Rating: 4 Stars
The following review contains spoilers.
When this film was originally announced, they planned to call it “Part 1”, with Part 2 coming the following year. Then they changed that plan and renamed the films, because they said they didn’t want people to go into this expecting a cliffhanger, and that both films would be able to stand alone as full and complete narratives. They were wrong. Avengers: Infinity War is half of a story, and that’s not just because it’s clear from the already announced sequels and simple realities of the marketplace that some of the characters who die at the end will certainly be resurrected. Even if you ignore all external factors, this is not a complete story, and for a while I was not planning to even review or rank it because of that, but in the end this is what they released, this is what they sold tickets for as a singular movie, and therefore it belongs as part of this silly project.
The overwhelming theme of this movie is whether or not it’s okay to sacrifice the few for the good of the many (complicated a touch by Thanos sacrificing exactly half for the good of exactly half, but bear with me). This is stated directly by the main characters multiple times (“We don’t trade lives”) and is demonstrated in action repeatedly. It starts when Loki can’t sacrifice his brother, and so gives up the Tesseract. Then of course the team refuses to let Vision sacrifice himself to destroy the Mind Stone. Gamora gives up the location of the Soul Stone to save Nebula. Dr. Strange forfeits the Time Stone to save Iron Man. Of the heroes, only Star-Lord shows willingness to sacrifice someone for the “greater good” when he tries to kill Gamora before Thanos can take her, but he fails (no wonder he loses it later when he learns she died anyway, alone on some far off other world).
Meanwhile, Thanos represents the opposite side of that philosophical question, and time and again he shows he’ll sacrifice anyone to meet his goals of saving the universe from itself. Mostly he’s willing to sacrifice strangers, but when it comes down to it, he’ll even sacrifice Gamora, the only person in the universe he cares about. But the reason this feels like half a narrative is because Thanos wins. And not because a movie can never end on a down note with the bad guy winning, but he wins because he follows this bad philosophy, and so if this is truly a standalone movie, what we’ve learned about the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that the ends do justify the means, and that maybe you should sacrifice people if it means making life better for others. And that feels wrong, and you leave the movie feeling like something’s missing. And it feels like the only way to resolve this plot is to have Thanos realize in the next film that he has to put everything back the way it was because he can’t live with having sacrificed his daughter to save the universe, and I’m not sure how that little character moment could be dramatized into a two-and-a-half-hour movie where people also punch things a lot, but I guess I have to keep my fingers crossed that the filmmakers will somehow pull this off.
But enough about Avengers: Endgame, which has yet to be released at time of this writing. Is this movie, Avengers: Infinity War, any good? Mostly, yes.
It can’t be overstated how well the filmmakers understand these characters. There are so many of them, and we have to jump back and forth between so many scenes and lines of action, and every time the character dialogue and behavior feels utterly true to who they are, which is rather astonishing. They aren’t just moving around to get where the plot needs them to go, they’re being themselves and doing what they would probably think to be the next logical step.
And it can’t be overstated how good the action moments are, and again how well they’re rooted in character. Each one fights the way they would fight, and has unique moves and flourishes that illuminate who they are. One of my favorite examples is in the Wakanda battle, when everyone is rushing forward, and then you see Captain America and Black Panther break free from the pack and go way out in front. This works both because they’re physically just faster and fitter than the others, but also because they’re the leaders. It just feels right. And I could go on like that listing examples from every combat scene, but you can watch those scenes yourself, and if you focus on any one character while all the madness is happening, you’ll see that character behaving consistently with what you’d expect from them.
The CGI is nearly perfect, and the many entirely imaginary characters move and act and fight with real weight and presence. The humor is used effectively, and doesn’t intrude on or deflate the emotional moments. The editing is also impressive, and you can nearly always follow the flow of action, even when it gets hectic, and the multiple story threads are juggled well, without any one overstaying its welcome too much.
I geeked out a bit when they demonstrated Spider-Man’s spider-sense in his first scene.
Honestly I wasn’t that surprised with how the movie ended, being familiar with the comics, but I was legitimately shocked when they revealed the Red Skull was the guardian of the Soul Stone.
It’s half a movie, and no matter how good that half is, it’s not an entirely satisfying watch.
There are several dangling threads that feel like “To be continued”s, but the Hulk stuff is some of the most egregious. This is clearly not a storyline unto itself, and is entirely setup for whatever will happen in the next movie. And while on a viewer-of-a-fictional-movie level you do want to see Bruce Banner involved in the climax, within the world of the film it makes no sense that they’d put a scientist with no direct combat experience in the Hulkbuster armor and not one of the many, many trained soldiers.
I sort of wish they hadn’t told us that Dr. Strange looked into the future to find the one outcome in which they win, especially since he apparently didn’t then go on to tell any of the other people in his group what that outcome was. You can assume he gave up the Time Stone (after stating early he’d sacrifice anyone to protect it) to help bring said outcome into being, but it’s sort of a damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don’t scenario, where if the ultimate victory in Endgame does hinge on Strange knowing the future and having nudged all this into place, it won’t be as exciting as the heroes coming up with a plan and executing it on their own, and if it doesn’t, then what was all that about anyway?
Carrie Coon felt a little wasted here as Proxima Midnight. Peter Dinklage’s performance doesn’t work for me at all.
I understand why Thanos doesn’t just use the Infinity Gauntlet to double the universe’s resources instead of killing half the people—he’s a supervillain after all, and he’s tunnel-vision obsessed with doing this one thing—but it would have made me feel better if one of the like 78 other characters had expressed that thought out loud.