We have seen more than half a dozen heroes fight side-by-side. We have seen those battles take place on Earth, in space and in the mirror realm. We have seen blue and purple faceless antagonist aliens drop from heavens. We have seen technology developed by The Avengers bring mankind to the brink of extinction time and again. We have heard so much quippy dialogue and seen so many oodles of visual comedy that it has almost ruined this filmmaking technique for years to come. We have seen Easter eggs and teases to future projects in the MCU. We have seen the first Iron Man
's template recycled about a dozen times. And most of all, we have been subject to an endless series of Thanos teases.
But now, he is here and so are all the aforementioned hallmarks of a movie from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After 10 whole years of set up, this is Infinity War.
This is a film packed with 46 - count 'em, 46 - characters. Nearly 40 of those 46 are the heroes we have grown to know and love. They are in the fight of their lives as they attempt to stop a god (Thanos played by the excellent Josh Brolin) with the mindset of a sociopath and the eerie calm of a war-vetted commander. Thanos' singular goal is to collect all 6 infinity stones, attach them to his comically large glove, and eliminate half the population of the "overcrowded" universe in an attempt to restore balance to it.
At many a point in the film, The Avengers, The Guardians of The Galaxy and every other hero who isn't affiliated with either group asks how prudent a decision it is to go up against a being of such singular focus and immensity. This question acts as a meta read into the minds of the directors Joe and Anthony Russo and the small army of actors and technicians that made this movie (and all others preceding it) possible. How does one fit 46 characters into a movie, set it in nearly ten different locations, have five plot threads run simultaneously, payoff a decade and 18 movies' worth of investment, and still come out the other side with a perfect film that satisfies on all fronts?
The answer (subtle spoiler): no one character, filmmaker or film comes out of such a massive undertaking unscathed.
If there is one aspect of this real-life rendition of a comic book splash page that comes out the other side looking better than it had any right of being, it is its villain. Thanos acts as the grounding force / connecting tissue holding this movie's many plot lines and character threads in place. As he and the film jump planets and plot points, it becomes increasingly clear that the massive purple armour-clad mad-god and his story are the movie's primary focus.
At every juncture, he is afforded a small scene of character development. At the end of 160 minutes, the character afforded to him is so dense that one might even make an argument for how he is the primary character of the film, and the near 40 other players who have no more than a dozen lines written for each of them are the horde of faceless henchmen trying to stop his noble cause.
Talking about The Fabulous Forty, this film heavily leans on the fact that the audience has an implicit connection with them owing to the previous 18 movies in this massive franchise. This is a blessing and a curse to the story the movie is trying to tell. It is quickly apparent that not all characters are at the same level of importance, and that some characters who led their own highly successful films act as nothing more than generals to the old guard who are still the life force of the MCU. This is more pronounced when you realise that the emotional centre of Age Of Ultron
and arguably the best part of the airport scene from Civil War
(guess who) are not even present in this film.
That being said, every hero is given his/her moment in the sun even if it is only for a few seconds. Dr Strange holds his own against Thanos from time to time, Gamora's mysterious past is uncovered, Spiderman is as likeable as ever. These tiny moments of character and humour are far too many to list out. While these are bound to bring a smile out of even the most jaded audience member, these instances walk the line of becoming overkill. This choice of staying true to the MCU brand of storytelling robs the movie's many emotional beats of gravitas. This, again, becomes apparent when the movie lets a couple of emotional moments sink in and lingers on to them for a few minutes. For a split second, Infinity War treats its audience as adults, and is all the better for it.
The actors essaying out these larger than life characters are well-acquainted to their roles. Almost all of them have been in these characters' shoes for two films or more, and it shows. Their interactions with each other are smooth and lack any palpable clumsiness. Even if the quipping is endless and some character choices reek of convenience (here's looking at you Dr Strange and Star-Lord), the characters themselves are personable and, hence, likeable. Each of them is given a cause to fight for and hence has a reason for being.
The auditory experience of the film doesn't do their efforts justice from time to time. Coming off the unique disco stylings of Thor: Ragnarok
and the singular celebration of African culture that is Black Panther
, Infinity War seems to lack a unique identity. It does not make the film unwatchable, it makes the final product, for lack of a better word, safe. There are no musical cues or themes to hum on your way back home or a soundtrack you'll be dying to play on your drive to work. Even though the film is a precursor to genuine change, the sound it bellows out remains the same.
The movie's visuals, however, run the gamut from excellence to mediocrity to downright eye-sores. There are wonderfully lit and staged shots that exemplify the pay-off a decade of build-up has led to. These are found in both massive set-pieces and close-ups of actors emoting from time to time. These moments strive to remind the audience and the film itself that even if everything and everyone is larger than life, these are stories about people.
But right after some of these moments, the film throws a curve ball where the soundstage becomes unmistakable and the CGI attempting to mask it becomes deplorable. If one eased out of a big moment a second too soon, this phenomenon becomes all the more visible. And as a coda to this, the many planets the characters hop are just too one-note and blandly designed to care about, and I refuse to waste my words complaining about the ADHD action-editing anymore.
As I say these things, there is a voice in the back of my head getting louder and more persistent every second. It says, "This film should not have worked at any level, but it does." And that is one of the most telling facts when compared to any box office stat or Rotten Tomatoes score. This film is only the second act of a decade-long story arc, and there is so much more to come in the near future.
Like this review, the film itself is a lot of movies to sit through. It has its crests and troughs, highs and lows, and repeats itself from time to time. It is far from perfect, and it's hard to fully condone a near-three-hour comic book splash page. It is everything good and bad about the MCU rolled into this epic package, and somehow, its ending leaves you wanting more even when your bottom is numb from all the sitting.
You'll have more questions and more fan theories, and even though you know some of this movie's proceedings will be retconned soon enough, you can't wait for how those events unfold. Achieving that reaction might be this film's greatest triumph.