After 10 long years, the overarching meta-narrative of the Marvel Cinematic Universe finally boils to a head as Thanos, the cosmic warlord responsible for the attack on New York in “The Avengers” and the battle of Xandar in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” has finally stepped out of the shadows.
His move for the powerful Infinity Stones sees his armies beginning a galaxy wide campaign of decimation, forcing the titular teams of heroes to unite in a glorious space opera fantasy that doesn’t ask you to have kept up with the entire cinematic saga of the franchise so much as it flat out assumes you have, asking why you bothered to show up to the theater if you didn’t.
“Avengers: Infinity War” fittingly sees its release on the cusp of “Iron Man’s” 10 year anniversary back in May 2008 and its status as the 10 year anniversary celebration of everything its mega franchise, composed of several concurrently running film series, has achieved is worn proudly on its sleeve.
“Infinity War” is the densest and longest film that Marvel has ever made, with every second of its nearly three hour runtime packed to the brim with character interactions, plot threads, and character arcs mounting on screen from conception and development spread across every single one of the 18 previous films of the franchise, running the gamut of dramatic arcs brought full circle to character dynamics and cameos that I never thought would be revisited again. The total worth of the film is so reliant on understanding the stakes as perceived by the collective experience of its protagonists’ adventures that if you have missed out on a single movie, the full weight of the film’s character driven nature may be lost on you.
Unlike the previous “Avengers” films where continuity really only mattered in the minutest of plot details, this film is designed as pure payoff for the crowd that has willingly subjected themselves to a decade long experiment to the point where it doesn’t even attempt to hide the need for its plot to become occasionally scattershot as characters team up, split up, and independently travel to various galactic locales while keeping focus on the machinations of Thanos and his Infinity Stones.
If you have only been keeping up with these films casually, “Infinity War” can easily come across as a bloated and excessive light show that’s thin on meaningful character development. Although that assessment wouldn’t be wrong within the context of independent viewing, the truth of the matter is that while it may not be everybody’s cup of tea, this is the second sequel to a film conceived of with the purpose of crossing over several larger than life characters and viewing it in a context outside of that is akin to judging a “Lord of the Rings” movie for its European historical accuracy.
As the culmination of 18 individual stories given a decade of build up, “Infinity War” is a lean and powerful behemoth that cashes in on all of the good will engendered by its massive ensemble cast by not only furthering and closing several of their personal stories but by also giving fans cinematic team ups they’ve wanted to see their entire lives along with several they probably didn’t even realize they would ever have wanted. The team ups advertised don’t do justice to even half of the brilliance in character interactions that occur in the film, leaving surprises around every corner and while spoiling any of it would be criminal, I would be remiss to not mention the two factors of the movie that will easily land the most impact. Thanos’ looming background presence may have started to become a bit of a joke by now but the wait was worth every second and then some.
Josh Brolin carries the weight of a laborious production on his shoulders in a role that could have easily functioned with a mildly phoned in villain of the week delivery by bringing to life not only the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best villain but one of its most complex characters period. Seeing the tragic results of what his grand plan could have prevented and desperate not to fail again despite the pain he must inflict to make it happen, Brolin’s Thanos projects an air of misfortune evocative of Shakespearean tragedy, undergoing a quest he seems to take little joy in but resolute in the fact that it has to be seen through to the end. Tragic and even slightly sympathetic, his presence and agency elevates the film from being a fun sandbox of action figures at play time to a true fantasy drama cementing the substantial weight brought in by the outside context of the previous “Avengers” movies and solo features. The more sobering aspect however, which puts a sizeable dampener on how I felt across nearly two and a half hours of the feature is the ending.
While the very boldness of the concept is to be lauded on some level if only for the sheer audacity of its consequences and the implications they could have potentially made, the results of the climax and closing 10 minutes of the film attempt a sort of contemplative subversion of the narrative that is almost jaw dropingly out of place until the realization lands regarding a certain piece of this movie’s deceptive nature that comes to light. Much publicity was made regarding this story’s intended shortening from a two-part movie into a single feature, and while the name change was justified as this film and its coming feature telling to stories capable of standing alone, the reality is that, for better or worse, this is much more of a “part 1” than the marketing team wants to let on. The sad thing is that the way in which this could have worked becomes immediately visible within seconds of the credits rolling but as executed, almost undercuts the rest of the movie to feel like a largely enjoyable yet incomplete narrative.
“Avengers: Infinity War’s” greatest flaw is that it begins to visibly buckle under the weight of its own ambition. While the topnotch direction of the feature keeps it consistently diverting, its length and gamble on selling a portion of something larger to come as a complete package is bound to turn off a fair share of moviegoers.
As a fan of superheroes, film, and even storytelling in general however, the staggering nature of “Infinity War’s” undertaking and how much it manages to succeed more often than not is just far too admirable to ignore, even if it doesn’t stick every one of its landings.
4 out of 5
Graduating from Texas A&M University—Commerce with a bachelor's degree in News and Editorial Journalism, Jordan Wright has lived most of his adult life professionally critiquing films, from major blockbusters to indie dramas, and has no intentions of stopping.