Thanos is a fixer. For his sanity, he’s rid himself of any and all qualms about genocide, killing half the population of beset planets he deems needful of fixing. And he can’t get it for the life of him: how a virtually infinite inter-galaxy can grow so finite is a question that tips his mind off-balance and triggers an as-yet undiagnosed terminal case of OCD. Our universe, being the space in which our destitute planet hangs around, screams cosmic chaos in Thanos’ eyes. But to wipe out half of the earth’s population, let alone that of the inter-galaxy, requires some serious groundwork, of which Marvel has already been trying to cover since Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man”. To this end, Thanos has since been out for Infinity Stones, crystals with such immense power that should Thanos possess all six of them, the universe becomes his to repair. It just so happens that the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, a.k.a. The Avengers, are determined to keep the Mad Titan off the stones come what may.
That is as far as one can safely go in pinning down what “Avengers: Infinity War” is about, the culmination of an overlord’s existential grievances and the unwavering will it takes for one to act on them. Anthony and Joe Russo’s decision to practically relegate even the franchise’s most stalwart of heroes to the background for its enigmatic villain roots from a reflexive and immediate but agreeable instinct. No rage afflicts Thanos, only exasperation, and indifference of someone determined to restore cosmic balance because, well, someone’s got to—no matter how much the cost. And with this, the film positions itself, as an adventure, in a uniquely refreshing perspective; it is Thanos’ quest which we cautiously trod, not the Avengers’. We are resigned to his genocidal attempts at preserving balance and besieged by the likelihood of his success. Underneath the mound of purple CGI, Josh Brolin airs just enough vulnerability amid Thanos’ blistering calmness that makes him endearing in his softest moments and terrifying in his cruelest. Thus unfolds Marvel’s first film in which the heroes are not the whole story.
The screenplay, credited to Christopher Markus and Stephen McFreely (“Captain America: Civil War”), bind the heroes’ various arcs with fraught caution. Being the eighteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), “Infinity War” is bound to tether itself to a few but exacting protocols. True enough, much of the film plays out in a manner that’s unmistakably Marvel-like, with hawk-like attention to pace and spectacle and rhythm, its edges always pliable enough to make room for only mostly welcome banter. The characters here are vending machine iterations of themselves, contracted to the ensemble-friendly largeness of their persons. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) keeps his poster-boy Avenger reputation—”We don’t trade lives,” he smolders—while T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) gets a few one-liners after generously offering help to an endangered Vision (Paul Bettany). We’re reminded, rather peevishly, of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and his penchant for yesteryear’s pop culture, one which he shares with Peter Parker (Tom Holland) who, we’re reminded, poignantly, is ultimately just a kid caught in an intergalactic battle. Our memories are jogged of the dynamic the previous films have studiously established, so that we have context to refer back to when Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Batista) explodes in rage in an encounter with Thanos, or that we know Vision and the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson) are truly in love, and that there’s a delightfully awkward air of will-they-or-won’t-they-or-wait-haven’t-they-already dynamic between Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo).
Call it fan service, but Marvel, like them or don’t, has shepherded its herd. They’ve put in the work. No other film outfit has such provisions that they’re able to afford to cut through the bullshit, give its champions some of their more familiar demands, and offer up something new. This slant has been the studio’s trajectory with its recent offerings like Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther” and Taika Waititi’s “Thor: Ragnarok” before it. The Russo bros. aren’t oblivious to this, and gamely plays it to reinforce their slightly offset Marvel vision: to make an “Avengers” movie wherein its heroes are merely cogs in the wheel of a disillusioned titan who’s undauntedly firm about making cosmic reparations, all lives lost be damned.
Consequences are, to quote the purple meanie himself, “for real this time”, and it’s doubtless that fans will leave the theaters not overcome with bereavement. But the prospect of stakes in comic book stories like “The Avengers” are, for the most part, deceitful. It’s not a fault on the part of the film itself, but on the model of a business that lives and dies by intellectual property, a.k.a. characters. What’s objectively “for real this time” are the impact of such change. We’re familiar to the internal shift in Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) after their encounter with Thanos’ minions in the first “Avengers” film, and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) know the realness of things after seeing it unfold themselves, in premonition and in reality. To say that such stakes don’t exist is barely accurate; they’re very real to these characters, even if, for the sake of the Marvel empire (or comic book properties for that matter), it’s very real only to these characters.
By the film’s third act, at which point the Russos have dangerously pulled the rug underneath us by leaving us a cliffhanger the size of the first “The Deathly Hallows”, I’ve become awash with the film’s ostensibly conflicting choices. Every decision so meticulously made in this film, and by extension, the entire film franchise, culminates to an exciting promise: that Marvel is ready to rough itself up. In that case, I’ve no shame—bring it!—call me a fan.
Avengers: Infinity War
2018 / Action, Adventure, Fantasy / US
Direction: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFreely
Cast: Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Elizabeth Olson, Paul Bettany, Chadwick Boseman, Karen Gillian
The Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.