It’s hard remembering what the blockbuster landscape looked like 11 years ago. It’s hard to remember what the superhero film meant before the world of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The characters and the stories of the MCU have become such powerhouses, such ubiquitous household names that it’s challenging to remember what blockbuster films were like without it. The formula has been imitated by other studios, and it’s been improved upon by Marvel through the years, but there has never been anything quite like the MCU before. There hasn’t been anything like Avengers: Infinity War either, the nineteenth film in the connected comic-book universe.
So much of this film is exactly what fans wanted it to be. Seeing characters that have been carefully crafted and taken care of over the past decade interacting, joking and fighting with one another is a joy. The opening night crowd erupted any time a character was introduced or any hero performed some amazing feat. Infinity War is a movie made for its fans, and it unashamedly expects you to have seen at least a handful of the films preceding it. It feels the most like a comic book out of all the MCU movies so far, and that’s both a good and a bad thing. It’s big and loud and colorful (much more colorful than the Russo’s Winter Soldier and Civil War in fact) and it’s exactly what it needs to be.
There are a number of highlights worth mentioning. Benedict Cumberbatch gives a phenomenal performance in his second outing as Dr. Strange, cementing the fact that, events of the next Avengers film notwithstanding, Dr. Strange is an emerging charismatic force of the MCU. Tom Holland also continues to impress with his portrayal of Spiderman, and Josh Brolin provides one of the best villain performances the MCU has ever seen. Thanos in no way disappoints. The film has problems, yes, but Thanos is never one of them. It was so very important to make that aspect of the film work, and Brolin is one of the many reasons why it does.
However, the tones of the many different films don’t always mesh together perfectly. I found this to be a problem particularly with the Guardians of the Galaxy. We don’t necessarily need Star Lord’s quips when we have Spider-Man, Iron Man and Dr. Strange all delivering zingers of their own. The tone of the Guardians films is consistently whacky, zany and non-stop, but in the world of Infinity War, the Guardians feel a bit out of place. And yes, to a certain extent, every Marvel film feels the same—they all fall into that distinctive “Marvel” genre that the company has carved out for itself—but it isn’t until you see all these different themes and tones attempt to be synthesized that you realize how different the feeling of watching the individual films actually is.
That being said, the fact that Infinity War even exists as a coherent film is quite a feat in itself. It’s no small task to ask two writers and two directors to pull together 10 years and 18 movies worth of work into one film that’s just over two hours, but the Russo’s, along with writers Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus, pull it off. A movie on this scale has literally never been made before, and, as a first effort, the directing and writing team rise to the challenge of integrating these stories while maintaining their integrity, leaving little to be desired.
Then comes the matter of the ending. The snap that erased half of the universe. An ending so exciting, so surprising, so meme-ified, and, more than anything perhaps, so divisive. I was unimpressed and found the ending to be emotionally hollow. I wanted to feel what the movie was trying to make me feel, but I couldn’t bring myself to. The minute Black Panther and Spider-Man began to fade I knew the film couldn’t commit to its ending. It’s a symptom of planning 12 movies ahead and making those plans publicly known, but, regardless, it cheapened the entire sequence.
The one other big fault of the film is that it lacks a shot you’ll remember it by. There’s incredible, powerful moments that garner cheers from the audience, but not once in the film do we get the shot. There’s no “circle-around-the-heroes-as-they-prepare” shot like in The Avengers. There’s no “slow-motion-robot-crushing” shot like in Age of Ultron. And while this doesn’t take away from the film all that much, it does feel a bit like a breaking of an unspoken promise. Audiences expect that moment, whether they knew it or not, and when it doesn’t come, when the heroes remain split up between two or more planets the entire film, there’s a certain disappointment to be had. It certainly doesn’t help that a shot like this was teased in the trailer, then not included in the final cut of the film.
Avengers: Infinity War had quite a lot working for it, as well as quite a bit working against it. For one, the film barely had to try to make money. As the movie zipped past all the box office records, no one was surprised. Working against it though is the other side of that coin: expectations. This movie had to be an event, and it could not disappoint. And, quite simply, it doesn’t. The film, like all of the Marvel movies, is far from perfect, but it delivers on every aspect it needed to. It’s a fitting conclusion of the first 10 years of the MCU, and an incredibly exciting beginning to the next 10.