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 To Infinity and Beyond 

Chris Hemsworth
Chris Hemsworth
Walt Disney Studios
 149 Minutes
Directed byAnthony Russo, Jay Russo
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth  
Avengers Infinity War

Ever since Marvel Studios produced Iron Man in 2008, after the project spent over a decade in developmental hell, the story of what has become known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been one of ever increasing box office success in conjunction with storylines that grows ever more complicated, with ever more heroes, and ever bigger effects sequences. All these trends reach their zenith in Avengers: Infinity War, a movie that combines over 20 Marvel superheroes, many of whom have not graced the same screen before. The film itself was a guaranteed box office smash, especially since this winter saw the arrival of yet another Marvel superhero, Black Panther, in a film that smashed records of its own. Infinity War is definitely bigger than any preceding Marvel effort, and, somewhat surprisingly, avoids getting bogged down by its own size, but it’s still not the masterpiece fans undoubtedly hoped for.


Avengers: Infinity War combines virtually every Marvel hero around to take on their biggest threat ever, a superbeing known as Thanos (James Brolin), who goes around conquering and ravaging planets. His goal is to accumulate all six Infinity Stones, powerful baubles hidden in every corner of the universe. Once he has them, he has the ability to destroy an entire planet with the snap of his fingers. And that is his goal, or, at least, half of it is. For Thanos is concerned that overpopulation is a huge threat, stripping every planet of its resources, so, when he conquers a world, he kills off half of its population so that the other half might thrive.


While it’s refreshing that a supervillain has a conscience of sorts and isn’t merely after wealth or power, Thanos’ plan represents cleansing on a planetary scale, and puts him at odds with an ever-growing number of heroes, including the extended group of Avengers last seen in Captain America: Civil War, as well as a few newcomers like Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the Guardians of the Galaxy, headlined by Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), aka Starlord. To prevent Thanos from achieving his goal, the heroes form an alliance and go hither and yon from one planet to another trying to stop Thanos from getting his hands on the Infinity Stones.


Essentially, Avengers: Infinity War is a series of action set pieces, with bridging elements featuring the various heroes on the one hand, and Thanos on the other. Brolin probably has the biggest single role in the movie, since he is front and center in his scenes while the heroes have to split screen time some 20 ways. The screenwriters do a good job of humanizing him, as the audience gets to see several flashbacks leading to the final distillation of his rather unique ecological philosophy. He also interacts with his daughter, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), one of the Guardians of the Galaxy.


However, for all the humanizing the script does, in the final analysis, Thanos is still a ten-foot-tall CGI creation that resembles pro wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin, with, appropriately enough, a face that appears to be made of stone. There have been some great human villains in Marvel films, including Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus and Michael Keaton as the Vulture. Thanos, despite all his power, simply isn’t in that league.


Of course, the various heroes, with the exception of an occasional appearance by the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) are human and played by some of the better actors around. What the script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely gets right is the idea of splitting the heroes up into teams of three or four to take on various foes. Thanos, as powerful as he is, can’t be everywhere at once, so he has a group of disposable flunkies to help him in the sequences leading up to the finale. These smaller showdowns, some of which result in the demise of some of Thanos’ flunkies, are more manageable in terms of scope and complexity, making it easier for the audience to follow what is going on and keeping the scale of some of these sequences somewhat credible.


It’s only in the movie’s last fifteen minutes or so that viewers really appreciate the full scope of Avengers: Infinity War. Most of the action takes place in Black Panther’s home country of Wakanda, where Thanos tries to recover the final Infinity Stones. The action in this one does get out of hand, with the villains unleashing a horde of creatures bent on mayhem. All in all, however, the action scenes still work better than those in the often ungainly previous Avengers movie, Age of Ultron.


Part of the streamlining process in Avengers: Infinity War involves the characters’ backstory, or, with the exception of Thanos, who is new to the Marvel saga, lack thereof. The filmmakers assume that audiences are familiar with all the characters and their storylines from previous films, but, still, most people watching will get confused as one point or another, wondering, “Just who are these guys?” Compounding the problem is the fact that more than a few of “these guys” have little more than glorified cameos in this movie. Instead of filling the audience in on more of the backstory, the screenwriters pretty much ignore real character development. That’s not really a problem when all someone does is just blast a few robots to bits in a set piece or two, but in big emotional scenes, especially death scenes, the lack of audience empathy can be telling.


It’s no secret that a number of characters die during the course of Avengers: Infinity War, and, while I won’t spoil the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it by revealing who any of the victims are, suffice it to say that there is an emotional void where there should be a sense of loss. One reason for this is, as mentioned before, it’s hard to get emotional about someone you don’t really know. The other, far more important reason for this lack of emotion, is the fact that the audience simply doesn’t believe it. With the plethora of sequels that have already been announced for future Marvel films, if all these deaths are really and truly final, then there will be a lot of hasty rewriting going on over the next few years. It’s far more common in longstanding TV series to lose beloved characters, and what makes deaths on shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones powerful is the realization that these characters, some of them the most popular on the shows, simply aren’t coming back.


The lack of empathy over character deaths in Avengers: Infinity War doesn’t mean that there’s no emotion. Indeed, there is plenty of it, but it’s of a much less significant, and usually humorous nature. There’s a lot of good arguing, bickering, and one-liners going on here, as characters meet others they’ve never seen before and react accordingly. The best running gag in the film involves Chris Hemsworth’s Thor continuing to refer to Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) as “rabbit.” Similarly, there’s a big alpha male conflict between Robert Downey’s Iron Man and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange and a lesser conflict between Chris Pratt’s Star Lord and, frankly, everyone he meets. This is the type of material that Marvel films do best, and the much larger ensemble here affords the writers that much more opportunity.


It’s probably also no secret that Avengers: Infinity War, although not labeled a “Part 1” like the last Harry Potter or Hunger Games films, is only the first half of an epic that will conclude next year. The movie ends on a giant cliffhanger with lots of unanswered questions, and I mean that in the best way. Rather than films that are so poorly constructed that they make no sense, Infinity War tantalizes its audience with possibilities of what is to come in the second half. Perhaps that second half will provide some better emotional closure. But, as it stands, Avengers: Infinity War is a very well made action adventure, with some first rate effects and a good deal of humor. Unfortunately, there isn’t as much at its heart as I’m sure the filmmakers would have liked. For what it is, the movie is quite good, but it’s still not the ultimate Marvel grand scale epic some might have expected.

In this featurette, Chris Pratt and Chris Hemsworth discuss the making of Avengers: Infinity War.

Read other reviews of Avengers: Infinity War: 

Avengers: Infinity War (2018) on IMDb