*mild spoilers ahead*
Avengers: Infinity War is not “light-hearted.” It is not “fun.” It’s The Empire Strikes Back of superhero films, but even then, it’s more like, The Empire Curb-Stomps the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
“The Empire” in question consists of Thanos–the big purple baddie who first made his appearance at the end of 2012’s Avengers–and a freakshow quartet of superpowered aliens, each easily the equal of three or four of Earth’s mightiest heroes. Having witnessed the ecological collapse of his home word, Thanos has become a cosmic Malthus, convinced that the universe cannot support the amount of life in it. His solution is efficient and brutal: kill half the population of every world, everywhere.
To carry out his genocidal scheme, Thanos requires the Infinity Stones, six mega-powerful gems that allow their wielder to manipulate space, time, reality, energy, souls, and minds. Two of the stones are held by the Earth heroes Doctor Strange and The Vision, so it is inevitable that Thanos and his minions are drawn to our world to seize them.
Backing up Strange and the Viz are the Avengers–Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, the Hulk, the Falcon, War Machine, and the Scarlet Witch–aided by the Black Panther (and his nation’s warriors and high-tech weaponry), Captain America’s friend “Bucky” Barnes (formerly the brainwashed Winter Soldier), Spider-Man, and the Guardians of the Galaxy–Star-Lord, Gamora (and her stepsister, Nebula), Drax, Mantis, Rocket, and Groot.
A: IW is the cinematic version of massive Marvel crossovers like Secret Wars or, well, The Infinity Gauntlet, upon which the movie is loosely based. It’s one thing to pull off such a story across multiple comic book issues, but does it work onscreen? I am happy to say that yes, it does. Convincingly so.
Let’s start with a huge problem that the Marvel movies have had since Day One. Aside from Tom Hiddleston’s Loki (who returns here), Cate Blanchett’s Hela, and Michael Keaton’s Vulture (seen in last summer’s Spider-Man Homecoming), there haven’t been many interesting (or even that formidable) villains. Thanos (voiced and portrayed in motion capture by Josh Brolin) may be the best yet. Is there anything worse than someone capable of doing great evil for what they believe is the greatest good–and is willing to pay any price to do it? And while Thanos pays an enormous price, he does a whole lot of evil, too.
If you’re a fan of the TV show Game of Thrones, 1) you’ll appreciate the appearance by Peter (Tyrion Lannister) Dinklage, and 2) you’re used to beloved characters buying the farm in grisly fashion. My, does A: IW have quite a bit of the latter. I won’t spoil who dies, but two-thirds of the way through, I was not certain that any main character was safe, a feeling I haven’t had since the first season of Lost (remember that?).
The action is intense, the acting on point, the dialogue taut and witty (there’s a lot of much-needed comedic relief), the CGI flawless: at no time did I feel like I was watching a cartoon, as I have in other Marvel movies.
Despite the huge cast, each character gets their moment to shine (okay, maybe not the under-appreciated Anthony Mackie as the Falcon). Thanos’ henchmen (hench-beings?) and army of slavering four-armed monsters (reminiscent of the Genestealers from the Warhammer 40,000 game) are suitably menacing and impressive. Though Marvel Studios has tried to backpedal away from their previous statements, this film is the first of two parts, to be concluded in next year’s as-yet-untitled Avengers 4.
Infinity War is long (2 1/2 hours–pace yourself if you buy the large soda at the concession stand) but moves quickly: the action starts from the get-go and doesn’t let up. After watching every other Marvel movie, I had felt exhilarated; after this, I was exhausted. Despite being about costumed people with “made-up names” (as Peter Parker [Spider-Man] says at one point), it’s much more Wagnerian Gotterdammerung than it is 60’s TV Batman.
More disturbing than the deaths of familiar characters is the film’s repeated repudiation of the cliche that “love conquers all.” In fact, A:IW posits that in the face of monstrous evil such as Thanos, love can be a fatal weakness.
Did I enjoy it? Yes, but in the same way I enjoy Macbeth. Make no mistake: Infinity War is a tragedy. Thank God Deadpool 2 will give us something to laugh about…..
Kenton Kilgore writes YA SF/F you’ll feel. His latest work-in-progress, This Wasted Land, a dark fantasy novel, will be published in 2018.
Kenton is the author of Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. He also wrote Dragontamer’s Daughters, (like Little House on the Prairie…with dragons) based on Navajo culture and belief. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.
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