AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR Review: 8 out of 10 (Finally! A Marvel Film with Stones)
The latest Marvel film is out and the fate and destiny of the entire MCU hangs in the balance as AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR changes the landscape. The film is directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and although it is a direct sequel to the previous Avengers films, it has been building for years through nearly the entire MCU franchise over the last several years. I could list everyone in the ensemble cast, but let’s just say they are all here. In short, the galactic titan Thanos has traveled the Universe searching for several Infinity Stones that he can wield to put an end to half of the universe. Together with the Guardians of the Galaxy, Spiderman, Black Panther-- and several others-- the Avengers team together to try and stop Thanos from wielding the power of the stones through an Infinity Gauntlet he wears to control their power—which includes not only physical power but bending reality to his will.
My consistent argument with the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been their lack of true fleshed out and complete villains. Either that, or a well-crafted villain is given nothing to do (like poor Cate Blanchett in THOR: RAGNAROK). My other consistent complaint has been that the films very rarely have tension, true dilemmas, or real emotional stakes. There are exceptions, WINTER SOLDIER for one, but most of these films have offered fairly predictable outcomes with very little risks involved. It seems that the disposable villains are always disposed of in fairly connect-the-dots fashion—all while the heroes share witty banter and quips. Well, safe to say that AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR addresses both of those issues in a way that makes this film a standout success among its peers, quips notwithstanding. That isn’t to say this film doesn’t create for itself another set of challenges as it deals with 25+ different characters, but a lot of this film still will deliver for fans, if they can be patient enough to wait for the film’s payoff 2nd half in 2019. What the film does offer is far more serious tone, much greater risk, and the promise of emotional payoff. If most MCU films have been criticized for being fairly formulaic and safe, this movie certainly takes quite a few risks. This film is moving the greater franchise in a bold new direction. It is as valiant a move in this superhero genre, matching the notion of so many of its characters running into the action with a devil-may-care attitude.
Where A: IW struggles is in its exposition dump and storytelling. Most of the character development and “catching up” is done with a lot of cinematic shorthand. Audiences are not only asked but sort of expected to fill in the gaps and color in the spaces between some of the broad strokes of characters and their various scenarios—from love, anger, detachment, heroism, leadership, and uncertainty. All of these qualities are sort of glossed over with a lot of on-the-nose dialogue and fairly clear superhero stereotypes that it doesn’t leave much room for nuanced storytelling. And yet, the film clocks in at over 2 ½ hours. So… the movie sort of needs more, but there is so much there already. The 2nd and 3rd Act of the movie are devoted to three distinct story branches with various heroes on quests to help the greater galactic cause of stopping Thanos from wiping out half of the universe. Again, to stay spoiler-free I would say that there is one of these branches that is significantly less successful than the others with its action on screen. It has nothing to do with the likeability of the characters involved per se. However, the scenario itself feels forced and like a bit of a time filler—which is more frustrating in a film with a running time as long as it is and with other areas of the plot practically begging for clearer plot points. Thanos himself and his motives are spelled out a bit more throughout the film, but only to the point of being murky at best. Fingers crossed that some of that becomes clearer as the 2nd half of this film is released. Having said that, everyone is in their best form and the action comes at a furious and exhausting pace. For those who just want to see their favorites in action, there is plenty here to enjoy. Probably multiple viewings worth for fans.
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR may not meet the hype it has generated and may only serve to further propagandize the next film in the franchise. Disney/MCU seems to have that machine down to a sweet science. However, I will also say it has been a long while since I have been interested and excited to see what will happen next in the greater Marvel film franchise. This film leaves me wanting more. A *lot* more. And regular readers of this writer knows that is saying something.