No matter how much you think you may be, I promise you, you are not ready for Avengers: Infinity War. I will now attempt to do almost the impossible: review a film that practically anything written about will spoil some vital component of what is shown. Rest easy, nervous Marvel Cinematic Universe fan. There will be no spoilers in this review.
No doubt about it, this film is an amalgamation of what could be called the most expensive nineteen-part story in the history of cinema. Marvel Studios was not lying when they said that everything they have been building to will be paid off in this movie. In totality, this film will likely have a polarizing effect on audiences worldwide. Without question, Avengers: Infinity War is the most courageous and bold movie in the history of big-budget popcorn cinema. Seriously, Marvel Studios, Kevin Feige and the Russo Brothers have giant, brass balls. You will understand when you see the movie. There hasn’t been a mainstream movie on this scale making audacious decisions like this since Empire Strikes Back. And in the interest of honesty, Empire does not go for the jugular vein the way this one does.
Marvel has not been deceptive in their teases of this film’s plot. Everything revolves around the mad Titan Thanos and his quest for the six infinity stones. It’s either his efforts to get them, or our heroes attempts to stop him. We are dropped in with little introduction and Thanos’ master plan is already well under way, but Joe and Anthony Russo expertly weave what is needed to understand his motivations artfully spaced throughout the movie. By the end of the film, Thanos is about the most fully realized and horrifying villain in the history of cinema. It would be a misstatement to call him benevolent, but this quest has aims that speak to deeper philosophical questions, and his purpose is far from malevolent, self-enriching tyranny. Josh Brolin plays Thanos with the weary confidence the character was created to exhibit by legendary comic writer Jim Starlin all the way back in 1973. For what must have been entirely a motion capture recorded performance, it is breathtaking. Not since The Dark Knight’s The Joker (rendered by the late Heath Ledger) has a villain captured the imagination and appeared convincingly to be such a truly unstoppable force.
There are too many incredible actors in this movie to speak to comprehensively in one review. You know you’re playing with a deep bench when an Academy Award winning actor like Mark Ruffalo is about the twentieth player on this team. Eat your heart out Steve Kerr. Zoe Saldana as Gamora in particular practically steals the movie, and is given some of the richest, most complex story to convey. Gamora’s eyes are tortured through most of this and Saldana makes it an award-worthy performance. Elsewhere, Benedict Cumberbatch confidently displays his acting skill, inhabiting the prickly but wise soul of Stephen Strange. He spars verbally with several characters and renders the spirit of Dr. Strange as an authority in a sea of leaders that can hardly be argued with. Chris Evans has become the hero fans worldwide desperately need in Steve Rogers, and his charisma means he needs to do little more than look buff in the shadows and people cheer wildly. The duo of Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch) and Paul Bettany (Vision) also are exemplary. Both have scenes encapsulating some of the most important plot points in the whole movie. Everyone’s favorite inhabitants of the Wakandan empire (Chadwick Boseman, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke, Letitia Wright) all acquit themselves well here too. Chris Hemsworth takes his wisecracking hunk of a character Thor to places not even hinted at in prior films. More could be listed, but suffice to say, when someone on Robert Downey Jr.’s level of talent is not merely stealing the show, but is only one stellar voice amidst a chorus, this is a piece of art of titanic proportions.
Art—rather than entertainment—might be the operative term here. It has been long since revealed that the creative heads controlling some of Marvel’s other largest properties (Black Panther, Thor, Ant Man, Guardians of the Galaxy) were involved with helping the Russo brothers tonally keep this large ensemble cast accurately framed within a cohesive piece. The efforts show, as whatever contributions Ryan Coogler, Peyton Reed and James Gunn helped with here successfully meld what feels like the stylistic nuances of the dozen preceding films effortlessly. That alone is a brain destroying challenge and somehow the movie is all things to all of its characters: heart yearning and sad, witty and referential, discerning filled with gravitas and laugh out loud funny. But like all great pieces of art, it is not what this film tells you, more so what it will leave you asking yourself. The stakes are high in this story, and in what we loosely call pop culture, nothing except Alan Moore’s original comic book tour de force The Watchmen has so openly forced its viewer to ask questions of themselves. In The Watchmen the ragtag group of quasi heroes each represent an ideology and are put through an unspeakable horror. The brilliance in that story was how it made the reader ponder what happens to an ideology when it is put through a wood chipper. How well does a core of values survive when it has no choice but to go through the grinder? What comes out the other side? Is anything of the purity of the belief left intact?
Avengers: Infinity War aims for the heart of that question, only instead of the characters representing ideologies, each takes on a shade of relatable personality types. There is little to bring this quandary to light without ruining the plot (and as indicated earlier, that will not happen here). One thing does come to mind though. All the way back in 2006, the fearless artsy indie rockers The Flaming Lips released their song “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song (With All Your Power)” from their solid but mostly forgotten album At War With the Mystics. On the surface, the song unabashedly plays with a redundant chorus of high voices singing, “yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.” The lyrics scratch at a hard-to-confront truth though, offering, “If could blow up the world with the flick of a switch / Would you do it?” They continue, “If you could make everybody poor just so you could be rich / Would you do it?” They bring this line of introspective questioning to a close stating, “And so we cannot know ourselves / or what we’d really do.” The chorus refrain might haunt you, “With all your power / what would you do?”
Here in lies the cataclysmic struggle at the heart of Avengers: Infinity War. What is one pure life amidst the value of the masses? How many people are worth sacrificing in order to save everyone? The black heart of this movie is how Thanos (much like Ozymandias from The Watchmen) forces every character to ponder these darkest of choices. Where do you stand? Ask yourself, deep in your soul. Where do you place the value on human life? Is there any compromise? It is a truly uncomfortable question, because this terrible power is one that nearly no one should ever have to confront. How can we know ourselves or what we would really do?
It is a fearless choice of a film studio to ask this question of an audience with this much money on the line. This may go down in history as one of the bravest choices ever for a mass-market movie. Whether it works, will likely, largely depend on each viewer and how they might answer those darkest of questions.
Verdict: 5 out of 5