story is very focused on Thanos’ bid for godlike power, you’re unlikely to have the same visceral, emotional response if you haven’t seen or barely remember most of the other MCU films.
However, for anyone with even a passing interest in the MCU or superhero films in general, Infinity War is one that must not be missed. Picking up precisely where Thor: Ragnarok ended, the adventure kicks off in short order, crosscutting between the various threads of the MCU and allowing them to intersect and diverge at will. For obvious reasons, the less we reveal about specifics, the better the experience will be for audiences. Rest assured, however, that the film does a masterful job of sprinkling in surprise and balancing the countless heroes it features. Much like the big-screen adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, this is exactly the relentless payoff it aspires to be.
Still, Infinity War is not flawless in its execution. Because of its grand scale, some of the film’s characters, particularly Captain America, Black Widow and Black Panther, find their individual arcs sacrificed for the sake of propelling Thanos closer to his ultimate goal. Also, like the first part of that final Harry Potter story, Infinity War certainly doesn’t work as a standalone story and is guaranteed to leave audiences frustratedly Googling when the next Avengers film hits theaters (May 3, 2019, in case you were wondering). This isn’t necessarily a detriment to the film itself, which is by design a cross-over event, but may not bode well for its replay value as a singular cinematic experience (unlike Black Panther, for instance). Time will tell.
Where Infinity War succeeds is in delivering on the novelty of seeing all the MCU heroes finally collide for the first time. Sure, we’ve seen Iron Man and Doctor Strange rock their facial hair in separate films, but witnessing Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch engaged in verbal sparring (the word “douchebag” even comes up, satisfyingly enough) is pure magic. Ditto for Thor and Rocket’s unlikely partnership throughout much of the film’s runtime, and the showdown that sees many of the central MCU figures unite in Wakanda. But perhaps the most impressive feat Infinity War pulls off is in its depiction of Thanos himself.
Josh Brolin assumed the role of the Mad Titan in Guardians of the Galaxy, and his appearance there did little to distinguish him from other bland baddies that have populated the MCU, especially that film’s own Ronan the Accuser. Thankfully, Infinity War recognizes the importance of developing Thanos as a compelling threat and, as has been reported, essentially positions him as its “main character.” The film goes to great lengths to help audiences understand his point of view and even humanize him a bit. Hot on the heels of memorable villains like Ego, Vulture, Hela and Killmonger, Infinity War‘s handling of Thanos (and Brolin’s performance) should rightfully mark the end of the MCU’s most criticized weakness.
Much like nearly all of its predecessors, Infinity War may not be high art, but to be fair, it doesn’t try to be. Film snobs will continue to hate on the franchise as they search for a deeper subtext, while completely missing the point of it all. With Infinity War, Marvel Studios raises the stakes of its filmography to literally universal levels, and sure, perhaps they are deflated a bit by the anything-goes mentality inherited by the comics. Nevertheless, the epic storytelling of the MCU has consistently embodied the sheer joy of going to the movies, with all the imagination, humor and spectacle that entails. On that front, Avengers: Infinity War is a guaranteed crowdpleaser and one of Marvel Studio’s greatest achievements. Let the speculation over the still-untitled Avengers 4 begin now.
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