In the summer of 2008, I caught Iron Man at a matinee with no expectations and mostly on the strength of Robert Downey Jr — more specifically the strength where he’s always transfixing and often attractive. I walked out of the theatre stunned. Iron Man wasn’t supposed to amount to anything. And if Iron Man wasn’t supposed to work, The Avengers certainly wasn’t meant to. But of course it did, just like Iron Man did.
10 years and 18 films on from the thrilling introduction of the Tony Stark we know and love today, we’ve finally arrived at the one movie that brings all of these disparate heroes together: Avengers: Infinity War. It’s difficult to say whether the scale or ambition is more grand, but the MCU has a way of coming up big in the big moments, and the Russo brothers have outdone themselves with this one.
So, before we go any further, let me just tell you the one thing you need to know about Infinity War: If you care about this movie at all, and I mean at all, do not delay. Get to a theater and drink it in before some monster spoils it for you. This picture is more or less composed of spoilers and one-liners and culminations, and you deserve to see those gems revealed on the big screen, not by some big mouth.
Once more for the people in the back: See Infinity War stat.
Alright, now that we’ve cleared that up, your friendly neighborhood critic will weigh-in on what’s on screen without revealing to you what’s on screen. It’s not the kind of superpower that earns you a spot among the Avengers, but it’s what I bring to the table.
We all know by now that Thanos is the big bad in Infinity War. Those who don’t may as well take a pass on this movie, because even at 2 hours 29 minutes, there’s no time for much in the way of a refresher course. We get a little nudge about the stones from a couple Masters of the Mystical Arts who have some knowledge to drop on Tony Stark. But beyond a few additional lines of establishing dialogue, that’s pretty much all the help there’s time to give. The big challenge with Infinity War, of course, is that the titular stars of 17 of the previous 18 films are all here (Ant-Man being the lone exception, but we’ll see him this summer). That’s upwards of 20 superfolk, plus a bunch of baddies, all colliding in a single plot. Yes, when Marvel said “Infinity War is the most ambitious crossover event in history,” the internet swiftly memed it and hilarity ensued, but having seen how the whole thing comes together, they might not be wrong.
In a feat almost akin to Dr. Strange bending reality or that shawarma shop sating some very hungry superheroes in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophe, the creative minds behind this picture managed to balance that stable of characters with stunning elegance. Oh, and also meet-cutes. We know these characters exceptionally well, but many of them don’t yet know each other, and that is a source of constant delight over the course of this colossal film. Naturally, much of the fun is seeing who exactly meets and how, so I’ll keep mum on the details, but suffice it to say that Infinity War invites us to bounce between (literal) supergroups with the same fluidity that passes us betwixt groups of teenage revelers in Dazed and Confused.
But for all that movement, all of the players, all of the locations, the plot is extraordinarily cohesive. There’s none of the meandering that the runtime of the feature suggests, but nor are we shuttled too quickly from one thread to another. You can’t expect to see a whole lot of any one character, but you can expect quality time with all of them. I don’t want to be dramatic here, but this is a symphony of superheroes as it is relentlessly absorbing. More than that, Infinity War is the first Marvel film in somewhile to truly subvert expectations — for casual fans and devotees alike. The powerhouse has been on a roll with Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther in the lead up to Infinity War. And now that the culmination of so many years of effort is out in the wide world, it’s clear that Infinity War will stand beside them as evidence that Marvel still has something to say. Indeed, plenty left to say if this recent string of films is any indication.
The big question now, or at least the one that looms largest in the myriad questions left behind when the screen goes dark, is how can they possibly maintain this momentum, this spark? When you’ve done what Infinity War does, what lies ahead? I don’t envy the Russo brothers the task of answering that question, or the others we’ve been left with, but they’ve proven themselves more than up to the task. See you in 2019, fellas!
Meantime, I’ll just be over here pining for Captain Marvel. Sorry, Ant-Man (not really though), but Carol Danvers is the hero your friendly neighborhood critic needs and Brie Larson is the performer we all deserve.