Though Marvel announced Avengers: Infinity War in October 2014, in many ways the title for the 19th installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a long time coming. Yes, the film is loosely based on Jim Starlin’s 1991 comic The Infinity Gauntlet (and its subsequent sequel The Infinity War) but even more so, the title is indicative of Marvel’s ongoing battle to tell cohesive and compelling crossover stories as its roster of heroes exponentially expands with each film. This conflict began back in 2008 when Nick Fury uttered to Tony Stark, “You’ve become a part of a bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet.”
With Infinity War, you can tell that its directors, the Russo Brothers, are trying to live out Thanos’ goal by making this film “balanced as all things should be.” Yet in their egalitarian attempts to give every character and plot thread a chance in the spotlight, Infinity War both does too much and consequently not enough. In its best moments, it is able to pull off the impossible, drawing together different franchises for a smorgasbord of action, spectacle and adventure.
At its worst moments, it is like the titan Atlas who strains to keep the world on his shoulders; you are left feeling full by the sheer quantity of which you have witnessed but still disappointingly empty at its lack of depth.
Adulation is due, however, to the Russo Brothers’ willingness to take risks, the first being a narrative departure from past films by truly making the antagonist the “hero” of the story. The mad titan Thanos, having been teased through post credits scenes and an extended cameo in Guardians of the Galaxy finally steps out from the shadows. He desires to get all six infinity stones so that way he may eliminate half the universe to achieve peace, his reason being that the universe, in its finitude, simply cannot support an ever-expanding population. Josh Brolin portrays the character with an appropriate amount of menace; never have I seen so many characters want to discourage someone from snapping their fingers. Yet ultimately, his appearance here feels more like an introduction to the character; audiences are simply expected to believe too much in too little time. Thanos feels less like your significant other of a few years finally proposing and more like a classmate who unexpectedly asks you out to a formal.
With so much emphasis on Thanos, the remaining scraps of screen time are divided between Earth’s (and the galaxy’s) mightiest heroes and guardians. The Russos divide up the characters naturally by character association and personality type, creating recapitulated and derivative versions of the teams found in Captain America: Civil War. Iron Man’s team leads the first line of attack against Thanos, while Captain America battles Thanos’ henchman, the Black Order, as well as his Outrider army, on Earth. While every character gets an opportunity to shine, whether it is Okoye (Danai Gurira) teaming up with Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) against Proxima Midnight (Carrie Coon) or Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) using his magic to give Spider-Man (Tom Holland) an edge as the web-slinger tackles Thanos, unfortunately most of the characters are stripped away of complexity and depth and reduced to superficial attributes. Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) is disappointingly more arrogant, despite being humbled in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) is far too business-like and we do not see the aftermath of his fall-out with Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). Yet while not all interactions between characters feel as momentous as they should, it finally feels like a comic book movie and to see Thor inhabit the colorful world of the Guardians or Iron Man’s pragmatism clash with Doctor Strange’s mystic beliefs, is a dream come true.
Likewise, Infinity War boasts some of the most thrilling action sequences ever seen in a superhero film. The battle against Thanos literally takes place across the galaxy and the Russos do an excellent job at showing this scope. There’s an elation to seeing Black Panther and Captain America rush through Wakanda’s foliage, one wielding vibranium gauntlets and the other a vibranium suit, and see them decimate enemies side by side. Additionally, Infinity War lives up to the “war” in its name; the body count is unapologetically high. Many of the deaths are quite shocking; you can almost hear the Russo Brothers indifference through some lines Cap utters to general Ross: “I’m not looking for forgiveness, and I’m way beyond asking for permission.”
Perhaps Infinity War’s greatest accomplishment is the fact that despite its cumulative nature and that every shot reminds you of a sense of finality, it still feels like a set-up for something bigger to come along the line. Rather than have every character do something significant or meaningful in the film, Infinity War wants all characters to be affected significantly by its end. Its tone is dark, with hope barely flickering throughout it scenes. Through this film, it is very clear that the directors know what Good Friday is; let us hope that come the sequel, they know about Easter Sunday too.
Zachary Lee is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].