It’s taken 18 Marvel Cinematic Universe movies to finally get its globe-hopping do-gooders to a place where things really matter. It’s not that the big, busy, blustery Avengers: Infinity War is the best movie of the series, but—feeling rushed, jam-packed with over 20 major characters, and weighing in at a hefty 2 and a half hours long—it’s certainly the darkest, weirdest and most consequential. Despite consistently delivering big laughs, the film’s struggles this time seem like matters of life and death.
End of the world stuff, in fact. And that’s all down to the screen time grabbed by the Avengers’ long-awaited showdown with Thanos, who turns out to be easily the most complicated, relatable, beautifully depicted and acted cosmic villain of the series. Wonderfully voiced and performed by Josh Brolin, the massive CGI motion-capture, purple-hued baddie (who looks more than a little Ron Perlman, but whose gestures, tics and nuances are pure Brolin) is hell-bent on finally possessing the five remaining, much-mentioned Infinity Stones. You know what those are, right? They’re the six pastel-colored gems embodying power, space, time, mind, soul and reality that Avengers movies have yammered on about for the past decade since Iron Man.
Well, Thanos wants them badly enough to exact massive and unprecedented interplanetary destruction, enough to slice in half the overpopulated, undernourished universe’s population. Or, hell, just end the universe completely. Or both. We’re not sure which, and probably won’t be until the next Avengers hits theaters next year.
Whatever the outcome, holding all six stones will bring Thanos the ultimate power he seeks. In Infinity War, his pursuit brings him in direct and deeply sad conflict with his foundling Gamora (Zoe Saldana), whom he adores. Creepily. All through the movie, Thanos’ terrifying mission and rampage mean a jaw-dropping body count of beloved and semi-beloved characters that may freak the hell out of fanboys and fangirls. It also leaves the film ending on a spectacularly poetic, grim, funereal note.
MCU characters have never before seemed so appealing or charismatic, let alone so surprisingly vulnerable.
Though at times lumbering and overlong, the movie, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo (who also did Captain America: Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War) from a nimble, multi-tiered, multi-level screenplay credited to Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, mostly keep things pacey. The action jumps back and forth from the lovably moronic Guardians of the Galaxy crew, to the magisterial Wakanda of Black Panther, and even to Scotland, where Vision and Wanda (Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen, both excellent) have gone into hiding. And when the plot mechanics bring together all the Avengers, it’s a thing of beauty.
Despite way too many tiresome, chaotic action sequences in which rubbery-looking superheroes get shoved, slammed and thrown around, some of cinema’s most wily actors overcome and sparkle throughout—Robert Downey Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Ruffalo and Tom Holland, especially. In fact, MCU characters have never before seemed so appealing or charismatic, let alone so surprisingly vulnerable.
That’s just one of the things that makes their on-screen deaths so powerful and moving—and so likely to be magically reversed in the next Avengers movie. In the meantime, Avengers: Infinity War, though rushed and confusing, is still entertaining, powerful and surprisingly—well—surprising in where it's ready and willing to take audiences.
Avengers: Infinity War
- The movie feels consequential and delivers emotional heft, not to mention laughs galore.
- It's not short—but it does have "infinity" in the title, so you can't say it didn't warn you.