Avengers: Infinity War functions as a kind of cinematic clothesline, with characters and subplots from the previous eighteen Marvel movies draped across it. The fact that everything hangs together so well without sagging is an enormous achievement, and a testament to the meticulous attention of the writers and directors. This film strikes a perfect balance of rollicking humor, dramatic heft, and genuine excitement to form a perfect payoff for the Marvel fans who’ve walked the path thus far.
Much of the film’s plot is tethered to Thanos, the hulking purple villain teased throughout the previous films. Thanos has done some apocalyptic arithmetic and deemed the universe overcrowded by half. His remedy requires the six Infinity Stones—cosmic MacGuffins each representing a different facet of existence: Time, space, reality etc. This sets up a galactic race with the Avengers, who must retrieve the stones and save the day.
The character of Thanos is one of the high points of the film—a seamless symbiosis of motion capture sorcery and a brilliant performance by Josh Brolin. His Thanos is an urbane, charismatic monster who kills and pillages with the casual comfort found only in the most frightening movie villains. His evil is real and level-headed, and it supplies the film with a firm dramatic foundation.
The mannered ruthlessness of Brolin is countered with the warmth and humor from the sprawling cadre of Avengers. The actors have played these superheroes long enough to wear holes in the spandex, and their smirking badinage is pitched perfectly, so it never grows stale. It takes special talent to make an emotional scene between a Norse god and an armored raccoon work, but that’s the kind of skilled players we have onboard here.
If Avengers: Infinity War has any kind of flaw, it’s one of structural necessity. The movie ends with an ellipsis, a la Empire Strikes Back or Two Towers, and some viewers might be frustrated they have to tune in next time. It’s a musical piece without resolution, and it can’t be fully judged until the next movie hits that note. Still, on its own merit, Infinity War beats the burden of expectation by being better than the movies that spawned it. This is a highwater mark for the franchise.
Robert Downey Jr. ….. Tony Stark/Iron Man
Chris Evans ….. Steve Rogers/Captain America
Josh Brolin …… Thanos
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo
150 minutes, PG-13