“We’re in the endgame now.”
[Photos and video provided by Disney.]
“Avengers: Infinity War,” the first half of the third installment of the “Avengers” films brings together a panoply of heroes from every Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise over the last ten years in a gargantuan confrontation with a truly universal threat.
For years now, one common background element of all the MCU films has been the mysterious and powerful Thanos who has been gathering the Infinity Stones for a murky, nefarious purpose. In “Infinity War,” some two years after “Captain America: Civil War,” that purpose is brought to light just as most of our heroes have reached their most fractured state.
[If, like me, you have lost track of the Infinity Stones through the decade, here is a Marvel Studios-provided cheat sheet:]
THE INFINITY STONES PRIMER
SPACE STONE (Tesseract)
Power: Used to control space and create advanced weaponry
Currently in possession: Asgard
REALITY STONE (Aether)
Power: Ability to warp reality at will, immense strength, durability, powers, and subjective
influence over the universe
Currently in Possession: The Collector
POWER STONE (Orb)
Power: Increases physical abilities, allows manipulation of energy. Can obliterate an entire
planet when unleashed.
Currently in Possession: Nova Corps
MIND STONE (from Loki’s scepter)
Power: Subjugate the minds of others, bending them to the will of the user. Increased
Currently in Possession: Vision
(Eye of Agamotto)
Power: Able to control the flow of time.
Currently in Possession: Doctor Strange
Currently in Possession: Unknown
To combat this menace, all of our heroes, from Earth and beyond, will find that superheroism often makes for strange bedfellows while hoping that in unity there is strength. Whether they can muster up sufficient unity is only one of the questions posed in “Infinity War.”
[For months, we’ve been reminded that #ThanosDemandsYourSilence about most of the plot points in an effort to avoid spoiling the movie. While I will try to stick with what I think is common knowledge about the film, if you want to go in to see it as a completely blank slate, I’d avoid reading anything about it, including the rest of this.]
The main attraction of “Infinity War” is its star-studded cast made up of principals from countless blockbusters. Whether new or old to the MCU stable, they all do as polished a job as you’d expect from folks who have been inhabiting the same characters for ages.
The number of characters is a mixed blessing, however, as even with a running time of almost three hours, we don’t get the chance to spend as much time as we’d like with each of them. They do a good job of trying to give each person at least a moment to shine, but many of the main cast are more or less sidelined beyond the big action sequences. The film employs the technique of splitting everyone up into groups of varied combinations to break them into manageable story lines, and then focuses largely on a couple of them–mainly on just a few members of each.
The person who gets the most on-screen development is our Big Bad, Thanos. Determined to fulfill his destiny of annihilating half the beings in the universe, he has his own tragic backstory and twisted motivations that Josh Brolin uses to create a villain as sympathetic as he is fearsome. Few things make a being more indomitable than having the courage of their convictions, and whatever else you may think of Thanos, he does not lack for that.
The look of the film is, as always, MCU pitch-perfect whether on-location in Edinburgh or under the dome of Wakanda. Many of the characters’ appearances have changed somewhat as a result of intervening events, Chris Evans’ Captain America in particular. No longer the clean-shaven, Star Spangled Man With A Plan, Steve Rogers’ years of being hunted by his own country seems to have beaten some of his trademark optimism and faith in humanity out of him. While he still operates on a strict moral code, his guarded nature is evident in his terse speech and physically manifested in his new beard. Set adrift from most of his old alliances, Rogers is notably free of the stars-and-stripes, even on his shields, when he gets them.
Thor looks much as we left him after “Thor: Ragnarok:” Minus his hammer, some of his hair, and one eye. We find, however, that while still pretty good-humored (Chris Hemsworth still unfairly funny for someone who looks “like a pirate had a baby with an angel,”) the loss of almost all of his family and kingdom from Ragnarok has left him somewhat fatalistic and a long way from the exuberant dude who was initially banished from Asgard for his aggressive pursuit of battle and glory.
As usual, the lynchpin tying it altogether is Robert Downey Jr., whose Tony Stark is in the unenviable position of having finally achieved a measure of peace before all Thanos breaks loose. With the welfare of his Pepper Potts relationship and the well-being of his surrogate son Peter Parker on one hand and the fate of the universe on the other, Stark embodies the general theme of the Russo Brother’s story: What does it cost to be a hero?
Ultimately, the main complaint that anyone will have about “Infinity War” is likely to be the ending, which has the transitory nature of the ending of any first half to a story. While some events seem likely to have permanent consequences, others seem equally likely to be reversed in the second half which detracts a bit from the gravitas of the moment. The other is that some of the big conflicts developed in “Civil War” aren’t addressed here, but there is a whole other movie coming for that.
If you’ve been following along with our heroes all this time however, there’s a good chance you won’t be disappointed by “Infinity War.” It has all the importance and grandeur of the event movie that it is, while preserving the small character bits that make the films endearing. When it chooses to be funny it is hilarious, with Banner, Drax, Spider-Man, and Okoye being standouts. For those fond of the long-standing MCU tradition of someone always getting their arm cut off in each Stage 2 film, there are a LOT of arms flying off in “Infinity War,” usually in the course of the many spectacular battle sequences. While some of the fighting seems to go a trifle long, there are many beats that are perfect, such as the formidable trinity of Okoye, Black Widow, and Scarlet Witch going to town on yet another Daughter of Thanos.
It is a general rule for the conventional structure of a story, that the first half of it sets up the problem and the last half resolves it. “Infinity War” leaves a lot of balls still in the air with a lot of characters’ fates in the balance. If some of our long-standing heroes have gotten to the point in their lives where they no longer want to continue with the stress and disruption of being an Avenger, it seems clear that some of their real-life actors feel the same. That being the case, there seems to be no security that we will ultimately end this story with all the players with which we started. Cleverly, the story manages it so that many of the newer characters from franchises we know will continue afterwards are benched by the end, leaving mostly the old guard to face part 2. Who is leaving? Who will return? Only Thanos and Kevin Feige know for sure.
“Avengers: Infinity War” is presented by Marvel Studios. Rated PG-13, it stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillian, Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Idris Elba, Danai Gurira, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, and Chris Pratt.
*Always stay to the end of the credits.
Written by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely and Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo. Produced by Kevin Feige. The Executive Producers were Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Michael Grillo, Trinh Tran, Jon Favreau, Jame Gunn, and Stan Lee.
Rating: PG-13. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes. The film enters general release on April 27, 2018, and is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
**You’re gonna think there’s no intra-credit scene but there is. They just make you wait for it.