Avengers: Infinity War | The Esquire Review
Ten years ago, Marvel premiered what would become one of the biggest, most ambitious, and lucrative movie franchises of all time—a cinematic universe that has spanned 18 movies and billions of dollars.
That first movie was Iron Man, a lively and colourful film that marked the rise of a B-list Marvel character and the return to the top of Hollywood for Robert Downey Jr. Iron Man established the franchise as the diametric opposite to DC's Batman films, which then had seen tremendous success with dark, lofty themes.
While the majority of this decade's catalogue of Marvel films have been little more than family-friendly popcorn films, in recent years Marvel has finally hit its stride, particularly with Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, and, especially, Black Panther.
Marking this 10 year anniversary is Avengers: Infinity War, which almost makes it feel as if this progress in 2017 and 2018 never happened, with a return to a title that has been, understandably, difficult to get right. And, as such, this movie is extremely 2012—a time when Marvel films were overstuffed and interchangeable, lacking of any real identity or substance.
There are a few improvements, thankfully, and co-directors Anthony and Joe Russo do an admirable job balancing about a million moving parts—certainly no easy task.
In the last proper Avengers film, Avengers: Age of Ultron, the post-credit scene showed Thanos equip his gauntlet and vow to retrieve the Infinity Stones. Those stones, colorful little McGuffins, were described in Age of Ultron as the most powerful force in the universe.
There are six of them, one of which is stuck in the brow of Vision, an android who becomes a member of the Avengers at the end of the film. Since then, a number of important events have taken place in the subsequent Marvel films.
Most importantly, Captain America: Civil War marked a splintering of the Avengers between team Captain America and team Iron Man. Other important notes include Doctor Strange, who ends up in control of the time Infinity Stone in his own titular origin film.
Are you exhausted yet? Because Infinity War is just getting going.
Infinity War picks up immediately after Thor: Ragnarok, in which the God of Thunder and Co. were stranded in space after the destruction of Asgard. Unfortunately, between the events of Ragnarok and Infinity War, their ship was attacked by Thanos.
For whatever reason (perhaps there wasn't time—the movie already clocks in at 150 minutes), we don't actually see the battle where Thor's crew is defeated. And this is bizarre because it's a pivotal scene that ends with both Idris Elba's Heimdall and Tom Hiddleston's Loki being killed (along with, presumably, everyone else on the ship at the end of Ragnarok, including sweet, lovable Korg and Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie).
Heimdall and Loki's death's come so swiftly and unceremoniously that it's almost insulting. But it sets the tone for what's pretty much a bloodbath of a film, where death doesn't seem to really hold much weight. What I mean is: We've seen Loki die, we've seen Groot die, we've seen Wong die, we've seen Doctor Strange die, we've seen Hulk sacrifice himself. No one really ever dies in Marvel films. There's always some jargon-y reason for their resurrection. So should we truly care when these characters are gone?
The movie entails a few distinct groups trying to protect specific stones: Doctor Strange is with Iron Man and Spider-Man, Thor gets picked up by the Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America is keeping an eye on Vision and Wanda.
In short, they all fucking fail, and it turns into a battle outside of Wakanda to protect the stone in Vision's forehead. Wakanda itself, and Chadwick Boseman's Black Panther, get tragically little screentime.
In fact, all those fantastic, dynamic characters are once again demoted to moving figures in the background; it's almost as if Black Panther never happened. We find time to revisit Hulk and Black Widow's awkward sexual tension, but none of the important parts of Wakanda.
For the most part, Thanos leaves his quest to a trio of basic-ass bad creatures, one of which is played by Carrie Coon, whose talents were wasted in the film beneath a ton of CGI and a character whose name I can't remember. It's over two hours of well-timed jokes that Marvel has become genius at pulling off, plus various on-location fight scenes.
What's impressive, as I said, is the Russo Brothers' ability to balance a dozen separate plots that connect to 18 different movies. But what's disappointing is that even in two and a half hours, the movie never delves into any sort of real substance.
At the very least its villain, Thanos, has a slight amount of emotion in his relationship with his adopted daughter Gamora (one of the Guardians, played by Zoe Saldana). That's the closest this movie gets to anything beyond action and occasional chuckles. But even then, it truly feels like there are no real consequences.
This is even more obvious after the film's final scene, which concludes with Thanos's rise to power and the disappearance of about half of the Avengers (along with half of everyone else in the universe, like some Marvel-branded rapture). It's honestly hard to care about this cliffhanger, where it's blatantly obvious that some of these characters—if not all of them—will be returning for the next movie.
There are infinite ways in which everyone can be brought back in one way or another—certainly, things worked out in the comics. And I understand that's how things work in comic books, but it's unlikely that this will cause any sort of "Is Jon Snow Dead?" conversation until Avengers 4 in 2019.
As a cliffhanger, it feels toothless.
Although that's entirely on-brand for the Avengers series within the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It's about thrills. It's about CGI. It's about fun. Look for progress and storytelling in the stand-alone films, where Marvel has been bold enough to take risks and experiment with more tasteful directors.
If Avengers: Infinity War is an apocalypse, at least it marks the death of an era. That is a promise of good things to come.