Movie Reviews: Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Calling Avengers: Infinity War the biggest film of 2018 still somehow feels like an understatement and yet here we are.  It’s the nineteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (not counting all the TV shows, short films, and web series) which a decade on has a near $2 billion/50% lead on its nearest competition in gross and has been remarkably consistent in quality save a few bumps here and there.  It’s also a follow up to the critical and commercial bonanza of Black Panther in the public’s eyes and a culmination of all that came before (the biggest film to date in scope and size) so if you haven’t seen them all to this point, this is as good a time as any to note that I will be spoiling past films because frankly how can’t you to talk about this beast of a film.

Taking over for Joss Whedon (who directed the first two Avengers films), are the Russo Brothers which as much as I like Whedon and the first two team up films, it’s an upgrade.  Their Captain America installments are far and away the highlights of the MCU to this point, existing in a storytelling, emotional, and action tier above the rest of them.  While insufferable people (who are also wrong but that’s a conversation for another day and one I’ve made before) will try to claim that this is their second Avengers movie since Civil War was already one, that film did offer plenty of proof that they were perfect for this job.  Able to handle large amount of character in both a storytelling sense and in an action sense (especially in that airport scene) as well as showing an aptitude with a variety of characters and experience with them.  It’s also (aside from the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie) the non-Avengers movie that feels most like a set up for this film so it just feels natural to tap them.

I guess a quick update is in order on everybody since there is so very much background that the film relies on.  T’Challa, Shuri, Okoye, and the rest of Wakanda are getting ready to deal with the fallout of T’Challa’s decision to end centuries of isolationism and open up their advanced technology to all of Earth after the events of Black Panther.  The Winter Soldier is also hiding out in Wakanda after the revelation in Captain America: Civil War that he killed Tony Stark’s parents, but now having apparently been cured of his brainwashing,  Captain America on the other hand has forsaken his shield after choosing to side with the his buddy Bucky against his new buddy Iron Man.  He did go back and free all his allies first though (Scarlet Witch, Ant-Man, Hawkeye, Falcon) who are either on the run at this point in time or have taken deals to be under house arrest.

As for Stark and his allies, War Machine is using Stark tech to walk after being paralyzed, Black Widow has gone into exile after letting Steve Rogers escape, Vision is separated from Scarlet Witch (who he was growing closer too), and Spider-Man seems to be doing pretty well for himself, but that Sony timeline is so disconnected that maybe it will be revealed in his next solo adventure that during this time he was going through a messy breakup or something.  The Guardians are flying about in space (minus Guardian affiliate Nebula who is tracking down Thanos to kill him) after Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.  Thor, Hulk, Valkyrie, and the remnants of Asgard are heading to Earth to establish a new Asgard after Thor: Ragnarok.  Doctor Stephen Strange has taken up residence in the New York Sanctum to study magic after Doctor Strange.

The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are busy trying to suck every last bit of fun out of the show in the likely final hours of it, but hey I’m sure they’d appreciate a cameo.  The Inhumans are also trying to reform their ancestral city of Attilan on Earth after it was destroyed because Thor made that plot-line look so cool, but no one cares about them.  The characters on the Netflix shows… have no impact which is nice because I am behind on them.  Ditto characters from The Runaways (which is good because it has been trash so far), any of the X-Men shows or movies (who are owned by Fox and still not allowed), and the Fantastic Four (same deal with the difference being no one cares).

They’re all on a collision course with wackiness with the hulking Thanos.  Thanos, who aside from Guardians of the Galaxy, has largely been at home washing his tights and occasionally muttering something vaguely menacing like he’s Dr. Claw, finally steps up to the plate as the Big Bad he’s always been intended as and for the most part he succeeds.  Sure, his power seems to waver as the plot demands it, but he’s surprisingly well rounded and Thanos gives him depth without ever seeming anything less than the greatest threat they have ever faced.  This threat comes in the form of the Infinity Gauntlet which has the potential to wipe out half the population of the universe in an instant and is powered by the six Infinity Stones.

The Infinity Stones consist of the Space Stone (the Tesseract), The Mind Stone (currently in Vision’s forehead), the Reality Stone (the Aether), the Power Stone, the Time Stone (Eye of Agamotto), and the Soul Stone as you can tell from the distribution of films setting it up, the films have done their homework setting up what is essentially a giant fetch quest.  The film hops about between Thanos tracking them down, Avengers, Guardians,  Avenger/Guardian-adjacent people protecting/tracking them down, but it’s a nice simple core to base a film around and the film does a good job balancing the varying styles of the MCU without either making them feel too out of place or two ironed out and bland as they have to reach for a nice beige middle.

That’s not to say it is perfect in either plot or tone balancing.  As hinted above with the varying levels of power, the film can get so very contrived as it heads to its conclusion.  I’m sure that I will get a lot of “it’s a superhero movie, you just have to forgive such things”, but *grimaces out of inability to spoil* it’s the kind of plot contrivances that while maybe necessary to the story, seem to undercut much of the character development or my sympathies for the characters especially when HALF THE POPULATION OF THE UNIVERSE IS ON THE LINE.  Also, the tone is decidedly darker and edgier than the rest of the series before, building more of the tone of those Captain America sequels, but the way they established it really rubbed me the wrong way and its attempts to shock did nothing for me.  They did something for the annoying audience I endured so maybe it is just me as most of the films weak attempts to pull on my cold, hard heartstrings made me feel worse for the writers than for the characters.

The film’s not afraid to have fun and has some great fun in those moments.  It’s also not ashamed to delve into fanservice, but unlike other movies, these actually worked in large part because frankly, I’m just fond of these characters and this universe.  When characters I like would show up and meet for the first time and it leads to new fun interactions, it’s a delight.  Watching them battle together as the film mixes their styles together, it’s the kind of thing that legitimately makes this feel special.    Heck, even when the movie let me down in certain areas, it was quick to deliver something to lift me back up and keep from getting too bogged down in the inherent darkness of the plot.  The film also managed to alleviate the biggest fears of being too long and too overstuffed as it moves along steadily, and I felt generally satisfied with the screen time distribution.  It even manages to develop previously underserved characters such as Thanos, Gamora, Scarlet Witch, and Vision more than I expected in such a loaded film and about as well as I could have hoped.

Normally this is where I sum things up, but I’m not going to for multiple reasons.  For one, I still haven’t finished digesting how I feel about the film as a whole.  It’ll probably though wind up grouped with the first two Avengers movies.  Films that were great fun in the theater, but which I doubt I will have any desire to go back to ever again.  Which isn’t an indictment of them, it’s just that much of the appeal rests in their event quality.  The question of should you see it was probably answered when you read the title and it is unlikely this film is going to change your opinion of the franchise for better or worse, but that is an achievement when you think about it.