As the Avengers and their allies have continued to protect the world from threats too large for any one hero to handle, a new danger has emerged from the cosmic shadows: Thanos. A despot of intergalactic infamy, his goal is to collect all six Infinity Stones, artifacts of unimaginable power, and use them to inflict his twisted will on all of reality. Everything the Avengers have fought for has led up to this moment – the fate of Earth and existence itself has never been more uncertain.
Avengers: Infinity War, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, is the nineteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Not since the lead up to the first Avengers film released in 2012 has an entry in this ambitious cinematic universe been so anticipated. Thanos (Josh Brolin), the villain of this feature, was first teased in a post-credits scene of that film, leaving fans to eagerly anticipate his appearance as a main villain. Most MCU films since have teased, introduced, and/or involved infinity stones since then as well, all in preparation for this massive crossover event. The cast is honestly too expansive to list; nearly every hero makes an appearance to fight this threat on different fronts. I was highly anticipating the film myself, though cautious about how effectively an effective story could be told with such a large cast of characters in play.
Upfront, if I were to point out one thing as the film’s biggest drawback it would be that it doesn’t really stand on its own. With the exception of Thanos, who is given meaningful depth and characterization for the first time here, each character is working off of a foundation established in a previous film. There are details you can gleam about them as the story develops, but there is an expectation going in is that you know at least most of these characters already. That all being said, I see this criticism as a rather minor point. The way the MCU has been built up to this climactic crossover film is, as far as I’m aware, unprecedented in cinema history. It may not work as a standalone film, but the fact that Marvel Studios has managed to build a cohesive universe of nearly 20 films is an achievement that easily overshadows this for me.
Despite the enormous cast, the film does a great job of balancing out the characters. Everybody gets a moment or two to shine, and while some characters are given more focus than others due to importance to the plot or greater history with Thanos, nobody who made an appearance felt like an afterthought to me. One thing that helped keep it so balanced was the fact that the heroes are divided among numerous fronts with their own goals, so it’s never actually every hero on screen at the same time.
The groupings I particularly enjoyed were Thor (Christ Hemsworth), Groot (Vin Diesel), and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) going off on their own little quest, and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) on their way to the planet Titan to confront Thanos away from Earth, eventually meeting up with some of the Guardians of the Galaxy. The former trio got along like peanut butter and jam, which was a lot of fun, while the latter was full of friction. I especially appreciated how much Iron Man and Doctor Strange butted heads, which felt perfectly in character for the two. The film is packed with great moments of characters interacting for the first time in fun and engaging ways.
While the heroes are far from relegated to background characters, it is Thanos himself who is given the most focus as a character. He’s much more complicated than I’d anticipated, not merely a sadistic warlord seeking absolute power. We learn a lot about why he so adamantly pursues the infinity stones, experience the emotional journey he goes on finding them, and see just how far he is willing to go and suffer for what he believes is his destiny. He’s undoubtedly a villain, with mass-murdering goals that he sees as mercy, but one cannot help relating with him to some degree. Perhaps not the goal itself, but his personal reasons for it. Josh Brolin does an exceptional job bringing Thanos to life, making him easily my favourite MCU villain to date. He is also one of the best looking CGI characters I’ve ever seen on screen. He may be the adversary, but he’s also the star all around. I also want to make brief mention of his henchmen “the Children of Thanos,” particularly Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), who was a delightfully creepy and powerful devotee.
The action set-pieces were superb throughout, with peaks and valleys that kept things engaging despite the length of the film. While large-scale battles and fight scenes are not uncommon in superhero films, these were especially well put together with a level of emotional weight and investment that even as a fan I normally do not have. The conflict of this film also takes a heavy toll on the characters and I was surprised with how far they went in certain cases. When tempering my expectations there was a way I was expecting this film to go that got subverted in a wonderfully satisfying way.
If you’ve been following along with the MCU over all of these years, even just casually, I think Avengers: Infinity War is nearly everything it was hyped up to be. Unlike any other time watching an MCU film before I am dying to know what happens next. Avengers 4, whatever it ends up being titled, cannot come out soon enough.