Back in 2008, one movie dominated the box-office for months on end. Released in July of that year, The Dark Knight was an absolute phenomenon. The world had not caught the cinematic strain of Bat fever so severely since Batman (1989), nearly two decades prior. Everyone and their grandmother saw the film, not just we comic book enthusiasts. And that was also the case with TDK. The unfortunate outcome of The Dark Knight’s reign, however, was that other genre fare seemed to get lost in the wash. The prime victim of unfortunate timing being Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) which premiered a week before TDK hit theaters. However, at the end of that summer, there was one other comic book flick that people were talking about.
Iron Man (2008) was released on May 2nd of that year to officially kickoff the Summer movie season. (Because ten years ago Summer Movie Season existed. Whereas now studios have started releasing what are traditionally thought of Summer movies year-around.) The film was a genuine risk, notably since Iron Man (up to that point) was a B-stringer in the world of Marvel Comics. Beyond that perception though, was the fact that Marvel Studios independently financed the picture and would then distribute through a deal with Paramount. Adding to this whole gamble, director Jon Favreau (of the upcoming live-action The Lion King) convinced the newly-minted studio to let him cast Robert Downey Jr. in the movie’s titular role. \
These days, with Downey Jr. being the figurehead of a universe and just an all-around star, it’s easy to forget that prior to 2008, life was much different for the actor. Having struggled with drug addiction that occasionally landed him in jail, Downey Jr.’s star had fallen. Not only had he not led a big movie in a while, but the studio was afraid even to insure him. Thankfully though, creativity prevailed; Favreau got his way, and Downey Jr. got the part that would change his career forever. All these risks paid off immensely. Iron Man was a hit; even if it did get overshadowed by the Bat a little later that summer. Moreover, the movie took the character of Tony Stark/Iron Man from B-list to A-grade property almost instantly. At the time, I found Iron Man to be a perfect comic movie and still do today. It just works on every level and had the appropriate amount of humor to boot.
Still, though, I didn’t believe Marvel Studios’ overall plan would work. Marvel Studios head and Producer, Kevin Feige made an announcement prior to Iron Man’s release. Feige said that Marvel Studios wanted to take a new approach to comic book movies. In doing so, the studio planned to create a series of interconnected films. Each movie would be related and affect the others that came after it. These connected pictures would comprise The Marvel Cinematic Universe. Feige added that The MCU would consist of 3-5 movie arcs, referred to as “Phases,” with the first phase to culminate in The Avengers (2012). Now, upon hearing all this, I thought there was no way could pull such an ambitious plan off. Frankly, I didn’t even think The Avengers would make it to the screen and in the weeks prior to The Avengers initially assembling; I still had my doubts. When all my expectations for the super team-up flick were exceeded, I had the utmost faith in The MCU. Since then, Marvel Studios has continued to build their universe; each film they deliver is at the absolute worst, only mediocre. For the most part, though the films of The MCU have been outstanding.
After 10 years, 3 Phases, and 19 movies, we come to Avengers: Infinity War. A movie that has been dubbed, “The turning point in The Marvel Cinematic Universe.” Or more dramatically, “The end of The MCU as we know it.” Now, even for Disney and Marvel Studios’ marketing departments, those are bold statements. Even more so, such declarations build up one’s expectations. I was trying not to buy into the hype and develop any expectations or theories of what might happen in the film. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t help but fail at insulating myself from Infinity War though. Did it live up to the hype? Well, keep reading to find out.
Avengers: Infinity War isn’t explicitly based on one massive comic book crossover. Instead, the film takes its cues, albeit it loosely, from several comic crossover events, namely- Thanos: The Infinity Gauntlet (1991) and The Thanos Imperative (2010-2011). Of course, the film also takes its title, but not much else from The Infinity War (1993). Picking up after the events of another film inspired by a comic crossover, Captain America: Civil War (2016), Avengers: Infinity War finds our heroes split up and (literally) worlds apart.
On Earth, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) are engaged, and Tony’s seriously considering hanging up the suit for good. Fellow heroes Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), and Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) are also in New York. Alas, after the fallout from Civil War, the rest of the earthbound Avengers are scattered about the globe, with Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Vision (Paul Bettany), and Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) all being unaccounted for. Meanwhile, the remaining Avengers: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and The Guardians of the Galaxy are all scattered about the cosmos. However, all these heroes soon find that they have a common enemy in Thanos (Josh Brolin).
Having collected the majority of The Infinity Stones, Thanos needs only the remaining two stones to wield The Infinity Gauntlet. Once he acquires all the rocks and uses them with the gauntlet, Thanos will have ultimate power. As such, he intends to use it to destroy humanity as we know it. Together, all the Marvel heroes, Avengers and otherwise must come together to stop Thanos.
If that plot synopsis sounds like this film has a lot going on, it’s because it does. Not only is Avengers: Infinity War an achievement for The MCU, it’s a significant achievement for the comic book movie genre as a whole. Even if you take Captain America: Civil War into account, a comic book crossover adaptation has never been done on such an ambitious scale. Originally conceived as a two-parter, this film was initially titled, Avengers: Infinity War, Part I. Thus, the next Avengers movie would be Infinity War, Part II. Then at some point in the not too distant past that changed. Obviously ‘Part I’ was dropped from this picture’s title and Avengers 4 currently has no official title.
Despite these changes though, the film in review is clearly half of a whole. Even so, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who also penned the Captain America trilogy have (mostly) succeeded in their task to bring an epic comic book crossover to the screen. One which incorporates the majority of the Marvel characters we as an audience have been watching for the past ten years. Crossovers aren’t easy to do well on the four-colored, paneled pages of comics; much less on the big screen.
Returning to helm, this “turning point” film are directors Anthony and Joe Russo, who’ve made two of the better entries in The MCU, in my opinion. Not only is the directing duo’s style ideally suited for the story they’re telling; the Russos are also bringing together a huge cast. As I mentioned, almost every character in The Marvel Cinematic Universe is present here, and every cast member gives a good performance. However, I do feel that individual characters storylines (and the performances that fuel them) do excel.
Prime examples include the storylines of Vision and Wanda Maximoff/ Scarlet Witch, as well as Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and of course, the big-bad, Thanos. I have to be honest; I had low expectations for Thanos as this film’s villain. Perhaps that’s because they’ve been building him up for six years since his first shoddy CGI appearance in The Avengers. Well, I must say that all my low-expectations for the character were proven wrong! Despite the scrotum chin, Thanos is a formidable foe, who looks great on-screen, having come a long way since 2012. Then again, it helps that Thanos has been given an understandable motivation (though it isn’t one I agree with or fully empathize with). Bringing the character’s being and motivation to life is Josh Brolin. I’ll go so far as to say that Brolin may give the best performance in this massive ensemble picture. Delivering an excellent performance through CGI-motion capture is no small feat, and Brolin’s work here is on par with anything Andy Serkis did in The Lord of the Rings or the new Planet of the Apes trilogy. For me, Thanos is right up there with Black Panther’s Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) in the MCU’s pantheon of villains.
Alas, no one can come out of war unscathed and for me, neither does this film. Yes, this picture is impressive, if only for achieving such an ambitious undertaking. Now thankfully, Infinity War does more than achieving what it set out to do. It also proves to be entertaining, as well as being a nice entry into the universe. Unfortunately, I also found it to be a problematic picture, thanks to a couple of what I found to be significant issues with it. The first of which is the movie’s structure. With a 2 hour and 40-minute runtime, one might expect the picture’s pacing to be testing at times.
To the contrary, the flick moves at quite a clip, thanks to its structure. That being, it’s structured in a much less traditional way than all its predecessors. Infinity War uses a lot of Star Wars-style cross-cutting, which works for that franchise. However, in the case Infinity War, I found it made the film feel much less cinematic and more episodic. As a viewer, you never stay in one place too long, and I just found that to be a bit grating. Plus, certain subplots and characters could be removed from the narrative entirely without impacting it, and you could lose 15-20 minutes worth of runtime, no problem.
Secondly, there is a much larger, more irksome issue with Infinity War. In an Event Picture like this one, some characters will be underserved. While such a fact may be a gripe, for some, it’s to be expected in any movie of such a scale. However, as much as it pains me to say, I don’t think the characters were underserved here so much as we, the audience were. (I’ll do my best, not to spoil anything here; just in case you have yet to see this. Though considering this flick has already crossed a billion dollars at the worldwide box-office, I’d say it’s a safe bet to say you’ve viewed a few times.) For a film that promises to be a game-changer, full of death and emotion, I feel like Infinity War really pulled its punches.
Before The MCU, I knew most of the characters on the page. But for the past decade, I’ve seen them wonderfully represented on screen. Thus, I expected to have a very emotional reaction to whatever events take place in this film. Much to my disappointment though, I had little to no emotional response to the events that befall these characters. In the end, I was filled with dissatisfaction and on some level, apathy. I know what you might be thinking, “Come on, Ben, Infinity War is only the first half of the story, here.” Yeah, that’s true, but since it’s not billed as such, I have to view as a single picture. Albeit, one that does play into a bigger universe. Just because a story is told over the course of two movies does not mean that each film should not be satisfying. For example, when I first watched Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (2003), sure I wanted to see how the story would wrap-up in Kill Bill, Vol. 2 (2004). However, during the interim between the two, I found Vol. 1 to be a wholly satisfying picture. I can’t say the same about this movie, unfortunately.
Don’t get me wrong, Avengers: Infinity War is by no means a bad film. It’s good despite the problems mentioned above I have with it. But see, that’s the thing. For as big as this film is, there’s just something missing from it. That missing factor, in my estimation, is emotion. Sure, the stakes here are enormous, but there’s not enough emotion to back it all up. That’s kind of sad, considering these characters and their universe are established. An emotional reaction should be natural enough to evoke; particularly from a geek like myself. Sadly though, Infinity War is missing that and therefore, beats around the bush in many ways. The last thing, I’ll say is this: Yes, you should certainly see this movie, especially if you’ve followed these flicks. However, don’t be surprised if you walk away feeling frustrated and unsatisfied on some level.
The next entry into The MCU will be ANT-MAN AND THE WASP ON JULY 6TH.
AVENGERS 4, expected MAY 3, 2019.
And of course AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR IS NOW IN THEATERS!