*NO SPOILERS AHEAD*
“Avengers: Infinity War” is all about vision. The act. Not the character. That Marvel Studios and its president, Kevin Feige, had this movie in mind—or at least the idea of it—more than 10 years ago is a testament to their talents, strategy, and storytelling abilities. “Infinity War” took a decade to build – and it is a monument of modern-day moviemaking.
“Infinity War” has a tall task: not so much equal airtime for the eight superhero acts that led their own prior films or for the 25 A-list actors who helped make them but, rather, equal empathy. Traditional protagonist development is just not possible for a film of this scope, even with its two-hour and 40-minute runtime. So “Infinity War” does it by emphasizing none of them. Its story is for the one we know almost nothing about. The one who makes us care both for the heroes’ cause and even his own. The tallest of them all: Thanos (Josh Brolin).
Introduced in 2012’s “The Avengers” through Marvel’s staple end-credits scenes—the glue that binds its cinematic “universe” together—Thanos would be teased in later films but not fully fleshed out till now. And the purple people (def)eater was worth the wait. In attempting to collect the universe’s six “Infinity Stones,” elements of power already introduced in previous Marvel movies, Thanos has the most compelling story of any foregoing foe.
Filmmakers Anthony and Joe Russo wisely resist—for the most part—the previous “Avengers” director’s trademark tendency to treat genocide-seeking threats, like Thanos, with self-mocking jokes. After all, what’s a few laughs among friends when the world’s about to end? (Marvel’s “loss” would later become rival DC Comics’ loss when Joss Whedon co-directed the latter’s superhero ensemble, turning the once dark and harrowing into gags and parody.) In doing so, a Marvel series that has often felt lightheartedly cheap becomes a surprisingly emotional investment. Finally.
In getting to this point, Marvel Studios—eventually acquired, and thus thematically influenced, by Disney—relied heavily on cookie cutters, stale segues, and fanboy Happy Meals (aka “Easter Eggs,” details only nerds or hardcore devotees would notice). The byproduct: McMarvel. But in giving Thanos an arc, the Russo brothers actually use—I can’t believe I’m saying this for a Disney Marvel movie—art.
Scenes in “Infinity War” are genuinely, eerily beautiful and more photographically memorable than practically everything that’s come before it. And in no way does it detract from what’s made Marvel almost insurmountably successful: family-friendly humor. “Infinity War” is funny. Really funny. And it’s not pandering, appealing-to-the-lowest-common-denominator, wink-at-the-audience humor either. It’s in-the-moment relief, akin to the original “Star Wars” trilogy or “Indiana Jones.” You laugh at the characters, not with them.
It’s a feat that takes great skill. After all, of course most everyone will get the joke if they’re in on it. “The secret to humor is in [the] surprise,” as Aristotle noted. The Russo brothers are no “Father(s) of Western Philosophy,” but they are graduates of Case Western. And the Cleveland natives are welcomed surprises to both the Marvel universe and cinema’s larger creative cosmos, even if it is looking increasingly like a Disney black hole sucking billions from moviegoers’ insatiable appetites for serial stories. But if it means more “Infinity Wars,” by all means, suck.
This film does what’s long overdue for the genre: “Lord of the Rings”-like grandness and sincerity. Of course, Marvel legend Stan Lee is no Tolkien, but who’s to say his material can’t be treated with the same degree of reverence? It’s far more compelling and fun to watch.
And “Avengers: Infinity War” is exactly that: an unbelievably engaging experience that succeeds on every front—except the affront that is Mark Ruffalo, the studio-selected replacement whose acting chops are about as green as his Hulk.
But the sins of the studio father shouldn’t detract from this mother of all Marvel movies. For “Infinity War” truly is a marvel of cinematic magnificence.
5 out of 5