Well, we’ve finally hit the end of the road in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the big purple one is finally here, looking for those Infinity Stones. The movie he’s in, Avengers: Infinity War, has less in common with its direct predecessor, Age of Ultron, than it does with the first Avengers. Perhaps it has to do that with the fact that Ultron felt like a sequel, rather than a culmination. That was the beauty of the first Avengers, which tied together elements from a number of films in order to make one of the most rousing blockbuster films of the past decade, and Infinity War shares that with that film, though on a much more massive scale.
This ensemble has also been freed from the hands of Joss Whedon, and put in the capable care of the Russo Brothers, who have previously shown off their abilities to deliver epic storytelling (Winter Solider) and (Civil War). They have done excellent work. To say that it succeeds tremendously is hollow praise, given how intense the undertaking must have been, and I’m pretty fucking confident that it’s going to annihilate theater audiences all over the globe.
It wouldn’t matter too much if the core was hollow, as it seemed like it might be from the previous appearances of Josh Brolin’s Thanos. Happily, this purse giant is in truth one of Marvel’s most well-developed villains, and whatever impressions that you have left over from his few and far in-between cameos n the MCU (most notably in the first Guardians of the Galaxy film, where he was a gigantic wet blanket) are quickly undone. His motivations make a twisted sort of sense and offer something different and slightly more complex than both the ones we’ve seen in the often forgettable cannon fodder that these films use and in his comic origins. No, he’s not trying to fuck the literal manifestation of death in the Marvel Universe (though you may question that at one point), and that is not a spoiler, he’s simply trying to shape the universe to his will. We get to see him at his most “tender” with his daughter Gamora and we see him struggle.
In a twisted sort of way, the Mad Titan is our protagonist here, and it’s his journey that we’re forced to go on. Brolin, even when camouflaged behind CGI, is able to emote and generate both terror and sympathy from us, and he is by far the best foil that the heroes have faced as a unit. Yes, that includes Loki. Why? I can’t tell you.
The Avengers themselves are still split up across the globe, and the Guardians of the Galaxy are still where we last left them, shooting across the known universe with a dope soundtrack and enough quips to kill a joke-horse, and it’s how they come together and how they interact that provides much of the film’s first hour and a half. It’s a great deal funnier than you might expect it to be, given the dour marketing campaign, and while it most assuredly is dark, it’s never black-hearted or cruel. It’s cosmically goofy in the kind of broad way that the best Marvel comics and films are, but it’s a serious and meaningful enterprise, and perhaps that stands in contrast for you with their other output.
Infinity War, at the very least, is handsomely delivered, the Russos’ particular style has been enhanced by the developments of the other recently recruited auteurs in the MCU bullpen, and their visions of Wakanda or the Asgardian generation ship (and some of the more obscure locations) feel true to what Ryan Coogler and Taika Waititi have established. They’re extraordinarily gifted at managing all of the disparate visual elements and tonal transitions that come with a crossover, and it feels pretty much seamless. Their action scenes are well-staged and have a true sense of geography, even if they feel a bit generic from time to time.
Perhaps the greatest success of Infinity War is how well it replicates the experience of reading a big comic event while maintaining the actual stakes required for fans not to feel as jaded as they do when reading, say, Avengers vs. X-Men. They know the outcomes, they know that in a year or two someone who dies is going to come back birthed anew like Gandalf the White, they know that the status quo will be eventually retained and recaptured. Given the nature of the enterprise, that sort of timeless continuity just isn’t possible in films (though the Mouse would certainly like to have Robert Downey Jr.’s likeness rights so they can CGI him into films much like Peter Cushing in Rogue One), so the major things that happen in Infinity War have an intense weight and gravitas to them.
It captures all the great things about a comic book world on a macro scale — the fusions of styles, the conflicts between protagonists — and makes it all stick, while forever altering the universe in which it takes place. This is a rollicking and entertaining film, a climactic continuation that is the product of ten years of excellent and consistent storytelling, and it rewards fans for their attention and dedication constantly while also making them ache for more after an incredibly bold ending. I can’t wait for the next one.
We’ll have spoiler-filled thoughts for you later on after you’ve had a chance to see it. Avengers: Infinity War hits theaters on April 27.