Tony. There was no other way.
So, the question is did it live up to it? We’ve been building toward this movie for, what, a decade now? All the post-credit teasers and the cameos and the universe building and retconned Infinity Stones . . . well, it’s all been for this, hasn’t it? This movie is astronomically expensive already, but consider the gargantuan amount of money that’s been poured into movie after movie after movie. Think about the time, the effort, the human labor and capital that’s been funneled into making this movie right here successful. Now, after all this time, it turns out that everything we’ve seen to this point . . . well, it’s basically been the first act. This movie finally brings everyone to the table and you realize, quite suddenly, while you’re in the darkened theater, that this movie finally ends the “getting the team together” section of the MCU.
So, does it live up to it? If I was pithy and into that whole brevity thing, I’d just drop this and end the review: Damn right it does. But, if I was pithy and into that whole brevity thing, we wouldn’t be in paragraph two already. But, yes, ultimately Infinity War succeeds to a breathtaking degree. Is it perfect? Well, no, of course not. Any film trying to juggle this many characters is going to shortchange a hell of a lot of them and I reckon most everybody has a favorite who got way underused. Still, it’s amazing the way the film is able to avoid this feeling of underuse with so many characters. Some of the characters are just, well, not in the movie a lot, but it feels like they’re in it more than they are, if you know what I mean. The MCU has always been good at this, at recognizing that it isn’t always the amount of screen time, but the quality of the screen time. I mean, Mantis has maybe three lines in this whole damn movie, but they’re all killers, so you somehow don’t feel like she was underserved. But, wait, I was talking about the problems and I’m somehow back talking about how awesome the movie is. The other main problem is a problem that’s been happening increasingly in these movies which is the constand undercutting of dramatic moments with humor; this was a staple of the Marvel films from the beginning and it’s refreshing and entertaining when done right, but there are moments here when it, well, when it just isn’t, as in a cringe-inducingly bad scene where Quill and Gamora have probably the most honest and emotional conversation they’ve ever had . . . aaaaaannnnndddd then we ruin it all because Drax is eating chips or something. I mean, really. It’s about to hit obnoxious levels, honestly. Though again it is surprising how often this humor does land, I suppose. And sometimes you wish the film just wouldn’t address things at all because of how perfunctory the moments are. Far better, I think, to have just not addressed the Bruce-Natasha relationship at all than to have their brimming doe-eyes meet for exactly the two-thirds of a second it takes for each of them to breathe sadly and THEN not address it. And I’m one of the two or three people on the planet who LIKED the Bruce-Natasha thing. But, I mean, do it or don’t; sometimes half-assing it just doesn’t work.
But the film does nail some really nice dramatic moments and ultimately the way it subverts the typical expectations and tropes of the genre is smartly done and has a nice emotional sting to it. From the cynical audience perspective, it’s hard to get yourself in the headspace to make that ending really hurt the way it should, marketing materials for upcoming movies already having been distributed, but locking in on the characters helps. The MCU once again relies on character for a lot of the humor and a lot of the drama. Clever and witty as the script is and as artful as the Russos are at directing action and comedy, there’s also a ton of credit to be laid at the feet of the cast here. These are pros and they’re able to make a lot out of a little and it’s credit to the groundwork laid over years that it feels cool to see some supporting characters, even if some of them ultimately don’t have anything to really do or say. Anyway, the performances are to be considered solid, even quite good, across the board, but I do want to single out a few.
Robert Downey Jr. continues to prove himself the real emotional core of this series and he’s found a way into Tony Stark that is truly compelling; everything he does here is absolutely, exactly right. Josh Brolin is to be commended for managing to give a truly great, emotionally resonant performance while, from what we’ve heard, a camera was essentially strapped to his head and he was covered with dots. Thanos actually is one of the most interesting characters in the film, one of the few who has a genuine arc over the course of the film, and Brolin really nails it. A word for Chris Evans who . . . well, he isn’t particularly good here. I’ve always thought Evans was great as Cap and thought he gave his best performance yet in Civil War, but I’m not sure he quite has a good fix on the Nomad version of Cap he’s asked to play here and he’s a little stilted. Benedict Cumberbatch, on the other hand, is an absolute treasure in this film. I wasn’t a fan of the Doctor Strange movie and I even said then that I kind of wished the MCU would just write him out and we’d never see Strange again. Well, **** me, I guess, because he’s brilliant in this film and brilliantly written. The film is smart about its grouping, the way it puts characters against characters. Putting Tony Stark and Stephen Strange in the same group initially seems kind of random, but, boy, does it work? Same for sending Thor, Rocket & Groot off on a side mission together and then they even run into Peter Dinklage, who is a lot of fun, but the bottom line is the mix-match of characters is done really, really well here. Hemsworth, by the way, continues his owning of his role as Thor that he started in Ragnarok and if Infinity War couldn’t be bothered to carry over a lot from Ragnarok (seriously, where THE **** is Valkyrie?), the one thing they carried over was that Thor is now the biggest badass in the MCU and that was a good pick. Infinity War is smart enough to leave the reunion of Cap & Tony, the reunion I think we were all thinking about through the film, for the next film. Ultimately, I think that’s probably the real testament here to what the MCU has pulled off. It really is all about the characters in this franchise, whether we’re talking about the comedic sparks being thrown by clashing characters or the genuine emotional depth of the relationships we see stretched and broken. Even Thanos is a well-written character, complicated, contradictory, deluded, self-righteous. Yeah, they nailed this one.
Anyway, enough said. I’ll stop. I can practically hear all of the readers of this review desperately snapping their fingers in an attempt to collapse me into a pile of ashes, but I still want to say a couple of last things. One, this movie has problems, though not nearly as many as, by any rights, it should have and not nearly as many as your average internet commenter thinks it does. Despite those flaws, Infinity War is a kind of film we haven’t seen before; it’s genuinely historic and don’t lament that; the big budget spectacle has always been part of movies and, when executed well, the big budget spectacles can still have heart and great characters and well-staged, non-chaotic action and genuinely funny humor . . . and Infinity War has all of those things in spades. Guys . . . guys, are you getting what I’m saying? I don’t know where we go from here. Ant-Man and the Wasp was pretty bad and the follow-up to Infinity War could still go either way. But damned if they didn’t do it. Ten years ago, the MCU stepped up to the table and it seemed that, whatever happened, it was kind of cool that anyone had the nerve to make such a big gamble. Turns out it’s a lot more than a ballsy wager. The MCU just shot the moon. Pick your jaws up off the floor, gentlemen. I’m as surprised as anyone. But that is what you call a win. 4 stars.
tl;dr – big budget epic is marvelous, exciting, hilarious and dramatic; a focus on characters and world building has paid off for the MCU in a big way with this showstopper. 4 stars.