Warning: Review contains spoilers
Shortly after I went to a Saturday afternoon screening of Avengers: Infinity War I went onto Twitter and tweeted the following: “#AvengersInfinityWar All I’m going to say is, if you’re invested in the MCU you’re going to want to see this and do so before the spoilers get to you” and I’d say that’s still more or less what I have to say about the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. Truth be told I’ve found writing reviews for MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) as if anyone is looking for advice as to whether or not they should see them is pretty delusional. That isn’t to say that these movies are “critic-proof” as I do think truly negative reviews of them could take their toll if the movies suddenly took a real dip in quality, but while they continue to live up to expectations the people who are interested are simply going to keep going and this notion that anyone is waiting for little old me to weigh in before they put down their money would be even more egotistical than it would be for most of my reviews. So, after this paragraph (and the perfunctory summery after it) this review is going to just dive in and talk about everything that happens in this movie and what it means to this whole enterprise and things will probably be a little more informal than usual.
The film picks up right where Thor: Ragnarok left off with the Asgardian refugees spaceship running into Thanos’ giant space base. The Asgardian ship is quickly boarded and Thanos (Josh Brolin), who appears to have gotten a hold of the Power Stone from Guardians of the Galaxy, makes quick work of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Loki (Tom Hiddleson), and even The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). Thanos then takes the Tesseract, which had been at the center of The Avengers and was re-stolen by Loki in Thor: Ragnarok, and proceeds to kill Loki on the spot and take the space stone from the Tesseract. Heimdall (Idris Elba) is also killed but as he’s dying he manages to use the bifrost to teleport Bruce Banner back to Earth. The Asgardian ship is destroyed but Thor, being a god, survives in the vacuum of space and is rescued by The Guardians of the Galaxy, who are chasing down the distress signal that the Asgardian ship was sending out. From there He, Groot (Vin Diesal), and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) decide to seek out a weapons forge while Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) go to The Collector (Benicio del Toro) to try to find the Reality Stone from Thor: The Dark World. Meanwhile, Banner finds himself having been teleported back to earth, where the Mind Stone is in the hands of Vision (Paul Bettany) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron and the Time Stone is in the hands of Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) after the events of his film. Banner immediately seeks out Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and shortly after warning him and Dr. Strange about Thanos finds New York under attack by Thanos’ minions.
That above summery is a good example of why this is a hard write a normal review of this movie. It’s a paragraph that will make very little sense to anyone who hasn’t already seen eighteen movies that preceded this one, and if anyone has already seen eighteen Marvel movies why the hell would they skip this one? There are other Marvel movies that you can go to and more or less enjoy without worrying about how they fit into the overall story, but this certainly isn’t one of them. This also isn’t a Marvel movie that’s trying to be some kind of Marvel infused take on some other genre. It isn’t trying to be a blockbuster take on the high school movie like Spider-Man: Homecoming, it isn’t trying to be a comedic space opera that so happens to fit into the universe like Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was, and it isn’t trying to be a politically charged science fiction film like Black Panther. This is, at its heart, purely and simply a Marvel movie. Of course it does need to bring in disparate elements from all those other movies and at times while watching the movie I was almost reminded of the early episodes of Marvel’s Netflix crossover series “The Defenders,” which gave the audience the impression that they were flipping between four different TV series. Certain sacrifices are of course going to be made. For instance The Guardians of the Galaxy are generally not accompanied by the 70s music they’re associated with and the trippy visuals associated with Dr. Strange are a lot more restrained here but for the most part the Russo Brothers do a pretty good job of bringing all these characters together efficiently while still providing all the action and witty banter that people expect from these movies.
All in all the movie plays out exactly as most audiences are expecting it to play out in grand entertaining fashion… and then everybody dies. Now this is an ending that’s going to play out very differently to different audiences. Personally I kind of saw it coming. I had vague memories of hearing that something like that happening in the comic books and leading up to my screening I saw a lot of headlines in the early reviews talking about the “shocking ending” in ways that probably seemed vague to the people writing them but which were pretty easy for someone who pays to much attention to this stuff to put two and two together. It’s also going to be less shocking to the over-informed simply because it’s a lot easier to be cynical about how permanent any of these deaths are likely to be if you know too much about who has what contracts. We already know that there’s going to be a third Guardians of the Galaxy so there’s no way those characters are really dead and that Sony is trying to build a Spider-Man cinematic universe which ensures that that character is coming back and that there’s no way in hell that Disney is going to let the Black Panther money train movie end here. However, it is maybe worth taking a couple steps back and considering how that played to the vast majority of the millions of people who are going to see this thing. While I’m sure a lot of them will also have a hunch that some of these characters are coming back they probably didn’t see this cliffhanger coming and Marvel has done a pretty good job of downplaying the fact that another Avengers movie is coming next year with the general public. In particular I wonder how the children in the audience would react to seeing the bad guy win and kill a bunch of their heroes. Is that going to be traumatic to them? I certainly hope so.
Anyway, the other thing about the movie I want to talk about has less to do with the ending itself so much as what led up to it. Thanos was really only able to enact his insane plan because a lot of the heroes make a lot of selfish decisions. Thanos only learns the location of the Soul Stone because Quill fails to follow Gamora’s instructions to shoot her rather than let her be captured and interrogated by Thanos, Gamora makes the same mistake herself by giving Thanos the location rather than see her sister tortured, Dr. Strange ostensibly only gives up the time stone to save Iron Man, Quill screws up yet again by losing his cool when the other heroes are about to take the gauntlet, and of course the possibility of that unhappy ending easily could have been cut of right from the beginning if Scarlett Witch had just yanked the mind stone from Vision’s head and wrecked it. Absolutely none of these decisions can be justified on any logical level. The whole damn movie is like a precession of so-called heroes making wildly selfish choices where they put the lives of their friends and family above the lives of literally trillions of other people and in doing so. It’s like the anti-Casablanca, no one seems to realize that the lives of a couple little people does not amount to a hill of beans in a crazy universe where a madman wants to wipe out half of the universe’s population with the snap of the fingers… and yet thematically this series of events is not an accident. The emotional and arguably selfish actions of all these characters stands in stark contrast to Thanos’ philosophy, which takes the notion of “the ends justify the means” to a deranged extreme. Thanos is willing to kill trillions “for the greater good” and the heroes often can’t even kill one person “for the greater good,” presumably there’s a middle ground somewhere to be found and we’ll have to see if they address this in the as of yet untitled next Avengers movie.
So I guess the last question is why this movie works so well despite theoretically having all the same problems that Avengers: Age of Ultron had. I called that movie an over-stuffed mess and on paper this movie is even more “stuffed” than that movie was, but it still manages to flow a lot better. It also manages to find a lot more time to develop its villain than that earlier movie did. In fact I was kind of shocked at how much effort they put into giving Thanos, a character I expected to have something of a Dr. Evil quality, some real motivations and personality. Above all I think what makes this work so much better than Avengers: Age of Ultron is just that it has a purpose. The surrounding solo Marvel films simply hadn’t been building towards Age of Ultron, it was a movie that largely just existed because they needed an Avengers movie in “phase two,” the movie those solo movies had been building towards pretty much since the beginning had been Infinity War and the fact that they actually managed to deliver on that promise and deliver on it this well is quite the achievement. Now granted, a lot of this movie’s overall legacy is going to depend on whether they stick the landing in the follow-up and that remains to be seen, but if the goal for now was to make us excited for the finale then mission accomplished.
**** out of Five