Review: 'Avengers: Infinity War' is an Unprecedented Achievement in Blockbuster Filmmaking
by Adam Frazier
April 26, 2018
From Marvel Studios stalwarts Anthony Russo and Joe Russo comes Avengers: Infinity War, the third installment in the Avengers franchise and 19th Marvel Studios film to date. The movie marks the 10-year anniversary of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which began with the release of Jon Favreau's Iron Man in 2008. Starring Robert Downey Jr. as billionaire philanthropist playboy Tony Stark, the very first Iron Man movie was a worldwide phenomenon and would serve as the foundation from which Marvel Studios would build an empire. Ten years later, Marvel Studios has opened a record-breaking 18 consecutive movies at #1, with five grossing over $1 billion, and a combined total of over $13 billion at the worldwide box office. To say Avengers: Infinity War has been eagerly anticipated would be an understatement. But does this film, a decade in the making with unprecedented hype, live up to fan fervor and unrealistic expectations?
Avengers: Infinity War begins where Thor: Ragnarok ends, with Thanos (Josh Brolin) intercepting an Asgardian refugee vessel led by Thor (Chris Hemsworth), his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and Heimdall (Idris Elba). After making his debut in the post-credits scene of 2012's The Avengers, Thanos has been scouring the cosmos for the Infinity Stones, six gemstones of unimaginable power that will allow the despot to reshape reality and bring "balance" to the universe. Already in possession of the Power Stone, the Mad Titan has come for the Space Stone, which is somewhere aboard the ship. Meanwhile, his henchmen — Proxima Midnight, Ebony Maw, Corvus Glaive, and Cull Obsidian — travel to Earth to retrieve the Time Stone from its keeper, Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), and the Mind Stone, which powers the android Avenger known as Vision (Paul Bettany).
Enter the rest of Earth's Mightiest Heroes: Iron Man, Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Captain America (Chris Evans), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), White Wolf (Sebastian Stan), and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman). And don't forget the Guardians of the Galaxy: Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel), Drax (Dave Bautista), and Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Together, these heroes will face insurmountable odds and suffer unimaginable losses in an attempt to defeat Thanos before his gauntlet of ruin and devastation claims trillions of lives.
There are more than 30 integral characters in Avengers: Infinity War, twice as many as Captain America: Civil War. Luckily, the Russo Brothers understand each character and seamlessly integrate them in a way that feels organic and authentic. Helping the filmmaking brothers craft this ambitious crossover event are screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who previously collaborated with the Russos on Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the aforementioned Civil War. The result is the unprecedented culmination of multiple storylines interlinked together over 10 years and 18 films. For any other studio, making a movie of this size and scope would be a risky endeavor, and an unsuccessful one at that, but for Kevin Feige and Marvel Studios it's business as usual. Where other studios have prioritized profit over patience in their bid to create crossover events and shared universes, Marvel has taken its time, invested in its characters, and laid all the necessary groundwork to make Infinity War a success.
A major part of the film's success is its villain, Thanos. After making brief appearances in The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thanos is now at the forefront of the story. Revenge doesn't motivate the Mad Titan — there are intricacies to his behavior that are compelling, even if you don't agree with his point of view. He sees a decaying, overpopulated universe tearing itself apart and thinks his solution, while extreme, is justifiable. He isn't heroic or noble, but has conviction and is willing to sacrifice everything to carry out his plan. There's a surprising amount of depth and texture to Brolin's character — he's nuanced and three-dimensional in a way few Marvel villains have been. Brolin brings a physical presence and intensity to the role and creates a character that is both intimidating and oddly emotional. Unfortunately, his henchmen, the "Black Order", aren't that memorable. Only one of them, the downright creepy Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), is mentioned by name, making the quartet of warriors somewhat disposable.
On the hero side of things, the big three — Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, and Thor — continue to evolve, leading separate teams of superheroes across the universe to stop Thanos from achieving his goal. The interplay between Tony Stark, Peter Parker, and Dr. Strange is pretty great, even if I'm still not entirely sold on Cumberbatch as the Sorcerer Supreme. The character has progressed significantly since his 2016 standalone movie, but Cumberbatch just isn't as convincing as everyone else is in their respective roles. In Wakanda, Rogers and his Secret Avengers fight alongside Black Panther, Okoye (Danai Gurira), Shuri (Letitia Wright), and M'Baku (Winston Duke) against a horde of Outriders, alien monsters under the control of Thanos. Meanwhile, in space, Thor is still reeling from the events of Ragnarok. He teams up with Rocket and Groot for a side quest that is one of my favorite parts of the movie. There are some terrific performances and great character moments throughout, though some heroes get the short shrift. This is to be expected in a film with 30+ main characters, even with a 149-minute runtime, but the Russos and Markus & McFeely do an otherwise masterful job at balancing intimate character beats and big, sweeping action set-pieces.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been on a roll as of late, with the delightful Spider-Man: Homecoming, the wildly entertaining Thor: Ragnarok, and the gorgeous and engaging Black Panther. As a single entry in the MCU, Avengers: Infinity War is as good as anything Marvel Studios has released in the last decade, but what makes it truly special is how it elevates everything that came before and makes every character and narrative development even more meaningful. It feels too big at times – the stakes too high, the losses too great – but it never feels contrived; everything is earned. The Russo Brothers have delivered one of the most challenging and ambitious blockbusters I've ever seen, a gamble that paid off in spades for Marvel Studios. But this is only the beginning of the end. Catharsis is coming, but we'll have to wait until May 3, 2019, when Avengers 4 hits theaters. Luckily, we've got Ant-Man and the Wasp and Captain Marvel in the meantime.
After the credits rolled and we all watched the movie's only post-credits scene, I left the theater in a daze; emotionally exhausted — perhaps even devastated — and yet thoroughly satisfied. With a pulse-pounding score by Alan Silvestri, beautiful cinematography from Trent Opaloch, impressive special effects, and an incredible cast, Avengers: Infinity War is more than a great movie, it's an honest-to-god achievement in blockbuster filmmaking. For 149 minutes, I didn’t need a Time Stone to revisit the past. I became a kid again, smiling ear-to-ear as my wildest super-powered fantasies were realized on the big screen. For a comic book nerd turned film fan, it is a dream come true. I can't wait to see what happens next.
Adam's Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Follow Adam on Twitter - @AdamFrazier