Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 5/6/18
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Music: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Idris Elba, Danai Gurira, Peter Dinklage, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt, Sean Gunn, William Hurt, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Stan Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders

It's all been building up to this point. Marvel has been strategically dropping hints about it for years, and now Thanos (Josh Brolin) is front and center, making good on his dream of universal genocide. The film opens right where "Thor: Ragnarok" (2017) left off, with Thanos wiping out an Asgardian refugee fleet. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) manages to survive and is rescued by the Guardians Of The Galaxy. Meanwhile, The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) gets sent back to Earth, where he crashes into Doctor Strange's (Benedict Cumberbatch) sanctuary and warns him of the coming threat. Strange contacts Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and asks him about the whereabouts of Vision (Paul Bettany), as he holds one of the Infinity Stones that Thanos is looking for. Only Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) knows where Vision might be, so he and the remaining rogue Avengers get pulled into the crisis as well.

The film is a massive undertaking that nearly collapses under its own weight. The cast is huge and features over thirty characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which means that nearly everyone is reduced to cameo status. However, much to its credit, the film does a good job of spreading the action around and making sure everyone gets some time in the spotlight. Not surprisingly, the majority of the action revolves around Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, which keeps everything firmly grounded in the Avengers wheelhouse. What is surprising is how much of the story is devoted to the Guardians Of The Galaxy, which creates some major tonal inconsistencies. That said, seeing Marvel's three biggest assholes (Tony Stark, Stephen Strange, and Peter Quill) all together in the same place makes for some very entertaining exchanges. Overall, the writing is very smart and the characters all speak and behave in a way that's consistent with their established personalities. Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) is the only one who suffers from awkward dialog, and her unflattering new hairdo doesn't help any. Her continued mistreatment is making me lose hope that a Black Widow film will ever happen.

The film's biggest surprise is Thor, who I've never been particularly fond of. This time around he is truly a supreme bad-ass who is humbled and weighed down with unbearable anguish and despair. Another pleasant surprise is Doctor Strange, who I found intolerable in his origin film. Now that he's a Sorcerer Supreme, his character is much more interesting and considerably more tolerable. In fact, I found him extremely charming in this film and I look forward to seeing him in future adventures. On the other hand, Tom Holland's Peter Parker is guaranteed to annoy anyone over thirty years old. Tony Stark seems like second nature for Robert Downey Jr. these days, and he gives a typically commanding and irritating performance. But the biggest issue I had with Iron Man this time was his fancy new suit, which is RIDICULOUSLY overpowered. At the same time, it's really cool and it thematically makes sense to up the ante against a threat like Thanos, but it stretched my suspension of disbelief a bit too far. Much like Superman, is there anything that Iron Man CAN'T do? Chris Evans continues to be charming as Captain America, although he's become much more rugged and ruthless since his fallout with Stark. People in the audience actually clapped and cheered when he made his dramatic entrance. Chris Pratt also does an admirable job of standing toe-to-toe with Earth's mightiest heroes, and has his own personal score to settle with Thanos. And speaking of Thanos, Josh Brolin gives an excellent performance as the egomaniacal destroyer of worlds, and imbues him with just the right amount of madness, ruthlessness, anguish, and sympathy.

While the writing is thoughtful and tight, the details of the story start to fall apart with the slightest scrutiny. But to be fair, it's not the story that matters in this film - it's the spectacle. Marvel has carefully brought all of these characters together for one purpose: to beat the crap out of each other with the fate of the universe at stake. The film is essentially a 2.5 hour long fight scene, and the action is brutal and relentless. It's an exhausting exercise in style over substance, and the film rarely slows down long enough to catch its breath. That said, the film looks absolutely incredible, and is one of the best cinematic experiences I've ever had. The action is frantic and never lets up, and while the editing tones down the violence and often makes things hard to follow, the choreography is superb and the pacing maintains a good rhythm. What really stood out in this film were the characters' gestures, and how precise the hand movement was. Special attention was definitely given to that, along with body movement in general. All of the characters move with a certain amount of physical grace, which is a subtle, but very effective way of enforcing their superhuman nature.

With the stakes as high as they are, the film is an emotionally intense ride and Alan Silvestri's bold music score does an excellent job of complementing the brave heroics. Even simple scenes like Captain America and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) racing each other into battle pack a powerful emotional punch. Much of the pre-release hype revolved around who was going to die in the film, when a much better question would be, "who DOESN'T die in the film?" Marvel obviously isn't going to kill their golden goose just yet, so it will be interesting to see how things get resolved in the next Avengers film. Otherwise, Marvel won't have any more films to make.