Avengers: Infinity War defies critical analysis in the traditional sense; this is the culmination of world building throughout a run of 19 films. It’s story leads into a sequel next year, it sports over 30 heroes, 4 story tangents and a budget estimated anywhere between $300 to $400 million dollars. The weight of previous entries so vast and the scope of the story so large – good luck to audiences attending this film as their entry point into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
The heroic super being Captain America (Chris Evans) for example may not have much of an arc in this individual episode but to a fan does that really matter? We’ve had a few films to get know him and there’s only so many minutes with so many characters to serve. At one point the merits of self-sacrifice to save the day are raised by one hero and Steve Rogers replies “We don’t trade in lives.” And I thought how just like Cap. It’s a little moment but in a behemoth of a film and franchise it’s the little moments that are so important to get right. While clocking in at 149 minutes the film skips from location to location, set-piece to set-piece these little moments are vital for providing all the characterization and pathos the film can muster on the move.
Knowledge of previous films certainly helps but you have it to the Russo brothers as directors, they seem to know what to do with these characters. Nordic God of Thunder, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in five minutes here seems to be more consistently and thoughtfully fleshed out here then he was in his three solo movies. The introduction of the bantering mixed bag of space mercenaries, the Guardians of the Galaxy is so in keeping with the tone of their movies that you imagine their director/writer James Gunn was brought into consult but no it seems the Russos just get it.
Part of the fun of such a team-up movie is seeing how different characters react to each other and draw out different aspects of their personalities. Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) for example matures around Thor whereas Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) appears more imperious and clinical next to Spider-man (Tom Holland). If there is one character handed a whole arc it is actually villain of the piece, purple skinned and ribbed for your pleasure chinned Thanos (Josh Brolin) which is just as well since he’s been given little screen time previously. The relationships with his daughters Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) and why he is trying to destroy the universe are all given time to breathe. As the big bad daddy of the Marvel Universe makes his entrance other familial tensions resonate through the story. Thanos talks a good yarn about his burden of having to balance out the universe with mass extinction like he’s a general making the hard decisions or a parent giving tough love but Josh Brolin’s performance makes you suspect he’s just a psychopath wrapping himself in the lies of the warped cult he established with his minions.
Although an interesting theme throughout is how our heroes fail to make similar hard decisions paving the way for Thanos’s victory. To that end the finale is kind of audacious and bleak for such a crowd pleasing series of films. The scale of this blockbuster and all those that came before it also adds to the impact of such an ending. It feels big because it capitalises on 10 years of history. At various points during the film Alan Silvestri’s score kicks in as various heroes suddenly come to the aid of others. Small victories through adversity preclude a deafening defeat. The music gone replaced by thunder cracking and the palette of the film turning grey, the quiet making an impact following so much loud spectacle. The impact of this only lessened by the knowledge that the movie is only one part of a much larger machine. A machine purring along quite nicely that sometimes it seems we’re begging for an occasional sputter just to add colour. This maybe it, while the Marvel Cinematic Universe will remain it does feel like this film will prove a milestone of some sort.
Technically there is some CGI rendering that looks like it could have been given more time to be perfected which is saying something considering at least 10 special effects houses that worked on this film. As previously mentioned, some characters don’t get much to do but all do get their moment to shine and some even get developed. While the scale here is huge, the Russos don’t just throw stuff at the screen, every sequence is well choreographed, paced to elicit maximum tension and sketched out with a good understanding the geography.
If you’ve seen a Marvel superhero film and liked it you should enjoy this one, if you haven’t seen one you might find hard to keep up with and if you’ve seen one before and not enjoyed it I’m surprised you’ve come this far but thank you and I hoped you enjoyed the review. It’s tempting to underestimate how difficult it is pull this off (even though Justice League was just in cinemas last December) and to forget how unprecedented this was back in 2008. This is the pay-off of ten years and while its legacy may reside more in how the business model changes in Hollywood it should be noted that Kevin Feige leads a team of people that juggle a large canvas of characters and stories and they’ve never made a film that wasn’t at least decent. This is probably due to the love that the people involved have for the characters and their innate understanding of them and audiences. Next year and the new Avengers movie that comes with it can’t get here fast enough.