4 out of 5
Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Avengers: Infinity War is a very good action movie. And, like the first Avengers, it watches like a legitimate event; it’s a big, big deal, and one that is earned by what came before it, i.e. all those other Marvel movies you enjoyed. Though I’d generally malign a movie for ‘requiring’ outside information or experience to justify itself, the difference here is that Infinity War functions just fine on its own: you get who the heroes are, trying to save the world from villain Thanos; you understand that Thanos needs some magic stones to bring his goal (to destroy half the world) to fruition; and even on that level – it’s a very good action movie. But armed with previous Marvel movie viewings, the attachment formed to the characters, and our better appreciation of their motivations, notably increases the overall impact of the film.
And these pluses persist despite some flaws: Thanos’ relationship to daughter Gamorra never quite feels as relevant as is required; the meet-cute of the various heroes from different film experiences into one melting pot sometimes (in the case of Iron Man and Dr. Strange, for example) feels rushed; the full-on CGI worlds and some final “fading” sequences look, oddly, a bit dodgey.
However, there’s a counter for each one of those. Regarding Thanos, his dichotomy with Gamorra is ultimately just a minor aspect of the character, with the film / script allowing actor Josh Brolin to actually give us an antagonist fitting of that term: Thanos is one of the most fully “realized” villains across any genre flick in recent memory. A tragedy on his planet has convinced him of the necessity of occasional purges of the population, and he sees his quest to “offer” that to the universe as a noble one. It’s… an interestingly compelling motivator, and one that the heroes don’t have to offer much in the way of refutating except to say “but… lives!” And smoothing over any abbreviated introductions in the film, Infinity War gives us an incredibly cohesive flow for all of its 2.5+ hours. Once the various factions – Iron Man, Strange, Spider-Man; Cap and Black Panther; Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor – are in place, it all clicks together entrancingly, balancing drama and humor (and big ol’ battles) in smart doses. Lastly – at least in accordance with my mini-list above – while the digital worlds of Ragnarok and GotG 2 rather bored my eyes, the Russos seemed to realize that spectacle is the norm nowadays, and grounded Infinity War with a distinct sense of space, and place, and the people within those. When title cards came up announcing locales, it felt relevant to mood and plot, and not just a travelogue with interchangeable slides. This also translates to the impact of the action, which did not feel like the usual Marvel “house” style of studio-designed choreography, but once more (as in: not since some of the phase one efforts) legitimately exciting.
…Though it’s clear we still have no idea what, exactly, to do with The Hulk. When you have a lot of people who can punch very hard, he has little need to be there.
Avengers: Infinity War is what I wish event comic book crossovers felt like. Instead of just acting as a teaser of next year’s plotlines, it’s a standalone experience (yes, even though it’s only part one of this story, it was wise to remove that ‘part one’ from the film’s title, as the flick deserves to be appreciated on its own), and one enriched by what’s come before it. And better yet, making you want to revisit those past experiences, reminded of why this whole Marvel Cinematic Universe thing felt like a big deal in the first place.