From its opening moments, Infinity War reminds you that you’re in for something different. It’s not the triumphant tone of the first Avengers movie nor the forced dourness of Civil War. It’s not the lovingly painted kitsch of Guardians of the Galaxy, and it’s certainly not the cultural awareness (and relevance) of Black Panther. No, Infinity War trades in menace, and its ultimate victory is showcasing that menace in the form of Thanos, one of the most surprisingly well-rounded supervillains we’re likely to see in the next few years (at least until DC takes the reigns away from Zack Snyder and stops using a warehouse full of TurboGrafx-16s to render its visual effects). Thanos oozes menace, and seeing him in action as the dispassionate arbiter of universal balance is frighteningly effective, but there’s an underlying substance to Thanos that makes him so much more than any of the MCU antagonists we’ve seen before. Thanos truly believes in what he’s doing and feels as though he’s motivated by a higher calling. It’s this emotional disconnect to death that makes him so disturbing: he doesn’t particularly care which half of the universe’s life he eliminates as long as it’s half. It’s a sort of genocide perpetrated against existence, and it’s this omnipresent potential for indiscriminate destruction that keeps us guessing as to what will really happen if he gets his hands on all of those stones.
Of course all the familiar faces are there to oppose him, but they must first find each other. Each of the main characters is struggling with various personal conflicts. If the movie succeeds in painting a villain powerful enough to oppose all of the established MCU’s heroes, it nearly succeeds at reassembling those heroes and having them interact in new and exciting ways. This is admirable considering the vast number of characters (and subsequent powers and backstories) the movie must juggle during its (quite necessary) two-and-a-half hour run time. However, some concessions must be made to convenience, and there are certainly character meetings in the film that rely on coincidence and good timing. These are introduced with the typical Marvel fanfare and one liners, so they mostly resonate well with the audience. But expect there to be a few “we were tracking you” lines to justify timely arrivals. Visually, the film is absolutely stunning, with the expected level of special effects quality that is everything DC is not. No CGI erased mustaches here. The only nit to pick in terms of the VFX work would be the obviously CGI characters (such as Thanos) sometimes come across as a bit stilted in their movements. We’ve achieved a level of fluidity in CGI characters that blurs the line between reality and digital, but when those characters are far from human, in body composition and mass, it sometimes seems a bit more noticeable. Nevertheless, the skin textures and manipulation of light and shadow (and explosions!) defies logic, and you can’t help but wonder how much longer they’ll even need human actors in big budget action films. And while we’re on that subject, Josh Brolin’s voice acting is perfect for Thanos. To be quite honest, I didn’t like the way his voice matched the look of the character when he first spoke as Thanos in Guardians of the Galaxy; however, it has since grown on me, and I think Josh Brolin brings the necessary emotional weight to the role, varying quite deftly between scenery chewing confidence and Thanos’s perceived burden of purpose. (There’s an emotional note struck at the end of the second act that is handled quite well, and I think it’s due in large part to Brolin’s voice acting. It might not have been so engaging, otherwise.)
To discuss the actual plot of Infinity War in any sort of detail would be riddled with spoilers, so I’ll provide a very generic overview and then discuss the characters in terms of cinematic winners and losers, meaning who was handled the best and who was given the short end of the stick. The plot goes something like this: Thanos and his minions attack Thor’s Asgardian ship. Thanos’s minions attack New York, bringing together Iron Man, Doctor Strange, and Spider-man, who are then pulled into the battle in outer space. Thanos’s minions attack Scotland, bringing together Vision, Scarlet Witch, Captain America, Falcon, and Black Widow, who then meet up with War Machine and eventually Black Panther and the Winter Soldier. The Guardians meet up with Thor and then split: Star Lord, Gamora, and Drax go after Thanos while Rocket and Groot help Thor craft a weapon capable of hurting Thanos. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to stop there. To be quite honest, if I were to go any further it might corrupt your first time viewing the film, and I did promise a spoiler-free review. Suffice it to say that each of the character groupings encounters Thanos, some multiple times, and the resulting encounters are visually and emotionally satisfying and work very well thematically within the context of the film and the greater MCU. Now what about the winners and losers? (Remember, this is in terms of the way the characters are handled and the screen time they are given. It doesn’t necessarily reflect actual plot points.)
I’ve been a big fan of Chris Hemsworth’s Thor since his debut in his eponymous film, and I fully expected that he’d have a lesser role in Infinity War coming off of Thor: Ragnarok only a few months prior.
I was wrong.
Thor crackles (see what I did there) through Infinity War, delivering humor, emotion, and absolute physical punishment. He probably has the most overall screen time of any of the heroes, and every bit of it is maximized for impact. He’s a different hero from the one we first met all those years ago, seasoned by hardship and pain, and Chris Hemsworth wears it well. As is the custom with Avengers movies, he also gets the best character appearance moment in the third act that had the audience in my IMAX theater clapping, cheering, and whistling. Epic and inspired, Thor delivers.
Zoe Saldana’s Gamora has been a staple side character of the Guardians franchise, but in Infinity War her relationship with Thanos, her adopted father, brings a new and deeper emotional understanding to both characters. She is absolutely necessary to the success of the film’s narrative, acting as an emotional foil for Thanos and providing the context the audience needs to understand the motivations behind Thanos’s master plan. Saldana does a masterful job of conveying to the audience Gamora’s conflicting feelings and sense of personal responsibility, which is essential considering the importance of Gamora’s place in the film’s narrative and the MCU thus far.
Bradley Cooper’s Rocket has been a fan favorite since Guardians of the Galaxy came out, and his presence here is no exception; however, in Infinity War we see more purpose in Rocket’s actions, and in some ways, more altruism. All the usual quips are there (and appreciated), but Rocket is motivated by something more than himself and his beloved friends. There’s a leadership quality emerging (that he, of course, jokes about) and a willingness to do whatever it takes for the cause that elevates his character to something more than just a CGI joke dispenser. It’s refreshing, and the movie is better for it.
Because Drax is awesome. Dave Bautista’s comic timing has gotten better with each performance, and Drax had the audience in my theater laughing harder than just about any other character. My only gripe here is that Drax has simultaneously become much less of a physical presence in the recent films and simply a comedic one. Hopefully, we’ll see that change in the future.
Thanos is one of the best villains to anchor a summer blockbuster in some time. It would have been easy to craft a typical world-destroying villain, turn the knob to eleven, and call it a day, but the Russo brothers have crafted something special with Thanos: they’ve managed to create a genocidal villain that communicates a real sense of purpose and belief, one that fully believes in what he’s doing and is committed to seeing that goal realized at all costs, something even Thanos himself acknowledges when asked:
“What did it cost you?”
The fact that the Russos pull this off with a CGI character is unbelievable, and I would wager that we haven’t seen a CGI character with this level of emotional impact since Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Thanos is that good. Equal parts physical prowess and prophetic destroyer, the Mad Titan provides something we’ve been subconsciously wondering about since the first Avengers film: can there really be a villain powerful enough in the MCU to stand against Earth’s mightiest heroes?
The answer is an enthusiastic, “yes!”
Losers: Captain America and the Winter Soldier
This is disappointing, especially because Steve Rogers’ reveal in the Infinity War trailer was so much fun, and the implied relationship between Rogers and T’Challa was exciting. However, the reality is a bit different. Captain America is largely wasted in the film, especially when you consider his prominent role within the MCU (which I would argue has just about eclipsed Iron Man in terms of importance). One of his most defining character features, his impeccable moral compass, is rendered irrelevant when the stakes are raised to universal destruction. His reunion with Bucky is anticlimactic, and both characters are relegated to little more than superhero horde fighting status as seen in the trailers.
Loser: Black Widow
Although the film’s narrative attempts to give Black Widow an antagonist to fight in the form of one of Thanos’s minions, Proxima Midnight, Black Widow is overshadowed by the far more entertaining fan-favorite Okoye from Black Panther. While it’s likely more the result of Black Panther’s phenomenal success (and Danai Gurira’s pitch perfect portrayal of Okoye) than it is any sort of sidelining of Black Widow, the character is underserved in Infinity War and fades into the background of the third act. Plus she has unexplained blond hair, and that’s just visually irritating.
If I’m being honest, baby Groot was cute, and his shenanigans in Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 were perfect for the tone and feel of that film, but teenager Groot is, well, a teenager, which is just a euphemism for annoying. His schtick of playing video games and ignoring what’s going on around him was already established in the second Guardians film, so it doesn’t bring anything new to the table in Infinity War. Despite playing a vital (albeit small) role at the beginning of the third act, teen Groot is forgettable and mostly pointless.
At the end of the day, Infinity War mostly delivers on the lofty expectations that come with being the culmination (or at least the first half of a culmination) of a decade’s worth of character development. In some ways, Infinity War breaks new ground in the summer blockbuster category, providing a level of spectacle, involvement, and satisfaction hitherto unseen in the film industry. (Watch the movie and you’ll better appreciate the “hitherto unseen” reference.) In this day and age of personal media consumption on small screens, Infinity War is that rare film that is truly a cinematic experience, a movie that is best watched on a gigantic screen with an audience of like-minded individuals eagerly awaiting the fates of their favorite characters. These are characters that some have quite literally grown up with, from the time they were donning the plastic armor of a child’s Iron Man costume and running around the aftermath of a Christmas morning to the time they walked through the front doors of their local high school. Ten years is a long time, but Marvel and parent company Disney have proven that big rewards can come from relatively big risks. In this case, the risk was more than worth it. Marvel has once again raised the bar and set the stage for a new era of entertainment media. Bring on the next ten years, and thanks for not dropping the ball, Marvel. You know, like including a sequence on a CGI casino planet that involves a hastily contrived prison break and subsequent alien horse race to accomplish who cares and retrieve who knows what and bring it back to the ship that’s running out of gas. OUT OF GAS?!
Not naming and names or anything.
Of course, I’d love to know what you think. Do you agree? Do you disagree? Are you a secret fan of the DC Universe and you’re sick of me bashing it? I’d love to hear from you in the comments down below. Sound off!