Editor’s Note: This review was originally published on April 25, 2018, and was rewritten on Oct 15, 2018 for editorial purposes. Enjoy.
Joe and Anthony Russo’s “Avengers: Infinity War” is currently, and most likely will remain, my favorite film of 2018. It took me four tries to write a review for the film that I felt comfortable with, but with a movie of this magnitude and this heft; I, of course, was not able to comprehend every inch of the film’s massive frame. Witnessing the film six times in theaters, 14 more at home, and with countless more viewings to come; I wanted to give it one more, good ol’ college try. So, here we are.
“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 to, 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, mega-blockbuster, television show we all have come to know and love. Manifesting a feeling of hopelessness that echoes louder than imagined.
The desolation and the inevitable bleakness of our story do not wash away the devilish charm that seemingly stalks our heroes though, rather using that humor to elevate the forthcoming consequences of their actions. 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.
“The hardest choices require the strongest wills” is what Thanos prophesizes, and this quote almost epitomizes his character. No, he’s not the death infatuated god-like Titan from Jim Starlin’s comic-book creation; but, Thanos is reimagined for the better. Instead, it's the sanctity of life and costs of preserving its future that has become his lust, speaking of the finite capacity of a universe that seemingly continues to extract a heavy toll. Challenging that ever so popular philosophical inquiry of which is more important: the needs of the many or the few?
Thanos (Josh Brolin) may be CGI rendered, but he’s an entirely inhabited captivator of attention. 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 melodiously; like a man attempting to become a god, a familiar trait of the character.
In the words of Kevin Feige: “Thanos is the greatest villain in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe,” and Brolin excels in bringing him to life. His performance shines through the digitally generated pixels and hours of Mocap work, his piercing eyes transmitting the internalized emotions of such a god-like being. 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.
The interconnecting of 76 characters elicits an expense from the story, forcing the filmmakers to sacrifice footing for a killstroke, if you will. But the film moves that load with confidence for most of its nearly three-hour runtime. Balancing this immense supply of 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 stand-out performance that rivals Brolin's though, mimicking 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, maintaining resonance and significance. A feat that is not readily accomplished.
Aesthetically, “Avengers: Infinity War” hypnotizes with its 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 esthetic 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 film about sacrifice, the sacrifice made by our heroes, even made by our villains. “I know what it’s like to lose, to feel so desperately that your right, yet to fail nonetheless," Thanos preaches this in one of his many poetically and fanatical soliloquies. Prognosticating how our heroes will have to fathom the value of loss, the expense of heroism, the power in which death gives life meaning. “Avengers: Infinity War,” when wiped of its gallantry and its spectacle, is a humbling of heroes. It is a cinematic event that is meant to examine the depth of our heroes will, their resolve, their boldness in the shadow of defeat.
The Russo’s and their writers even have to sacrifice proponents of storytelling in the process, surrendering character equivalence for the story. The film balances these characters by placing others on higher pedestals, centering our story around that of Thanos, Tony, and a few others; rather than the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It allows the film to feel small, to seem encapsulated by that of those of importance to the events occurring. It’s a wise, and deft maneuver by some of filmmaking’s best and brightest.
It's a densely crafted story that can, admittedly, fall victim to the weight of its enormous capacity. “Avengers: Infinity War” is a flawed masterpiece though, 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. It doesn’t lean on its dreary facets though, fabricating some standout moments of valor and bravery that ignites the spectacle that is super-hero filmmaking. It’s one of the most daring, high-wired, and pressurized balancing acts, or tightrope walks that you will ever see in the cinema.
It's a daunting task for any team of filmmakers to take on, but a ten-year investment elevates the Russo's endeavor. It feels amalgamated, earned, and meant to happen; the whole while, suspending your disbelief that the end is merely another challenge for our formidable heroes to combat. It is the precursor to a final chapter, one that takes you places that most superhero movies don’t, one where you may not want to go. It realizes it's gargantuan ambitions, providing a haunting finale to one story and a profound awakening to another.