Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

   Director: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo With: Robert Downey Jr, Josh Brolin, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chadwick Boseman, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel,  Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Tom Hiddleston, Pom Klementieff, Sebastian Stan, Karen Gillan, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Benedict Wong, Jacob Batalon, Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira, & Benicio Del Toro.  Release: Apr 27, 2018 PG-13. 2 hr. 29 min.

Director: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
With: Robert Downey Jr, Josh Brolin, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chadwick Boseman, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel,  Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Tom Hiddleston, Pom Klementieff, Sebastian Stan, Karen Gillan, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Benedict Wong, Jacob Batalon, Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira, & Benicio Del Toro. 
Release: Apr 27, 2018
PG-13. 2 hr. 29 min.

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I have re-written this review four times now; I even published one of them in which I stated: “I wish that feeling of hopelessness echoed just a bit louder though, as it seems Marvel still fears to jump off the edge completely.” I have read many reviews from far more credible critics, and I, inevitably, saw the film once more. I originally saw the film in a lonesome theatre in which the isolation echoed as much as the final frames of this one hundred and sixty-minute runtime. I attempted to make conclusions based on “informed” observations. Trying to revoke my anticipation, so that I could form a clear-cut opinion upon the film’s strengths and weaknesses. On my second viewing, I found myself leaning into the screen even more. Feeling the atmospheric tension of a sold-out theatre, praying that they would be so lucky as to escape the film’s story unharmed. They were not so fortunate.

“Avengers: Infinity War" is a film that challenges as much as it satisfies with a story centering around the invasion of the mad Titan known as Thanos (Josh Brolin). A religious, god-like figure whose desire for perfect balance and harmonium in the universe is achievable with the power of the six infinity stones: the mind stone (Vision’s head), the reality stone (The Collector), the time stone (Doctor Strange), the power stone (Xandar), the space tone (Tesseract; Loki), and the soul stone (TBA). With each stone placed in the firmness of his gauntlet he can wipe out half of the universe with the snap of his fingers, but our heroes stand in his way. From the Avengers to the Guardians of the Galaxy to the nation of Wakanda, “Avengers: Infinity War” provides a momentously entertaining war that finalizes with the most haunting of repercussions for our vast array of characters. 

As a feat of filmmaking that embarks this cinematic universe into a darker tone than we're accustomed too, the Russo brothers and their writers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely dive headfirst into the this universe's emotionality. They deliver an operatic tragedy that stifles and surprises. Instead of beaming out of the theater with delight, I left with heartache and desolation. Mimicking films like "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows" that came before it, "Avengers: Infinity War" inevitably removes some characters from the long-running television show we all know and love. Manifesting a feeling of hopelessness that echoes louder than imagined. If just a bit louder though, it seems Marvel could have reinvented the entire genre in one momentous swoop. 

Seemingly afraid to take that final leap, The Russo’s and their writers struggle to stick with a tone of bleakness or disarray at particular junctures of the story. They attempt to laugh off each stage of consequence that is issued by the mad Titan, creating an ironic imbalance at times. However, this all so familiar banter can have a darker undertone than usual. As if each laugh could be our last with these characters, we feel lucky enough to be given these final moments with them, as we await to witness their impending doom. We begin to feel the entire heft of watching our heroes fight an unwinnable battle, knowing there is only one way this can all end. In some ways I was disappointed, it was as if I wanted the filmmakers to rip out my heart and stomp on it. My expectations may have, admittedly, gotten the best of me. 

The interconnecting of 76 characters is a heavy weight to carry as well. But the film moves that load with confidence for the most of its nearly three-hour runtime. But under that much pressure, any movie would buckle at some point, as nuanced characters of "Avengers: Infinity War" are never properly introduced. And with no prior comic book knowledge, they will become distant and unmemorable figures to you. The story may not hinge upon them, but it makes the moments they take part in feel more impalpable than they should. Although, if they are not consequential to the story, why should they be given the moment in the spotlight? Why not keep it focused on the biggest draw? Why not maintain complete totality in centering the film around Marvel’s most evoking character studies?

Thanos (Josh Brolin) may be CGI rendered, but he’s an entirely inhabited captivator of attention. Brolin brings out a character that is much different from the comics we know and love, as death is not his obsession. Instead, it's the sanctity of life and costs of preserving its future. Challenging that ever so popular philosophical inquiry of which is more important: the needs of the many or of the few? He’s a wistful, yet lonely figure whose ideology matches that of a religious zealot, but his demeanor is more comparable to that of the calm certainty of a military general. Speaking softly, poignantly, and poetically like a man attempting to become a god, a familiar trait of the character from Jim Starlin’s comics. Brolin excels in this role and provides the MCU with, undoubtedly, their best villain yet. He’s calculated and cold, but his reasoning and story evoke empathy, empathy that is only rivaled by the nightmarish fear he ends up spreading upon our characters.

Characters that meet, reacquaint, and challenge one another to assist in helping to stop this god-like demon. Ranging from Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) and Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) to Starlord/Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the full force of the MCU is at the command of the Russo’s, and they do one hell of a job. Providing personal incentives to a multitude of characters, as well as rationalizing their growth since our last interactions with them. They give time to each character, enough time to feel their pain, their agony, and their fear.

Robert Downey Jr provides a performance that rivals Brolin's, but in a way that mimics that of his depiction of the character in “Captain America: Civil War.” He grasps that same moxie and carries it with him into “Avengers: Infinity War” and builds upon it with internal conflicts of grief and guilt. It’s the best rendition of the character, as well as Downey Jr’s best depiction. Evans has briefer moments on the screen, but he delivers upon each of them. Providing that same smoldering nobility that makes him adequate for the role. The rest of the performances perform well, as expected. Some are given more screen time than others, but they all maintain resonance and significance. A feat that is not readily accomplished.

As a visual treat of filmmaking as well, “Avengers: Infinity War” hypnotizes with its aesthetic grandeur. With a massive contribution from hundreds of VFX employees to the countless unsung heroes of production to the mammoth-sized cast, it would have had to be a history-making failure if they did not provide a visual spectacle. It pays off though, and the Russos are due to their fair share of praise as well, providing more than enough action to enthrall us upon each viewing. Two specific battles come to mind though, both of which take place near the film’s finale, an eventful ending that showcases both their creativity as filmmakers and their potential as storytellers. The Russo’s craft a battle sequence that nearly equals the magnificence of Helm’s Deep. The camera is vibrant and charged with energy by them and their cinematographer, Trent Opaloch. Instead of providing shakes and shrills though, it remains still. Capturing the grandiosity and heft of the battle, as well as the fog of chaos it lets loose upon our screen. This aesthetic barrage of patient poignancy crafts moments that linger and echo. They yank upon our emotions, like a child pulling on a tooth. Knowing it's going to hurt but desiring to feel the pain nonetheless.

Alan Silvestri returns to score the film, and his talents are not wasted, providing more than enough overtones of epicness to give the movie even more of a punch during those scenes of anguish. That anguish does not keep the quips and jokes at bay though, despite how much some would desire them to remain absent. The self-aware and quick-witted humor remains intact, and while it conflicts with the tone at times, it continues to be funny. Providing some fantastic moments between battles like that of Starlord/Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) meeting Tony (Robert Downey Jr) and exchanging more than enough banter to make their interaction worth my ten dollar ticket. Benedict Cumberbatch and Dave Bautista also deliver with great humor, but Mark Ruffalo provides a hefty dose of his own with the internal conflict he has brewing inside him between himself and the Hulk, whose afraid to come out. I can’t say why, obviously, but I can say that it makes for some amusing scenes with the character.

This is a densely crafted story that I, admittedly, never allowed to sink in. I immediately attempted to bring myself down from my emotions, so I began to question the films integrity from an aloof perspective. Removing myself from the equation and asking “did it truly wow me? Are these emotions my own, or are they merely reactions from my anticipation finally becoming a reality? Am I creating my own scapegoats for the film’s flaws?” 

In a way, I am admitting yes to all of those self-imposed questions. I admit that the film may not handle the weight of its enormity. I admit that the film doesn’t provide fair characterization to its enormous array of characters. I admit that the humor can undermine more than it assists, but for each one of those flaws, I can provide a reasonable refutation. I can argue that no movie could handle the size of the universe that Feige and many others have crafted. I can suggest that the characters should feel underwritten due to their lack of significance to the narrative. I can even advocate that the purpose of the film’s humor is not to back away from the bleakness, but to amplify its effect. I can argue for this film, just as much as I can tear it down.

Leaving me with only my emotion to use as a grading scale for the film's resonance, I eventually sat back down, cracked open the laptop, pulled a blanket over me, and began to write this very review. Finally stating, with poignant assurance, that “Avengers: Infinity War” is a flawed masterpiece worthy of everyone’s time, and then some. The overly-hyped, immensely anticipated, and critic dividing cinematic event not only delivers but soars beyond any expectation that I had.

If "Captain America: Civil War" was an olive branch for naysayers, then "Avengers: Infinity War' is a faulty wrapped gift basket that is meant to persuade them to join the church of Fiege, like the rest of us. It's not a reinvention of the comic book genre, nor is it a revolutionary progression of the franchise's controversial levity that rubs many critics the wrong way. "Avengers: Infinity War" is a flawed masterpiece that packs a punch that is as entertaining as it is poignant, providing a haunting finale to one story and a harsh awakening to another.