Watching the Sunrise on a Grateful Universe: The Triumph of Avengers: Infinity War
I’ve been watching superhero movies for as long as I can remember. Some of my first film memories involve watching Christopher Reeve’s Superman perform amazing feats, and I still remember the day my Dad brought home a certain VHS, adorned with that all-too familiar Bat-symbol that shown on Michael Keaton’s big rubber suit. I remember watching in a dark theater as Blade slashed through hundreds of vampires and the X-Men fought off Magneto from the top of the Statue of Liberty. Perhaps most importantly, I remember the feeling of being overjoyed as the post-credits finished on the original Iron Man, which blew away my expectations with its energy and fun, and sent Robert Downey, Jr’s career into the stratosphere.
As good as that film was at the time though, none of us had any idea just quite how ambitious Marvel Studios was planning on being. Most movie goers had no concept of what a “comic book-style shared universe” was, but here was Marvel going full-speed ahead with the concept where other studios (most notably rival Warner Bros/DC) just couldn’t seem to wrap their heads around the concept. By laying the groundwork with the studio’s early films, Marvel was able to take a victory lap with 2012’s The Avengers, which was so successful it had every other studio in town playing catch-up, but thankfully Marvel decided against just resting on its laurels. Instead, the studio insisted on pushing its boundaries further than I could have ever imagined. With their 19th film, Avengers: Infinity War, the goal posts have been moved so far that it may be impossible for any studio outside of the Disney umbrella to even sniff this type of success.
Even with all the comic book movies that have come before it, including the preceding 18 Marvel Studio pictures, nothing could prepare me for the size and scope of this entry. Avengers: Infinity War feels like the first picture in a long time that has the epic nature of something like Peter Jackson’s original Lord of the Rings Trilogy, overwhelming your senses and expectations by taking place over multiple planets and bringing together the characters of nearly all of Marvel’s franchises in one gigantic crossover. Spread out across the universe in little ragtag groups (I especially love the team of Thor, Rocket and Groot) our heroes have to race against the clock as Josh Brolin’s Thanos, the biggest bad of big bads, threatens to wipe out half of the beings in all of existence.
Not the least of the picture’s giant feats is bringing Thanos to the screen and making him an equally convincing and invincible foe for our heroes. With embarrassing examples of this type of world-conquering antagonist still fresh on our minds, such as Justice League’s Steppenwolf or the title villain from X-Men: Apocalypse, Brolin’s almost completely natural performance, despite being a motion-captured 8-foot tall purple behemoth, is a bit of a wonder. While the digital effects wizards who worked on this film do an impeccable job, Brolin gets a hefty amount of the credit by bringing The Mad Titan to life with a layered, emotionally vulnerable and sometimes conflicted turn. The actor simply relishes his time with this character, easily putting him in the upper echelon of Marvel heavies. Also, Thanos simply looks awesome facing down our huge army of heroes, with his titanic frame standing in eye-popping contrast against the likes of Spider-Man and Captain America.
It helps that directors Anthony and Joseph Russo as well as screenwriters Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus have crafted a colossal sandbox of a film, giving Thanos time to develop as a character, but also giving our heroic lineup plenty of time for big moments, none of their presences here ever feeling wasted. I absolutely love Infinity War's mingling up of teams and alliances, with Chris Evans’ Captain America leading an Avengers squad hooking up with the residents of Wakanda, Half of The Guardians of the Galaxy hanging with Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Dr. Strange, while the aforementioned Thor, Rocket, and Groot are off on their own adventure. This leads to boatloads of comedy, as the whole cast is pretty game to mix it up with the stars from usually separate franchises.
This also leads to some of the best action scenes the genre has ever produced. I’m going to invoke Lord of the Rings again, because I feel like it’s the only series with battles that can compare size-wise to what Infinity War is doing. The film’s Wakanda set-piece is just a sight to behold, with thousands of Thanos’ minions, led by the super-cool Black Order (Side note: I could go on and on about how much I love the Kirby-esque Ebony Maw, played by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor and Carrie Coon's Proxima Midnight), fighting the combined Avengers/Wakanda contingent in bone breaking, head smashing hand to hand combat. This sequence features giant force-fields, spaceships, magical weapons, and brutal fist-to-fist action that has to be seen to be believed. It has two of my favorite moments in all of the Marvel run so far (neither of which I’m going to spoil).
Now does this all lead to a giant cliffhanger? It does. Is the film brutal to a lot of your favorite characters? It most certainly is. I would implore you though, to not let these factors scare you off. The ending here is a gut punch, but makes you want to see what Marvel and the Russos have in store for you even more!
While I would never claim to be objective in any way when it comes to this film (I’m a fan, to some degree, of pretty much all of Marvel Studios’ movies so far), I just can’t emphasize enough what an achievement Avengers: Infinity War is. The fact that this many characters are on screen together, and that the film works at all would be a pretty sizable accomplishment in and of itself, but Infinity War ends up being a thrilling story interwoven story, much like the best crossover comics it’s trying to emulate. Add to this gigantic pulse pounding thrills, gorgeous “70s Rock Album”-like visuals, Alan Silvestri's stirring score, and the movie's non-stop quotient for pure entertainment, and what you end up with is a complete triumph. Bring on the next one.