AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (Dir. by Anthony & Joe Russo, 149 min., USA, 2018)
BY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC More than a decade in the making, Avengers: Infinity War is Marvel Studios most ambitious story to date, bringing together the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to take on its greatest threat, the Mad Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin), in an apocalyptic fight to the finish. First glimpsed in the post-credit stinger at the end of the first Avengers film and remaining just outside the periphery of our heroes over the course of Phase 2 and Phase 3, the coming of Thanos promises the biggest shakeup to the MCU since the Russo Brothers’ Marvel debut Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Given that the contracts of most of the Marvel roster (Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, and Jeremy Renner) expire at the end of Phase Three, it looks like Marvel president Kevin Feige is unleashing Thanos to wreak havoc on the MCU and clean house for the top-secret Phase 4. Fittingly, the job of directing the franchise-ending installment of the saga falls to the Russo Brothers, who have picked up the gauntlet thrown down by Whedon and turned in some of the MCU’s more complex and darkest entries to date.
Getting into comics as a kid in the 90s, Thanos was easily my favorite big baddie. Born an Eternal (essentially a demigod) the hideously disfigured Titan was born of the Deviants gene, making him a pure nihilist obsessed with death. The film makes a subtle change to the character while retaining his endgame, imbuing his genocidal crusade with a strange, almost conservationist slant. After witnessing the death of his own planet due to overpopulation Thanos hopes to collect the Infinity Stones to restore “balance” to the universe – by killing off half of the of its population. The only thing standing in his way is not only Earth’s mightiest heroes The Avengers, but also the Guardians of the Galaxy. The film’s narrative forks early on as the Children of Thanos, otherwise known as the Black Order, are sent to Earth to gather the Infinity Stones in the Avengers’ possession, while Thanos and his daughter Gamora search for the few still at large in the galaxy. This back and forth delivers the epic team ups and reunions fans would probably expect, as our earth-bound heroes make their last stand in Wakanda in a desperate attempt to protect Vision.
Infinity War is all dessert and no filler. But you’d kind of expect that after 10 years of pre-gaming. Notably, the film is constructed less like your standard Marvel tentpole, in that the entire film has that third act “battle royale” feel as we go from battle to battle, planet to planet, losing old heroes and gaining new heroes along the way. Without venturing into spoiler territory, I will say this: Infinity War will be Transformers: The Movie (1986) for a whole new generation — it’s really that bleak. While many heroes will fall just as many will rise to take their place. The film somehow keeps a frantic, breakneck pace for the entire 2 hours and 40 minutes as the Russo Brothers perform a precarious balancing act using the Marvel brand of humor to soften blow after blow to our cast of heroes and those around them. It’s a sugar high that will leave fans emotionally exhausted at the end as they wander out of the theater in haze wondering just what just hit them. While this is essentially Infinity War: Part 1, its beyond satisfying and somehow shoulders the gargantuan hype that Marvel has been stoking since the first trailer broke at SDCC.
Infinity War makes good on a decade of character development and plot to deliver a crushing gut punch that will have fans reeling until the second, currently unnamed entry hits theaters in a year. My only complaint is the occasionally embarrassingly bad CGI scattered throughout the film (let’s just say Mark Ruffalo is now the Marvel equivalent to DC’s Henry Cavill) and some lackluster performances, which, in all fairness, is to be expected when wrangling such an immense cast of characters who were often not there. It’s hard to deny the sheer spectacle on screen that is The Avengers: Infinity War and how the Russo Brothers have once again managed to pull the rug out from under an entire fandom in a frighteningly faithful take on one of the greatest comic stories in the Marvel echelon. Thanos is the harbinger of Phase 4 and he is just as complex — Brolin invests him with a brutal sentimentality — and terrifying as his comic book counterpart. it’s a breath of fresh air for those like myself that began to feel the MCU becoming a bit too safe, because what happens next is anyone’s guess.