Over the course of ten years and 18 feature-length films, Marvel Studios has created a modern American mythology. With Avengers: Infinity War, it brings together all of the spandexed superheroes that have made Disney millions of dollars. The first part in a two-part climax, Infinity War focuses on the giant purple man only hinted about in previous films, Thanos. The hulking CGI villain, played by Josh Brolin, searches for the Infinity Stones, the MacGuffins of previous Marvel films, to wipe out half of all life in the universe. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo split our multitudes of heroes into teams as they attempt to round up the rest of the gems before Thanos gets to them.
That’s as much as I’m willing to say concerning plot lest I be murdered by those that have yet to see the movie. For those who haven’t seen it yet (which probably isn’t a lot of you with its staggering domestic opening weekend, breaking records), I will keep the peace.
The stand-out in Infinity War is Josh Brolin. With far more misses than hits in terms of villains, the MCU did its big bad justice here. A hulking and intimidating physicality, Brolin brings a spark to Thanos and a depth of character rarely seen, although Black Panther’s Killmonger still wins the MCU Villain Award in my eyes. Thanos’s plan isn’t quite thought through but he sells it with a conviction and sincerity that is impressive. He is a self-possessed man, knowing that this is something only he can do. He also brings a proper backstory to one of the leading ladies of the Marvel Universe, Gamora of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Gamora has been without much emotional arc over the course of the two Guardians movies but is given a spotlight here as she is reunited with her adoptive father.
One of the most interesting aspects of the film is how they split up their characters. Probably the most raucous grouping is Marvel’s Snarky White Guy Leads, bringing together Doctor Strange, Iron Man, Spider-Man and Star Lord all together to bounce off each other. The quips are all rather funny, with Downey Jr. getting most of my favorites, but it’s this bringing together of leads that makes you think “Wow, they’ve used this template more than a couple of times.” Of course, they all have different emotional depths and maturity, but in terms of surface level styling, it was wild to realize.
With Black Panther’s massive box office success, it was a wise decision to place a lot of this film’s presence in the vibrant land of Wakanda. With characters that have had far less time with the audience than many others in the MCU, Wakanda’s T’Challa, Shuri and Okoye integrate perfectly with the old guard. Juggling so many characters, the film never makes you feel like you’ve missed out on someone, but a few characters are a little short-changed. Of course, at two hours and 30 minutes, the film is stuffed to the brim as it is. Strong pacing keeps the action going and Infinity War never feels like a slog, which is an impressive feat.
I think the thing that I most want to talk about though is the ending, which is bleak. I don’t think it is a spoiler to say that there is actual death in this movie, when much of the promotional trail has brought up that subject. This is where Marvel’s greatest strength and weakness are one and the same. For 10 years, we have gotten to know these characters and have enjoyed their presence. The television season-like structure of this overarching story has absolutely endeared many of these characters to us and while the deaths in the movie are impactful, knowing that many of these characters already have sequels or are major money makers for Marvel lessens that impact. There is no narrative weight to a death that will most likely be undone next year. And with that, the greatest weakness of many media properties is brought up here. Stories are not allowed to end. I touched on this in my Ready Player One review, but with money to be made, series’ are revived, old movies get sequels years after the fact, and our current entertainment options continue on ad nauseum. For Infinity War to actually have the impact and weight that it wants to have, it needs to keep some of these characters actually dead. A few have the potential to stay in the grave, but I’m uncertain that Marvel will have the chutzpah to go through with it.
This is a good, even great movie, in some places. Is it the defining moment of Marvel’s legacy? Potentially, but is it the best moment in Marvel’s oeuvre. Probably not. It is an impressive feat of plot-line plate-spinning and pacing. And unless you haven’t kept up with many of the Marvel films, you’re bound to have a good time.
Aaron Hansen is a 29 year old college student, enjoys playing video games and procrastinating on assignments. You can reach him with any complaints on Twitter or through a whisper on the wind.