Avengers: Infinity War
Directed by Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Even as somebody who has watched all of the Marvel Comic Universe movies, and generally enjoyed most of them, the prospect of “Avengers: Infinity War” seemed vaguely daunting. The existing Avengers lineup has become pretty lengthy and the idea of throwing most, if not quite all, of those characters in with the Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Black Panther, and all of their various sidekicks and colleagues, seemed potentially narratively overwhelming and probably at least narratively cluttered. But, remarkably, it manages to avoid either of those outcomes.
There’s certainly a lot happening here, but it all remains coherent – including for those of us who haven’t read the comics. Although trying to watch this without having seen at least most of the preceding movies would cause much of the character-based humor to be lost. And that’s half the fun – many of the characters, despite existing in the same timeline, have been unaware of each others’ existence. So we get, for example, a strained first meeting between Tony Stark/Iron Man and Dr. Strange – both Type A control freaks, neither of whom enjoy not being the loudest, most dominant player in a room.
One of the film’s achievements is managing to maintain the tone and style of multiple prior films as each of the various characters or groups appear on screen. The screenplay also keeps each of them busy or at least critically involved, avoiding the risk of benching half the team while only the biggest names carry the action and story. And that’s despite there not even being all that much story to carry. Thanos, the major villain of the moment, is in search of the full set of infinity stones in order to wield ultimate power and all of our assorted superheroes are attempting to block that goal.
It’s the same basic premise that was approached so poorly in “Justice League” and the two movies demonstrate the relative success and failure of the two studios’ attempts to build and wield their respective rosters. The Marvel characters, and their relationships, are so well developed on screen that it’s fun to watch them, even when the story is pretty simple. The DC characters seem less well curated and so they require stronger narratives, which haven’t been forthcoming. At this point, a Tony Stark home movie of all the Marvel characters gathered for a poker night would be compelling, where the same DC exercise would likely be a bummer to watch.
“Infinity War” also tackles, early on, one of the other basic flaws of most superhero movies – the implicit invulnerability of most of the characters. Of course, this isn’t unique to this genre, it’s true of almost all heroic franchises – James Bond is no more likely to die on screen than a character with super powers or super gear. But there’s a hierarchy of power here, and they’re not all equally strong or immortal.
The other interesting aspect, which again compares favorably to the lesser “Justice League,” is that Thanos is not simply an older, stronger character than most of them, he’s also a far more complex villain than is commonly the case. He’s not out simply for personal gain, or to destroy planets for the apparent fun of it, his stated goal is to reduce rampant over-population of essentially all civilizations. He’s like a self-appointed wildlife manager for the entire universe, attempting to cull all the herds – the problem being that the rest of us are the herds. And it’s a goal he’s been working at for some time, with the prospect of the infinity stones’ power simply accelerating the process.
The same idea is at the core of a story like Dan Brown’s “Inferno” – kill half of a population so that the other half might life, like a mother feeding one baby while abandoning another, rather than allowing both to slowly starve. Which makes Thanos a villain who believes he’s a hero, doing what he perceives to be good work while having wearily come to accept that nobody else sees it that way.
“Avengers: Infinity War” approaches all of this with good humor and a rapid pace that causes a long film to feel shorter. It’s hard to delve much deeper without spoiling significant elements of the film, but it seems fair to say that fans of individual characters are more likely to judge the film by those individual character arcs than by the quality of the overall filmmaking, which is consistently strong.
This time around, there’s a bonus scene at the very end of the credits – so stick it out.