Infinity War is legit one of the best movies Marvel’s made in years, on account of the many things it dares to do differently from its predecessors.
I imagine a movie like this must be a daunting and frankly terrifying undertaking for everyone involved in its production. Not only is it probably one of the most expensive films ever made on account of its immense star power, it is also the culmination of a decade’s worth of Marvel films, a tentpole that needs to live up to the crushing weight of expectations of legions of moviegoers.
Luckily, Marvel had the sense to deploy their A-team on this endeavor. The Russo brothers have directed some of the best Marvel films in the MCU – Captain America: Winter Soldier and Civil War are two of the better ones in the pantheon – and their cinematic craft is on full display in Infinity War. While it has the usual committee-approved quip-based humor and pandering fanservice in spades, Infinity War stands above the pack by virtue of two things: first, it has a great villain, and second, it’s not afraid to end on a low note.
First, the villain. Of all the MCU baddies introduced so far, I think Thanos probably is the best we’ve got so far – and yes, that includes the ridiculously-named Killmonger. Thanos, while twisted and genocidal, at least has a motive that isn’t self-serving, even as it dwarfs everything in its hubris and enormity – and Thanos feels like it is his duty to do the things that no one else is willing to do. It’s an interesting conceit to give to a villain and I haven’t seen any other movie featuring a villain with a misplaced messiah complex handled in the way Thanos is.
In another context, his efforts and the sacrifices he is willing to make to achieve his goals could well have been the actions of a very complex anti-hero. And unlike the megalomaniacal cackling villains of popular imagination, Thanos is portrayed here as a character first and foremost and an antagonist second – with a full range of emotions, rabidly powerful yet vulnerable, with the ability to feel the weight of what he has wrought.
Second, the film dares to end things on a low note. Infinity War ends with half the universe vanished from existence, including a good half of the Avengers, leaving the audience in something that isn’t quite a cliffhanger as it is a kind of despair over what happens now, that Thanos’ victory is so complete. The scenes where some of our heroes react with horror as they see themselves fade into dust are tragic and impactful in their existential dreadfulness. Imagine – a superhero film that doesn’t treat death as cavalierly as it is wont to do. It’s a bit different from a cliffhanger because from Thanos’ point of view – as a main character in his own right – the battle is won, and he sits at his hut and watches the sun rise on a beautiful pastoral planet. That moment really speaks to what a different film this is – one in which the bad guy wins – and retires in peace in the belief that he has achieved his life’s work. I didn’t think that splitting the Infinity War story in two would necessarily work – but I think choosing to end the film off on that kind of note is an inspired creative choice.
Of course, one could argue that it’s cheapened a little by the fact that we know that the sequels of the films of characters who ended up disappearing are going to be released in the next few years – so you know they’ll come back in some shape or form. But I think Infinity War should be judged on the way that it is constructed to make you think that there is no hope and that this is it, at least for a number of our characters.
There are the usual plotholes and things-unexplained; the variable power of the Infinity Stones, the fact that the stupidity of one hot-headed Peter Quill was directly responsible for Thanos winning, Gamora acting dumb by leading Thanos to the soulstone and not realising what he intends until its too late – they’re there, but no Marvel film really escapes these things. Better to watch the films prepared to avoid nitpicking too much into the details.
But all in all – a stellar superhero film; one that humanises its Big Bad, dares to try to come off with high stakes, and that manages to weave in so many different storylines – on Earth, in space, on Titan – in only slightly frenetic fashion – to make a film that, I think, does live up to the weight of expectation placed upon it by the legions of its fans. Now we will wait and see if the next Avengers film can accomplish an even more immense task – to wrap everything up satisfactorily without cheapening this film.
Oh, and the stellar forge scenes – and the hilariously gigantic dwarf played by Peter Dinklage – are awe inspiring.
I give this: 4.5 out of 5 Infinity Stones