Review: Avengers: Infinity War (Spoilers)
I don’t believe in succumbing to SPOILERS before the movie. The timely wait can be arduous and you are dying to know what happens right now, yesterday, a year ago. I am no stranger to the addictive allure an “All New” film has to offer. Film is our drug and we cling to it like junkies needing a fix. But indulging spoilers destroys the visceral impact of seeing, feeling, experiencing the story unfold and obliterates everything the filmmakers have worked so hard to build. Having said that, as an aspiring (wannabe) film columnist, from time to time, my reviews have to venture into spoiler country. I try to be selective about this. I have to keep spoilers in check for “smaller” films, such as Annihilation and Isle of Dogs, because I want to nudge people who haven’t seen those films into the theater, but let’s face it, you didn’t need a review to nudge you into Infinity War. But then again, not everyone is able to schedule their entire life around a film. Therefore, when I do drop a spoiler, I have to make sure there is ample warning and that there is a critical point and/or observation being made, a purposeful spoiler, not “Here’s a bunch of stuff that happens in the film, bullet points and all.” You have Wikipedia for that! So, ladies and gentlemen, I implore you. If you haven’t seen the film yet, turn around and go see the movie first.
In its early moments, Infinity War strikes a downbeat tone, unique from its recent predecessors. The audience is lured into a gloomy opening sequence via a distress call. Entering a devastated spacecraft, we are greeted by dead bodies, a dying fan favorite, and the purplish, square-jawed brute named Thanos, rarely seen outside his duly appointed evil guy chair. I wonder, do those come standard issued or is there an Ikea for bad guys adjacent to the nameless henchman temp agency? Either way, Thanos has left his throne behind and now he is actually doing stuff — and it is pretty terrifying. The playful grin of Thor: Ragnorak is all but wiped away by Thanos’ dark bravado and we are left with a grave tone and a number of casualties, including the demise of the franchise’s most devilish, yet strangely charismatic personalities. (Well, maybe….)
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is filled to the brim with superheroes, but this time, it is the villain who deserves the marquee. As Thanos, Josh Brolin rules his diabolical presence with a strong fist in easily the film’s best performance. Brolin dominates every one of his scenes with unrelenting confidence, brutish force, and restraint. But just a little. The right amount. Thanos isn’t over the top, but multi-layered with just a smidge of sentiment and a little show of emotions without manipulating pity from the audience. You would almost feel bad for the guy, if it were not for the “killing half the universe” thing.
No, we fear him. Thanos is a man of action, a character killer and this makes every interaction a hero has with him a moment of pure intense, causing you to grip your seat and pray your favorite Avenger lives. By the time the film ends, his smile alone will frighten you.
Clearly, Thanos is the best thing about the movie. The second best is time. The film takes plenty of it. The Brothers Russo mix the dire, more serious tone with a relaxed pace, using it to slowly unravel suspense and introduce action sequences. The best examples of this are the methodical introduction to Thanos, the use of a long take to lure us into an early invasion, and many of the tragic moments later in the film, which have already become an invasive meme because, well the internet sucks. (Now to continue writing stuff for the internet!)
The worst thing about Infinity War, on the other hand, is the humor and such related attempts at lightheartedness, which are usually hit or miss for the film. A natural chuckle arises here and there, such is plenty in a scene where Star Lord (Chris Pratt) feels emasculated by Thor (Chris Hemsworth). As displayed in Thor: Ragnorak and Ghostbusters, Hemsworth has a knack for humorous dialogue with deadpan delivery. I half-wonder if his filmography will lean towards comedies in the seasoned years of his career, such as Leslie Nielsen did. (Yeah, I just compared Chris Hemsworth to Leslie Nielsen. That’s not a bad thing.)
But I digress.
Filed under the “miss” category are a handful of awkward moments and odd character beats. These are particularly evident in a pair of subplots. The first involves Bruce Banner’s Hulk impotency (thankfully, we are spared obvious jokes about Banner inability to perform when the time is right) and yes, I am well aware that this is a setup for the next film and the payoff of which could change my opinion, but for now, it just feels tacked on and conveniently inconvenient. The other example is Eitri, a giant blacksmith played by Peter Dinklage. There is an old, fantasy movie vibe to Dinklage’s role in the film, of which I found both amusing and odd in a modern visual effects film, but his delivery is rather silly at times. I can’t help but wonder if the campy nature of his final scene was intentionally silly or if it were a moment best suited for a more comedic entry from James Gunn or Taika Waititi. Either way, many of these offbeat moments are awkward because they are mismatched from and clash with the Russos’ overall darker tone, particularly during important story beats. Hey, I am all for levity if it is right for the moment, but the situation is grim and every second counts. When the Russos get that, that is when Infinity War is at its best.
(Okay, this is your last chance. Below, I discuss a MAJOR SPOILER. Once again, if you haven’t seen the film and you care at all about having a genuine experience at the theater and have somehow managed to dodge spoilers up until now, turn back. See the film. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
Like Civil War before, the Russos once again play against exceptions, keeping alive those who were expected to die while killing off many who were expected to live. The fact that we lose characters who have more stories and sequels in the pipeline is a complete system shock. The hardest to bear is Peter Parker, whose death is elongated and emotionally painful to watch and completely unexpected as his entry into the franchise was such a major event. Brilliantly, this works as a ballsy twist where the bad guy genuinely wins and not in that “good guys kinda lose, but kinda win by getting away” sort of way. This is like ending Star Wars with the Death Star destroying the planet Yavin and only a handful of rebels left to fight back, if they can. (The brutally tragic, but strangely never talked about endings to Beneath the Planet the Apes and Escape from the Planet of the Apes come to mind. I wonder, did the audience’s jaws drop the way ours did?)
To its benefit, the ending also works to simplify the amount of characters in the next film, giving us one last hoorah with the original team with the opportunity of a more complex story before they pass off the series to the latest generation of heroes. Naturally, with around 30 main characters (not including sidekicks, henchman, love interests, and cameos), Infinity War feels like a crowded Greyhound at times, however, with a little bit of time management, the benefit of having seventeen films worth of preceding setups, and a stupid-simple plot, the Russos manage the chaos rather well.
However, if there is anything that detracts from the impact of this morbid finale, it is that cynical little voice that creeps inside our heads, telling us this ending isn’t finite. The film even tells us this, multiple times. The trickiest part of any cliffhanger is they often play to their best when no one knows what is going to happen next. It is true, this is the most effective this ending will ever be. The events that have transpired and those that are about to transpire in Avengers 4 will forever be etched into film history. Much like the endings to the original Planet of the Apes and The Empire Strikes Back, future generations will come into this film knowing full-well what will happen at the end.
My thoughts keep returning to this cliffhanger, to that floored feeling I felt and the uneasiness I felt whenever a character was on the screen. Whether the ramifications of this ending are permanent or temporary, the visceral suspense of seeing these events and feeling your heart sink multiple times make this climax a powerful, emotional rollercoaster not to be missed. Keeping hyperbole in check (and doing a terrible job at it), no matter where it ultimately lies in a ranking of shocking endings, this is a final act no one will ever forget.
Avengers: Infinity War is an effective action-adventure. It has thrills, gut-wrenching outcomes, amusing character interactions, good humor, bad humor, and great visuals of fantasy. But this film is only the first half of a larger story. It will be interesting to see how views towards Infinity War might change once we the full experience is complete. But until then, consider this review “to be continued.”
One final note. When the trailer for Avengers 4 is finally released, it should just be a black screen, no footage, and a title card, with title of the film and the date it comes out. People will see it regardless of footage.