Review: AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

Infinity War poster

Avengers: Infinity War is at once something familiar and something new. Familiar in that it’s the 19th movie in the now 10-year old interconnected Marvel Cinematic Universe, a franchise of franchises unlike anything Hollywood has ever produced. It’s the culmination of films involving probably 50 central characters and the diverse creative storytelling of dozens of different writers and directors. We’ve seen most of these characters before and we know what to expect from them. There have been other movies with these characters. There have been two previous Avengers movies. Infinity War is new in the sense that nothing like it has been attempted in the history of film on this scale: to bring together dozens of characters from more than a dozen previous films all in one story. I thought that no matter the end result, it’s incredible that something like this is actually a reality and is actually being attempted. Going into its late April release, this was easily one of my all-time most anticipated movies. I hadn’t been this excited to see a movie since probably The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King 15 years ago. And now it has to all come together for this grand crescendo.

Now, having seen the film multiple times, I’m happy to say THEY FUCKING DID IT. Here’s how…

[SPOILERS AHEAD. But if you haven’t already seen the movie by now and are reading this anyway, the hell with ya.]

Editor’s note: Forgive the lack of my usual plethora of supplemental GIFs, but for whatever reason the bootleggers have not yet done a good job getting pics from this movie online yet. What can you do?

WHAT I LIKED/LOVED

Joe and Anthony Russo’s direction. It still amazes me that prior to directing Captain America: The Winter Soldier, this directing brother team was known primarily for their work on Community, a TV comedy with a per-episode budget equal to probably one second of screen time on an Avengers movie. Now they’re easily among the most skilled blockbuster directors working today. They just get it. They understand action and shoot it in nice wide angles. They have a knack for great editing, sound design and are especially good at cinematography and those all-important money shots (credit to DP Trent Opalach, who has shot all 3 of their Marvel movies). They shoot the big moments the right way, and you can’t teach that. They are easily the best directors Marvel has ever used, and I was thrilled when they were announced as the directors of these two Avengers movies. I don’t know what they’ll direct after Avengers 4 next year, but I’ll be among the first in line to see it no matter what it is. When you talk about big budget filmmakers under 50 years old, to me the Russos belong on the same list as the likes of Christopher Nolan, Gareth Edwards and Rian Johnson.

The script. Screenwriting duo Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeeley wrote all 3 Captain America films, the latter two of which I believe were the best-written MCU movies. I had said going into this that Infinity War was probably the hardest writing assignment ever handed out. This is off the charts on the ‘degree of difficulty’ scale. There are so many ways this movie could’ve been fucked up from a writing standpoint. I figured it would’ve been impossible to avoid all of those scenarios. To plausibly balance this many characters (while having those characters stay true to themselves) and to properly balance the tones of drama, emotion and comedy? I couldn’t fathom how it would even be attempted. In various parts of the movie you’ve got space fantasy, mythological epic, pure modern action and even bits of romance. The amazing trailers gave us an indication that perhaps they had done it, and the final product proves it once and for all. I’ve heard that Guardians of the Galaxy writer/director James Gunn came in to punch up some of the Guardians’ dialogue, but from what I understand Markus & McFeeley are responsible for the vast majority of what ended up on screen. Kudos to them both. If I were to interview these guys, I’d only have about 500 questions.

Credit also has to be given to producer/Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige, who has overseen the MCU since the start and is heavily involved in every movie and story decision.

Feige.jpg
I need to know what this man knows. And I want that hat.

The moments. The Hulk vs. Thanos. Peter Quill putting on a noble British accent while having a dick contest with Thor. Captain America‘s team shows up to save Vision and Scarlet Witch. The unexpected appearance of Red Skull. Thor‘s arrival in Wakanda with Groot and Rocket. The Winter Soldier picking up Rocket and spinning him around as they both shoot their machine guns. The look on Thanos’ face when he can’t immediately overwhelm Captain America with one hand. Any two of these would’ve been awesome in a single movie, but we get them all in one movie? It was too much for my geek heart to handle in a single viewing.

I saw this movie in a 600-seat, sold out IMAX theater in New Jersey on opening night and I can confidently say I’ve never heard this much audience cheering, laughing at inside jokes and applause. I missed a lot of dialogue the first time around because the audience was still cheering or laughing so loud at one of these moments. And it’s all because these previous movies did their jobs in creating so many characters we love.

The one-liners. “Dude, you’re embarrassing me in front of the wizards.”, “Why is Gamorra?!”, “By the way, this is a friend of mine. A tree.”, “Did we just lose?”, “I hope they remember you.”, “You should’ve gone for the head.” are all instant classics in my book. And there are a dozen more.

The performances. Fantastic all around. This cast was clearly having a blast working together, and it shows. The presumptive downside to having this many main characters in one movie is that nobody gets to shine, yet somehow here everyone does in at least one scene. However, if I were to choose who gives the best performances in the film, I’d hand those trophies to Josh Brolin & Zoe Saldana. They’re the ones who probably get the juiciest material as actors. If you had to narrow it down, the other “stars” of the movie have to be Thor, Dr. Strange, and of course Tony Stark.

Thanos portal.gif

Thanos. The main attraction. I can’t put into words just how much I needed them to get this character right. I didn’t really read comic books growing up, but for whatever reason I always thought Thanos was the coolest comic villain. He’s supposed to be the toughest opponent any of these heroes have ever faced, and I’ve always loved cool bad guys, so 1+1=2. To get him right would be a massive challenge. All I could do the past couple years was cross my fingers and pray that the movie gods were watching over these screenwriters.

It’s often said the best villains don’t believe they’re evil. They believe fully in what they’re doing because from their point of view, what they’re doing is right and necessary. It’s just a question of whether or not that character was written well enough to make you in the audience believe them. Rarely has there been a better example of that. In the past, I’ve criticized Josh Brolin’s casting as the voice of Thanos, not thinking it was a good fit, but after watching him own the screen for most of this movie, I fully retract that statement. Mea culpa. Thanos is given some great dialogue, great acting moments (especially with Gamorra), and obviously some pretty epic fight sequences.

And it was really cool watching Thanos fight, particularly given the different styles of combat being thrown his way. The fist fight with the Hulk at the beginning of the film was a jawdropping thing to watch (and brilliantly gives Bruce Banner a character crisis the rest of the film). The look on his face when Captain America is able to stop his fist from grabbing him was incredible (right before Thanos just decided to punch him the fuck out). The way he has to adapt repeatedly to fight Dr. Strange was awesome, and he has a pretty epic 1v1 with Iron Man as well before finally subduing Tony Stark, whose nano suit was just unable to keep up with Thanos’ assault. I LOVE how near the end of the film, he’s using combinations of the Infinity Stones to fight our heroes, and each power he uses makes sense in the moment. I thought they also did a fantastic job with the sound effects work on the Stones and Gauntlet. You felt that raw power each time he used them and each time he acquired a new one.

A special shoutout to the visual effects crew on the film. Thanos looks just about perfect in every scene. They especially nailed his facial expressions during critical dramatic moments. At no point was I taken out of the movie because I knew he was created in the computer. The character was carefully crafted off of Josh Brolin’s performance by the wizards at both Digital Domain and Weta Digital in New Zealand.

HERE is a very good article at IndieWire about the Thanos VFX if, like me, you’re into that kind of thing.

As if Thanos weren’t powerful enough, his “children”, or The Black Order, are each worthy adversaries in their own right. Thanos’ propaganda man, Ebony Maw (voiced by Irish actor Tom Vaughn-Lawlor) in particular is an interesting and strong enough character that he could easily have been the villain of his own separate movie.

Ebony Maw brick spikesEbony Maw car split

Alan Silvestri’s score. My only issue with it is that it isn’t something I can listen to out of context. The score works great within the film, but isn’t something I’m going to be listening to on my phone a whole lot. And that’s okay. Pretty much the only person who could’ve written the score I wanted for this movie would’ve been early 80’s John Williams, and unfortunately he isn’t available. That said, there are 4 or 5 tracks I still do listen to frequently, most notably the end titles music (titled “Infinity War” on the album), Thanos’ theme at the end of the film when he’s on that porch (“Porch”, go figure), and “Help Arrives” from Captain America’s first appearance, which of course features Silvestri’s re-worked music from the first Avengers movie. I do wish Thanos had a more pronounced theme (he’s worthy of something on the level of “The Imperial March”), but on the whole I really enjoyed the score, which has frequently been a weak spot in previous MCU films. They got it right when it mattered most.

Real stakes and real consequences. Sorry, Tom Hiddleston fangirls. I don’t think Loki‘s coming back this time. And he really shouldn’t, either. He gets a meaningful, powerful death here, and he should not be one of the characters brought back, particularly given Thanos specifically says “no resurrections this time” after he kills him. Don’t ruin the power of that scene and the impact it has on Thor.

You didn’t know who was going to die during the movie, and after that first scene on the Asgardian ship, it always felt like Thanos could kill anybody during any battle, which was fantastic. You almost never get to experience that anymore, especially not during a superhero movie.

Peter Dinklage playing a giant dwarf is so meta it hurts. The most perfect casting imaginable for that character.

Thanos’ rapture. Once Thanos obtains all six Stones and fatefully snaps the fingers of the Infinity Gauntlet, the movie takes its time showing us the consequences, with extended scenes both on Titan and on Earth. I could never have predicted just how many of the heroes would bite the dust (forgive the pun), so even though I know some of these people can’t stay dead come Avengers 4, it was still cool to be surprised. Going into the movie, I wouldn’t have predicted Thanos would even get all six Stones. I thought if he was gonna get them, his quest to do so would carry over into the next movie. I certainly didn’t think he’d acquire all the Stones AND use them here AND that we’d get to see the resulting devastation.

The ending of the film proves that the entire movie was really Thanos’ story. And it shows how strong a “villain” Thanos really is. Here is a guy broken and exhausted, probably the only being in the universe who could’ve withstood what he did to claim victory, finally at rest after accomplishing his mission. And let’s give the man credit, he worked HARD for this victory. You have to at least respect that. Everywhere the dude showed up, he had to fight multiple opponents who could hold their own against virtually anybody. Those final moments are not unlike what you’d see a hero get at the end of any action movie. I liked that a lot. He takes in what he believes is a well-earned moment of peace because he’s finally accomplished his life’s purpose. And just as he smiles…we cut to credits. It’s beautiful.

The film works on its own merits. Although I can’t imagine a scenario where this would’ve happened, in theory you could go into this movie without having seen any of the previous 18 Marvel Studios flicks and been able to follow the story. That’s a remarkable feat by the filmmakers. If we didn’t know there was another Avengers movie this time next year, Infinity War has its own beginning, middle and end and is a complete story in its own right. That’s critical. And it’s that rarest of mainstream event movies where the “bad guy” wins. I doubt audiences have felt this helpless at the end of a movie since The Empire Strikes Back 38 years ago. Even though we know some of the dead from the end of the movie can’t stay dead (a Spider-Man sequel comes out next summer, the already announced Guardians of the Galaxy 3 wouldn’t work with only one living Guardian and the Black Panther sequel wouldn’t really work without Black Panther, for example), their vanishing at the end of this film still resonates emotionally, because you don’t expect to see major characters in a movie like this die AT ALL. So to see people like Spider-Man and Groot cease to exist still hits home, even if we know it isn’t permanent.

The end credits scene. I like that there was only one, first of all. It was nice to see Sam Jackson‘s Nick Fury again. It’s been awhile since the man who put this all together has mattered in the MCU story, and we haven’t seen him at all since Avengers: Age of Ultron in 2015. Him attempting to say “mothafucka” as he vanished was a great wink to the audience, and his sending some kind of distress signal to Captain Marvel was another wink to a character who will likely feature prominently in the resolution of this story.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE/MIGHT CHANGE

The movie is only 2 hours, 29 minutes long, and 12 of those are the end credits. Not nearly long enough. This movie could’ve been 3 hours long and my craving wouldn’t have been satisfied. The good news is, the Russos have already stated that Avengers 4 will be longer than Infinity War. I was surprised at how many moments from the trailers and TV spots didn’t end up in the final product. They did a great job deceptively marketing this movie, in particular with what Infinity Stones Thanos had in his possession at various points in the movie.

-Not that I have a problem with her CGI, but I don’t see why Proxima Midnight couldn’t have been performed by a real actor on set with cool makeup with CG enhancements added later. That’s just a nitpick though. I suspect we’ll see some pretty cool Proxima Midnight cosplay this Halloween.

After seeing the movie 3 times and thinking about it for more than a month now, I really can’t think of anything else that really bugged me.

LOOKING AHEAD

Will we get any on screen clues as to what will happen in Avengers 4 prior to that film’s release next April? I don’t expect the next MCU movie, this July’s Ant-Man and The Wasp to deal with much of Infinity War‘s consequences. From what I understand, the Ant-Man sequel takes place prior to the events of Infinity War anyway. It would be hard for it not to, wouldn’t it? The treat will come next March when Captain Marvel debuts. That film takes place in the 90’s and will be an origin story, but because we know Brie Larson‘s character is in Avengers 4, the end of the film (and almost certainly one of its post-credits scenes) will have to show us where Captain Marvel is during Thanos’ rapture. In case you weren’t aware, that’s her Nick Fury was paging in Infinity War‘s post-credits scene, which means at that point, Fury is already in contact with her and she’ll be ready to go in her Avengers debut.

captain marvel pager

Avengers: Infinity War – PG-13 – 149 minutes

IMDb rating: 9/10 – This is the first MCU movie I’ve given a 9 to, which all but guarantees it will be one of my Best Picture nominees come next March. That will also be a first for the MCU. Needless to say, it’s my new favorite MCU movie. By a long shot. I haven’t yet decided where it ranks on my list of all-time favorite movies, but I do know it’s going to crack the top 100, which I don’t think has had a new member since Lincoln in 2012.

Biggies consideration: Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Ensemble Performance, Cinematography, Film Editing, Art Direction, Costume Design, Original Score, Stuntwork & Choreography, Visual Effects, Sound, Sound Editing

Recommendation: I hope you saw it in theaters. Multiple times. If you didn’t see it opening night (Thursday 4/26) with a jacked up crowd, you missed the best possible way to experience it. I’ve seen the film in theaters twice, both times in IMAX 2D, which was excellent. I also got the chance to see it a third time at a drive-in, which was really fun. So I’ve spent almost $50 to see it on the big screen. I’d say I’ve done my part.

Note: At the time of this posting, Infinity War has passed $2 billion in global box office, only the fourth film ever to do so. I can imagine few movies this deserving of its audience’s embrace.

Note 2: I doubt they’ve made one, but I really need to see a feature-length documentary on just the logistics of how they made this film. I’m fascinated by how they pulled this together. I wanna know how they arranged the schedules of all these actors to get them in the same place at the same time. I wanna see how they successfully kept everything a secret for so long with literally thousands of people working on the movie. I need moar knowledge!

Between waiting for Avengers 4 (tell us the title, dammit!) and waiting for the final season of Game of Thrones, the next 10-12 months are going to be excruciating.

Thanos watchGet those endorsements, big fella! Strike while the iron’s hot!

 

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