“The end is near.”
RATING: ★★★ (out of four stars)
In 2008, Nick Fury announced to the world “…you’ve become part of a much bigger universe, you just don’t know it yet.” Ten years later, we know just how true that is. Avengers: Infinity War is the endgame for everything we’ve come to know and love about the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the course of 18 (count ‘em) films. Sure enough, it delivers the goods in spectacular fashion thanks in large part to MVP Josh Brolin, as the Mad Titan Thanos, who brings a surprising element of calm focus to this otherwise gargantuan, universe-spanning, reality-shifting affair.
Opening where Thor: Ragnorok left us, Infinity War begins with Thanos’ destruction of the Asgardian refugee vessel with Thor, Loki, Heimdall and even Hulk on their knees; all powerless against the might of Thanos and his minions. Unlike previous villains, Thanos is not here to showboat. He is not here to prove himself worthy by defeating his enemies or rule over the conquered; He is here to bring balance to the universe by dealing death. Life, when unchecked, leads to suffering and overconsumption of resources. Thanos is the only one with the will to reset the scales by cutting civilizations in half at random. Uniting all six Infinity Stones will give him the power to reset the entire universe with the snap of his fingers.
This singular focus is what propels a two and a half hour long movie like a freight train heading for the end of the line. Without missing a beat, the Russo’s deftly blend each unique element of the MCU in such a smooth manner that is positively astounding how well it works in spite of itself. Layering in the humor of the Guardians with Chris Hemsworth’s now self-referential take on Thor; merging quippy one-liners from Tony Stark with Doctor Strange’s deadpan delivery of hope in the form of a 1-in-14 million chance of survival. From cosmic metallurgy to jungle warfare, we jump from location to location and one colorful character to another almost seamlessly. This movie knows full well the weight it bears and it’s signature MCU humor serves simply to help us carry on throughout because honestly, none of us could probably take a self-serious version of this particular tale. One standout scene between the God of Thunder and a Guardian of the Galaxy (I won’t name who) reminds us our favorite characters have lost so much along the way that perhaps we shouldn’t linger on the loss too long but use it to carry on the fight.
The biggest complaint most have regarding Marvel movies is the villain. Villains should reflect the hero’s flaws, point out their failings and contradictions. In this case, Thanos is not so much a villain, but a man on a suicide mission that the entire MCU must stop at all costs or face annihilation. It is this fundamental difference that makes Thanos more compelling than the vast majority of enemies faced so far. Brolin commands every moment on screen with silent assurance knowing that his actions speak far louder than any monologue or one-liner (And boy do they). For Infinity War to work in the slightest, Thanos has to work as a character separate from the Avengers and by Odin’s beard, mission accomplished.
Avengers: Infinity War is not just the culmination of Kevin Feige’s master plan to dominate the box office and fan-boy and fan-girl minds for years to come. Infinity War is the ultimate synthesis of a Marvel movie with their signature pop culture humor, mind-numbing action on an epic scale, with a slightly episodic structure overall that connects all the worlds they’ve been building. This is not the greatest superhero movie ever made; perhaps a tighter focus story-wise, singularly on Thanos, or even more inventiveness in the visual approach overall, would have propelled this film to such heights. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty damn good movie and it’s an absolute blast in the theater.
PS: Stay for a scene after the credits.