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Thursday, April 26, 2018 09:35 am

"Infinity War" Rights Itself After Awkward Start

Let’s be honest, directors Anthony and Joe Russo as well as producer Kevin Feige have painted themselves into a corner where Avengers: Infinity War is concerned.  What with an 18 movie run-up to this event and more than 20 superheroes to juggle in a single film, is there really anyway this could live up to the lofty expectations they built?

 

The answer is a bit “yes” and a bit “no,” as this movie stumbles out of the gate with some clumsy exposition and prolonged fight scenes that awkwardly bring characters back on screen in clumsy team-ups and delay us from getting to the heart of the matter. The pace of the first hour is off, as much of it is empty bombast with all too brief moments to catch our breath. The secret to the success of the Marvel superhero movies is that they never give characterization short shrift.  We care about the folks in the suits because we get to know them, see what makes them tick and come to care for them as a result.  The Russo’s don’t get to scenes such as these until the final 90 minutes when “Infinity” finds its legs and gives us the poignancy we’ve come to expect from these films.

 

Star Lord (Chris Pratt) and Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) meet for the first time in Avengers: Infinity War.
Courtesy Marvel Films

Thanos (Josh Brolin), the big bad who’s been lurking in the shadows throughout the Marvel movies, finally takes center stage and his quest is very simple.  He’s in search of the six Infinity Stones that were birthed during the creation of the universe.  Once in possession of them, he will be able to reshape reality, his intention being to kill half of its living beings in order to achieve balance.  Haunted by his inaction in the past, he reasons that our resources are finite and that overpopulation will drain them far too fast.

 

What with the stones scattered across the universe, various combinations of heroes take off to get them before Thanos and his minions can.  Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Rocket Raccoon (voice by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) take off in one direction, Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and the Guardians of the Galaxy (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista) head off on another, while Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson), the Vision (Paul Bettany) and the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) get together to defend the Earth and the two stones present there.

 

The stakes are higher here and the tone is much darker than previous Marvel movies, making the jokes we’ve come to expect in them seem out of place.  Many meetings we’ve longed for land with a thud as the irreverent humor that has become a trademark of these movies simply falls flat.  As a result, Star Lord’s charm and Thor’s goofy persona don’t fit here and any attempts to include them and other humorous moments should have been abandoned.

 

Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and warriors from Wakanda prepare for battle in Avengers: Infinity War.
Courtesy Marvel Films

The highlight of the film is Thanos, a complex character whose motivations are seemingly sound, though his steps towards putting them in action are questionable.  The backstory of the villain, particularly his relationship with his adopted daughter Gamora, are very interesting and give the character unexpected complexity. Brolin does a great job here, as he’s able to convey malice, pride and remorse through the motion-capture process he’s saddled with. Thanos is the most welcome part of the movie and what he has in store for the final Avengers movie (due Spring 2019) has me very, very curious.

 

The last half-hour of the film is truly epic and salvages this enterprise as it does bring all of the characters (that is, the remaining ones) together for a moving conclusion that will leave fans shocked and eager to see just how our caped heroes are going to pull themselves out of the bind they’re in.  Yes, characters die (whatever that means in a superhero movie) and there are more than a few surprises. No, Avengers: Infinity War is not the end, not just yet, but it’s tone sets the table for the final installment of this current phase of the Marvel Films Universe, one that will hopefully concentrate more on character than chaos.

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