After 10+ years of Marvel building its narrative universe, they are finally releasing their end game of Avengers: Infinity War. Delicately built up over 18 films, it wraps together many of the narrative threads that have been left hanging, while also telling a story of its own. From beginning to end the movie is filled with world-changing events and big reveals, so I won’t be giving away much regarding the plot so as not to spoil the experience for those who haven’t yet seen it. I have no doubt the film will spawn a plethora of detailed think pieces picking the twists and turns apart.
The Russo Bros. have two Marvel films under their collective belt, Captain America: Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War, both of which have a more serious tone than any other entries in the MCU and Avengers: Infinity War is no exception to this style, being by far and away the most somber film in the MCU to date. From the beginning, it is clear that what is at stake is nothing short of the Universe itself and our heroes act accordingly. There are some well-timed quips that lighten the tension as needed, but they often feel like someone whistling past the graveyard and highlight just how bad a situation our heroes have found themselves in. The tone is pitch perfect throughout the film, never straying from the dark place it takes its viewers in the particularly brutal first five minutes.
With so many directors handling the MCU characters over the past few years, often with very different styles, it was a relief to see that each of the characters maintains the continuity of personality that was previously set up for them. It allowed the story to feel as though it was shaped around them and their actions rather than the characters being adapted to make the story work. As the various teams that have formed over the years are fragmented and joined with other heroes, we get to see characters play off each other that haven’t before. For some, this may make the screen and story feel crowded due to the massive star power at work, but for me, it felt more like a well-orchestrated reunion that brings together all our old friends (and a few enemies). It helps that most of the characters contribute to moving the story along with a minimum of fan service.
The biggest surprise is just how far Avengers: Infinity War goes with developing Thanos as his own character, making him the focus of the films small, self-contained story. After being a paper-thin shadowy background character for so long, it was gratifying to finally be given the details of his history and motivations especially since it has a surprising nuance that out of all of the MCU’s villains, only Black Panthers Killmonger has been allowed to have. In this Thanos feels like a well-rounded person instead of a caricature, which was wholly unexpected and desperately needed to support the tone of the film and provide gravitas for the complex story being laid out.
Avengers: Infinity War is the first of a two-part series, and they did their best to balance the plot between gathering in the different storylines and trying to tell something new. They generally succeeded by making the film resemble the penultimate edition of a long-running comic story. For years Marvel and DC have run stories that cross over many characters titles, then often creating a final series, only a few issues long, that brings it all together. This is the first attempt to do so with a film series and its success for each person will depend on their familiarity with all the previous entries, the more you know about them the more likely you are to enjoy the movie, with the inverse being true as well. This is definitely not the movie to suggest watching to get your friends into Marvel films.
For those who have been waiting for this culmination of Marvel’s efforts for the past decade, Avengers: Infinity War will be a strong experience, good or bad. It pulls none of its punches and isn’t afraid to make bold choices, but as all comic book fans know, even the most terrible events are reversible. While this may be a comfort to those coming out of the theater, it also calls into question if the film and its sequel will stand the test of time. Comics have managed to survive by constantly reimagining themselves and making their storylines evermore climactic before returning things to the status quo within a few issues. Whether or not such dramatic twists of fate will work in the film world will be revealed next year when the second film in the Avengers: Infinity War series will be released.