The past six months of franchise cinema have been quite kind1 to us. BLADE RUNNER 2049 was beautiful and wandering. STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI turned out to be an honestly good film. Heck, even INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY was a fun prequel to an already solid franchise. All of this feels as though it has been leading up to the big-daddy franchise film of 2018: AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. Continuing the trend, this latest Marvel mashup is actually one of the better superhero films we have seen recently.
INFINITY WAR takes up just where THOR: RAGNAROK left off. Thanos (Josh Brolin) has just started his quest to collect the six infinity stones in order to control the universe. So far, he seems to be doing just fine in this quest. He has a gaggle of evil looking henchmen and is already reaping the power of the first stone he has in his clutches. Within the first few minutes we have a clear plot and a clear measure of success. Huzzah!
Due to the nature of the scattered stones and the scattered Marvel Universe we are then whisked away in every possible direction to follow the battles for these stones. The Avengers themselves have been fractured since the last CAPTAIN AMERICA film, so fans are not coming in to the theater expecting a coherent gang from the get-go. As the various characters all join together with other Marvel characters the adventures begin to take shape and the personalities turn on the charm.
Arguably the best part of any of the AVENGERS films is watching the Avengers just hang out. Sure, the fight scenes are amazing and the politics are engaging, but I’d rather watch them all try to pick up Thor’s hammer or dig in to a shwarma feast. Though we do not necessarily get to see this same group of characters reunited here, seeing the various Marvel characters work together and butt heads satiates a similar hunger. Seeing Star-lord (Chris Pratt) try to argue against Iron Man’s (Robert Downey Jr.) plans is pretty tooting funny. Seeing Spider-man (Tom Holland) fearlessly play with the big kids is play is really endearing. INFINITY WAR seems to be aware of these charms and spends plenty of time just letting the characters be themselves.
In less adept hands the film could have felt like a parade of cameos2, rather than a coherent mega-mission of all the universe’s super powers. And though the film is pretty bloated in terms of content and characters, it never quite feels as long as it should with the 150(ish)minute running time. Sticking to the common enemy of Thanos gives the film a comprehensible focus.
Thanos himself really steps up to be a great bad guy. He is focused and threatening. He is physically terrifying and really knows how to assemble an equally intimidating posse. But above all of this, he is not a loose cannon. He is power hungry, but his goals nearly make sense in some way. He does not want to obtain the stones for abject power or ego-feeding, but rather he has altruistic goals in mind. Horribly misguided and cruel goals, but there is a glimmer of love for life in the core of his motivation. We also see Thanos mostly without his helmet and armor, and learn far more about his relationships with his daughters. There is an added humanity (for lack of a better word) in him that makes him a more frightening villain. Being able to see a little of yourself in the antagonist makes the threat feel more threatening.
Though I am not usually too shy about spoilers, I do think INFINITY WAR particularly benefits from audience ignorance, so I’ll leave it here. The film is engaging, entertaining, and dark enough for me to get a kick out of the reveling evil on screen.
1 Yes, I am completely ignoring the travesty that is STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT, and you should too.
2 Cough. SUICIDE SQUAD. Cough.