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Movie audiences were all pleasantly surprised when the ensemble cast of Avengers all came together to make a pretty damned good movie. There was genuine anxiety regarding whether that movie could possibly successfully bring four movies' worth of superheroes together into a single movie, and manage to give everybody enough valuable screen time to make the whole thing work. Similarly, there was considerably anxiety regarding whether or not Marvel could double-down and pull off an ensemble of ensembles for the mega-crossover Infinity War. But at this point, I think we've all moved past any expectation that Marvel will screw up, and we all just assume that they're going to find a way to magically make it all work.

I had to wait a couple weeks to find out. I had planned to see the movie the Monday after release and have this review out two weeks ago, but fate conspired against that. Towards the end of the trailers, somebody pulled the fire alarm in the building, forcing the theater to evacuate. It was a false alarm, but by the time they let everyone back in, it was too late and the movie wouldn't be over in time to pick up the kids from KidsQuest before they closed for the night. Ah well. My girlfriend finally got sick of having to hush her students whenever they started talking about the movie, so she dragged me out to the theater earlier this week.

The sheer volume of characters, content, and punches here does make Infinity War one of the more unbalanced of Marvel's movies. It is after all, weaving a complex tapestry of superhero action, science fiction, and magical fantasy, and there's virtually no set-up or development for the characters. This movie is all climax all the time. It's probably the first Marvel movie that really requires that you have seen most of the lead-up material. There simply isn't enough time here to introduce who everyone is and what their deal is. If you haven't seen at least one film featuring each character, you'll likely be lost with regard to who they are. Guardians of the Galaxy, Civil War, and Ragnarok are pretty much essential prerequisite viewing. You can skip Ant Man though, as he's conspicuously absent from this particular compilation piece.

Infinity War is an ensemble of ensembles.

This movie would probably fail miserably if it were a typical super-hero movie focused around the heroes and their struggle (and failure) to beat the bad guy. Marvel knows well enough to not try to replicate The Empire Strikes Back. Instead, Infinity War is much more about the bad guy. Thanos is pretty much the main character here, and a great deal of time and effort is paid to trying to make him as relatable and understandable of a villain as possible. He is characterized with nuance, he's clever, he's ruthless, and he's consistent in his goals and ambition. Whether or not you sympathize with his point of view will, of course, depend on where you stand on the topic of universal genocide. Josh Brolin's Thanos does, however, have some pretty definitive swagger and charisma. His CG monstrosity has a lot of screen presence. It's too bad that the CG isn't always completely convincing though.

Because the bad guy is basically the main character (and protagonist), the entire narrative arc of the movie is almost the inverse of what you'd usually expect. The bad guys show up to create the dramatic stakes and sense of threat with aplomb, as expected. But instead of the rising action being a series of setbacks for the heroes with a climactic victory at the end, the heroes seem to come together and get everything mostly under control for the middle act of the movie, only to have it all go to shit when the climax arrives. Instead of the good guys losing in the end, the movie is framed as the bad guy wins in the end -- a subtle, but significant difference!

Thanos is the main character of this movie, and the dramatic and emotional arcs revolve around him.

Everything works pretty well, but I have some minor complaints. One is that the movie lacks the fantastical imagery of Doctor Strange. None of the warped geometry is present, which was a shame, as all the heroes and villains are basically just shooting lasers at each other. It never degrades to the level of a DC movie, but I was hoping for some more interesting visuals from Doctor Strange's fighting.

The bigger problem is the comedy. Most of it works well, and helps to lighten the tone of an otherwise dour movie, but some of it (particularly from Drax) feels more forced. The writers thought, "we've gone two minutes without a joke, so let's just make Drax say something stupid." His observations about Thor's manliness are on-point and amusing, but some of the other things he says and does just completely fell flat for me. Go back to the original Guardians of the Galaxy, and the funny things that Drax says all have a logic to them. They are all the result of expressions being "lost in translation" because Drax takes everything too literally. Now, there's no misunderstandings; he just says stupid things for the sake of saying stupid things. It's as if Drax took the "comic" part of "comic book" too literally.

If anything is going to take down the Marvel movies, it's going to be this insistence on unnecessary humor. It worked well in Guardians, Ragnarok, and mostly worked in Guardians 2 because it all felt genuine and organic. Now it feels very forced.

Infinity War's visuals aren't quite as imaginative as I was hoping they would be.

It's not a deal-breaker. Infinity War executes its mega-cross-over much more competently than anything I ever put together with my bins full of action figures when I was 10. It is well-structured and paced (albeit very quickly-paced). It does a good job of breaking up the huge cast into smaller, more manageable groups. It pays off a lot of the thematic and character build-up that we've been seeing over the past 10 years, and respects each and every character and what makes them unique and interesting. Most importantly though (and what differentiates it from DC, Universal, and other recent attempts at shared universes), is that Infinity War is confident in itself. Nowhere is that more apparent than in its bold finale.

About that ending... Spoiler time

Does this really count as a spoiler though? I mean, didn't we all go onto Google or Wikipedia after the end credits of the first Avengers to look up who the purple-faced bad guy in the throne is supposed to be? And didn't we all read about the "Infinity Wars", and the whole "winking half of the life in the universe out of existence" thing when we were looking up who the heck Thanos is? My girlfriend had been talking about how she had heard that somebody dies, but she didn't want any more spoilers, and I was thinking "doesn't everybody die? Isn't that, like, common knowledge?". It's like being surprised that the boat sinks at the end of Titanic, or that Doomsday kills Superman.

Didn't you already look-up how
the comic Infinity War played out?

The ending wasn't a surprise to me at all. What was surprising to me (and a little disappointing), was the choice of who lives and who "dies". Thanos snaps away all the newer characters and leaves behind all the original Avengers. This, I feel, takes away some of the emotional impact of the scene, since the characters that we're the most familiar with (and who we are supposedly the most invested in) are all spared. It's only the newer, niche characters, with only one or two film appearances each, that are erased from existence.

Everyone in the theater gasped when Thanos crushed Loki's neck, when Gamora was tossed to her death, and when Tony Stark got run through by Thanos. And everyone breathed a sigh of relief when Doctor Strange bargained for Stark's life and when Thor got pulled into the Guardian's ship. That same audience seemed to completely shrug off Doctor Strange, Scarlet Witch, Falcon, Mantis, and even Black Panther disintegrating. Spider-Man was maybe a bit harder to shrug off, but only because the movie draws that one out considerably longer than the rest, and because it ties into and executes the larger theme of lost family (and surrogate family) that has been present throughout the entire movie.

A big part of the casual dismissal of half the cast's "death" might be that we all expect the disappeared characters to all be resurrected when Thanos is inevitably defeated in Infinity War 2 or whatever. The characters that were actually killed prior to the finger snap heard 'round the cosmos, might actually stay dead, so they are the more impactful ones. It certainly doesn't help that Marvel has already spilled the beans by announced sequels to Black Panther and Spider-Man: Homecoming, so we know those characters are coming back in some way. We also might not have to wait very long to see some sort of resolution or reconciliation regarding Infinity Wars' conclusion, since Ant Man and the Wasp is due out later this summer (and will be running in theaters concurrently with Infinity Wars).

I was also a bit surprised at the method that Thanos chose to re-write the cosmos. I would have thought that (with the power of the Time Stone and Reality Stone), that he'd be able to simply erase a subset of people from every having existed (think the Krenim from Star Trek: Voyager), and that we'd suddenly be in a universe in which Hydra and the Red Skull had taken over Earth in the 1940s because there was never a Captain America to stop them, and so forth. Thanos makes a big deal about how he thinks he's saving life by his actions, and that he wants to alleviate suffering. He thinks he's being merciful. Well, instead of painfully disintegrating people into ash (and leaving behind trillions of grieving loved ones), I would think that the merciful thing to do would be to make it so that they had never existed. That would also leave the remaining people (including any Avengers) without a knowledge that anything was wrong, and with no idea that they should even try to go after Thanos. He wouldn't have to fight to defend the new reality that he created.

Thanos leaves us with pretty much just the original Avengers cast, plus Rocket Raccoon.
I miss how colorful these movies used to be...

Marvel also missed a torch-passing opportunity. Eliminating all the old-school Avengers, like Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, etc., would have allowed the newer characters an opportunity to take center-stage and be the feature of the next Avengers movie. I'm assuming that Marvel / Disney didn't do this because they want to send these classic characters off on a happier note. Or maybe they're being more true to the original comics -- I confess I'm not particularly familiar with the Infinity War storyline in the comics.

From a more contextual stand-point, it's also strange (to me) that Thanos would spare the most powerful heroes, such as Hulk and Thor. Aside from Doctor Strange, none of the eliminated characters were really that much of a threat to him. Or maybe he just wasn't able to consciously pick and chose who stays and who vanishes? In any case, it's going to be interesting to see how Marvel follows this up.

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