For the Marvel faithful, there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing. While some ticket buyers will no doubt look at the bloated 2-hour-29-minute run time of the new, all-hands-on-deck marathon Avengers: Infinity War and sigh, wondering if they’re about to watch a movie or a cricket match, diehards will be only too happy to purchase a bigger trough of popcorn and settle in for the long haul thinking that Christmas has come early. After months of unavoidable pre-release hype, not to mention rabid social-media guessing games about which superhero (or superheroes) may end up biting the dust in this chapter, D-day is finally upon us. And no, I won’t be offering any spoilers because, frankly, y’all scare me.
Let’s be clear, Infinity War is a movie for the fans. Especially those who’ve spent any time wondering what it would be like to witness Chris Hemsworth’s Thor wisecracking with Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord, or tagging along with some of the Avengers as they hightail it to Wakanda (the arrival there got a rousing wave of applause at my screening). It’s the Marvel equivalent of watching the old “We Are the World” video (Hey, it’s Bob Dylan singing between to Cyndi Lauper and Huey Lewis!). And for the most part, this super-sized mash-up works better than you’d expect. There are occasional tonal disparities when you get a smart-aleck character firing off quips next to a stoically straight-faced one like Chris Evans’ Captain America. Even in the real world, if you put a large enough group of people in a room together, all of the different personalities aren’t necessarily going to mesh. Comic book heroes, they’re just like us!
And it is a large group. With at least 25 marquee characters crammed into the same story, you can feel the directors Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America: Civil War) struggle at times to keep so many balls in the air. It’s a bit like 10 pounds of movie jammed into a five-pound bag. Some, like Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Anthony Mackie’s Falcon get so little to do, you wonder why they even bothered to show up. Marvel is sitting on such an embarrassment of riches with its deep bench of characters, that some don’t have much more to do than act as glorified extras. But restraint hasn’t ever exactly been part of the studio’s M.O. Too many of the characters seem to be fighting over too little to do. But that’s what happens when you’re making movies on a canvas this vast.
Infinity War kicks off with the evil Thanos (a CG Josh Brolin, kind of recognizable behind an oversized granite chin, Hulkian muscles, and Booberry-hued skin) terrorizing Asgardians Loki, Heimdall, and Thor, looking for one of the precious infinity stones. With some creepy-cool henchmen, he’s destroying worlds and taking names in his attempt to collect all six and become all-powerful. Ahh, the infinity stones — arguably the most sought-after and now-famous MacGuffins in Hollywood history. To some, a new batch of infinity-stone nonsense will seem like tired reheated leftovers; for others, they’re the stuff that dreams are made of — as riveting as Sam Spade’s Maltese Falcon or Indiana Jones’ Ark of the Covenant. I’m pretty agnostic. I do wish these films would find something else to obsess over, though.
Either way, Thanos is well on his way to getting his giant mitts on the full set and with it, total omnipotence. So it’s off to Earth and various intergalactic planets with names like Knowhere and Nidavellir to snag the others, setting off an apocalyptic doomsday crisis that can only be stopped by the Avengers and the Guardians and basically every other being who’s ever graced the pages of a comic book. But, of course, that means putting aside some old grudges and hurt feelings. If you’ll recall from Captain America: Civil War (which I’d argue was a better movie than this one, thanks in part to the great Leipzig airport battle royal), our heroes may agree on the saving the world, but tensions exist. They need to be smoothed over, stat.
But there are…issues. Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner is been having a hard time of it lately turning into the Hulk, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange has to adjust to Robert Downey Jr.’s rat-a-tat wiseassery (he does pretty well, at one point calling Tony Stark a “douchebag,” which frankly seems a little more crass than his effete airs would suggest), Paul Bettany’s Vision and Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch need to come out of their romantic hiding in Scotland to face evil yet again, Peter Parker needs to grow up under Stark’s fatherly wing, and the Guardians posse (including a distracted, now-teenage Groot) need to find a way to integrate into the established hierarchy like exchange students on the first day at a new school. The good news is, they do and nicely. It’s a lot to keep track of, to be sure. But this movie operates on such a simplistic mythic lizard-brain level, that it’s not too hard to reason things out even if you’re coming into the proceedings cold.
Everything I’ve just said is just a skimming of the Infinity War surface. I won’t go any deeper with regard to the plot. The problem is that with so many characters to shoehorn in and so many realms of the galaxy to put out various fires in, the heroic horde is broken into four or five smaller subgroups that we keep cutting back and forth to. And some, naturally, are more entertaining to sit through than others. And some just seem to vanish for long stretches until you find yourself wondering when the hell are we going back to Wakanda or wherever? It ends up feeling a bit too disjointed – like we’re flipping the channels between four different movies instead of watching one cohesive one.
What saves Infinity War from being just another bloated supergroup tour – and what will end up being the thing that blows fans’ minds to dust – is the film’s final stretch. Let’s be clear, when it comes to hand-over-fist cash cows like the Marvel films, any time a character is put into any sort of serious jeopardy, you immediately have to raise an eyebrow and roll your eyes a bit. All of these characters are such lucrative intellectual properties no studio, no matter how daring, is going to put them into too much jeopardy. You don’t have to think back very far to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (DC not Marvel, I know, I know) when it looked like Superman was done for at the end only to see his casket vibrating because…well, you can’t possibly kill off Superman. He’s freakin’ Superman! At least, not when so many executives’ annual bonuses are riding on the next installment. Still, there is something thrilling about watching just how much fun the Russos and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely are having messing with the fans here. Even if, in the end, that little subversive act of freaking them out only lasts until the next sequel. B