Avengers: Infinity War (2018) Review

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Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

~Review by Grawlix (May 2018)

   When I was a young child, relatively new to the world of film, I remember wondering what it might be like if there was a movie where every single cast member was an A-list star. What if a movie had an unlimited budget? Unlimited scope? The power to render anything without limit. An epic to end all epics. What would such a movie look like? Like I said, I was young; completely innocent of concepts like contracts and egos and budgets and scheduling. As I got older and I learned about such things, I realized what an impossible fantasy such an undertaking would be.

   Well, now here we are with Avengers: Infinity War, the final culmination of a decade of dropped hints and cryptic post credits sequences. Starring (almost) every major actor from the last ten years of Marvel films, set across multiple planets and dimensions, involving humans, superhumans, aliens and gods, Infinity War may well be the closest thing to my childhood dream of a cinematic Unified Field Theory.

   It goes without saying that Infinity War is a big movie, full of lofty ideas, but filtered through that comic book lens that makes things like teleportation and interstellar travel not exactly commonplace, but certainly not anything you’d bat much of an eye at if you heard about them on the six o’clock news. The plot is impossible to sum up quickly in any kind of great detail, but in general involves the oft-hinted-at villain Thanos making his long awaited grand entrance into the MCU. Anointing himself as an omniversal agent of change, Thanos enacts a plan to eradicate half of the population of the known universe so that the other half might grow and thrive. To this end, he seeks to gather the six Infinity Stones, which were seeded among prior Marvel films as various Macguffins, each one granting dominion over some aspect of the universe: time, space, reality, etc. With all six, the erasure of half of all life would be a simple matter of willing it to happen, thus are the world’s heroes compelled to band together to stop him.

   Infinity War dives right in to the plot, relying on the prior films (all 18 of ‘em) to provide the necessary background. It’s probably a safe assumption that most viewers have seen some if not all of them, but those wandering out of their caves who walk into this one cold might find themselves hopelessly lost as to who some of these characters are and why they matter as much as they do. That’s not to say the film wouldn’t still be entertaining. Infinity War features action galore, evenly spaced throughout, from fisticuffs to planetary collisions and everything in between, so rarely does very much time pass before something violent and exciting happens.

   With so many balls in the air, especially in the early going, it’s inevitable that some scene rationing was going to take place. This might be seen as a weakness given that it might take a while for the movie to catch up with your favorite characters, but short of somehow showing two scenes simultaneously, I can’t think of another way this could be handled. Everyone makes the most out of their screentime, though. A lot of the dialog consists of snappy quips, but they’re still true to the individual characters and, for that matter, true to their comic book sources, especially when it comes to a crossover of this magnitude. Likewise, the case could be made that there are some fairly convenient coincidences that result in the disparate plot elements coalescing into its more manageable chunks but, again, this is mainly true to the source medium, and things have to be brought together somehow or another. One can safely assume that superheroes, to a certain extent, make their own luck.

   With a huge ensemble cast, it’s hard to narrow down a single main character, but if I could point to one who binds things together the most, it would probably be Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man which is fitting considering he was there at the beginning of this long strange trip way back in 2008. RDJ wears the years of experience and multiple conflicts as a palpable weariness on his character, recalling the events of Civil War and even his near-death experience at the end of the original Avengers. I’m not sure if this is retconning or if plans really were in place that far back (one can only imagine that Marvel has a vault full of unused contingency scripts for their cinematic universe) but credit goes to the writers and continuity people for working in these small details regardless.

   And, honestly, it’s these small details that really show just how far Marvel/Disney went to make this the grandest event they could. Even minor characters from prior movies pop in for a scene or two like Ned (Jacob Batalon), Peter Parker’s buddy from Spider-Man: Homecoming, General Ross (William Hurt) from The Incredible Hulk, Wong (Benedict Wong) from Dr. Strange, and of course Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) from Iron Man, not to mention most of the supporting cast from Black Panther which, amusingly and amazingly, was still, itself, showing in theaters as Infinity War opened.

   Another thing that sets Infinity War apart from other films of its type is the effort it puts into developing Thanos as a three dimensional character rather than simply a faceless force of destruction. Yes, his goals are horrific and his motivations largely impenetrable, but he also has a sentimental side, a sense of humor, dark though it may be, and even moments of doubt. This is all helped along tremendously by Josh Brolin’s committed performance, done completely via voice over and mocap.

   But it’s not just Thanos, nearly everybody grows and develops to some degree over the course of the film. This may seem like a relatively trivial expectation, but considering that, from the outside, the movie may well look like a disjointed mess of punches and explosions, it’s really quite something that, in the midst of all the pyrotechnics, there are definite narrative places the film manages to reach. It is a loud movie first and foremost, but it knows when to quiet down too and it’s that contrast that will make you pay attention when it does.  And the ending I won’t spoil, but it leaves things in a state where nearly anything is possible moving forward and I honestly have no idea where things will go from here, but I’m eager to find out.

   Make no mistake, to watch Avengers: Infinity War is to witness history. Time will tell if the movie represents a perfect storm scenario in which everything somehow managed, however briefly, to align properly, or if the bar for epic filmmaking has been permanently raised, but either way there has never been anything quite like Infinity War. There have been movie series with more installments, but none have ever had this level of interdependent consistency, and none have had such emphatic chapter breaks as this. And at this point, every new movie is another milestone with another Infinity War slated in for the summer of 2019 and tons more between then and now. I don’t know how or when this ride is going to end, but I’m not getting off until it does.

Final Grade: A+

I’ve been accused of being a Marvel fanboy, so take that into consideration, I guess, but given that there were countless ways in which Infinity War could have gone very wrong, the fact that it went this right is awe inspiring. This is the Marvel Universe at its most marvelous, but more importantly, this is comic storytelling at its most grandiose. It’s also filmmaking at its most ambitious, and I can think of no stage more fittingly grand for the marriage of the two.


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