As is often the case with my long-form movie reviews, I’m posting this months after the fact. Why? Well, some laziness. But also a desire to not get caught up in the hype and excitement. And perhaps no movie in 2018 came with as much hype and excitement as Infinity War, the blockbuster to end all blockbusters. So this review is less about “should I see it or not?” and more a collection of thoughts provoked by the film.
So after watching it again on DVD, I’m ready to write about it. Spoiler warning applies.
Just as a movie, Infinity War is very good, an easy 8 in my rating system, maybe a 9. It is epic in scope, has strong characters and dialogue and is packed with outstanding action set pieces. The directing is excellent, focusing on the characters but not losing track of the action. Silvestri’s score is powerful. While one might easily make complaints about the plot, few would argue that that the movie isn’t at least well-made.
Watching it a second time, what strikes me most is the pacing. Infinity War is long, bloated and stuffed with characters, dialogue and action. Watching it should feel like eating a big Italian meal. But the movie flies, moving swiftly through its dizzying array of settings and scenarios until it reaches the awful climax on the fields oF Wakanda.
But reviewing Infinity War as if it were just an ordinary film is a fool’s errand. It’s not just a film. It is a two-part series finale to a 20-episode 10-year saga. This is less like Return of the Jedi than it is like Returnof the King on steroids — a massive sprawling finale whose coherence and power relies heavily on what has come before. It should come apart at the seams from the sheer weight. But it doesn’t.
The key that holds this clinking, clattering cacophony of collagenous cogs and camshafts together is a thread that has gone throughout the series: a top-notch cast. The amount of acting talent in this movie, when you pause to think about it, is unbelievable. Downey, Ruffalo, Cumberbatch, Cooper and Cheadle are all Academy Award nominees (indeed, the number of Award nominated actors who have appeared throughout the series is impressive). Boseman, Bettany, Hidddleston and Johannson also come with A-list credentials. Evans, Pratt, Saldana and and Hemsworth may not be “great” actors, but they have star gravitas and have delivered outstanding performances in these roles.
Infinity War is where all the outstanding casting pays its greatest dividend. There are so many characters to balance that most only get a few lines. But because we have spent years with these actors building up the roles and because they can bring power to a single line of dialogue, it works. Our knowledge of the characters and the relationship we’ve built with them fills in the gaps. We don’t need fifteen lines for Scarlet Witch to explain why potentially killing Vision is such a dilemma; we know.
The trust that the movie has in its cast frees it to make the boldest and most successful gamble: centering its emotional and dramatic weight on Josh Brolin’s Thanos. Brolin — yet another Academy Award nominee — simply excels in the role. Thanos could easily have been a cackling monster. The silliness of his motivation could have blown the movie apart. But he underplays it perfectly, allowing the menace and evil of Thanos to insinuate itself more gradually, allowing the viewer to see that Thanos is not a villain in his own eyes … which makes him even worse.
So where does Infinity War 2 go? Well, like everyone else, I’m going to assume that a lot of what Thanos has done will be undone and we will get a satisfying, if perhaps bittersweet ending. The question isn’t whether, it’s how. One clue comes from Dr. Strange, who said he saw only one way to defeat Thanos and then surrendered the stone when he didn’t really have to. So it’s obvious that Thanos winning, at least at first, was necessary for Thanos to eventually lose. It’s also been noted that at least five of the original Avengers survive (Hawkeye does not appear). Six Avengers, six stones? Maybe.
But one thing I noticed in my first viewing and was even stronger on second was this: almost every stone Thanos acquires comes a result of turning people’s love and compassion against them. Consider:
- The Space Stone is acquired by Thanos threatening to kill Thor, forcing Loki to choose between his brother and the stone. He chooses Thor.
- After acquiring the Reality Stone, Thanos forces Quill to choose between Gamora and the Soul stone. Quill chooses to protect the stone but his hesitation enables Thanos. Later, Quill’s rage over Gamora’s death snatches defeat from the jaws of victory.
- The Soul Stone is acquired when Thanos tortures Nebula to force Gamora to reveal its location. She chooses her sister over the stone. Then Thanos chooses the stone over Gamora.
- The Time Stone is acquired when Strange gives it up in exchange for Tony’s life. Again, he chooses a person — a man he doesn’t even particularly like — over the stone.
- The only reason the Mind Stone is still available is because Wanda was unwilling to kill Vision until it was too late. And they drew her into the battle in the first place by attacking her friends.
This theme runs through the movie: the way Thanos relentlessly pursues his goal and the way others value human life, friendship and love over ruthlessly stopping him. Thanos thinks of himself as a great being because he sacrifices others; the heroes are great because they sacrifice themselves. I am convinced this will play a big role in the ultimate resolution. What price our characters pay for that — I fear we will see all of the original Avenger perish in victory — remains to be seen.
The bigger meta question though is this: where does Marvel go from here? Infinity War is the apotheosis of 20 films spanning a decade. It has built to this gaudy over-the-top crescendo like a Wagner Opera. So what now? How do you top this? What can they possibly do now that won’t feel anti-climatic?
I have no idea. But it will be interesting to find out.