Over the years, as I’ve continued to assert Avengers is the best movie in the MCU, I’ve held that nothing could surmount the film’s delivery on expectations. Everything in the nascent MCU from 2008 to 2012 built to that moment of the Avengers coming together for the first time to save New York. The film’s ability to turn all that hype and world-building into a genuinely thrilling, humorous, compelling story is the reason we still even have the MCU. What could be bigger?
The answer, of course, came at the end of that same Avengers, as the budding Marvel Cinematic Universe introduced Thanos and his quest to collect the infinity stones for himself. That introduction has led to an often tangential throughline for Marvel movies from 2012 to 2018, all building to the release of Avengers: Infinity War.
Note: The 1st part of this review is spoiler-free. Once you hit the “Infinite Avengers” section the review is FULL of spoilers. So many. You’ve been warned!
For a spoiler-filled discussion, check out the Best Comics Ever podcast conversation about the film:
If the future of the MCU hinged on the quality of Avengers, then the worthiness of the entire decade of continuity hinged on the quality of Infinity War. The question becomes what has a greater degree of difficulty: launching the world’s biggest franchise, or sticking the landing on a decade of build-up?
As much as I’ll always love and respect what Avengers accomplished, Infinity War is simply operating with a greater degree of difficulty, and truth be told, it’s the finest example of shared universe comics we’ve ever seen on screen.
I’m in the minority of Marvel movie fans on this, but I rarely want to see one of these movies multiple times close to opening day. Avengers: Infinity War did not have this problem. I left the theater (sobbing like a babe) and wanted to turn right back around and experience it all again. The blend of Marvel Universe comedy and tragedy on display is phenomenal.
Infinity War is comic book event madness at its finest. You can feel the tie-ins at the edges of the story, filling in both the unseen two years prior to the event, and the margins of odd character team-ups and travels. This is a nearly three hour movie that arguably has even more story to tell.
As they did on Captain America 3: Civil War, the Russo Brothers make it too easy to take for granted the pacing and puzzling required for a movie starring this many characters. This many leads in one story should not work, and yet it’s a remarkable, immersive blend of everything that has made the Marvel Cinematic Universe the biggest franchise in the world.
There’s been some hand-wringing in certain “elite” circles over the fact that 18 movies worth of background are built into the foundation of Avengers: Infinity War, and that the film would not, under any circumstances, stand on its own. I agree, but view this instead as cause for celebration. Building up to a giant-sized finale (part one) over the course of a decade isn’t just impressive; it has quite literally never been attempted on this scale. The train could have rolled off the tracks at any point in time, such as a lackluster Avengers 2: Age of Ultron, but instead Marvel Studios has improved their output with every passing year.
Much like a wild action-packed comic book event, it’s not like Infinity War is perfect. I found the “we can’t get this expertly crafted glove off his hand” scene particularly exasperating, with 74 heroes grunting and groaning to restrain an immobile Thanos, while Iron Man and Spider-Man spectacularly fail to remove a gauntlet. Contrasted with the comical ease with which Nebula sneaks the gauntlet off Thanos in the Jim Starlin and Ron Lim Infinity Gauntlet, the scene is a good old fashioned comic book plot coupon. If only Tony had channeled his inner Cochran quipping “If the glove has this kind of fit, well then s&*t.”
I also found the repetition of theme notably ham-fisted. The clear theme of Infinity War is stated by Steve Rogers when he tells Vision “We don’t trade lives.” It’s a very good Captain America line, and exactly the stance that makes him so difficult as part of the New Avengers Illuminati in the early going of Jonathan Hickman’s run in the comics.
Nonetheless, I could have done without three separate infinity stones gift-wrapped to the villain about to eradicate half of all life in the universe in order to save one life. Loki, Gamora, and Doctor Strange all hand over stones to Thanos in order to save the lives of their siblings (Thor, Nebula, and facial hair bro Tony Stark). You can make arguments for and against any of the character dynamics at stake (would Loki really give up power to save Thor?), but the bigger issue for me is Thanos getting all three stones through the exact same situation. Where’s my Thanos Quest chess match at?!
My concerns over Thanos were generally assuaged when I saw creator Jim Starlin’s rapturous review of Josh Brolin’s performance prior to the film’s larger release. Changes aside (we’ll get to those), at his core, Brolin’s Thanos is cold, dispassionate, and full of tremendous will and pragmatism. He spends one moment praising his own benevolence, only to follow it with tales of his unflinching cruelty. That’s the Thanos I’ve read with an unbreakable fixation for years, and a huge part of what makes Infinity War so enjoyable.
Thanos purists can find plenty of inconsistencies to highlight, though. The mad Titan’s origins are effectively distilled to “the Jor-El of planet-crowding,” with only the briefest of references to Mentor and Titan (Starfox and Kronos will have to wait it would seem). Likewise, Thanos’ slavish devotion to Lady Death is replaced with an unblinking devotion to universal “balance.”
Infinity War balances (hee) the might of Thanos with the outside hope that he is beatable. The Infinity Gauntlet was never going to be an easy weapon to visualize in action, so I very much appreciate the Russo’s decision to treat it like a video game controller, with Thanos operating specific highlighted buttons at specific moments. This is Thanos in the early stages of understanding omnipotence, and rather than self-sabotage due to ego or doubt, Thanos is simply adapting to all this newfound power. He’s slow to wield the full might of the gauntlet in part because he enjoys the battle, but also because almost no being in the universe could balance that much power.
It was always going to be difficult to introduce Thanos in this movie after years of build up, but honestly Infinity War finds ample space to let audiences get acclimated. That it simultaneously does this while generating shots for the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man, world of Wakanda, and Ned Leeds is brilliant.
Where Does Avengers: Infinity War Rank in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
Tier 1: The Best
1) Avengers: Infinity War
3) Guardians of the Galaxy
4) Captain America 3: Civil War
5) Thor: Ragnarok
6) Black Panther
Tier 2: Great
7) Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier
8) Spider-Man: Homecoming
9) Daredevil (Seasons 1 & 2)
10) Iron Man
11) Jessica Jones (Seasons 1 & 2)
Tier 3: Good
12) Captain America: The First Avenger
13) The Punisher
14) Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
15) Iron Man 3
16) Avengers 2: Age of Ultron
18) Doctor Strange
Tier 4: Mixed Feelings
20) Luke Cage
21) Thor 2: The Dark World
Tier 5: I’ll Watch With a Comic In Hand
24) Agents of SHIELD (Seasons 1 through 4)
25) Agent Carter (Seasons 1 & 2)
26) Incredible Hulk
Tier 6: Nope
27) Iron Man 2
28) Dropping your phone in the toilet
29) Iron Fist
10 More Thoughts on Avengers: Infinity War
Big Moment For The Malthusian Theory of Population
I couldn’t help but thinking the church of Thanos could have tried some family planning tips prior to hardcore genocide. I would have been very into Thanos flying planet to planet in Sanctuary 1 handing out contraception to overpopulated planets.
Speaking of Thanos’ motivations, overpopulation is a strange hangup for the ultimate big bad of a cosmic universe, although I suppose it’s not any wilder than falling in love with the cosmic embodiment of death.
As a whole, Infinity War moves in so many directions it’s really not an issue, but I am curious to interragate Thanos’ perhaps baseless assumption that reducing population will generate universal paradise. Are conflicts among living beings really reduced to availability of resources? Why, then, have there always been wars, with varying degrees of lesser population on planet Earth. To quote Ghandi: “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”
Are you telling me the genocidal Grimus hasn’t shown his work?!
I’m far from an expert on the subject, but there’s a lot of interesting research around this issue (including the above theory from 1798!). For more on over-population: How many people can Earth support?
No post-credits stinger would have been incredible. Don’t get me wrong, the post-credits tease is always one of my most anticipated moments, but given that bone-chilling finale, making the audience wait for a mere “Thanos Will Return” would have been the ultimate power play by Marvel Studios.
On the other hand, what I wouldn’t have given for the post-credits stinger to have revealed a set-up for Secret Wars instead of teasing Captain Marvel. It’s still compelling because I have no idea how Captain Marvel’s setting in the 90’s is going to mesh with the current state of the Marvel U in 2018, but oh to see Bucky hear the words “Slay your enemies and all you desire shall be yours!”
The Marvel Starkomatic Universe
It makes sense that Infinity War Pt. 2 has to be Tony Stark’s story. Iron Man has been the bedrock of the MCU both in chronology and personality. As Doctor Strange says shortly before fading out, “It had to be you.”
For my money, Infinity War is easily Robert Downey Jr’s best showing since 2013 (in Iron Man 3). Honestly, the first 5 years of RDJ’s ascent as Tony Stark are remarkable, but the last five are a mixed bag. The arrogance is harder to enjoy, the jokes are tepid, and the character’s decision making contributes to the split of the Avengers! Benedict Cumberbatch entering the scene as Doctor Strange helps a lot in this regard, taking Tony down several notches by operating at Tony’s own level of conceit.
It also helps to see Stark so vulnerable. He begins the movie talking about starting a family with Pepper, very nearly putting one foot out of the armor (but never able to give it up completely lest some Ebony Mawed fool crash down his front door.) The anxiety from Iron Man 3 also returns fully as Stark is finally able to confront the villain that sparked his nightmares.
I’ll admit, given the overall tenor of mortality across Infinity War I did believe Thanos was putting an end to Iron Man for a few moments. When Doctor Strange gave up the time stone, though, it became abundantly clear Iron Man still has a role to play in saving the cosmos.
Although I was generally very happy with Thanos, Avengers: Infinity War doesn’t do the existing villains of the MCU many favors. Loki’s ruses are predictable and boring, ultimately leading to his death.
The most surprising character reveal of the film comes with the Red Skull’s hooded showcase on Vormir, but he’s used as nothing more than a cut scene. In both cases, the villain’s inability to make use of infinity stones right within their grasp is perplexing. Loki is particularly vexing to me; why didn’t he ever use the cube?
I also would have loved it if Red Skull made a play at the soul stone while Thanos was caught up in his sacrifice of Gamora. I’m not actually looking for the monster to get a stone, but the Skull should always be calculating opportunities for power.
There Is No Mandarin Award: 2018
Speaking of Marvel villains, it’s time to crown a new annual “There Is No Mandarin” award winner. The award goes to the Marvel villain most thoroughly wasted in service of the plot, named after the honorable Ben Kingsley’s turn as a drunken imposter posing as Mandarin. Previous winners include:
2013: The (Not) Mandarin
2014: Ronan the Accuser
2015: Baron Von Strucker
Our 2018 award was tentatively in the hands of Ulysses Klaw (don’t you dare walk in here with that atrocity of vowels the MCU uses), but that was never going to last. The “There Is No Mandarin” award for Marvel villain most thoroughly wasted in service of the plot goes (without question) to the Children of Thanos, aka the Black Order, aka Squidward and pals!
The Jonathan Hickman and Jim Cheung creations from Infinity, are excellent Marvel Comics additions from the 2010’s, but unfortunately only the Ebony Maw got even a sliver of characterization. Given the amount of available screen time this is far from surprising. Nonetheless, the Black Order are much cooler than Infinity War was able to show before their untimely deaths!
Have No Fear, Here Comes Ant-Man & Wasp
Ant-Man and the Wasp is going to be a real laugh riot in July! After looking it up, my assumption that the next release in the MCU must occur prior to Avengers: Infinity War appears to be correct. By my count, this will be the first MCU release explicitly intended to appear out of order chronologically compared to film release dates.
I don’t look at a lot of MCU theories, but my guess would be the big picture components of this movie connect most clearly to Captain Marvel. Which may well mean the fates of Carol Danvers and Janet Van Dyne are somehow connected. It will be extremely interesting to see how Ant-Man and Wasp chooses to wield its strange placement in the MCU canon.
Infinity Gauntlet, Abridged
Adapting Jim Starlin and Ron Lim’s Infinity Gauntlet is no small feat, so excelsior to screenwriters Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus for condensing and speeding up the comics most memorable moments. Instead of self-sabotage, Thanos wins and then retires. It’s over, and he did it, instead of winning only to slack at the wheel and lose his gauntlet to cosmic malpractice. Let the Thanos scarecrow fly!
It’s Like Brave Little Toaster All Over Again
Shout out to all the young kids who will grow up with body horror nightmares of Drax and Mantis sliced up like salami and Nebula held in torture-stasis like the world’s most angsty desktop processor. There was a five year old next to me in the theater, and I’ve got it at 5 to 1 he didn’t sleep at all that night!
Peter Dinklage really took me out of the movie, to the point that a few theater goers openly guffawed when Thor addressed his wounded character.
Dinklage’s performance was fine, entering the scene as Eitri, the dwarf king who crafted Mjolnir at Odin’s behest. Nonetheless, my associations with Tyrion and Game of Thrones made this the first moment in a long film where I was pulled back to reality and out of the script. I don’t know that it was the wrong move for the movie, but it was a strange choice.
A List Of The Characters Killed Off, In Descending Order of How Choked Up Their Death Made Me (Probably due to the onions the kid next to me insisted he snack on)
Played for laughs, with Samuel L. Jackson cut-off mid-curse, and immediately undercut by the excitement of the Captain Marvel tease.
Heimdall, aka Idris Elba’s rookie contract
We hardly knew ye.
We arguably didn’t know ye.
Felt like a small mercy after the heart-wrenching destruction of Vision by Thanos and his time stone.
Cap’s entire Nomad crew kind of got the short-end of the screen time stick, none more so than Sam Wilson.
Finally brought back and in control of his faculties, only to immediate fade away. Poor Buck.
Had it coming, but after finally overcoming his station as “Truly the worst brother,” it was tough to see Loki meet such an end. This is also a clear opening statement from Infinity War that this movie is not like the rest!
As my wife says, his human form is way too old for Wanda, but that doesn’t make his tortured Infinity War romance easier bear.
Guardians of the Galaxy (minus Rocket)
- Peter Quill (Star-Lord)
Show me Rocket Raccoon watching Groot die, and I’ll show you a man about to lose his cool. Also, least choked up for Quill due to his impossibly dense contributions to Thanos’ success.
Benedict made the most of his turn in the Avengers spotlight, and taking him off the board is a big loss both for viewers and the Avengers.
T’Challa, the Black Panther
This is the one that actually surprised me the most, setting the timer in my head for the return of all of these characters.
There are approximately negative scenarios when a “death of Spider-Man” sequence doesn’t bring me to tears, but the interactions between Tom Holland and Robert Downey Jr. in this scene hurtright in the heartstrings. The impact was so much greater given the character’s established father/son dynamic established throughout Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming. There’s little doubt Tom’s coming back, with a Spider-Man 2 already scheduled by Marvel Studios, but channeling David Tennant’s Doctor Who line “I don’t want to go!” is just unfair.
R.I.P. basically everyone. What did you think about Infinity War? Do what feels right to you in the comments.