- Movie Rating -

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

| April 29, 2018

A little less than an hour before sitting down to write this review, a lady asked me “Would the new Avengers movie make any sense to someone who hasn’t seen the other movies in this series?”  My quick answer is simple: “Yes, but it won’t mean as much to you because you don’t know the history of characters.”  I considered suggesting that she see the other films but then imagined that it would take about 36 hours of binging to get through them all.  At this point, why bother?  If you have seen the other films and you’re prepped for Avengers: Infinity War, buckle up, because this is an exhausting ride.

That’s not to say that I was tired of the movie, heavens no, it is simply to observe that after 2 hours and 42 minutes the dramatic drive of this film is one to leave you feeling emotionally drained.  This is a movie with a lot on it’s plate, stacking and shuffling at least 75 different characters around, mounted on a plot that is focused solely on the end of the universe being winked out of existence in an instant.  That fact makes Anthony and John Russo less movie directors and more like traffic cops.

There’s a lot to this movie, and a lot of history that you have going into it.  This is the 19th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the series’ dramatic climax.  We’ve been promised this movie for 10 years now and it’s a relief to report that the anticipation was not in vein largely because the writers follow the logic of their own history, charting a course that is mounted on an outlying subplot that has been hanging over this series for years.  Thanos has been seen fleetingly and sparsely but his involvement has been built up in The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy and The Avengers: Age of Ultron to the point that it might have seemed a miracle if his ultimate debut as the series chief bad guy had been anything less than earth-shattering.

I’ll say with confidence that the movie does not let us down.  Thanos turns out to be not only a formidable foe for The Avengers but also kind of an interesting character on his own.  The story goes that he’s looking for six stones that were forged by the big bang that when combined can give the possessor the power cosmic; the power to control reality, time, space, the mind and, of course, life itself.   That might not seem like anything truly original (sci-fi movies are overstuffed with the machinations of baleful but vapid Space Hitlers) but what Thanos puts himself through to get these Infinity Stones gives the character a great deal of emotional weight.  Plus, his philosophy about why he needs to clear out half of the human race is unsettlingly sound.  You can’t agree but . . . on a strange, pragmatic level, you get it.  He’s an imposing presence who seems to constantly remove any hope that the heroes have of defeating him.

In a lot of ways, Avengers: Infinity War turns out to be Thanos’ movie, and I kind of admire the writers for that.  Here is a movie with 70+ characters and the most dramatically interesting part belongs to the guy that we are suppose to hate.  The power of the character lays on the heroes an heir of futility even when faced with someone as cosmically powerful as Doctor Strange.  We get a feel for how Thanos operates, and it makes everything that The Avengers do to stop him utterly useless.  The movie is teeming with a sense of dread and hopelessness.

In connecting the characters in their war against Thanos, the writers have fashioned together a story that unites The Avengers, The Guardians of the Galaxy and all of the side characters into a parceled-out game of character match and mismatch based largely on their personalities.  What do Thor and Rocket have in common?  How about Tony Stark and Peter Parker?  What would Peter Quill and Doctor Strange say to each other?  The movie connects these people in a way that makes us feel that they need each other.  Consider that this many characters could have been a jumbled mess or could have left many characters on-screen with nothing to do, but the even balance gives weight to the fact that no matter what anyone has against Thanos, it’s basically useless.

What I like about the film is its traffic control, in routing characters and story in a way that doesn’t leave the film’s emotional weight feeling flat (i.e. Justice League).  There’s a lot of story to tell and a lot of information to be parceled out but there are characters to build and there’s time for humor – the movie needs it.  But where the movie’s final judgement lays with a critic is ultimately left up to where you are when the film is over.  This is Part 1 of a two-part duology – the second is due out next summer – so how does one deal with this movie having only seen half of the story?

I’ll simply say that by the time it was over, I appreciated what I had seen and – I must confess – privately wished that there wasn’t a second part.  The end of this film (I’ll remain as spoiler free as I can) is so strong, so powerful and such a punch to the emotional gut that I wish that I wasn’t calculating in my mind how the heroes are going to get themselves out of this mess.  Much like The Empire Strikes Back, Back to the Future Part II, the end of Avengers: Infinity War will have a positive conclusion, but you’re not left with much of a solid indication of how that’s going to happen.

The ending is kind of brilliant.  The Russo brothers don’t go for a boring old slam-bam ending but present the all-is-lost-moment on a note of unsettling quiet, like an Ozu film were it set at the eve of the holocaust.    I know that a happier conclusion is on the way and, in many ways, that undercuts what this movie is able to achieve. The movie ends on an emotional gut-punch, but I just wish that the punch could come without an insurance policy.  I tried to imagine the impact if this movie didn’t have a follow-up.  What if this truly was the end of the series.  THAT would take guts.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.