*Minor spoilers ahead*
10 years. 18 films. Over 14 billion dollars grossed.
Everything Marvel built comes down to this: Infinity War. Marvel had a nearly insurmountable challenge, to bring together all of these characters and storylines into the culmination of 10 years of world building. More than that though, to compress 75 years of comics and history into one mega event brings a degree of challenge unmatched in cinematic history. Were they able to pull it off?
The answer is a resounding yes.
Infinity War is better than it has any right to be. The challenge of addressing this many characters, storylines, and history should have been the cinematic equivalent of landing a game-winning shot from half court in basketball; and yet that’s precisely what happened. Also, we have to remember how tonally different all these films have been. We’ve gone from the retro-futurism of The First Avenger to the social commentary of Black Panther, to the comedic adventures of the Guardians and Thor: Ragnarok. How can all of these wildly divergent tones, styles, and characters blend into one seamless experience that doesn’t feel like a haphazard mishmash of ideas and styles?
The answer comes from a source I didn’t expect: Thanos.
Thanos, the Mad Titan, could have easily been portrayed as a generic psycho tyrant bent on world domination. Instead, in a move that surprised even a veteran of comics such as myself, Thanos emerges as the glue to hold all of these disparate connections together. In the comics, his motivation was to seek out the affections of Lady Death, so he wanted to wipe out large swaths of humanity to impress her. In the buildup to his arrival, I always wondered how they would address this in the movies since I didn’t believe that motivation would play particularly well for the cinematic audience. What we got instead was a complex, multi-layered villain with a view that, although deplorable, has real philosophical roots. The Malthusian Trap is the theory that population growth will always eventually outstrip available resources, thus making poverty, famine, misery, and death inevitable. Thanos, as all good villains do, sees himself as the only one with the foresight and will to stop it: By wiping out half of the population of the entire universe, thus providing a utopia for the remainder of the universe. Also, he is willing to sacrifice everything he loves to make sure he sees it through to the end.
There’s no amount of praise sufficient to communicate what Josh Brolin brought to the table in depicting Thanos. This might be the best CG motion capture performance since the godfather of it, Andy Serkis, brought his skills and innovation to Gollum in Lord of the Rings and Caesar in Planet of the Apes. Brolin’s voice and movement resonate with power and emotion worthy of such a complex character. I’ve always been a fan of his, whether it’s his ingenious cowboy survivalist in No Country for Old Men, or his portrayal of George W. Bush, which could have been a disaster. You feel his anger, loss, and indomitable will, and somehow even manages to make a guy seeking to wipe out half of the universe feel sympathetic at times. Thanos believes that his views are correct, and Brolin communicates this in an incredibly compelling manner. As a result, Thanos belongs in the pantheon of great movie villains, right alongside the Joker from Dark Knight and Killmonger from Black Panther.
While I’m heaping the praise around, the Russo brothers hit another home run. When they signed on to direct the Winter Soldier, I was very skeptical. After all, how could the writers of Arrested Development possibly bring the scale and scope necessary to deal with a massive superhero universe? It turns out, the Winter Soldier ended up being my favorite Marvel movie, but even that paled in comparison to the scale they were dealing with in Infinity War. Yet again, they erase all doubt, producing a cohesive product, where nothing gets lost in the shuffle. They manage to take all of these themes and characters and retain what made their individual movies so great. Everyone gets their moment to shine, and even D-list characters like Mantis get their moments in the spotlight. I was also shocked at how legitimately funny this movie was, given the stakes at hand. There are numerous laugh out loud moments and lines weaved throughout, yet they don’t feel out of place; they feel like a comic book. The interactions of the characters throughout are exactly as you would expect, with the standouts being Starlord’s scenes with both Thor and Iron Man, among many others.
It’s also hard to overstate the insanity of the visual effects. These days incredible CGI is routine, and yet there are several mind-blowing moments, with Tony Stark’s Bleeding Edge armor being an astounding standout. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not hyperbole when I say the motion capture on Thanos and the performance brought him to life in a compelling way, but I also have to give a lot of credit specifically to the design of Ebony Maw, and Tom Lawlor of Peaky Blinder's fame. This character, who most have never even heard of, looks and sounds like Voldemort’s creepy pedophile uncle, and serves as an imposing general to lead Thanos’ Black Order. Corvus Glaive, Cull Obsidian, and Proxima Midnight aren’t quite as prominent, but still look sufficiently evil to stand next to the sinister Ebony Maw. I would almost caution against really young children seeing it, as Maw and some of the themes might be a bit much for them to handle.
Here, I will avoid major spoilers of the main events, but suffice it to say that the central theme of the movie is sacrifice, failure, and death. Just a few months ago, The Last Jedi explored the theme of failure, and how to learn and grow from it by letting the past go. Thanos says at one point, “I know what it’s like to fail. To know that you’re right, and fail all the same.” In this movie, multiple characters give it all and still come up short. No film in history has as large of a death count as Infinity War, which is impressive given that it’s a mass-market movie, which typically doesn’t involve the sort of body count seen here. So again, kudos to the filmmakers for exploring difficult themes for the mass market, and delivering on them in an outstanding way. I don’t think Marvel gets enough credit for some of the philosophical ideas they bring to bear in these movies, as a few critics just can’t stand the fact that these movies aren’t sufficiently pretentious and that they use comic book characters.
It’s not a perfect film, of course, there are a few minor criticisms. There is one section in the middle that drags a bit, despite providing some excellent humor. Obviously, given the sheer amount of characters, some don’t get as much love as others, but I still feel they did an incredible balancing job on this aspect. Probably the most significant criticism would have to be the necessary knowledge of the universe one would have to have to get the full effect of the movie. Not everyone has watched all 19 films as I have, so if you haven’t seen them all, you are going to miss some plot points. That said, I did go with someone who has not seen them all, yet they still enjoyed the film. The writers do a great job of breaking down all of this into digestible bits so that people who aren’t as invested can still understand the general sequence of events. In all honesty, most of these criticisms are me trying to nitpick, as I believe the overwhelming majority are going to have a great time.
Overall, Infinity War is everything a die-hard fan expects, and yet something everyone can enjoy, regardless of investment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The intense juggling of all of these characters and ideas could have been a monumental failure, and yet comes together in an incredibly cohesive manner.
I’ll tell you this: DC should be embarrassed right now. It is everything Justice League was not, and sets the bar at a nearly unattainable level.
9/10, A cinematic achievement.
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