How does one review a film like “Avengers: Infinity War?” To list the cast would take half the article. Describing the plot in any kind of detail would be viewed as a colossal spoiler. It’s not trying to sell itself to newcomers because by now, the entire world likes superheroes. A movie this big, with this many characters, attempting to make good on ten years worth of promises, simply cannot be reviewed as though it is any other. It is wholly unique both in terms of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well as filmmaking at large.
Here’s the basic plot: Thanos (played via motion capture by Josh Brolin of “Hail Caesar!” in a make-or-break performance for the movie) has finally decided to get off his ass and collect the six infinity stones, mystical artifacts that, when collected together, allow one to control all of reality, time and space. The Avengers — led by Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., “The Judge”), Thor (Chris Hemsworth, “12 Strong”) and Captain America (Chris Evans, “Gifted”) — must unite with old friends and new in order to save not just planet Earth, but the entire universe. There are anywhere from a dozen to twenty-some major characters in this movie, depending on who’s counting.
The storyline is broken up into five or six different narrative threads, following various groupings of the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy and others as they work to either help or hinder Thanos in his plans. This leads to a large portion of the movie feeling very segmented as we bounce around the universe, often leaving people alone for 40 to 50 minutes before returning to them. It’s easy at times to forget Iron Man or Captain America are even in the movie, not to mention the scores of secondary and minor heroes and villains who crop up to fight, die and fight again. The sheer scope is impressive, although it’s truly impossible to say how the film will land with any given group of people.
Conservatively, it’s safe to say true enjoyment of this movie is almost entirely dependent on how invested one already is in the Marvel universe and these characters on a personal level. Outside of Thanos himself (who is arguably the true lead character of the movie), no one character gets much of an arc or any kind of typical character development. “Infinity War” doesn’t even try to give all of these characters a story, counting on the previous 18 films to do the heavy lifting. The people who made this movie clearly believe the amount of buildup will allay some of the narrative shortcomings of the actual movie.
Part of the problem, then, is that the buildup to this film has, for the most part, been incredibly poor. Despite appearing as early as the original “Avengers” movie in 2012, Thanos himself has never received an ounce of characterization prior to now. In fact, the first act of this movie largely revolves around the heroes discovering his identity and his motives. For a villian who has been the subject of years of buildup, they should already know.
The opening sequence of this film also feels strangely out of step with last year’s “Thor: Ragnarok,” taking place seemingly seconds after that movie ended, but totally upending and destroying the entire purpose of that film in the process. This kind of poor planning is the main thing holding “Infinity War” back. It feels like an Act Two without a true Act One.
The MCU has for a decade coasted by on minimal stakes, maximum jokes. Now here comes an ending and the filmmakers have decided to get back to telling an actual story. However, the elements necessary to make the story work are missing, including under-developed relationships that cause the two biggest emotional beats of the film to fall flat. When a major storyline depends on how much we care about C-listers like The Vision and Scarlet Witch, the audience starts to lose interest. Keeping every other film in the MCU exactly the same, this story would’ve worked better spread across three films, not two.
Despite being marketed as the end to a decade-long saga, “Infinity War” is only half a story. Like so many Marvel movies before, until we find out if the payoff is worth it, it’s hard to truly judge the film on its own. For the most adamant “Avengers” fans, “Infinity War” might just be enough. For everyone else, they’ve still got another year before they find out whether or not they’ve wasted ten years. Regardless of the eventual outcome, it’s clear Marvel really tried with “Avengers: Infinity War.” They wanted to make an epic that will stand the test of time. Next May, the world will finally know if they succeeded. It’s doubtless that many are already thinking about getting their tickets — all according to Marvel’s plan.