Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Josh Brolin, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pratt, Tom Holland, Elizabeth Olsen, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Zoe Saldana, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, Chadwick Boseman, Dave Bautista, Paul Bettany, Gwyneth Paltrow, Mark Ruffalo, Peter Dinklage, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Benedict Wong, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Letitia Wright, Idris Elba, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Danai Gurira, Carrie Coon
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Running time: 2 hours 29 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
WARNING! This review contains extended universe extravaganza type spoilers
Avengers: Infinity Wars is a movie about stuff. Stuff happening over there. Stuff happening over here. Thor bickering with Star Lord. Scarlet Witch making goey eyes at Vision. Iron Man trying to out-douche Doctor Strange. Thanos collecting space stones. After 18 films, Marvel Studios has finally arrived at the point where the majority of their superheroes are flung together for a deafening stew of crossover team ups and universe-ending stakes, and this is both a natural extension of calibrated franchise building and the logical outcome of overstuffing the deck. Not to sound reductive, but Avengers: Infinity War is like flipping through a series of comic book issues truncated down to video game-like cut scenes where the arrival of each prominent character is meant to elicit applause from the audience just for showing up.
To be fair, one's investment in the insane amount of material being rammed into Anthony and Joe Russo's film is predicated on attachment to these characters, many of which have starred in their own stand-alone entries. However, the whole question surrounding the Infinity Stones, which have been teased out in almost every previous effort, are more or less moot once supervillain Thanos (Josh Brolin) arrives to collect them all like someone who has watched The Lord of The Rings trilogy one too many times. The movie opens on a starship where Thanos battles Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Asgardian gatekeeper Heimdall (Idris Elba) while Loki (Tom Hiddelston) predictably shifts his allegiances. Yes, characters die during this opening sequence as they will throughout the rest of the film, even if the permanence of these deaths are questionable in a comic book universe predicated on the immortality of superheroes.
After this brief space scuffle, Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) pulls Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) away from Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who are engaging in an argument regarding having a baby by focusing his attention on the stone collecting genocidal tyrant en route to planet earth. Meanwhile, Wanda a.k.a. Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), is swooning over android Vision (Paul Bettany) while Spiderman (Tom Holland) and some Guardians of the Galaxy, including Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Peter Quill a.k.a. "Star Lord" (Chris Pratt) jump forward in time for convoluted reasons involving the ratio of battles won. Spoiler alert: out of the thousands of skirmishes, our intrepid heroes only prevail once.
Avengers: Infinity War is 149 minutes of swirling explosions, mythological mumbo jumbo, and self-aware bantering capped off by a third act gut punch. So many characters arrive and disappear just as quickly, including Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and T'Challa a.k.a. Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), that the effect is one of numbing exhaustion. Though the film attempts to ground Thanos' apocalyptic ideas concerning mass human extinction by giving him some feelings toward his adopted daughter, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), this is yet another example of boring villainy given the air of nuance; further exacerbated by the fact that Brolin's nicely downplayed performance has been grafted onto a fully CGI character.
One of the main problems with Avengers: Infinity War, aside from the bombastic green screen action sequences, is that the breathless editing, rapid-fire dialogue, and jokey quips are used in place of actual pacing and coherent storytelling. One could make the case that the Russo brothers haven't made a movie at all, but simply corralled a greatest hits demo from the past decade of Marvel antics and squashed them down into one unwieldy package. Therefore, character moments are reduced to sizzle reel action beats, clever one-liners, and displays of cool powers, but what's missing is a defining sense that these superheroes have emotions or thoughts beyond enacting power poses. Of course, none of this will matter much to the faithful who simply want to see all of their favorite characters bouncing off one another and battling an all-powerful baddie bent on extreme population control.
The best thing that can be said about Avengers: Infinity War is that the climatic turn is genuinely surprising; featuring a plethora of deaths and a welcome shift away from good triumphing over evil. Still, the inconclusiveness of this ending serves mostly as a marketing ploy for the fourth Avengers movie, set to be released in 2019. Perhaps most interesting is not who dies and whether or not these deaths are permanent (especially concerning many have upcoming projects in the works), but how these deaths affect the survivors. For all of Marvel's safe by-the-numbers formula, this is probably the series' most fascinating idea, encapsulated by the visage of Thanos staring off contently following his half-the-population genocide. In the moment, this Empire Strikes Back-style finale feels legitimately bold. However, upon closer reflection, the truth is that this is just more cog-in-the-wheel product placement for the (supposed) conclusion of more stuff next year, just as the Marvel overlords intended.