Whether or not you’re a Marvel or comic book superhero fan, pretty much everyone paying the vaguest amount of attention to the entertainment industry this year has heard about a little film called Avengers: Infinity War. And for good reason: the movie shattered the box office with a record-breaking $250 million domestic and $630 million worldwide opening and reached $1 billion in a record 11 days (Box Office Mojo).
Like last year’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Avengers: Infinity War had a huge – perhaps even unfair – amount of hype behind it. It was billed as the end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as fans knew it, and the directors warned audiences that the film would contain major character deaths. It was also the first time that characters from the Avengers and the also ragingly popular Guardians of the Galaxy films united on the big screen. Personally, and if the box office records have any say, I would vouch that it all worked exceedingly well.
In summary for anyone who hasn’t seen the film yet (this review contains major spoilers, by the way): The mad titan Thanos is on a quest to obtain all six Infinity Stones – gems of infinite power, that when united together, allow the owner to eliminate half the world’s population in an instant. Infinity War opens with Thanos and his Dark Order decimating the ship that Thor, Loki, and the rest of the remaining Asgardians boarded at the end of Thor: Ragnarok, and the Dark Order proceeds to hunt down the other stones from there, ruthlessly killing anyone who stands in the way. Through a series of events, the Avengers and Guardians divide into groups to try to stop Thanos from achieving his goal.
I recall one of my biggest concerns back when Infinity War was first announced was that there were far too many characters on the roster, and there was no way they would all get sufficient screen time. I’m happy to say I didn’t feel that was the case at all. Granted, after viewing the film I did look back and realize that some of my favorites were underutilized (Captain America and Black Widow in particular), but I never felt during the movie that there was anything lacking, or that it suffered from their absence. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo did an excellent job balancing a cast of 40 Marvel characters without catering too heavily to any one of them.
As the breakdowns circulating the Internet comparing characters’ screen time show, while there were definitely groups of characters that got more or less time, overall margins between them were relatively small between characters within each group. We’ve also been promised that characters who were less in the spotlight (or missing entirely, i.e. Hawkeye and Ant-Man) this time around will have more prominent roles in the next Avengers.
As you’ll see, Thanos received the most screen time, which might be a concern if he were a standard, two-dimensional comic book villain. But that he is not. Thanos is similar to recent MCU villains like Spider-Man: Homecoming’s Vulture or Black Panther’s Killmonger, in that the audience is made to somewhat understand him and his reasons for doing the terrible things he does. Thanos truly believes he is showing mercy to the world by destroying civilizations on his quest to half the population; as he tells his adopted daughter Gamora, the world has a finite number of resources, and left unchecked, the population will use those up and consequently be left in ruin.
Another thing Infinity War handles particularly well is balancing out the serious, even tragic moments with the laugh-out-loud one-liners and exchanges. The film opens to a silent Marvel Studios logo animation, followed by Asgardian ship distress signals, instantly setting the tone for a darker MCU entry. I felt an underlying sense of doom and unease throughout my first viewing, partially because there was the potential for any of my favorite characters to die at any moment, and partially because the lighting, color palette, and soundtrack do an incredible job at creating that particular mood.
For a longtime fan of the franchise, Infinity War can be at times a difficult watch. At the same time, it features some of the funniest lines and character interactions across the entire MCU; Tony Stark, Thor, and the Guardians are among the comedic standouts. In what’s become a nearly perfected formula, the humor doesn’t take away from the drama and the drama doesn’t take away from the humor.
Still, the film is not entirely perfect. Some people noted after seeing Infinity War that they didn’t feel a real sense of danger for the heroes. They fairly claimed that due to past patterns of resurrections in MCU films, comic book lore, and actors being contracted for future movies, no character’s life was really at stake.
I can see both sides of that argument. Whether or not they’re to be trusted, the directors had said before Infinity War’s release that character deaths would remain permanent. Seeing actors in on-set photos from Avengers 4 also didn’t necessarily confirm those characters would survive Infinity War since Avengers 4 is strongly rumored to have a time travel element.
When I left the theater after my first viewing of Infinity War, I felt pretty confident our ‘dusted’ characters would have to come back due to the upcoming Spider-Man and (most likely) Black Panther sequels, but the other characters’ deaths earlier in the film had, for me, a shocking a sense of finality. Did the directors later confirm that some of those deaths weren’t as final as I had thought? Maybe so, but that doesn’t take away from the emotional impact I felt when first watching the film. That, coupled with the misleading trailers and promo images leading up to Infinity War, led me to take everything surrounding the movie on the Internet, director-confirmed or not, with a grain of salt. I can see the very real challenge of creating an authentic sense of danger for recurring characters in a film series, but I think Infinity War accomplished that in the best way possible for a film in its genre.
All in all, I walked into Avengers: Infinity War with cautiously high expectations, and walked out feeling incredibly fulfilled, if not somewhat emotionally devastated and confused. It simultaneously delivered on many of the things fans had been hoping for while also providing shocking twists and gasp-worthy moments. Oftentimes a big blockbuster movie can be the victim of its own hype, but I find it refreshing to say that Infinity War was deserving of all the hype it received, and I didn’t in any way feel disappointed by the lofty expectations put in place by fans like myself.
Infinity War boasted an unprecedented level of build-up, what with its tying together storylines from a series of 18 previous films spanning a period of 10 years. It’s going to be hard to fathom then, the expectations and hype that will surround next year’s as-of-yet-untitled Avengers 4. Infinity War was marketed as the turning point in the MCU, but fans know that Phase Three of the series doesn’t officially conclude until next year’s Avengers film. That then becomes the movie that will likely mark the true end for some if not all of the founding Avengers, bring actor contracts to a close, and radically change the playing field for all subsequent installments. Until then we’re left with an undoubtedly well-crafted but also extremely frustrating cliffhanger that won’t be resolved until next May.