Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

“The fate of the universe is at stake.”

Too many moviegoers are too easily appeased by what they simply want, and to remedy this epidemic of the mostly unearned praise and ecstatic enthusiasm which the superhero genre has been showered in, Avengers: Infinity War is the picture audiences absolutely need. The film – somehow all at once – is a sci-fi space opera, an action epic, a side-splitting comedy, and a drama influenced by Shakespearean Tragedy. This is more than just a breezy jaunt across a straight balance beam; it’s a carefully calibrated circus performance that successfully manages to juggle all the of the big tent’s acts in two human hands, throwing and catching all of the parts and pieces it’s accumulated over the years without missing a single beat. For the first time ever, a Marvel movie left me marveled by what occurred on the screen. See it once and then see it again. Maybe thrice for good measure.

With a plot so shrouded in secrecy – to the point that some of the actors were given incomplete or fake scripts – Infinity War isn’t the kind of story that shouldn’t be revealed by me or read by you. It’s an overwhelming and exhausting experience by its very nature, and I truly believe that these attributes demand it to be seen on the big screen. In many ways, the movie is an anthology and a decade’s long build-up that’s been expanded upon and edited together as one cohesive film, combining multiple short stories and their own big arcs into one grand spectacle of a showdown. So buy your ticket, get your snacks, and just before you open the theater door, take a deep breath; it’ll be about 3 hours until you finally catch it.

Remarkably, Infinity War does almost nothing new, yet it always feels fresh and vibrant and rejuvenated. Mostly everyone returns for this foray into the doomsday territory, which for once finally allows its devastating action to bring life or death consequences to fruition. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) shares time with Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), and meets the Guardians of the Galaxy, who encounter Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Captain America (Chris Evans) hides out with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), James Rhoades (Don Cheadle), eventually calling in the services of Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and all of Wakanda. Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) go off the grid, attempting to replace combat with solace and structure. I can’t thin the plot out any more than this, but just know that in more ways than one this picture makes this potluck adventure a familial gathering worth visiting, spending time with, and is the kind of dish that I promise you’ll find yourself boxing up for later. Infinity War certainly is a lot to chew on, which makes it even more impressive that it doesn’t get old and is never too much to swallow.

As he battles and bruises his way through the Universe with the Infinity Gauntlet on his left mitt, Thanos (Josh Brolin) becomes the de facto face of the film and an anti-hero as well. He’s a Titan, a world crusher who’s as purple as a Willy Wonka experiment gone awry and as bulky as a galactic Dwayne Johnson. His veins pop, his chin looks like a mix of a Shar Pei’s side rolls and Shane Battier’s creased skull, and he most surely could knock that punching bag bar game into another drunken dimension. However, he’s also deceptively complex with his emotions and ambitions. It’s been a long journey towards Infinity War and at this point we already know all of the heroes. Until now, there’s only been hearsay and brief clips and hushed word-of-mouth about Thanos, the so-called ultimate warmonger. Marvel has always had a problem with its villains, declining to properly introduce or develop their bad guys, but here they make the movie entirely about the antagonist. Thanos seeks the Infinity Stones so that he has total control over the entire Universe. He views himself as a God, and it’s no coincidence that his madness is justified as mercy. We don’t have to agree with his methods of genocide, yet for once, we at least understand his sad, self-righteous sense of reasoning.

Thanos’ mission is to eliminate half of the Universe – by hook or by crook or through sheer force – in order to prolong its lifespan. Where some see real people, he sees only cellulite, and he wants to Photoshop and airbrush the excess to ensure longevity through a simple and symbolic snap of the fingers. And while Marvel movies always manage to make their viewers into cheerleaders, this film simply felt different. People clapped when Cap made his big entrance. Others let out squeals as the Black Panther music played and we entered Wakanda once more. My friend even punched me in the knee at one point and covered his mouth with his shirt at another. The Marvel canon incites explosive, elated and visceral reactions. During Infinity War though, amidst all of the amazing comedy and the stunning set pieces, there dwells a little ball of heart that when untangled, stretches miles in every direction. Finally, we get a movie to cheer for, a picture to participate in, and a story to contemplate long after the curtains draw. How often does a film of this make or model or stature allow us to be the judge, the jury, and the executioner? And better yet, how does it still come out alive and unscathed, and by my esteem, damn near perfect?

The theme of Avengers: Infinity War, above all else, is one of sacrifice. With 20+ main characters and numerous locations, directors / brothers Joe and Anthony Russo conduct the same Milgram experiment on their beloved menagerie of a cast in vastly different locations. Some want to die with their secrets. Some will die defending them. Thanos teases and toys with their actions. And while this angle is rather repetitive, what makes this part of the film so warranted and necessary is that we get to see superheroes through the lens of humanity, and we witness their willingness to fight for those who can’t stand up for themselves. If you ask me, that’s the hallmark of a true superhero. As such, this isn’t your standard genre blockbuster or Summer flick. At nearly 3 hours long including previews and credits, never once did I hear a single foot exit the theater, and that’s because this movie is a road trip where bathroom breaks and stops for snacks play second fiddle to the anticipation of the awe-inspiring final destination. Infinity War doesn’t just casually demand your attention; the film absolutely commands it and earns it. But who am I to say? Might as well find out for yourself.

“We’re in the end game now.”

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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