AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR— 5 STARS
Six years ago with The Avengers, this writer and website celebrated the “uncompromised planning and genius forethought” that represented the culmination of Marvel Films’ master blueprint. Never before had world-building reached such scale across multiple films, character properties, and storylines. As excellent as the designs have been, we are passed the paper stage. The house is built and the builders have been adding on and having a party. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has gone from blueprint to an unmatched full-scale model, one built with powerful advanced tools and churned out by the greatest cinematic 3D printer into tangible form. The dream fulfillment has become real.
The post-credits cameo of the big bad Thanos in The Avengers set into motion an even greater arc of ambition that catapulted two more phases, twelve more films, and dozens of new major players since. Now at the ten-year mark of this endeavor, all of the patience, enthusiasm, and success pays off with Avengers: Infinity War. Thriving with a symmetry of captivating gravitas and heroic thrill on many levels, this saga’s newest peak is an expanse of scorched earth that stings, shocks, lingers, and satisfies.
LESSON #1: STAY OFF SOCIAL MEDIA— This website always promises zero spoilers in its reviews (including this one), but the internet is not a kind place. You’re going to want this one untarnished. Total social media darkness is recommended (especially over in the gladiatorial arena of unchecked internet courage known as Twitter) between now and when you see Avengers: Infinity War. Come back when the coast is clear.
Picking up mere minutes after the end of Thor: Ragnarok, the advertised threat that is the Mad Titan is established in short order when encountering the surviving former denizens of Asgard. Voiced and performed by a monstrously grizzled Josh Brolin, Thanos seeks the six ancient Infinity Stones of almighty force, historical exposition once described by Benicio del Toro’s Collector in Guardians of the Galaxy. To the uninformed, five of them (the Tesseract, the red Aether rescued by Thor, Vision’s mind stone retrieved from Loki’s scepter, the purple power snagged by Star-Lord, and Doctor Strange’s Eye of Agamotto talisman) have been the tools of destruction and movie MacGuffins for the last decade. The connections and implications, as you can ascertain, are ominous and unreal.
Followed and protected by his devout “children” of the Black Order, Thanos seeks to wield the combined might of the six stones through a special golden gauntlet that would grant him the power to snuff out the universe with a snap of his fingers. With a gravely warped logic of salvation to balance unchecked life against the thirsting appeasement of death, his aim is merely wiping out half.
LESSON #2: FAIRNESS IN FRACTIONS— Hooray, math! There are school teachers out there (like this author) who love to drop the “fair is not always equal” line. Well, piss on that logic for 149 minutes, because you can’t get much more equal than straight down the middle with halves. 50/50 reigns supreme and the simplicity of that is harrowingly harmonious within the chaos.
Our good guys combat this threat where and how they can. Iron Man, Doctor Strange, and Spider-Man (Robert Downey, Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch, and Tom Holland) take the fight to Thanos’s former home world of Titan. Thor (Chris Hemsworth), rescued by Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and the Guardians of the Galaxy, seeks to forge a new weapon to replace his destroyed hammer powerful enough to go toe-to-toe and stone-to-stone with the intergalactic despot. Back on Earth, the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), a returned Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), and the now nomadic Captain America (Chris Evans) since the fallout of Civil War assemble the remaining heroes to defend the planet and the stone embedded in Vision (Paul Bettany) on the front lines of Wakanda, shoulder-to-shoulder with the rejuvenated Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and his loyal tribal warriors.
Captain America series cinematographer Trent Oplach, with a tremendous assist from 2nd unit director Alexander Witt covering a mountain of action scenes, sparks the screen with hero shot after hero shot. Their cameras highlight spectacular day-lit and star-lit production settings designed by Charles Wood (Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy) and the host of special effects houses painting even further dazzle and depth. All visuals and narrative boxing rounds are given a sizable step up in supporting tone from Alan Silvestri’s soaring musical score. The Ready Player One and Back to the Future veteran returns to Marvel for the first time since 2012’s The Avengers and his stellar start with Captain America: The First Avenger the year before. No offense to his peers, but Silvestri and his results are a class above the previous Brian Tyler and Henry Jackman compositions for this franchise.
Trotting globes and skipping across galaxies, Avengers: Infinity War has innumerable moving parts, which makes this a busy yet meaty adventure epic. That said, don’t be mistaken or fooled by your own sunny expectations or the deluge of prognosticating clickbait and fan theories. The largest figure on every poster is the true star and focus of this movie. Believe it or not, this is a Thanos movie, first and foremost. With an ensemble this large, his foreboding and anchoring presence is a stroke of brass-balled brilliance and misdirection from go-to MCU writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely after years of playing it safe.
After ten years of individual and team-up movies doing masterful work originating and building up a deep roster of heroes, it was high time for a dramatic shift in character development to fulfill the long-term teases representing who and what is Thanos. Previously plagued too often by flatly one-dimensional one-off villains with thin motives and the same rants, Avengers: Infinity War is a rich exploration of the bad guy. Imagine a villain in any other film entity, from spy films of the James Bond or Mission: Impossible variety or even those right in the same comic genre like Magneto or Joker, getting the bulk of the screen time and character development. Josh Brolin grabs this formidable opportunity with his giant golden hand and never lets it go.
Elevated by this menacing threat and voraciously nourished by overwhelming action sequences, Avengers: Infinity War answers the euphoric hype and takes the MCU to heights and stakes it has never attempted. The crazy thing is that Infinity War is just the first part of two films shot back-to-back. Even with the temptation to lose your mind (you’ll see), there is a level or point of patience necessary where you or I cannot fully grade or judge this film until seeing the 2019 finish. With a disconnected/fill-in-the-blank Ant-Man and Wasp this July and a 90s-set prequel of sorts Captain Marvel next March, the concrete of this newly-created present has been poured, and we will all be waiting a calendar year to see the finishing culmination of the blueprint grown into the movie mansion. Once again, this is by design and stands as further proof to the genius behind the hubris.
LESSON #3: THE BREAKING POINTS OF POWERFUL PEOPLE— Life lessons for this movie could really dive into spoiler territory (hence the first two more farcical ones), so this final one will be the best possible allegory within appropriate boundaries. No matter the myriad of obstacles, the highest stake remains the same: the trillions of innocent lives across the far-reaching comic book cosmos. Seeking twisted balance, the coldly tyrannical villain targets the hardest choices to those with the strongest wills in standoffs of sacrifice. Every character with heart has a limit to what lives can be traded and which cannot.
LOGO DESIGNED BY MEENTS ILLUSTRATED (#683)