Ten years seems like a rather long time to tell a story. Infinity War is the MCU’s 19th movie. As far as Hollywood goes, that is a ridiculous amount of time spent building worlds, telling origin stories and setting up character arcs. It is the culmination of 10 years worth of investment in time, money, creativity and love.
And goddamn does it show! I’ll be honest, I was extremely apprehensive about this one. The expectations from this movie seemed impossible to meet.
One of things I give Marvel a lot of credit for (especially as a massive comic book nerd) is how often their portrayal of characters frequently transcends the actual source material. Which is the exact opposite of what the DCU has managed post Nolan. Infinity War continues that trend.
Even for a comic book, the Infinity War story arc (in the comics) is a little absurd. There is too much happening, you can see the tropes from a mile away and even the art is dated. But most of all, Thanos the central antagonist, is absolutely ridiculous.
Comic book movies face a particularly vexing challenge when it comes to their villains (something I alluded to in my review of Black Panther). Thanos (the primary antagonist here) is a glaring example. He is essentially a walking God. He has destroyed entire civilizations, heck, even his henchmen are capable of single-handedly decimating entire worlds. Simply put, he is way too powerful to make any tangible sense.
He is also, an absolute dick.
The very idea of “punching” someone, SOMETHING, like that is both pointless and absurd. But it does shift the frame of how one views a hero. It is less about being a badass and saving the world and more about fighting an impossible battle simply because it is the right thing to do. Paying lip service to this idea is easy, but to maintain that pressure throughout a 2 hour plus visual spectacle is not.
The treatment of Thanos (played convincingly by Josh Brolin) is a high point not just for this film, but for the MCU as a whole. It’s still tropey of course, the old “I must kill you to save you” thing is hardly groundbreaking. I personally find it rather tiresome. But there is enough here, thematically, to keep it at least a little convincing.
The philosophical battle between deontology and utilitarianism was explored convincingly by the MCU in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. Here though, that conflict is ramped up to 11. Add to that Thanos’ Malthusian belief system of “there’s not enough to go around for everyone” and it makes for a heady mix. To him, all this killing is merely the cold clinical calculus of civilization. Dispassionate and necessary. In the end, he is driven by a twisted sense of ultimate utilitarianism and corrupt compassion.
Thanos is still a dick. But here he is one because he has genuinely deluded himself. He sees galactic level purges as mercy. He sees genocide as sacrifice, but conveniently forgets that sacrifice can only be called that if the subject has a choice. Take away that choice and what we are left with is murder, plain and simple. This is where the reasoning fumbles and my suspension of disbelief teeters with it. One would think that a being that has existed for centuries, would be wiser. Still, I must say, this is a win. Making a comic book villain the focus of a movie was a ballsy move and it does pay off handsomely.
There is no denying the gloomy undertone. It is something that permeates the entirety of the film. At every step, our heroes seem doomed to failure. Many of the characters are trying to recover from horrific losses, both personal and otherwise. It is bleak, very bleak. It speaks to the creative vision of the directors (The Russo brothers) that it is still entertaining.
There is a familiar rhythm to the action, a 1-2-3, 1-2-3 combination that is reminiscent of pugilism. (I call it the Gloom-Joke-Punch combo, because, why the hell not?) It is one of the things that makes a brutal sport like boxing seem “beautiful”. And much like a spectator sport, there were frequent moments where the audience erupted in loud applause. The set pieces are awesome to behold and visually speaking, Infinity War is a real treat. This is a VERY entertaining film. One that particularly rewards anyone that stayed invested through all the 18 (!!!) preceding movies. There are enough easter eggs and in jokes here to keep any self-respecting nerd happy.
But where most of the movie sticks to its calculated cadence, the final minutes feel like a flurry of brutal blows to a fallen foe. If the events leading up to that were painful, the end just leaves one numb with shock. I saw Infinity War with a bunch of people that had no idea about the comic book story and seeing their faces towards the end was quite entertaining in its own right.
Like any piece of entertainment, it is not perfect. There are not many things I’d complain about but for one exception. A couple of the characters seem to have developed in a way that I can only say is unconvincing if not outright counter-intuitive. Thor is a good example. He is arguably someone who has lost the most. Over the course of four films, he has lost his entire family, his planet and his people. And the more he lost, the more comedic he became. This was something that really rubbed me the wrong way in Thor: Ragnarok and if anything, it’s worse here. Having a sense of humor is one thing, being funny is something else entirely. Peter Parker using humor as a shield makes sense, Thor doing the same does not. The former is a teenager who is in way over his head, the latter is a lightning god that has lived over 1500 years.
Also, I’d say the soundtrack wasn’t much to talk about. But then again, with the exception of The Guardians of The Galaxy films, this is par for the course in the MCU. But obligatory nitpicking aside, Infinity War is a triumph of storytelling and the high water mark for any cinematic universe.
Ten years may seem like a long time. But the year-long wait for Infinity War 2 will feel longer still.
FINAL SCORE 9.0/10