Avengers: Infinity War
Runtime: 2 hours 29 minutes
Directors: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
Starring: Josh Brolin, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Zoe Saldana, and Benedict Cumberbatch
There was a time when I believed The Avengers (2012) to be the single best comic book film of all time (yes, even better than The Dark Knight). Six years of good-to-great MCU films, as well as some honest attempts from the DCEU, came and went with none ever coming close to dethroning the original team-up. And while Avengers: Infinity War was at the top of most-anticipated films of 2018, I justifiably held my reservations about the film, especially after the disappointing missteps of Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) and the more recent Justice League (2017). Having, as of now, seen Infinity War 3 times, I think it’s safe to say that this film is not only my new all-time favorite comic book film, but also the first proper blockbuster I’ve seen in some time.
Captain America: Winter Soldier and Civil War directors Anthony and Joe Russo helm Avengers: Infinity War, the third entry in the Avengers mega-saga and a spiritual culmination of everything that’s come before it in the gargantuan Marvel Cinematic Universe. This time around, The Mad Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) makes good on his promise to assemble the 6 Infinity Stones to fulfill his life mission to bring ultimate balance to the universe by wiping out half of all intelligent life in it. Naturally, this does not sit well for our catalog of heroes, as they desperately fight to prevent Armageddon.
Very much like Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), my new favorite Star Wars movie, Infinity War is a bold, refreshing departure from the entries before it. The MCU movies have a slanted reputation for being heavy on levity and light on dramatic stakes, but boy does Infinity War sing a different tune. Right off the bat, the film make a stern statement that this isn’t going to be your typical textbook franchise film; they’re going all in, and if that means beloved characters have to bite the dust, they most certainly will. The ominous cold open, picking up mere moments after the end of Thor: Ragnarok (2017), sets the brooding tone for the rest of the film with our first proper introduction to Thanos, played magnificently by Josh Brolin. We quickly see just how formidable he is, and how little of a threat the heroes pose to him. Before I get into the crux of why I rate this movie higher than most reviewers, I want to praise the surprisingly effective ensemble performances.
Infinity War goes to some genuinely dark places for a number of characters, specifically Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), and Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.). Each of them have a unique relationship with Thanos that is made all the more resonant when taken in light of their respective franchises. Tony Stark is the only Earth-based hero with a personal connection to Thanos; he was the only Avenger to go through the wormhole in the first Avengers and witness the sheer scale of destruction that came very close to consuming the Earth. The filmmakers have made a conscious effort to show just how much that traumatic experience effected Tony with Iron Man 3 and Age of Ultron: how it has made him paranoid, anxious, and afraid. So when Tony is forced to come face-to-face with his worst nightmare, that anxiety and desperation becomes visceral as fan of the character. Thor and Loki have been two of my favorite MCU characters ever since the first Thor in 2011 and we’ve seen interesting growth from both of them over the years, especially in Ragnarok, where they lose almost everything while at the same time cultivating a restored faith in each other that ultimately reforms Loki as the hero his brother wants to see him as. And in Game of Thrones-style, Infinity War leverages the character development built in Ragnarok to **spoiler – begin** make Loki’s tragic (and gruesome) death in the opening sequence all the more disturbing **spoiler – end**.
Last but not least, the Gamora-Thanos arc is the emotional core of Infinity War, which is a testament to both Zoe Saldana’s and Josh Brolin’s genuine performances. Brolin could have very easily phoned in a textbook “menacing” performance, but instead brought layers of menace, empathy, and conviction to the big baddie. Likewise with Gamora, who could have simply continued on with her badass heroine act from the Guardians of the Galaxy films, but here she brings a complex dimensionality of emotions when she reunites with Thanos, who as we know from previous films is her “adopted” father. Less thoughtful filmmakers would have written Gamora’s attitude towards Thanos as stemming solely from a place pure hatred and resentment, and for a while we do presume that is the case, but this is where Infinity War subverts those tropes they’ve been training us with for the past decade. The film makes it clear that while Gamora does resent Thanos for being the villain he is, she still loves him because he is still her father, a father who almost loves her above all else.
Ever since Iron Man (2008) I’ve been a fully invested fan of the MCU. I’ve seen every MCU film in theaters and have thoroughly enjoyed all of them, at least to some significant degree. However, while I do like all these films, very few of them have ever felt like real movies. By real, I mean the MCU has been suffered from the TV-series effect where each part (each individual film) inherently works in service of a underlying sum (the crossover films). Infinity War is the sum that leverages the encompassing baggage of the separate films to create something refreshingly theatrical and truly epic, something that can’t be rushed, spawned, or forced (cough the DCEU cough). The film’s bold, foreboding tone, rousing orchestral score, and uniquely subversive emotional resonance, all mesh together so perfectly that even the aspects in which it falters (namely with the Captain America crew and with the Bruce Banner/Hulk running gag) can’t detract from its masterpiece.
Again, like with every movie, Avengers: Infinity War, and even the MCU as a whole, is not immune to the inherent subjectivity of film. So if the MCU has not been your cup of tea up to this point, I doubt that this film will change your mind. However with that being said, Avengers: Infinity War is for me, the new face of the MCU, and living proof that the MCU did not kill the epic blockbuster; it revived it.