Robert Downey, Jr.
2 Hrs., 40 Mins.
Avengers: Infinity War April 28, 2018
nthony and Joe Russo’s Avengers: Infinity War (2018) is the aspirational, mid-career double album of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: overlong, overstuffed, yet digestible mostly because a handful of particularly inspired moments remind us of the way things used to be — and the way things could be in the future.
This entertainingly maundering spectacle, which features more characters than Robert Altman’s The Player (1992), more wigs and hair extensions than Stacey Butterworth’s Instagram timeline, and more subplots than a late season of Lost (2004-’10), contains all the things wrong with the Marvel movies and all the things that keep us coming back for more. It suffers from over-ambition, a penchant for the episodic, and an overreliance on bursts of Shakespearean drama meant to ensure things don’t get swept up in the superhero detritus. But it benefits, per usual, from consistent, effective comedy, an easy repartee between the actors, and expertly staged action. Somehow, it feels safe, in spite of an ambiguous ending sure to be divisive.
It’s fun nonetheless, in lieu of its excesses, its momentarily glimmers of tedium, and the ultimate feeling that it’s half of one film. Although it pales in comparison to Marvel’s most recent, successfully remixed forays, Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Black Panther (2018), it is an improvement on 2015’s Age of Ultron and 2016’s Captain America: Civil War (arguably an Avengers movie in itself), which were, in hindsight, unconvincingly trepidacious.
In Infinity War, the mains of the first two Avengers features are joined by the casts of Black Panther and the Guardians of the Galaxy series (2014-present), along with your friendly neighborhood Spider Man (Tom Holland), to engage in a globe-trotting, sometimes-intergalactic battle with Thanos (Josh Brolin), an indigo-skinned tyrant intent on controlling the universe. This will be done by collecting six “infinity stones” that will give him the ability to control reality as we know it.
As urgent as this sounds, though, 70 percent of Infinity War’s packed 160 minutes is spent in the throes of development. Rather than allow all its characters to coalesce, with a succinct game plan eventually tethered à la 2012’s The Avengers, there’s much hopping about from subplot to subplot. Most of the movie-specific ensembles are kept in semi-standalone storylines, usually interrupted by a visitant or two. (The Guardians retinue is joined by Thor; Iron Man, Spider Man, Dr. Strange, and the Hulk band together.)
This is, probably, the smartest way to approach the narrative of an Avengers movie in 2018. In no way is it possible to have 50-plus characters in the same room, at the same time, to tidily make their intentions clear. But because there are so many characters, and because there are so many subplots, the movie feels strangely inconsequential, at least for the first 90-or-so minutes. We’re so busy double-checking on the various states of these myriad groups that the film often lacks a necessary desperation. It isn’t until the last act that Infinity War becomes exactly what it should be: an expectations-defying, ferocious pulp adventure where things are actually capable of going awry.
The Russos fit comfortably in this universe (they impressively shot the film’s sequel immediately after wrapping), but they’re still not sure how to approach the less-is-more ideal. They’re obsessed with giving us more of what they think we love, which is fine until we remember that too much of a good thing can eventually become tiresome. Infinity War is enjoyable albeit stakes-heavy — as it should be — and yet I’m pressed to think of a reason why it had to be almost three hours.
Still, it often goes in directions we don’t think it’ll move toward (the cliffhanger ending could be called unsatisfying if it didn’t mark a detour from the predictable norm), and it thankfully doesn’t overdo the gravitas. It’s funnier than it is existentially uncertain, which is unexpected for a three-hour, fantastical quasi-melee this late in the game. Much as I’d like to say that there isn’t a need for another Marvel movie — we’re at number 19, after all — I’m eager for part two of this particular opera. Fingers crossed I won’t be at the theater for three hours next time, though. B+