I have to admit, I wasn’t chomping at the bit or looking at my watch waiting for this one. On Thursday, my son Clayton asked me to rate my excitement going on a scale of (a) Episode 7 (out of my mind excited, checking the clock), (b) Episode 8 (eager as can be…before I knew it stunk), (c) Rogue One (solid excitement for an event movie), or (d) Solo (not excited at all).
I chose option (c) in the Clayton/Star Wars Excitement Meter because though I was very impressed with the epic scale and sense of achievement as I wrote about last week, I was still viewing it as just another solid tentpole offering. Avengers movies to date have been fun…but something of a mixed bag. This one had all that complexity, and then added about 50 more characters. There was a chance to overcook things.
Plus…it is not DC…
So I went into Avengers: Infinity War eager to enjoy it… but not really expecting to be blown away.
What its about:
If you have been living under a rock, you might not know that Avengers: Infinity War is the culmination of ten years of movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Starting with a fun post-credit scene in Iron Man in 2008, Marvel began teasing the idea of a connected cinematic universe. Soon there was an Avengers team up movie (2012) where we first saw Thanos; the connectivity started to build into an overarching plotline.
In the comics, Thanos is a mad Space God whose answer to overpopulation, scarcity, and global warming is quite simple: kill 50% of the population of every planet he invades. Al Gore considered that strategy in his book Earth In the Balance, but ultimately came out on the side of reducing our carbon footprint instead.
In cameos and post-credit scenes throughout several Marvel films, Thanos has been orchestrating a search for the Infinity Stones; elemental sources of power scattered across the universe. These stones have often been the maguffin in previous Marvel films such as Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor: The Dark World, and Guardians of the Galaxy. When placed together in a giant glove called The Infinity Gauntlet (the title of a classic Marvel comic series on which Infinity War is loosely based), the bearer gains godlike power.
Which brings us to this moment! Thanos has gathered a couple of stones and has learned where the remaining ones are; two of which are on Earth. Now he’s out to get them with the help of a really cool group of b-list villain cronies named the Black Order.
From there, it is pretty much a couple of hours of peril, battle, and witty dialogue. Characters from all the previous 18 MCU films (including the previously arms length franchise, Guardians of the Galaxy) appear and fight the forces of Thanos on space ships, across alien worlds, on the streets of New York City, and in Black Panther’s home country of Wakanda.
What I liked:
Holy crap, I liked it all. Even with a run time of 2:49, the movie never seemed to drag on at any one minute. It was fun and compelling the whole time and was much more worthy of “Episode 7” level excitement than my “Rogue One” intrigue.
My pal Jenny kinda gave me the ol’ “neener, neener, I told you so” business because I wasn’t super excited like she was. But honestly, Jenny has the same level of excitement about the latest release of a Pop Funko figure, so that’s a stopped clock being right twice a day…
Here’s a few quick hits on why Jenny happened to be right this ONE time…
- The film had a sense of majesty. This film is the cinematic equivalent of those once in a generation comic book crossovers that change everything and where nothing is safe. The Russo Brothers (Civil War) crafted an amazing existential threat and had the heroes deal with it in a fairly realistic manner. If you need to point someone to an example of “epic” filmmaking, this is pretty much now your standard.
- Thanos was the best MCU villain to date. Marvel has had a “villain problem” in their franchises. Other than Loki, who fortunately battled the Avengers in their first team film, the bad guys have long been interchangeable. Every now and then a decent one like Hela or Ego come along, but for the most part it feels like they could have switched them around and no one would have cared. For a film as big as Infinity Gauntlet, that would have been a glaring weakness, so Marvel had to build the end game around Thanos and he needed to be menacing! Fortunately, Josh Brolin (No Country For Old Men) absolutely NAILED it. In the trailers, I had my doubts about whether it would work, but man did it play well on the big screen! I bought into his drive, his madness, and even his twisted motivation made sense in a weird sort of way. Best MCU villain ever!
- The Black Order could have carried a movie themselves. What? After having the villain problem in so many other films, Infinity War served up more than ONE solid villain? I thought the Black Order was good enough, that with a little more time and development (their story gets a little air time but then we just jump into the fighting), they could have been the headline villains of a Dr Strange or Guardians of the Galaxy feature film. Ebony Maw is particularly good as the group’s telekinetic front man and the rest of the group were formidable threats to fight while Thanos was occupied.
- Wakanda is a GREAT setting for huge battles! After the huge success of Black Panther, we didn’t have to wait long to return to this gorgeous African country! Because the main battle takes place there, we also get to see some of our favorite supporting characters from that franchise in more prominent roles. It was fun to see Okoye and M’Baku fighting alongside Captain America and Black Widow!
- The Battles themselves were UNREAL. I’m usually a story over “fireworks” film snob, but when the fireworks are this good and this well employed to tell a sweeping story, I guess I can enjoy being dazzled with CGI. The Russo Brothers squeezed every penny out of the rumored $400m budget, and while no MCU film has ever won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, that streak clearly ends this year.
What I didn’t like:
Very few things I didn’t like. This movie was really amazing, so consider these slight nitpicks only.
- Dr Strange continues to disappoint. My Anti-Jenny streak continues, as she is president of the Benedict Cumberbatch fan club, but his take on Dr Strange is just not that good. When Gabbing Geek rewatched Dr Strange leading up to the release of Infinity War, I decided I didn’t really love the cinematic version of the character. When we rewatched Thor: Ragnarok, his cameo again reinforced my view. This time, especially seeing him interact with Robert Downey, Jr. , just solidified my view that Cumberbatch is trying to do a poor man’s Tony Stark… and it was REALLY jarring when he was giving the snark to the real Stark.
- No Ant-Man. He’s gearing up for his new movie, Ant-Man and the Wasp and Paul Rudd is too busy walking around Vegas holding up my passport photo…
- Peter Dinklage was underutilized. There was a lot of mystery around what role the brilliant Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) would play in the film and I was a bit underwhelmed when we got to his scenes. Though it played an important role in advancing the film, his scenes were the few minutes I think we could have cut or re-purposed elsewhere.
- Individual character development takes a back seat. I think you have to be ok with it going in, but as I said above: this is an epic fight movie. There isn’t enough time to really focus on the development or storyline of any one character (except maybe RDJ…but that is well deserved). The film balances the lack of time to dedicate to any one character by not trying to be too witty or expository. They assume you know who everyone is by now, and just jump right into it. That’s why this “problem” isn’t much of a problem…
Wow! What an amazing movie! I honestly can’t believe it is this good. I will need to see it again to figure out where it lands among the all-time MCU films, but it is definitely the best Avengers movie ever (including Civil War). Though it is unlikely to bump Captain America: Winter Solider from atop the list, it is also a lock for my top five MCU films evah!
A near perfect tentpole film!
Overall, I give AVENGER: INFINITY WAR 10 Infinity Stones out of 6.