Avengers: Infinity War delivers an exciting culmination of the MCU, though it's overstuffed and suffers from certain typical Marvel movie problems.
Avengers: Infinity War sets out to accomplish a feat never previously attempted in Hollywood: bring together all the heroes of a sprawling superhero universe in a cohesive narrative while delivering an event that justifies 10 years and 18 movies worth of build up. There is an unprecedented amount of hype surrounding the latest installment in Marvel Studios' Marvel Cinematic Universe, but an unprecedented level of expectations as well. The question of Avengers: Infinity War was whether Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige and directors Anthony and Joe Russo could meet or exceed those expectations. Avengers: Infinity War delivers an exciting culmination of the MCU, though it's overstuffed and suffers from certain typical Marvel movie problems.
In Avengers: Infinity War, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely set about the difficult task of including all the major superheroes of the franchise by splitting them into teams. As Thanos (Josh Brolin), the Mad Titan with ambitions of killing half the universe in order to bring balance, searches for the Infinity Stones that will complete his Infinity Gauntlet, all the heroes work to prevent him from achieving his goal. For Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), that means protecting the Time Stone, even as he butts heads with Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), though they have help from Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Meanwhile, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) comes across the Guardians of the Galaxy - Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel), and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) - and they work together on their own plans to stop Thanos.
Back on earth, those left of the Avengers rally around Vision (Paul Bettany) in order to protect the Mind Stone, with everyone converging on Wakanda to receive the help of T'Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Shuri (Letitia Wright), the Dora Milaje lead by Okoye (Danai Gurira) and the Jabari army led by M'Baku (Winston Duke). In a stand against Thanos and his Black Order, Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) battle the Titan's hoards of Outriders. But even with all the might of the Avengers, it's unclear if it will be enough to defeat Thanos.
The task of balancing so many characters, in addition to developing Thanos beyond his brief appearances in previous films, is nearly impossible. With so many characters set to share the screen in Avengers: Infinity War, there are bound to be those who unfortunately fall by the wayside in order for others to have complete narrative arcs in the film. Markus and McFeely focus predominantly on certain heroes based on which characters serve the story of Thanos' villainy the most. And for the Mad Titan's part, Infinity War offers a valiant effort to develop his character so as not to fall into the underdeveloped Marvel villain trap. However, with so much else going on and so many other characters sharing the screen, Thanos still fails to be a fully developed and sympathetic antagonist. As for the rest of the ensemble cast, the writers made sure even those who don't receive their own full narrative arcs, their presence is felt - either through standout lines of dialogue or cool action beats.
While Avengers: Infinity War attempts to balance so many characters and give them compelling narratives, very few of the emotional beats stick their landing. This is partly due to the movie being crammed full with too much going on for the pacing to allow much time to process any major emotional development before moving on. Further, with Infinity War jumping around between different storylines involving different groupings of characters, the shift in location and tone can be jarring. In fact, there is a moment that's meant to be particularly poignant and emotional, with big sweeping music to mark its significance, but it's followed shortly by a change of scenery and a joke that undercuts any emotional response the movie was aiming to achieve. Since viewers aren't given time to process certain developments in Infinity War before moving on to the next story beat, it's difficult to feel the weight of those moments.
The other reason certain emotional beats don't work is due to a lack of character development. If viewers don't feel connected to a character because of a lack of development, it's difficult to have a response to emotional beats in their story arc. However, Avengers: Infinity War does benefit from the character development achieved in previous films, assuming viewers know about previously established relationships between characters and building off those relationships. That said, when a number of major emotional moments in Infinity War are based entirely on character development established in previous movies, it sometimes comes off as cheap and unearned. This is especially the case when Infinity War has to move on to another story or character beat in order to keep up the film's brisk pace and wrap up in a reasonable amount of time.
With all that said, there is still plenty to enjoy about Avengers: Infinity War and fans who have stuck with the MCU for 10 years will find that it's another solid entry in the franchise. Of course, Infinity War suffers from many of the typical Marvel movie problems, with a villain that isn't quite as well developed as he could be (especially in contrast to Black Panther's Killmonger) as well as CGI that is, at times, genuinely bad. But, the latest Avengers movie balances out these lackluster aspects with certain really cool action beats - placed amid larger action set pieces that aren't really groundbreaking - and plenty of humor so as to create an overall fun experience.
For the most part, the Russo brothers and Marvel Studios delivered on their promise to bring the disparate corners of film franchise together for a battle against Thanos, all while staying true to the characters who made the MCU so popular. Coming back to the question of whether Avengers: Infinity War lives up to the hype and anticipation, the movie doesn't exceed expectations even though it does meet those expectations. What happens when a movie that many are hoping to exceed expectations only manages to meet those expectations - even if those expectations mark a massive achievement for a Hollywood franchise? Well, in the case of Avengers: Infinity War, we get a solidly entertaining event film that still may leave viewers wanting more, even if they're unsure what more the writers and directors could have done. Thankfully, Marvel Studios, the Russos, and Markus and McFeely will be back next year with Avengers 4 to bring the first three phases of the MCU truly to completion.
Avengers: Infinity War is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It runs 149 minutes and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, language and some crude references.
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