At moments, Avengers: Infinity War is an ugly film. From the putrid coloring of Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) skin and burnt oranges and reds casting deadly shadows on far away planets to the dimmed landscape of Wakanda, less vibrant under the Russo Brothers touch than Ryan Coogler’s, this is a movie uninterested in a glossy shine. Brawls happen in lowly avenues, rubble from New York City is kicked back into our heroes faces and dirt and grime tend to be common on typically bright costumes. Intent on stripping away some of the magic that has preceded prior offerings, Infinity War is first able to establish itself as a darker and uncompromising entry into the MCU by doubling down on tone. This means colors deepen, visual tricks are utilized to make a PG-13 film possess shockingly cruel moments and the writing emboldens its characters and world through an ending that is shocking in its execution and following reaction. Packed to the brim with familiar Marvel flaws but so earnest in it’s tonal dissonance, Avengers: Infinity War is a remarkable, sometimes frustrating, and endlessly entertaining behemoth of an undertaking, and it’s one that will require an immediate revisit.
Some time has passed since Captain America: Civil War; Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans) still aren’t talking. However, following the decimation of Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) home and people by the hands of mad titan Thanos, the entire universe of established superheroes must find their shared goal of taking this calculated, self-professed prophet of doom down before he decides to wipe out half of humanity. This means egos butt heads in the form of Iron Man and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, who is better in a group setting). The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) returns to Earth, and Thor becomes better acquainted with Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and the rest of the Guardians.
With the amount of characters they have on board, it would be impossible to service them all. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and even Steve Rogers are given less than an ideal amount to play with onscreen. Brolin as Thanos arguably is given the most to work with as a self-appointed god who sees his cruelty and acts of genocide as twisted demonstrations of mercy. As always, Downey shines as Iron Man, imbuing the character with just the right level of internalized terror and vulnerability to make his egotism easier to stomach. He and Tom Holland as Spider-Man share a fantastic chemistry. Hemsworth, coming off of his psychedelic trip in Thor: Ragnarok, is able to keep some of his humor while lacing his quips with a well-earned anger that makes the strongest Avenger an even more formidable foe. However, it’s Pratt and Saldana that make meals of their scenes, the former as funny and emotive as he’s ever been, while Saldana, with Thanos being Gamora’s adoptive father, is able to develop a richness within the character that was previously underdeveloped.
The script is simple, nearly to a fault, as so much of the stakes are built around whether or not Thanos will be able to find stones scattered about the universe. Yet writers Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus make sure that every scene feels pointed and poignant, wasting little time in establishing the tone of the film and refusing to speed through moments of significance. With twists and turns that out-pace even the most avid Redditer, McFeely and Markus have written an intelligent, funny and moving script that is the backbone to the film’s success.
The Russo Brothers have learned from some of their prior mistakes, even if a battle sequence in Wakanda lacks the infectious vibrancy of Black Panther or the kinetic and clumsy energy of Spider-Man: Homecoming. That being said, beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, in places both old and new, we get to witness some of the most beautiful and awe inspiring images the directors (and the entire MCU) have delivered to date.
Despite all that, Infinity War is an undeniable mess with far too many characters, and the MacGuffin end goal is by and large a tired Marvel tactic, only with mightier stakes. However, that doesn’t get in the way of what truly makes this film tick. Marvel could have simply satisfied itself on the surplus of fan adoration and played to expectations of bombastic, hero moments and character interactions that were funny, if slight, with no stakes as to not rumple the easily rumpled crowd. Instead, it dared to play with our emotions, settled into a mood of prolonged melancholy that was often strange, unnerving and tense, managing to capture the essence of the best bits of the Marvel films that have come before, amplifying the persistent and unwavering sense of dread.
And all the while, it did this with a laser focus on the heart of the series – the characters themselves. From Tony’s continued belief in his need to protect the world and the growing sense of responsibility he holds for Peter, to the familial dynamics set between the Guardians, to the indelible moment of pride and steadfast loyalty that is elicited by the mere silhouette of Captain America, Infinity War makes sure to reestablish the bonds we the viewers have with the characters along with those held between the characters themselves.
The heartache and devastation that this film will ignite in viewers is no small flame. The film may not be everything we’d ever hoped for, but it more than delivers on its steely eyed resolve in shaking the status quo. To be a hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is to ask the aggressively impossible question of just what that word means; how does it define self-worth, what is worth an unparalleled sacrifice or unforgiving loss for those who don their capes, cowls and shields in the name of something ultimately larger than themselves? Infinity War leaves its characters breathless, bruised, bloodied and broken as they take into account what actions they’re willing to take to once again, defeat all of the odds and hopefully, at any rate, save the day.