This is your last chance. After this there is no turning back. If you take the up key, the story ends. You can wake up in your bed, and believe whatever you want to believe. If you take the down key, you in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the spoilers go.
You’re still here? Oh good.
I’m not exactly on time with this review, since the movie being reviewed has been out for a few weeks now. Pretty much the whole internet has talked about it in some capacity already. My goal in talking about it now is for fun, and also to provide an analysis of the film from the perspective of a writer who wanted to see how such an enormous story could be told on screen.
It’s not that Avengers: Infinity War is a particularly complex story, nor one with an abundance of twists or thick plots to keep track of. This is an action movie, it is a series of set pieces whose parts were put into play long before, it is a cinematic experience.
I don’t envy the task the Russo brothers and the whole writing and production team had on their plate to get this thing on screen and make it work. Splitting the characters up and then allowing the story to diverge into four paths (three mainly, but there is a fourth temporarily) was smart and kept too many dominating personalities from trying to exist in one shot. It must have been fun to first conceptualize, then realize what characters were going to team up. It was a real treat to see some of these wildly different characters–and the talented, charismatic actors behind them–finally get to interact with one another. Everyone will have their favorites of course and that’s part of the fun.
Infinity War is unusual in that it doesn’t really have a protagonist as we come to expect it. Tony Stark and Thor come the closest, since we get to see more of their internal conflict and what they stand to lose if Thanos wins. Robert Downey Jr. remains as watchable as ever as Stark, and seeing as his character launched the MCU, it might be fair to give him credit as our protagonist. But Thor… I felt the most empathy for him. Chris Hemsworth has gone above and beyond with owning the role of Thor, effortlessly balancing humor and drama, bringing gravitas and likability in a character whose comic origins are rather ridiculous. The scene were he and Rocket have a heart to heart was a real punch to the emotions. The man lost everything he cared about, but still fights on and never loses his heart. I loved how in a handful of scenes, we see so much of Thor’s growth as a person, how he treats Rocket and Groot with such respect that they don’t even think twice about joining Thor on the quest to Nidavellir to make a replacement for Mjolnir.
This story, ultimately, belongs to Thanos. While he is obviously the antagonist, we see more of the story from his point of view than anyone else’s. He is the common thread woven into each branch of the plot. In a way, this is the Hero’s Journey, only flipped so that it is the villain on the journey. We are over his shoulder on his quest to collect the Infinity Stones, we see his struggles, his conflicts, his triumphs. We see more first hand of what he loses than we do most anyone else in the story.
I don’t feel that on a high level, there’s much more to analyze. Most of what had to be written for this movie would be in its quippy, snappy dialogue, and in describing the next level action that takes place on screen. This is the most ambitiously cinematic action movie I’ve ever witnessed. It’s not explosion porn like a Michael Bay movie, and it’s not loaded with jump cuts, shaky cams, and other nonsense that I’ve come to loathe in modern action movies. This really does look like an epic comic book come to life, with sequences of conflict that I am impressed could be realized so well. The Guardians fighting Thanos on Titan along with Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Doctor Strange is a highlight, with all of the magical and technological stops being thrown out to bring Thanos down. Moons get thrown at people. Iron Man’s nanosuit puts up the fight of a lifetime. Doctor Strange pulls out every trick he knows… but it’s still not enough.
Star-Lord does get the least valuable player award in this scene, I concur. However, remember, that the first thing Quill did when Ego told him the truth about his mother? Quill shot him in the face. He doesn’t plan or think things through. It’s a flaw, but it is true to the character. Doctor Strange was also not out of character, I contend, to surrender the Time Stone. When he went into the multitude of possible futures, it forced him to change his attitude about sacrificing the Stone if it would save Stark or Parker.
Unless the movie was longer (and I feel it should have been), I grant you that some lingering character threads simply can’t be covered. I was still disappointed to see that Banner’s and Widow’s romance was addressed with but one exchange of names between them (the romance was kindled off-screen and died off of it as well, I suppose). Captain America doesn’t get to do much but say a few stern words and then punch the hell out of some bad guys. We didn’t get to learn anything about what Wakanda was able to share with the world prior to the invasion (I’m curious to know if Stark got hold of some Wakandan tech for the snazzy upgrades to his suit). The Guardians also don’t get to do much except look foolish. Gamora, Nebula, and Drax, people who are supposed to hate Thanos more than anyone, barely get their shots in. Gamora does go for the kill the first chance she gets, but then after that becomes rather ineffective. I get that she has found peace with her sister and doesn’t want to see her tortured, but I expected someone as famously fierce as Gamora to have more backbone. Not being able to stand ten seconds of torture in order to keep half of the known universe from dying doesn’t speak to me of strength. It’s not necessarily bad writing to me, as on the face of it the events that happen do make sense, but more clarity into what is motivating these people to do what they do (or do not do) would’ve been nice. We can extrapolate some of it from earlier films, but that only goes so far. I suppose that’s the price we pay for having so many characters in one story.
The ending aggravated me on the first viewing, because, by my mistake, I allowed some of Marvel’s marketing to alter my expectation of how this story should end. When first announced, this film was titled Infinity War Part One. That made sense to me, because I didn’t know how the hell you could do a story of this size in one film. Then the title was changed, and my expectation became one in which I thought somehow the battle for the Infinity Stones would be permanently settled here and then. That’s my fault, I suppose. I was also annoyed with seeing so many characters killed, whom we knew were already returning for future movies. It’s not really good marketing to announce Black Panther 2 before you run a movie in which Black Panther dies, because then you plant the thought in your audience’s head: “well of course he can’t really stay dead because of the next movie.”
Then I watched it a second time, and put all of that marketing rubbish aside to take it in for what it is. Aside from Thor’s spectacular return to Earth with Stormbreaker (cue the Avengers theme, damn this scene gets me going, the theater also cheered), the endgame of Infinity War is tragic, desperate, and damning. None of our heroes can stop Thanos, even when they make the ultimate sacrifices. Thor was the only one who had a shot, but he was too late. Thanos snaps his finger, and immediately the movie changes to feel like it takes place in a nightmare. Everything goes quiet (audio is such an important storytelling tool) as friends and comrades dissolve into ash all around. The Avengers lose, the bad guy wins, roll credits. Now going back in, knowing that all along this is part one of a larger story, and appreciating the audacity of how nihilistic and hopeless the ending is, I enjoy it more. If Marvel were somehow forced to stop making movies right now, they did have the gumption to leave half or more of their big screen heroes dead, and the rest utterly defeated.
This was an emotional and visceral cinematic thrill ride that was a joy to watch on screen. I only hope that Avengers 4 doesn’t fall back too much on cheap reset button plotting in order for the heroes to come out on top. Sacrifices and lasting consequences are what will keep the MCU interesting the wake of Avengers 4. We’ll see in a year if it can be done.