There has never been more wind-up leading up to a movie release than the 10 years that have built to Avengers: Infinity War. Even if Marvel’s track record isn’t spotless, they’ve managed to maintain an absolutely ludicrous level of quality over 18 films. These iconic characters have made an indelible emotional mark on millions of people, making the prospect of a deadly battle against an unbeatable foe feel akin to losing real life friends. That’s a lot of pressure resting on the shoulders of directors Joe and Anthony Russo, who previously delivered the absolutely stellar Capitan America: The Winter Soldier and the plodding tonal mess that was Civil War (sorry, still haven’t moved on that one). Their approach: deliver a nearly 3 hour montage that goes between three different storylines, their results: decidedly mixed.
Thanos (Josh Brolin) has been a looming shadow over the MCU ever since the original Avengers. The obvious choice for this roided up and pissed off god would be to play him loud and aggressive but Brolin takes a decidedly more subtle approach. He’s quiet, confident and commanding. From the second he lumbers on screen, we feel as though he can take out any Avenger with ease. That said, Thanos’ stoic nature does start to become a little boring after a while. His MO to balance the universe by whipping out half the population is intriguing but is brought to us more by exposition than anything else. We understand him but we never feel the weight of his burden.
Since Thanos has really only been thematically set up in the Guardians of the Galaxy films, it comes as no surprise that strongest material is the stuff with them that crosses over with hilarious results with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and some rock solid dramatic beats with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Peter Parker (Tom Holland). Their quirky humor and seasoned camaraderie adds a freshness that is missing among the older characters.
Speaking of which, the earthbound moments with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and to a shockingly minimal degree, the world of Wakanda, is surprisingly flat. None of them are given even a hint of a character arc, many of them only having only a few lines. Through no fault of Evans, Rogers is particularly flat. His transformation from Capitan America to Nomad is giving little dramatic heft, largely feeling like a more dour version of the exact same man. Where the other plot line is injected with a typically strong streak of humor, this one feels utterly soulless.
While the narrative does have several strong emotional beats, there are an equal number of cliche and annoying plot tropes. To get into those would be spoiling things but I found myself rolling my eyes much more than I expected to. However, none of the missteps compare to the tragically miscalculated gut punch of an ending. This final beat feels unbelievably cheep, going for a devastating cliffhanger when it is clear that a great deal of it won’t stick. It’ll undoubtedly work for some but it gave the proceedings a level of triteness that severely brings things down.
The film does come alive during the countless action beats. The characters’ abilities are so well refined at this point and it’s a joy to watch them bounce off each other. The Russo Brothers have a terrific command on capturing inventive choreography but do lack invention in the way the action is shot. A lot of it is captured through flat, static angles or mind numbing shaky cam. There are also so many action sequences with the characters facing off against Thanos’ minions they they start to lose their impact after a while. By the time we hit the final battle with an army of aliens and the people of Wakanda, I felt myself hoping that it would go by as quickly as possible.
Even with how mixed a bag it is, Avengers: Infinity War is certainly an entertaining watch. It’s such a bombastic fireworks display that it’s hard not to get caught up in the spectacle of it all. It just deeply falls short as a narrative, making the promise of another large chunk of this story feel more like a threat. Where the recent solo movies have finally started to feel fresh once again, Infinity War ends up being a black hole that brings all that progress to a halt.