A film review by Craig J. Koban May 7, 2018


2018, PG-13, 149 mins.


Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark / Iron Man  /  Chris Hemsworth as Thor Odinson  /  Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner / The Hulk  /  Chris Evans as Steve Rogers / Nomad  /  Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow  /  Chris Pratt as Peter Quill / Star-Lord  /  Josh Brolin as Thanos  /  Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange / Doctor Strange  /  Don Cheadle as James Rhodes / War Machine  /  Tom Holland as Peter Parker / Spider-Man  /  Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa / Black Panther  /  Paul Bettany as Vision  /  Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch  /  Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson / Falcon  /  Sebastian Stan as James "Bucky" Barnes / White Wolf  /  Tom Hiddleston as Loki  /  Idris Elba as Heimdall  /  Benedict Wong as Wong  /  Pom Klementieff as Mantis  /  Karen Gillan as Nebula  /  Dave Bautista as Drax  /  Zoe Saldana as Gamora  /  Vin Diesel as Groot (voice)  /  Bradley Cooper as Rocket Raccoon (voice)  /  Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts  /  Benicio del Toro as Taneleer Tivan / The Collector  /  Danai Gurira as Okoye  /  Letitia Wright as Shuri  /  Winston Duke as M'Baku  /  Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as Ebony Maw

Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo  /  Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely







If anyone would have told me ten years ago that a super hero film featuring a B to C grade level Marvel Comics character starring a then career-in-trouble Robert Downey Jr. and directed by the man who made ELF would be a box office and critical darling and launch one of the most financially lucrative and respected franchises in motion picture history...I would have incredulously laughed in your face. 

Well, that's precisely what the Jon Favreau helmed IRON MAN did when it was released in May of 2008: It single handedly ushered in a new era of comic book films and a larger Marvel Cinematic Universe of nearly twenty installments that are all tied together.  Of course, this prelude brings me to AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, the third Avengers themed outing and the 19th entry in the MCU, which features - as astounding as it is to believe - every single major character (minus a few, conspicuous by their absence) as they all gather together to face off against the intergalactic threat that was teased in the original AVENGERS in Thanos.  He's seeking five unfathomably  powerful gem stones to implant into an equally unstoppable gauntlet that, once harnessed, will literally give him the power - as one character puts it - to eradicate half of the population of the known universe with a simple snap of his finger.  The Avengers have faced seemingly impossible circumstances before in the form of invading alien and robotic armies that threatened Earth, but Thanos is a whole different breed of danger: He's capable of mass and instantaneous genocide that could number in the trillions. 



AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR is, as just described, as ferociously ambitious and epic as super hero movies get, and the $300 million-plus budgeted outing - one of the most expensive films in the history of the medium - has the Herculean task of gathering together a bewildering number of heroes that have been - for the most part - thoroughly introduced and established in their own previous solo films.  As far as jamming together dozens upon dozen of characters and somehow making it all flow together relatively well, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR is the CITIZEN KANE of epic crossover movies, regardless of genre.  Directors Anthony and Joe Russo - who together previously made two of the best MCU films in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER and CIVIL WAR - deserve supreme props for taking on the inordinately daunting challenge of this AVENGERS sequel and somehow homogenizing its dense ingredient list together to create some semblance of a meaningful whole in just one movie.  That's not to say that there are no creative missteps here (more on that in a bit), but no other recent blockbuster has had such gargantuan aims and has delivered on basic status quo promises like this one.   

Talking about the overall plot of AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR will prove difficult, seeing as (1) aside from everyone seeking out the ultimate MacGuffins that are those Infinity Stones, there's not much of a point A to B to C plot here, (2) going into detail would result in ample spoilers and (3) there are just so many damn characters that it would take three reviews just to describe all of their plot arcs.  For the purposes of simplicity and clarity, I'll endeavor the relay the essential particulars.  Outside of knowing about the aforementioned mission by Thanos (voiced and mo-cap performed by Josh Brolin) to journey through the universe to find the Infinity Stones, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR's narrative thrust essentially involves breaking off all of the MCU heroes into their own little sub-groups in various places across the cosmos to stop this tyrant once and for all.  Thanos, like all great screen villains, does not consider himself to be a vile maniac, but rather a misunderstood authority figure with, what he feels, are reasonable motivations for his plan.  He doesn't want to murder half of the universe as some sort of power play or for the sake of killing, but rather to bring balance and order to it.  He also points out that he won't discriminate who he kills, but rather it would be a wholly arbitrary action.  So, young or old, rich or poor, and regardless of race...anyone everywhere is a target. 

Of course, trying to gather all of the MCU heroes together on screen at the very same time would prove to be a fool's errand, so the Russos have opted to, as mentioned, break down the larger team into mini teams.  AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR has some rousing success with some of these fractured unions over others.  In particular, I greatly enjoyed the battle of narcissistic egos between Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, still in a horribly fake wig) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr, playing the role with a bit more battle hardened weariness this go around), who are complimented by the enthusiastic presence of Spider-Man (Tom Holland), the latter who Strange hilariously asks, at one point, whether or not he's Stark's ward.  Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) is also along for the ride with them, but his frustrating and inconvenient inability to turn into the Hulk makes it difficult for his companions to deal with Thanos' low level thugs ("Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the space wizards," Stark drolly deadpans to the struggling Banner at one inopportune moment). 

Concurrent to this we are briefly re-introduced to Vision (Paul Bettany) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson), now a couple and in hiding overseas to protect the Infinity Stone that's entrenched in Vision's cranium.  There have a chance encounter with the also excelled and shieldless Captain America (Steve Rogers), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie), who feel that it's best to seek out sanctuary for the war to come against Thanos in Wakanda, under the care of King T'Challa, the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman).  Perhaps the most inspired conglomeration of heroes involves a space stranded Thor (Chris Hemsworth) hooking up with Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his fellow Guardians of the Galaxy in order to re-forge a new mighty hammer to take down Thanos.  Peter feels hysterically intimidated by the brooding machismo of the Norse God, which leads to Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) having a newfound reason to insult Star-Lord ("You're one sandwich away from fat!").  Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is the more solemn of the group, seeing as she's the adoptive daughter of Thanos and knows where one of the sought after stones is, leaving her a target. 

Outside of the sheer comic book giddiness of seeing all of these actors finally given the opportunity to play off of one another (their shared charisma and chemistry is as good as it'll ever get), AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR is, paradoxically enough, not really an Avengers film, but rather a Thanos film, and the Russos and their writing team spend a refreshing amount of time fleshing out this invulnerable menace.  Thanos is not just a gigantic CG purple skinned alien monster that exists as a reason to fight the heroes (even though he does just that); there's an attempt to dig deep within all of his deceptively intriguing psychological layers to define him not only as a being of evil, but also as one that has an unexpectedly potent emotional dimension that makes him and his motives seem strangely more relatable.  And Josh Brolin never plays him theatrically or over the top, which would have been the temptation of a lesser actor.  Instead, he gives Thanos an unsettling calm spoken authority and wounded melancholy that helps separate him from other one note super villains.  And the visual effects used to create him are so flawless that, minutes into the film, we never grow to conscious of them.  We feel like we're watching a character as real and grounded as any other that's not the product of CGI.  Thanos is an extraordinary achievement on all levels. 

Yet, even though Thanos is clearly the finest villain ever to grace an MCU film (the franchise, to be fair, has had problems from its beginnings in terms of crafting memorable and worthwhile antagonists), some of my problems with AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR are tied to a few of the logical inconsistencies with Thanos' Infinity Gauntlet powers.  It's established, in one chilling scene, that he's capable of reducing people to fractured inanimate objects with a point of the gauntlet, which begs the question as to why he simply doesn't reduce all of the heroes he encounters to ribbons, stones, or bubbles instead of engaging with them in fist fights.  Speaking of the heroes, another issue that the film has is with...well...the sheer number of them presented here.  The Russos, as established, deserve praise for the gargantuan task of assembling them all in one film, but sometimes the editorial flow between various hero vignettes alternate between being smooth and erratic, which sometimes hampers momentum (it takes a long time for AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR to build towards its climax, and sometimes the gap between various hero factions is too long). 

Also, considering the oppressively nightmarish and apocalyptic nature of Thanos' end game and the film as a whole, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR - much like the overrated and smugly self-aware THOR: RAGNAROK - is perhaps too aggressively jokey for its own good, frequently and frustratingly letting its heroes unleash an incredulous number of wise cracks during moments when death is breathing down their backs.  I would never want these MCU films it be obtrusively dark and angst ridden and certainly appreciate the humorous banter they generate, but the inherent doom and gloom atmosphere here seems in direct opposition to how quip heavy these heroes are here.  The film also culminates in a vast battle between the heroes and Thanos' cronies and their thousands upon thousands of blood thirsty monsters, which mournfully has been done to literal death in these kind of movies.  Considering the intimate stakes of the final battle pitting hero against hero in CIVIL WAR, watching the Avengers fight an army of faceless CGI beasts (after this was already done in the first two AVENGERS films) has become awfully stale. 

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR does, however, careen towards a final 15 minutes that, for the first time in MCU history (and without spoiling anything), is quite brilliantly executed in terms of the sense of frighteningly immediate darkness and lack of closure it brings.  This ending, though, is ironically the greatest strength and weakness of AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, seeing as it culminates with unparalleled levels of trauma for the MCU, but that nevertheless had very little emotional or dramatic impact on me.  Here's why: I know how comic books work.  I know how comic book movies work.  I know how the bottom line interest of studios and corporations work.  Leaving AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR I had absolutely no doubts about what will mostly likely happen next.  Because Disney and Marvel have made the cardinal blunder of announcing future MCU projects (instead of not announcing any and letting this macabre ending stay with viewers for a year or so), there's simply no way that they will creatively stick to the landing of this film's conclusion.  As a result, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR wants to elicit tears out of me, but instead left me feeling hollow.  I know in my heart of hearts that what has happened isn't final. 

In a way, the future marketing juggernaut of the MCU has hurt the potent effectiveness of the closing moments of AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR.  Still, this film is such a colossal and commendable filmmaking undertaking and, despite some obvious hiccups and problems, has genuinely delivered to its ravenous fanbase (let's face it, these films have become critic proof) and, like all good sequels, has us clamoring to see the next installment with baited breath.  AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR is one of the most visually opulent and grand super hero films ever conceived and executed (it's an unqualified technical - no pun intended - marvel) and it features one of the most memorable villains in comic book film history.  I just wished that I felt more about what was culminating on screen and believed in the startlingly finality of its murky ending, which unfortunately feels like it's setting up for bait and switch tactics moving forward.  That left me feeling somewhat cheated leaving AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, but as a lavishly massive comic book crossover come thrillingly to life off of the splash pages of Marvel's greatest artists, this film put my childhood dreams on the silver screen...and maybe that alone is enough to warrant seeing this. 



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