Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige has been quoted as saying ‘We only make hits.” That’s beginning to sound too close for comfort like Donald Trump bragging that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his base would still vote for him. Certainly the studio’s latest superhero epic, Avengers: Infinity War is going to test, if not tax, fan loyalty and audience resolve. Overlong, self-indulgent and yet supremely self-assured, there’s something about Avengers: Infinity War that’s close to thumbing its nose at its audience.
Clearly Marvel assumes you’ve seen their previous movies – all 18 of them. And you’re going to need to have seen them all to keep up, with the possible exception of Ant Man. Those waiting for Black Panther to hit home video will need to bite the bullet and find a second-run theater near them.
Intergalactic bad guy Thanos, whom the Marvel movies have been teasing for what seems like ages at this point, finally gets to be the center of attention in this overlong space opera. He’s closing in on the Infinity Stones, a set of brightly colored gemstones with frightening powers. Thanos is mounting his acquisitions in an armored oven mitt called the Infinity Gauntlet. Once he has the full set of stones mounted, the universe is in for it.
Thing is, psychopathic space scum that he is, Thanos is the heart and soul of this movie. A thrilling combination of excellent CGI with voice and motion capture performance by Josh Brolin, Thanos actually gets some character development, which is more than can be said for the movie’s bumper crop of superheroes. A megalomaniacal dictator with a Trumpian ego and a truly sociopathic gift for self-justification, Thanos nonetheless emerges as surprisingly three-dimensional character – with or without the 3D glasses.
To be fair, all of our heroes – other than any of the female characters – have already had their own movies, most with sequels. And remember, you’re supposed to have seen all of them already. If you haven’t, you’re going to be the irritating one asking their friends to explain stuff.
And with the number of superheroes in play here, this is a movie that has too many balls in the air to help you catch up. Thanos is introduced in the first scene on a captured Asgardian spaceship, where Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Loki and the Hulk (voice and motion capture performance by Mark Ruffalo) run afoul of his evil machinations. From there we find Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) whose walk in Central Park with longtime love interest Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) is interrupted by Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch).
But you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet.
The Marvel comics always did character crossovers and Marvel Studios was founded on the premise that the first few standalone movies were leading up to the first Avengers movie. Since then, the crossovers have been used so promiscuously that at times it’s been nearly irrelevant whose name was in the title. Captain America: Civil War was an Avengers movie in everything but name. In that department though, Avengers: Infinity War blazes new territory, even bringing in the studio’s newer, but wildly popular Guardians of the Galaxy franchise. When is it too much of a good thing?
When you forget Thor’s in the movie, that’s when.
The characters are spread across different theaters of action, and the match-ups are not uniform in effectiveness. Can Tony Stark, the all-science Iron Man, really be matched up with Master of the Mystic Arts Dr. Strange for any reason other than to let Messrs Downey and Cumberbatch compare Van Dyke sizes? Or “Star Lord” Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) really be teamed up with Thor other than to get even non-human women dreamy-eyed and stroking their abs?
But the cast of regulars continues to pop up throughout the movie. Tom Holland, recently cast in the sought-after Spider-Man role, is an especially welcome addition. Captain America (Chris Evans) makes his way in, albeit bearded, and no, facial hair isn’t acceptable on Captain America. Scarlett Johansson reprises her popular role as The Black Widow, and of all the characters without enough to do, it’s perhaps the most aggravating with her, overdue as she is for her own movie. Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany return as The Scarlet Witch and The Vision, but even that’s nothing when The Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) shows up with the entire Wakandan nation.
Again, if any of this doesn’t make sense to you, just remember you have no one to blame but yourself for not having seen all previous 18 movies.
Obviously, marketing trumps storytelling in this big money corporate ethos. Surprising the gigantic, global movie audience, most of which have never read a comic book and their lives, is more important then fidelity to Marvel’s own source material. (Infinity War is only loosely based on Marvel’s nineteen nineties limited run Infinity Gauntlet series.) Whether or not that actually justifies the movie’s shock ending is a matter of opinion and will be hotly debated over post-movie pizza.
Discussing the movie’s direction is almost a moot point. Brothers Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, who previously helmed Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War tackle the directorial chores here, but let’s face it: this is as close to an all special effects and second unit movie ever made. Marvel either burns out or disposes of directors regularly, and individually distinctive visual styles appear to be frowned on. Avengers: Infinity War is a handsome production and the obligatory CGI and green screen work are at least as good as most of Marvel’s other recent offerings (far better than Thor: Ragnarok).
Hulk fans may be disappointed at the grumpy green giant’s sudden reluctance to appear after getting his ass whupped by Thanos early in the movie. Game of Thrones fans will be probably be delighted at the one of the movie’s genuinely witty turns, casting Peter Dinklage as the tallest character in the movie. And it can only be said so many times, but audiences should stay for the end credits, all of them. As usual, there is a last scene, and it’s an unusually big one, after all of the end credits have rolled. Leaving beforehand is a rookie mistake, and you will probably be deservedly mocked by the rest of the audience. If you have haven’t seen all 18 previous movies in the Marvel Studios canon and find yourself confused, ask one of the many people in the lobby afterwards wearing Marvel character tee-shirts. They’re happy to help.