Thanos — who, in Avengers: Infinity War, is played by Josh Brolin and is arguably the main character; the writers refer to him as the “protagonist” — was first introduced to the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a post-credits tease after 2012’s first Avengers movie. (Half the theater I was in broke out in whispers of, “Who was that thing?”) Since then he’s been teased and teased and teased as the bad guy of all bad guys and here we finally are, all of the build-up culminating in two hours and forty minutes of superhero euphoria (well, mostly) that comic book fans have been dreaming about for years. I mean this as a compliment, but Avengers: Infinity War just might be the dorkiest movie ever made.
You know how a lot of superhero movies get lauded for being “grounded more in reality” or even “it’s less a superhero movie and more a movie about today”? Yeah, no one will ever say these things about Avengers: Infinity War. While watching, I was thinking about Peter Parker in last summer’s Spider-Man: Homecoming, this nervous high school student attending a homecoming dance. Now, a year later, here he is on an alien planet fighting space monsters.
Also, I want to add: I love it. Because that’s the way the comics were – Peter lived his life as a normal kid and the next thing he knew he’s on an alien planet in Secret Wars fighting in an intergalactic royal rumble and taking home a new symbiote pet. And we didn’t get to see Spider-Man trading barbs with people like Magneto every day, so it felt special. (Okay, we still don’t get to see that pairing in movies.) And Avengers: Infinity War feels like a really special event. There are at least ten moments in this movie that made me want to just yell out, “yeah!,” at the screen. If you are a human being who likes comic books or comic book movies, it’s almost impossible not to enjoy the spectacle of it all – even though you might leave the theater a little disappointed (we’ll get to that).
If you’ve seen any of the past 18 Marvel Cinematic Universe films, you’re probably at least a little familiar with the concept of Infinity Stones: six powerful gems that, when placed together on a fun-looking glove, give the user almost unlimited power. And the person who wants to be the user is the aforementioned Thanos. Yet, even with 18 prior movies to kind of explain what these stones do, we still get a breakdown from Doctor Strange involving an illustrated magic-based PowerPoint presentation to bring some of the other heroes and the audience up to speed. And that’s fine, but just know there’s a lot of Infinity Stone talk in your future.
The delight of a movie like this is to see these characters interact with other characters that they haven’t before. And we get some crazy pairings here. (Is that a spoiler? Is “this character in the movie talks to another character in the movie” a spoiler? Is the movie itself one big spoiler? If you don’t want to be spoiled about what happens in Avengers: Infinity War, then don’t see Avengers: Infinity War because it’s loaded with spoilers. Anyway, I’m going to list some parings.) We get Thor teaming up with Rocket and Groot who all go off on their own mission – and you can probably guess that Rocket and Thor have banter that is laugh out loud hilarious. We get to see Peter Quill and Tony Stark have a battle of sarcastic dialogue. Even Rocket and Bucky have some great moments (not surprisingly, Rocket is immensely interested in Bucky’s prosthetic arm; also Rocket might be the longshot MVP of this movie). But Marvel always takes the time to set these characters up so that we care about them all individually before they start meeting new people. It doesn’t seem like that hard of a strategy to grasp, yet time after time other studios try to make a shared universe and it doesn’t work and they always seem to forget this step.
And in this movie it’s Thanos who gets the “let’s get to know you” treatment. In the past he’s just been this dude sitting on a chair in space. In this movie we actually get to know him a bit and get to learn his point of view on why he thinks it’s a good idea half the universe should die, which is what he will do if he gets all six stones. A lot of this information comes from flashbacks where we learn more about his relationship with Gamora, then present-day conversations with Gamora. Look, Thanos feels like a tough character to pull off in the sense of, “let’s give him some sympathetic ideas,” but Joe and Anthony Russo sure try their best and get awfully close. If nothing else, Thanos does feel like a real character instead of just a purple bad guy – and even if we are probably never going to walk away thinking, You know, he had some interesting ideas, at least we get a sense of, Okay, his reasoning is bad, but at least we know where he’s coming from now.
So, for basically 90 percent of this movie, I’m sitting there thinking, Okay, this is awesome. Then things changed slightly. And I need to be clear: not to the point it changes how I feel about the movie. I still enjoyed it immensely. But Infinity War did send me out on an unfulfilled note, which, to be fair, is probably by design. It’s kind of like if you were riding a roller coaster and having just the best experience. Then, off in the distance, you can see the final crazy loop that ends the ride. “Oh my gosh, this has been so much fun already but look at that loop coming up!” And then the ride bypasses the last loop and just kind of ends and you’re told to get out. And you’re left feeling like, “That was great but I thought we were going to go through that last loop but I guess not.”
The best example I can think of is Back to the Future Part II. And what’s funny is I find this now the most rewatchable of the three Back to the Future movies. (Not the best, but just the one that is non-stop fun.) But when I saw that in theaters, I left disappointed because I felt like I didn’t get much of an ending. And that’s the thing: this movie used to be called Avengers: Infinity War Part I and it sure feels like the first part of a two-part story.
But this movie is also a minor miracle. Here we are, at the end of this review and I haven’t mentioned Captain America or Black Widow or Scarlet Witch or Hulk or Black Panther or Vision and they all have important roles to play in this movie. And somehow Joe and Anthony Russo pull it off, giving each character his or her due without anything feeling forced. (Okay, there’s one minor part that feels a little forced but it’s too spoiler-y to mention.) Joss Whedon’s first Avengers shouldn’t have worked and he was dealing with a fraction of the characters that Infinity War has… and somehow it all, mostly, works.
(I’m going to be as vague in this next paragraph as I possibly can. I don’t mention any character names, but who knows if I actually pull off the “vagueness” to your own specific specification? So if you don’t want to take a chance, then don’t read this last paragraph.)
For months the filmmakers have been teasing that there will be real stakes in Avengers: Infinity War and we’d be saying goodbye to some beloved characters. This is true. But can there be such a thing as too many stakes? (What a dumb sentence, but there’s no real way to write this without giving anything away.) Put it this way: I was fully prepared to have an emotional goodbye to one or two longtime MCU characters, but that’s not really the way it fully pans out here. The way it does pan out just kind of left me thinking, I don’t believe this result for a second (and, frankly, I don’t think we’re supposed to) as opposed to Well, what a great sendoff. But who knows! And the ride is such fun, maybe what’s the difference anyway? I guess we’ll all find out next year.
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