Will Carsh | Staff Writer
“Avengers: Infinity War” is a tricky film to review. The nineteenth addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes hot on the heels of “Black Panther,” a self-contained film that told a smaller, more personal story than usual. Back to back, the two films couldn’t be more different: while “Black Panther” required little outside context for newer viewers, “Avengers: Infinity War” almost requires viewers to have seen every previous entry of the franchise. It spends little time with reintroductions of characters or concepts from previous films. While it does have an overarching thread, it’s also basically four or five movies in one, more than characters all being split off into separate groups and plotlines that sometimes split off into more subgroups and plotlines. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that “Avengers: Infinity War” is a lot to process.
Props must given to the directing and writing team—a collaboration of the Russo Brothers behind the camera and Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely penning the script—for holding the movie together despite its massivity. Right off the bat, it’s clear that the people in charge of the film’s production put Joss Whedon’s haphazard style to shame. The direction is strong, the visuals striking. The writing is sharp. And most importantly of all, there’s a definite willingness to take risks—both stylistically and narratively—than any other film in the franchise to date. It’s doubtful that anyone’s predictions will completely hold up here, and even the more predictable elements are still surprising in the way that they’re delivered. The film very quickly establishes higher stakes than any previous film, making for a somewhat nerve-wracking viewing experience as beloved characters are constantly faced with possible death. From a craftsmanship standpoint, the film doesn’t entirely escape the sense that perhaps a little too much is going on at once, at least at first, but it does manage to constantly keep the viewer interested in what’s going on at a time, briskly taking them from location to location until its outstanding finale. By the time it reaches the end, it feels as though it has justified its risky narrative choices. It’s rather brilliant in this regard.
The cast of actors and the characters that they play also hold up pretty well despite appearing in an overwhelming amount. On the one hand, viewers will likely feel disappointed that some characters are pushed to the background in favor of others. While this is necessary for the sake of cohesion and clarity, it is still a bit odd that some very popular characters get so little screen time while some normally tangential ones find themselves in the forefront of the story. While it is necessary to keep the film digestible and isn’t necessarily a flaw, I feel obligated to issue that warning: not all your favorite characters are going to have equal screen time or relevance here. However, compliments are owed for the specific groupings the film presents the audience with. Tony Stark and Doctor Strange in particular mirror each other well, with both characters exposing the other’s similarities and dissimilarities. Surprisingly, Thor and Rocket also play off of each other well, injecting the film with some heart along the way. While the film may at times may threaten to lose sight of its characters, it ultimately cleverly utilizes them for strong dramatic effect. Not everyone gets equal play, but everyone is at least characterized consistently with previous appearances.
It seems necessary to devote an entire section to the film’s villain, Thanos, played in motion capture by Josh Brolin. The special effects on the character are solid: while no one will mistake it for anything other than CGI, it’s still state of the art and a marvel (no pun intended) to behold. Brolin’s acting is also strong, giving the Titan a sense of calmness and confidence throughout. Thankfully, Thanos also gets some much-needed fleshing out over the course of the movie. While some viewers may still find Killmonger from “Black Panther” a more successful villain, there’s no denying that Thanos is one of the strongest in the series, boasting twisted but clear motivations and some genuine humanity in the midst of all of it. In terms of physicality, he also fixes a running issue of the franchise in that him and his minions feel like a genuine match for the heroes. Their battles are titanic, sprawling bouts that push the boundaries of CGI carnage. Those looking for spectacle in the film’s battles along with a true sense of danger will find plenty to soak in here. Thanos and his team represent a thrilling counter to the earth’s mightiest heroes, resulting in both dramatic and combat-filled encounters that should leave viewers on the edge of their seats. Several times throughout, the film left me with my jaw on the floor from the visuals alone. It easily is Marvel’s most striking film in this regard.
If this review has been rather vague, it’s because I’ve taken great effort to be spoiler free while still addressing potential quality concerns. “Avengers: Infinity War” isn’t an easy film to dig into without quickly reaching “spoiler” territory. It’s also not an easy film to digest, as it has more going on in it than perhaps any film ever has. I haven’t seen a film quite like this before, and while I suspect that those who are fans of the franchise will find the film fantastic, those who haven’t done their homework or only casually enjoy the films may find themselves only invested in the spectacle. Think of it as the first part to a season finale of a TV show: it’s just not going to mean a whole lot unless you’re caught up on and enjoyed the season beforehand. It’s also not going to offer complete closure, so prepare to spend the next year until the fourth Avengers film speculating and wondering about where the story is going next.
Still, there’s no getting around the fact that far more often than not, “Avengers; Infinity War” challenges and subverts the superhero genre. It’s an ambitious film, one that perhaps stumbles once or twice in small ways trying to juggle more than it can always handle. However, it never completely drops the ball, and by the end justifies its seemingly more questionable creative decisions with perhaps the most jaw-dropping conclusion to a superhero film in the history of the genre. Whatever few issues there may be are overwhelmed by the staggering achievement this film really is when taken in as a whole. From a craftsmanship perspective, there’s never been a film like it. From a visual perspective, you’ll get more than your money’s worth. Hats off to the cast and crew for taking my breath away, and hats off to Marvel studios for continuing to push themselves. If “Black Panther” was a masterwork of the solo-superhero movie, then “Infinity War” is the first masterwork of the superhero team up movie. Overall, “Infinity War” is an incredible film for those that have kept up to date with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a jolt to the system that won’t soon be forgotten. While casual watchers of the films will definitely need to catch up first and those that haven’t been entirely won over yet likely still won’t be here, there’s really no getting around it: Infinity War is one of the biggest wins yet for Marvel Studios and their second brilliant film in a row. I’m floored.