The beginning of the end.
We live in an age of gargantuan expectations. That’s why we’re able to accept a movie with 30 superheroes fighting in it when six years ago, it felt a bit much to have just six superheroes together on one screen. Well, if Marvel achieved nothing else with Avengers: Infinity War, they achieved the impossible. They made a superhero movie with a larger cast than any of the 18 films that came before it, and they pulled it off magnificently.
A sequel to (*takes deep breath*) Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther, (*breathes again*), Avengers: Infinity War follows the mad titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) on a quest to find the six Infinity Stones, magical gems imbued with supernatural power. The Avengers know the location of a few of the Infinity Stones. The Power Stone, for instance, was stored away on the planet Xandar in the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, while the Space Stone is housed in the Tesseract, which was on Asgard when it was destroyed in Thor: Ragnarok. The Collector (Benecio Del Toro) has ownership of the Aether, a.k.a. the Reality Stone on Knowhere, while Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Vision (Paul Bettany) have the Time and Mind Stones respectively. If Thanos finds all six of the Infinity Stones first, he will use them to wipe out half of all life in the universe with a snap of his fingers. Scattered and displaced, the Avengers must team up with the Guardians of the Galaxy to find the Infinity Stones before Thanos does and put a stop to his madness.
The sheer size of Avengers: Infinity War is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness: a double-edged sword to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When this franchise started 10 years ago with the release of Iron Man, its world was relatively focused and self-contained, keeping it small with just a handful of names featured in each individual movie. Now, they’ve straight-up exploded into pure comic-book madness. Previous MCU movies typically did not have a billed cast that went significantly beyond 10 actors. Even Captain America: Civil War, the biggest MCU film before Infinity War, was pushing it at a 18-member cast. Infinity War blows that away with 35 actors.
With that large of a cast, there’s plenty of action to show off, and there’s plenty of spotlight to share amongst all of the stars here. Whether Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and Doctor Strange are fighting Thanos’ minions in New York, or an elderly Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is rescuing an injured Vision, or Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is meeting the Guardians of the Galaxy for the first time, there’s plenty of memorable moments to pick out from the film to make you grin from ear-to-ear. It’s almost like a cinematic wheel-of-fortune for the movie theater: spin the wheel, and see what special prize you win at random.
This both works and backfires for the film’s available cast. On one hand, the fact that there’s so many amazing moments to pick from really brings a plethora of joy and thrills into the movie theater, making for some outstanding blockbuster entertainment. But with this large of a cast and this ambitious of a scope, that also brings in a key problem: it’s too easily distracted. Since the movie is basically one overstuffed comic-book Easter Egg lined up one after the other, there’s no real room for anyone to have their individual moment to shine, and as this is the case, our heroes are forced to share the frame with everyone else packed into the screen with them. With the original Avengers, you could pinpoint one key moment where each Avenger outshined the rest, whether Tony was threatening Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in his penthouse, Captain America was issuing out orders to the team, or Hulk was smashing Puny God’s brains in. You could not pinpoint one such moment in Infinity War, because there are no individual moments. Everyone is fighting everyone for everyone, and it’s very easy to get lost with all of the spectacle going on at once.
I did enjoy Josh Brolin quite a bit as Thanos. In a franchise where the villains have consistently been the weaker aspect of these superhero movies, Marvel has finally pushed out not one, but two fantastic villains in the same year: Erik Killmonger in Black Panther and Thanos in Infinity War. They’re very interesting for very similar reasons. One, their performances are on-point, and the actors fully commit themselves to the complexities and absurdities of their roles. Two, they are given very compelling reasons for their villainy, and you sympathize with them not because of their moral compass, but because of their life experiences that drove them to make the decisions that they did.
Killmonger, for instance, wanted to start a race war to compensate for years of suffering the African-American people have had to endure at the hands of the white majority. Thanos, while not race-driven, has an equally motivated reason for seeking universal genocide: he’s trying to save the universe. In one particular scene, he explains his violent reasoning to a hesitant listener, and he makes his position clear. This universe’s space is finite, its resources finite. And its population is growing too big to sustain itself. Comparing it to one memory where he wiped out half of one planet’s population, he pointed out that the children were starving and dying on that planet before he came. Now, their bellies are full and they are healthy and happy. In the perspective of population control and prolonging extinction, Thanos makes the hard decision to cut down on what he sees as the fat to extend life in the universe. His commitment to his mission makes him a very compelling villain to watch, even though you don’t enjoy the cruelty and violence that he brings with him.
I do think some of the material is too disturbing for some younger viewers. I myself even struggled to watch some of the movie’s harsher, more vindictive moments. Still, Avengers: Infinity War is ambitious and daring in its art, even if it is equally devastating in the same sentence. These movies used to represent something more lighthearted about superheroes; a greater ideology to be the bigger, better person and to help other people achieve the same thing. Now it’s about facing harsh conclusions and realities, and I’m not sure if I enjoy it quite as much.
When Thanos set out for his galactic conquest, he did so believing in one thing: that he could save the universe by wiping out half of it. We already know that his crusade is monstrous and horrifying. The scary part is not knowing whether he’s wrong.