— by Renard N. Bansale —
(out of 5 stars)
“Did you do it?”
“What did it cost?”
Few can deny that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (hereafter shortened to MCU) has altered how studios approach storytelling and franchising on the silver screen. Now, with their latest superhero ensemble spectacle Avengers: Infinity War (hereafter shortened to Infinity War), the question arises: Have Disney and Marvel crossed the doorway to greater riches and pop culture dominance? Or have they peaked as a result of the cursed blessing that is Infinity War’s risky conclusion?
The Titanian despot Thanos (Josh Brolin) has begun his personal mission to collect all six of the Infinity Stones, whose total possession grants divine supremacy throughout the universe. With the fate of innumerable lives in their hands, the vast assembly of Marvel superheroes collaborate to prevent Thanos from achieving this goal.
One group—Avengers Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner/the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) included—sets off to Wakanda. There, they hope that the resources and personnel of T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) can safely extract the Mind Stone embedded in the forehead of fellow superhero Vision (Paul Bettany). Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) can then destroy the stone without harming Vision and before Thanos’ forces break through.
Meanwhile, other agents of Thanos subdue and kidnap Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), protector of the Time Stone. Avengers Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) manage to infiltrate the ship as it leaves Earth and rescue Doctor Strange from Thanos’ goons. The trio crash-land on Titan, Thanos’ ruined home planet, where they rendezvous with members of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) among them. Anticipating Thanos’ arrival, the group prepares a trap that they hope will result in removing whatever Infinity Stones Thanos may already have on him.
Finally, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Asgardian god of thunder, travels to the planet Nidavellir with Guardians Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel). The origin of Thor’s now-destroyed hammer, this ruined planet and its once-great king and weaponsmith Eitri (Peter Dinklage) can still, if all goes well, forge a weapon strong enough to take on Thanos, even with all six Infinity Stones at his disposal.
If all goes well.
In one of Infinity War’s early exchanges, Peter Parker asks Tony Stark if he had ever seen a “really old movie” called Aliens. That made for one striking coincidence, since the opening scene to Infinity War brings to mind not that acclaimed 1986 sci-fi action classic, but instead 1992’s Alien 3. That threequel disappointed many for, among several reasons, killing off three of the survivors from the preceding film (i.e., Aliens) right at the start. Likewise, those who plan on re-watching last November’s Thor: Ragnarök in the future have no choice: They must re-watch it knowing that the unseen battle that takes place between Ragnarök’s foreboding post-credit scene and Infinity War’s opening will claim practically one-hundred percent of the lives on that Asgardian refugee ship. Worse yet, the opening serves as a hasty exit for Idris Elba and especially Tom Hiddleston. After four movies and Infinity War’s first few minutes, the well-brewed dynamic between Hiddleston’s Loki and Chris Hemsworth’s Thor departs the MCU as an afterthought.
Speaking of adoption, Thanos’ quartet of “adopted” children/henchmen also disappoints. Whereas audiences have at least glimpsed Thanos before and have heard characters mention him, these henchmen (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as Ebony Maw, Terry Notary as Cull Obsidian, Carrie Coon as Proxima Midnight, and Michael James Shaw as Corvus Glaive) enter Infinity War’s story with overpowered combat skills and nary a big screen background. The more self-important the film makes them, the more I just want them to meet gruesome ends.
Luckily, Infinity War juggles its decade-spanning ensemble of superheroes with passable sufficiency. Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely tone down the fanservice in the reunions and remaining character meetings, orienting them more towards the task at hand. From the opposite end of that task emerges Infinity War’s most moving performance. Josh Brolin’s Thanos, in seizing his self-given destiny of halving an overpopulated universe, leaves no room for comic relief. Compared to merely imposing order a la Loki in 2012’s The Avengers (or most world-dominating blockbuster villains), Thanos’ method ventures to a more extreme, dire, even moronic territory. Brolin still sells it as an outcome worth dreading.
Yet, in a cinematic universe, is it worth spending time and energy to dread the reversible? Like many, the jaw-dropping finale to Infinity War left me stunned in the theater. However, the more I dwelled on the narrative move in light of upcoming movies (among which include a Guardians of the Galaxy sequel and a Spider-Man sequel), its impact on me began to recede.
Many, it seems, have forgotten that Infinity War shifted from becoming a two-part film to a two-part film with an unknown, likely different subtitle for its second part. The first halves of two-part conclusions for the Harry Potter, Twilight, and Hunger Games franchises leaned towards all setup, with the second halves containing all the payoff. Both parts fall short of total satisfaction, even when seen back to back. The MCU might not spare their latest ensemble extravaganza from that destiny, despite editing the titles post-announcement.
From the release of 2008’s Iron Man, 2012’s The Avengers, Black Panther from a few months ago (and still earning money), and for years to come, Marvel will have effectively taken over the entertainment industry. (Parent company Disney, of course, already owns Star Wars and purchased assets from Fox late last year). They may toil to ensure that their precious properties will rake in cash for them in perpetuity. The best stories on the big screen, however, demand definitive, irreversible endings, not those akin to episodes in a television season/series. If casual fans will continue flocking to Marvel movies, then I strongly doubt they will complain if Marvel returned them to three-hour-plus presentations with intermissions.
Save for the post-Captain America: Civil War, pre-Infinity War-set Ant-Man & the Wasp (coming this July) and the 1990s-set Captain Marvel (coming in March 2019), one long intermission lasting from now until next May awaits.
(Parental Note: Avengers: Infinity War has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA “for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, language, and some crude references”. It has also been rated 12A by the BBFC for “moderate violence” and “threat”, and rated A-III (Adults and older adolescents) by the Catholic News Service for containing “much harsh but mostly bloodless violence, a couple of mild oaths as well as several crude and numerous crass terms.”)
(P.S. Keep an eye out for the obligatory Stan Lee cameo and a post-credits scene.)
Renard N. Bansale once aspired to become an astronaut, before he found his passion in film discussion, criticism, conducting script-reading sessions of feature film screenplays, and annual Oscar tracking. Hailing from Seattle, WA, Renard graduated from JPCatholic in 2016 with a B.S. in Communications Media (Emphasis in Screenwriting) and is currently pursuing his M.A. in Theology online at the Augustine Institute.
For more movie reviews by Renard, click here.