Avengers: Infinity War is the first half of the third movie of a subseries (following 2012’s Avengers and 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron) in the (currently) 19-movie Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise, and that’s a lot to take in. Thanos, the big purple CGI baddie played by Josh Brolin, sows death and destruction across the galaxy in his quest to acquire all six Infinity Stones, objects of power which will grant him the ability to kill half the universe’s population with a literal snap of his fingers.
Various superheroes—including the original Avengers, the new wave Avengers, former and disavowed Avengers, and unaffiliated characters (at least as far as the MCU goes) such as the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and friends, Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), the Guardians of the Galaxy, and former villain the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan)—come together and break apart into modular superteams to stop Thanos. It’s an impressively huge cast with so many people, and their connections to each other, to keep track of that analysis of Infinity War as a regular movie is nearly impossible.
That said, our initial impressions were highly favorable.
Arley (known Marvel fanboy): It was fun. Cool movie. Cool moments. Lots of one-liners. Good effects, awesome fight scenes. Bottom line before we get into the nitty-gritty, it wasn’t perfect but it was really entertaining. The opening worked, had cool atmosphere and launched right into the action and the drama, really establishing the threat.
Josh (who has never knowingly read a Marvel comic book in his entire life): Age of Ultron was terrible so I was not excited about this movie at all but it was so much better than I was hoping. It put a lot of focus on characters I liked—Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Spider-man (Tom Holland), the Guardians of the Galaxy. And it was dark. I love the darkness.
Arley: So much brutality in the opening, it was almost hard to watch. But it really set the tone.
The movie spends no time developing the main heroes simply because there isn’t any time, between jump cuts to explosions and witty banter. Arguably, there is no need to. Each, as individuals or groups, has had at least one movie, and in some cases a full trilogy, to build a sense of self.
Arley: There are two kinds of people going to this movie: comic book people and non-comic book people. Comic book people need to know that this movie is very different from the comic book storyline. We could call it “sort of inspired by the comic book storyline.”
Josh: There are two kinds of people going to this movie: people who have watched previous Marvel movies, and people who haven’t. Those who haven’t seen enough of the previous Marvel movies will be completely at a loss. What’s a minimum viable viewing history? A dozen of the previous movies? A select half dozen?
The narrative assumes you have a notion of who the heroes are, or that you can roll with it otherwise. There isn’t a lot of exposition or introduction. No long scenes of characters explaining things to each other. Similar to the first Avengers movie, there are fun moments of heroes meeting each other for the first time. The repeated Alpha male posturing may get old for some viewers. The one character the writers do spend time developing is Thanos. Some may see this film as an entirely action-driven plot but it is actually character driven, it’s just driven by the development of the bad guy. The story wouldn’t hold up without his arc.
Brolin gives a great performance in this, turning what could have been cartoony into something interesting. The villain is given a backstory, a clear goal, compelling motive, and some of the strongest emotional moments in the entire movie. Thanos’s real menace comes from his unshakeable belief in the rightness of his quest, based on a cosmology that only Neil deGrasse Tyson could find fault with. On a long enough timeline, with a big enough worldview, the villain could possibly be right.
Unfortunately, the movie sacrifices some of the emotional hits in favor of rushed action plotting. For example, there’s a scene after Thanos has undergone a costly trial to get what he wants. He sits up in a pool of water and looks out at a desolate wasteland under an eclipsed sun, reflecting on what has happened. Think Luke Skywalker looking out across Tatooine at the twin suns in Star Wars. It’s a moment that needs to linger, and Infinity War cuts it a little abruptly. Just five seconds more would have hammered in the despair. Marvel is hanging a lot of the emotional points on Thanos; and really investing in those CGI tears.
The theme of sacrificing a loved one is leaned on, at least six times throughout the movie, which either weakens its effect through overuse or strengthens those moments because the viewer is never sure of what’s going to happen this time, depending on who you ask.
Arley: I thought it was redundant.
Josh: I thought it was good, in an Abraham and Isaac kind of insanity, though I didn’t think that some of the characters would have made the choices that they did.
There are a lot of pieces in Infinity War and they don’t necessarily fit perfectly, but the movie is too entertaining for that to matter. However, it does seem that Marvel has painted itself into a bit of a corner in several ways. For one, the superheroes have been built up so much in their own movies that they have become too powerful for any one villain to pose a believable threat. Iron Man’s technology has advanced to the point of seeming like magic (and, therefore, so has Spider-man’s, since Tony Stark is supplying him with suits and gadgets). Unstoppable gods or god-likes such as Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) need to be neutralized at the outset, lest the danger levels dip too low. Equally god-like Peter Quill/Starlord (Chris Pratt) reverts to bumbling ship captain, contributing little, fucking up much. Even Dr. Strange, who has only had one movie in which to develop powers, comes across as under-utilized. Abilities gained and lessons learned in earlier films are quickly reversed, forgotten, or flat-out ignored, just to give Thanos a fighting chance against the combined might of so many superpowers. Mutilations are healed, limbs are replaced.
Additionally, the overall threat of the movie is undercut. Death holds no sting. Not only does Dr. Strange have the ability to reverse time, he can look into the future and see the winning path. We, too, can look into the future and see which Marvel movies are already slated for release, and therefore which characters must be destined to return.
Arley: Well, we can do that, so the impact of death is undercut for us. You and I are cold, emotionless beasts. But other moviegoers may not be. I saw people crying. It really depends on if the studio thinks the character can make them more money or not.
There are plenty of fight scenes for each character to get a chance to show off. The best sequences happen when small groups fight, or when the battle boils down to one-on-one. The climactic big battle scene, pitting the nation of Wakanda and accompanying heroes against the minions of Thanos, is the weakest of the entire film. It makes little sense plot-wise or in terms of battle tactics.
Josh: That’s a thing that annoys me about Marvel movies—everyone’s always rushing across the battlefield to punch or stab each other. There’s a reason we don’t do hand-to-hand combat anymore—we invented machine guns. Put a machine gun nest on a hill or behind a shield and you can control that entire bottleneck. And doesn’t Wakanda have an air force? Air superiority, come on.
Arley: Captain America is useless in this movie. No throwing shield, so he’s always defensive, or just punching people. Sometimes his main strength—in comic books—(coughs) is being a rallying figure. This doesn’t work in the last battle.
Josh: Because Wakanda would view him as Captain Colonizer! [See our review of Black Panther here.]
Arley: Favorite moments were early fight scenes—so raw and fast and great. Before Wakanda, it’s a good fight movie. Also: giant Peter Dinklage.
Josh: I liked the surprise Dinklage.
Arley: The highlights of this movie are the action, the effects, some of the interactions, a lot of the lines, and a lot of humorous moments—
Josh: —the darkness—
Arley: —and some of the low points are a slew of convenient plot points, because they need certain things to happen and they don’t necessarily have the time to convince you that these things would really happen. Overall, highly recommended. It’s a fun, depressing movie. It completely Empire Strikes Back‘d us, though. It’s a dark, sorta-second act. Expect to see children cry in the theater.
Josh: Real tears, not CGI tears.
Directed by: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Written by: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
Starring (deep breath): Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Idris Elba, Danai Gurira, Peter Dinklage, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, and Chris Pratt.
ARLEY SORG, Associate Editor, grew up in England, Hawaii, and Colorado. He studied Asian Religions at Pitzer College. He lives in Oakland, and usually writes in local coffee shops. A 2014 Odyssey Writing Workshop graduate, he is soldering together a novel, has thrown a few short stories into orbit, and hopes to launch more.
JOSH PEARCE, Assistant Editor, started working at Locus in 2016. He studied creative writing at SFSU and has sold short stories and poems to a variety of speculative fiction magazines. A Bay Area native, he currently lives in the East Bay with his wife and son and spends way too much time on Twitter: @fictionaljosh. One time, Ken Jennings signed his chest.
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