Film Review: Avengers: Infinity War

Enjoyable but empty, 'Avengers: Infinity War' embodies the humdrum side of the MCU.
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A few months back, the Marvel Cinematic Universe hit a high point with Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther. The film took the high-gloss comic-book action and top-notch character work that the MCU has perfected throughout their 19-film-and-counting run and added to it a thematic depth and intelligence for the most part missing from the franchise at large. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with the banter and popcorn spectacle that the MCU generally provides; there’s a reason would-be “shared universes” have popped up at rival studios like daisies since the MCU hit their stride, and a reason that none of these studios have managed to match Marvel’s polish and consistency of output.

But…well. Black Panther gave Avengers: Infinity War big shoes to fill. It doesn’t even come close to filling them. After showing us the heights of what the MCU could be, Marvel dialed it back for a middling effort that indulges in some of the franchise’s best and worst tendencies.

Let’s start with the best. Infinity War takes dozens of characters from its previous films and throws them together into one outsized adventure involving the superbad Thanos (Josh Brolin) and his quest to acquire six Infinity Stones (he starts the movie with one) that will allow him to control the universe. The quest to stop him takes superheroes who have heretofore been confined mostly to the terrestrial plane and throws them into outer space, and vice versa. The result is a fun assortment of interactions between characters audiences have grown attached to over the course of their solo films. We get egomaniacs Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) squaring off against each other, and musclebound alien Drax (Dave Bautista) fangirling over musclebound alien Thor (Chris Hemsworth). The Marvel Cinematic Universe has always been good at crafting these small moments that provide entertainment value while also giving audiences insight into the characters. That’s turned up to 11 here.

If that’s a positive, it’s also obliquely a negative, because it means Avengers: Infinity War relies on the fondness we already feel for these characters instead of giving most of them any meaningful evolution. That is certainly true of Captain America (Chris Evans), who gets virtually nothing to do. Ditto the relationships between Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany)—promoted from flirtation in Civil War to a full-on romance—and Thanos and his estranged daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana) from the Guardians of the Galaxy films. At various points, these relationships are supposed to provide Infinity War with a good amount of its emotional heft. But the efforts of screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely fall short, because without being able to see­—as opposed to being told—how these relationships have come to be, the emotional stakes just don’t land

That’ s true for Infinity War as a whole. It’s a fun enough film, but—like Avengers: Age of Ultron and, to a lesser extent, Captain America: Civil War—overstuffed and empty when you think about it for more than three seconds. At 149 minutes, Infinity War is simultaneously too bloated and not long enough to effectively tell the story it only sketches out. Shoddy pacing doesn’t help matters. We jump back and forth between two or three plotlines, spending so much time with, say, Thor and a pointless aside involving a space blacksmith that by the time we’ve gotten back to Captain America & Co. on Earth it takes a few seconds of racking one’s brain to remember where we left them. Everything comes to a head in the third act, which—no spoilers—functions less as an earned dramatic denouement than a cheap cop-out, little more than a prelude to the film’s sequel, out next May.

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