"THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR" (2018) Review
After ten years and eighteen films, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) finally released "THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR". The movie represented the first half of a culmination of the previous films that either focused or touched upon the super-villain Thanos' attempt to attain possession of a collection of powerful gems known as the Infinity Stones.
Although 2008's "IRON MAN" signaled the beginning of the MCU franchise and the introduction of the latter's collection of comic book heroes/heroines, supporting players and villains; I believe that the true beginning of this story arc involving Thanos and the Infinity Stones began in 2011 with two movies - "THOR" and "CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER". The former introduced the Tesseract, a cube that contained the Infinity Stone known as the Space Stone, in its post-credit scene. However, the Space Stone was more fully explored in the second 20111 movie, "CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER". After 2011, most of the Infinity Stones were either introduced, explored or both in the MCU movies that followed. Only one stone made its introduction in "INFINITY WAR" - the Soul Stone.
Before I find myself wallowing into an essay about the Infinity Stones, let me continue with this review. "THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR" began several minutes after 2017's "THOR: RAGNAROK" left off. Thanos had caught up with the Asgardian refugee ship and with the help of his minions, inflict considerable damage upon the survivors and their new king, former Avenger Thor. Why? Apparently, before their flight from Asgard's destruction, Thor's adopted brother, Loki, had taken the Tesseract, which had been inside Asgard's royal vault. After killing half of the Asgardian survivors (the other half had managed to escape), Asgard's gatekeeper Heimdall, beating Thor and killing Loki; Thanos took the Space Stone and blew up the ship. It turned out that the Tesseract was the second Infinity Stone that Thanos managed to acquire. Before the events of this film, Thanos and his minions had attacked and destroyed half of Xandar homeworld before he managed to get his hands on the Power Stone, last seen in 2014's "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY". And before Heimdall was killed, he used Asgard's Bifrost sword to transport a beaten Dr. Bruce Banner aka the Hulk to warn the Avengers and Earth about Thanos' campaign to collect the Infinity Stones. Meanwhile, the Guardians of Galaxy come across Thor's body floating in space and rescue him. Thanks to Heimdall's actions, along with the Guardians' rescue of Thor; the movie's main protagonists become aware of Thanos' current campaign to hunt down the remaining Infinity Stones and set about preventing him from raining more destruction upon the universe.
What can I say about "THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR"? When I first heard about the movie's premise, I immediately felt that the only way this would work was if the narrative was set up in the same style as war films like "THE LONGEST DAY" or "A BRIDGE TOO FAR". You know . . . blockbuster combat films about a particular battle or campaign that featured an all-star cast. Despite being a comic book movie, "THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR"proved to be exactly just that. The movie's narrative centered around most of the MCU's protagonists trying to prevent Thanos from collecting all of the Infinity Stones and carrying out his plan to eradicate half of the universe's population in order to prevent the decrease of essential resources. And more importantly, the screenplay written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely almost hit the right note when it tried to maintain a balancing act between the franchise's numerous stars. And considering that this movie was all about Thanos' efforts to utilize the stones in the first place, it seemed quite apparent that he proved to be the movie's main character. And personally, I feel that was the right thing to do.
In fact, some of the film's best scenes and story arc had a lot to do with Thanos . . . and especially his relationship with his adoptive daughters, Gamora and Nebula. Thanos' relationship with the latter seemed just as straight-forward as she had described it in 2017's "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOL. 2". It seemed perfectly clear that Thanos did not give a rat's ass about Nebula, especially since he seemed to display no remorse or hesitation to use her life as a bargaining chip for the location of the Soul Stone. Thanos' relationship with Gamora, on the other hand, seemed to be a different and murkier kettle of fish. Some fans have debated on whether he truly loved Gamora. I believe he did, in his own warped way, as the following image depicted:
And the tears that Gamora had shed, when she thought she had killed him on Nowhere made it pretty obvious that she harbored feelings for him, as well. By the end of the movie, it seemed pretty obvious that Thanos loved his crusade to "save" the universe from overpopulation a lot more than Gamora . . . to the point that he was willing to sacrifice her life for possession of the Soul Stone. I have to give screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely credit for portraying Thanos as a very complex character. Do not get me wrong. I do not regard Thanos as the best MCU villain in the franchise so far. I simply found his different relationships with adoptive daughters Gamora and Nebula a lot more interesting than his goal with the Infinity Gauntlet.
The film featured other story arcs that I found interesting. I have mixed feelings about Thor's story arc. On one hand, I managed to spot several plot holes in his narrative. On the other hand, it was a relief to see the new Asgardian king finally face the emotional consequences of the losses he had sustained in not only this film, but also "THOR: RAGNAROK". Thanks to Gamora's connection to Thanos, "INFINITY WAR" served the main protagonists very well. Audiences finally got to see Gamora and Peter Quill aka Star-Lord declare their love for one another. Rocket managed to form a new bond with Thor, of all people . . . and lose another close bond. "INFINITY WAR" also saw the development of the romance between Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch and Vision and how Thanos' search for the Infinity Stones affected that relationship. The movie paid scant attention to the Sokovia Accords, which I did not find surprising. But two satisfying developments came from the brief mention of the agreement, when James "Rhodey" Rhodes aka War Machine expressed is deep regret for signing the Sokovia Accords, along with his refusal to obey Thaddeus Ross' order for the arrests of Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff, Sam Wilson and Wanda Maximoff. For me, it was Don Cheadle's finest moment in the MCU franchise.
"INFINITY WAR" also featured some pretty interesting action sequences. I can count at least XX of them as among my favorites. One of them included a conflict on the streets of Manhattan in which the two sorcerers Dr. Stephen Strange and Wong, Tony Stark aka Iron Man and Peter Parker aka Spider-man battled against one of Thanos' adopted children, Ebony Maw. The battle ended with Strange being kidnapped, due to his possession of the Time Stone. I thought it was well-handled. However, I find it odd that both Strange and Wong had difficulty with a being who was basically a telekinetic. Another battle I found interesting was Strange, Iron Man and Spider-man's first meeting with Star-Lord, Drax and Mantis on Thanos' homeworld, Titan. Although I found it enjoyable, I also found it odd, considering that of all the Guardians, Star-Lord did most of the work against the travelers from Earth . . . and succeeded. I do not know what to say about the battle that unfurled in Wakanda. On a visual level, I found it spectacular. And there were some good moments like Scarlet Witch's encounter with Thanos; the arrival of Thor, Rocket and Groot; and the brief interaction between Rocket and James "Bucky" Buchanan during the battle. But overall . . . I simply cannot decide whether I loved it or simply tolerated it. Perhaps I loved some parts of it.
As for the movie's visual effects . . . they were okay. There were a few spectacular scenes. I was especially impressed by Ebony Maw's arrival in Manhattan, as shown in the following image:
And I really enjoyed Thor's initial arrival on Wakanda, in which he killed a good number of Thanos' forces:
But overall, I was not particularly dazzled by the film's visual effects.
No movie is perfect. And I can honestly say that about "THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR". When I first learned that so many of the franchise's past characters - especially the costumed heroes - would be featured in this film, my first reaction was wariness. After seeing the movie twice, I believe my initial wariness was justified on a certain level. I will re-phrase my original assessment of the movie - I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it enough to see it at the movie theaters twice. But, "INFINITY WAR" had its problems. And one of those problems proved to be the numerous protagonists that filled the narrative. But wait? Did I not earlier praise the MCU and the screenwriters for creating a narrative that was similar to all-star movie epics like "THE LONGEST DAY" and "A BRIDGE TOO FAR". Yes, I did. But this narrative style still threatened to spiral out of control. There was no real balance in how McFeely and Markus treated the film's characters. Not really. A good number of the characters - including major ones - were more or less treated as guest stars in this film.
Most of the characters who had rebelled against the Sokovia Accords - Captain America, Falcon, Black Widow, Winter Soldier, Ant-Man and Hawkeye - were not utilized very often. A major character like Captain America had finally been reduced to a guest star. Falcon, Black Widow and Winter Soldier barely had any lines. And both Ant-Man and Hawkeye were missing in this film. Only the Scarlet Witch seemed to have a larger role and that was due to her being the romantic interest of Vision, who had one of the Infinity Stones embedded into his forehead. I was also amazed how even Iron Man, Doctor Strange and Spider-man seemed to have disappeared and re-appear for a long stretches of time, following their departure from Earth aboard Ebony Maw's ship. And why did the film's screenplay not allow Wong to accompany them on the journey to Thanos' homeworld, Titan. Hell, the inhabitants of Wakanda - Black Panther aka King T'Challa, Okoye, M'Baku and Princess Shuri - seemed to minor players in this film, considering that a major battle was fought within their country's borders near the film's finale. Both Samuel L. Jackson and Cobie Smulders managed to appear as former S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury and his assistant Maria Hill in the film's only post-credit scene. In it, both had witnessed the impact of Thanos' Infinity Stones snap in Manhattan, before disappearing themselves. And before they did, Fury managed to send a message to a new Avenger - Captain Marvel aka Carol Danvers. That was it? Jackson and Smulders were used as a publicity scene for the upcoming Captain Marvel film? God, what a waste!
I wonder if the reason why the focus on the characters struck me as so unbalance was due to them being scattered . . . all over the universe, really. The reason why movies like "THE LONGEST DAY" and "A BRIDGE TOO FAR" worked so well is that these films kept the focused on one particular setting - whether it were the beaches of Normandy, Frances and the surrounding countryside, or the stretch of road that encompassed three Dutch small cities. "INFINITY WAR"featured more settings than a James Bond movie and all of the major characters were scattered throughout those different locations on Earth and in space. Even a relative of mine found this rather convoluted.
There were other aspects of the film's narrative that left me scratching my head. I do not know where to begin. Oh yes . . . the film opened with Thanos and his minions in control of Thor's ship (formerly owned by the Grandmaster), most of the inhabitants dead, Heimdall wounded and a bruised Thor a prisoner of Thanos. And all I could ask was . . . where was Valkyrie, along with former gladiators Korg and Miek? Where did they go? Were they dead? How did Thor, who was the new ruler of the remaining Asgardians and the new Allfather lose so easily against Thanos? As the new Allfather, he should have given Thanos and the "kids" a lot of trouble. I mean . . . not even Thanos' use of the Power Stone failed to kill Thor. Really? Why did the Hulk wait for Loki to introduce him like some damn circus act? I mean . . . the Hulk is not more powerful than Thor. He never really was, despite the MCU's effort to pretend otherwise. Why did Loki tried to kill Thanos with a dagger? A dagger? This is the being who managed to cast a mind spell on someone as powerful as Odin. Why did he not consider this, instead of attacking Thanos with a dagger?
The next major scene featured Doctor Strange, Wong, Tony Stark and Peter Parker. Why was it so difficult for Doctor Strange and Wong to defeat Ebony Maw? The latter is an alien with a telekinetic ability. That was his ability . . . telekinesis. A psychic ability and nothing else. Strange and Wong were sorcerers. Which meant they had abilities beyond psychic ones. What happened? Why did they not use . . . magic? He was able to use magic to prevent Ebony Maw from getting his claws on the stone. Why not use magic to defeat Maw? Now that I think about it, Strange was also in possession of the Time Stone. Why did he not use it? And this was way before his ludicrous claim that there was only one out of 14 million chances in which to defeat Thanos. I call bullshit on this, for it seems nothing more than contrived nonsense to justify what happened later in the film. And why did Tony suggest that they continue traveling to Titan? To keep the battle for the Time Stone away from Earth? Ah, does this mean both Tony and Stephen had forgotten about the Mind Stone . . . which was with Vison . . . on Earth?
This movie was filled with characters making dumb decisions - from Gamora deciding to accompany Peter, Drax and Mantis to Knowhere, knowing that Thanos was there and she knew the location of the Soul Stone; to Peter Quill losing his shit and ruining the plan to trap Thanos on Titan after learning about Gamora's fate; to Steve suggesting they take Vision to Wakanda in order to remove the Mind Stone from the latter's head and keep him alive; to T'Challa giving them permission to land in Wakanda; to Thor losing his shit during the Wakanda battle and striking Thanos in an area that was bound to allow the Titan to live just a bit longer. Most fans have been dumping most of the blame on Star-Lord. Some of them, including the Russo Brothers, have dumped most of the blame for what happened in the end on Thor. I blame Thanos. As far as I am concerned, he made the dumbest decision to wipe away half of the universe's living beings for . . . what? To preserve the remaining living beings so that there were enough resources for everyone? This is a stupid plan. He could not think of anything else? Like providing more resources for the universe?
And there were other matters. Why did the empathic Mantis, who had failed to control the emotions of someone as powerful as Ego, failed to do so with Thanos? What was the point of including Secretary of Defense Thaddeus Ross in this story? To prove how useless and irrelevant the Sokovia Accords story arc truly was? When I learned that both Clint Barton and Scott Lang were under "house arrest" for violating the Accords in "CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR", I merely rolled my eyes in disgust. By the way, who was financing Steve, Natasha, Sam and Wanda's activities for the past two years? When did Wanda and Vision finally commenced upon their romance? You mean to say that after eighteen months or so (since the events of "SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING"), Tony and Pepper were still engaged? Where was Nakia? When did Gamora learn about the location of the Soul Stone? How did Johann Schmidt aka Red Skull survive 73 years after the Space Stone transported him to Vormir? Despite having the Dr. Erskine's formula in his blood, he was never frozen in stasis like Steve and Bucky. Why on earth was it necessary for Thor to go to Nidavellir to create the Stormbreaker axe to be used on Thanos? Why? He should have been powerful enough to take on the Titan on his own in the first damn place. Had McFeely and Markus forgotten that Thor was the new Allfather?
The real problem I have with "THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR" - aside from the plot holes - is that it is not that original to me. Not really. First of all, the idea of a villain plotting to to commit genocide for environmental reasons had played a major role in two recent movies - 2015's "KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE" and the 2016 movie, "INFERNO". Also . . . nearly a decade ago, I had created a series of "Charmed" Alternate Universe stories in which the Charmed Ones befriended another family of witches. Needless to say, among my stories featured a powerful demon who managed to kill most of the main characters, including two of the Charmed Ones. It was very similar to what happened to many of the characters in the film's finale. And guess what? The whole thing was resolved through the use of time travel - which I assume will be used in "AVENGERS 4". How can I be impressed with how McFeely, Markus and the Russo brothers ended the story for "INFINITY WAR", when I did something similar in a handful of fan fiction stories? What I found even more annoying about the film's ending is that most of Thanos' victims proved to be the MCU heroes and protagonists first introduced after "THE AVENGERS". Fury and Hill seemed to be the only pre-Phase II characters that were killed. And there were only a few post-Phase I characters like Rocket the Raccoon, Wong, Princess Shuri, Okoye and M'Baku, survived. Personally, I found it ridiculous that Marvel could not take the chance to kill off one or two of the original Avengers members.
I wish I could comment on all of the film's performances, but that would take forever. I will comment on those that caught my attention, both good and bad. I have already commented on Don Cheadle's very satisfying performance. The movie featured solid performances from those who had - to be honest - provided more memorable ones in past movies, like Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benedict Wong, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Chadwick Boseman, Winston Duke, Danai Gurira, Dave Bautista, Benedict Wong, Benicio del Toro, Jacob Batalon, William Hurt, Vin Diesel and Pom Klementieff. Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch gave solid performances as well, but there were times when both actors seemed bent upon proving whose character was more irritating. Personally, I believe Letitia Wright won this contest in her portrayal of Wakanda's Princess Shuri. Wright's character came off as a bit overbearing in her effort to prove her technological knowledge against the likes of Bruce Banner. Tom Holland gave a charming performance as Peter Parker aka Spider-man, but I must admit that I found his last scene, in which Peter was disappearing after Thanos' "snap", a bit over-the-top.
Both Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany gave poignant performances as the pair of Avengers lovers Wanda Maximoff and Vision. Bradley Cooper gave a very funny voice performance as Rocket the Raccoon, especially in scenes in which the talking raccoon interacted with both Thor and Bucky Barnes. As for Sebastian Stan, I was more impressed by his last scene, as he conveyed Bucky's fear and panic, while disintegrating, with one word - Steve's name. Peter Dinklage gave a memorable performance as the gruff and sardonic Eitri, the giant dwarf (you have to see him to believe it) who created Thor's Stormbreaker axe. Karen Gillian's Nebula has come a long way since 2014's "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY"and I enjoyed how the actress managed to maintain the character's gruff exterior and at the same time, convey Nebula's deep affection for her sister Gamora. And then there was Chris Pratt, who did an exceptional job of portraying the emotional gauntlet that Peter Quill aka Star-Lord had experienced in this film. I was especially impressed by his performance in that tender scene in which Peter and Gamora conveyed their love for one another.
For me, the film's most valuable players proved to be Chris Hemsworth, Zoe Saldana and Josh Brolin. Like Pratt, Chris Hemsworth had the opportunity to convey Thor's emotional turmoil that the latter had experienced in both this film and "RAGNAROK". At the same time, Hemsworth was as charming as ever, while portraying Thor's more familiar and enduring traits. Zoe Saldana gave one of her best performances as one of the Guardians, Gamora, who finds herself torn between her determination to foil Thanos' plan to use the Infinity Stones and her lingering love and affection toward him. Frankly, I thought Saldana beautifully conveyed this emotional tightrope in one scene in which Gamora expressed her grief after believing she had killed her adoptive father. Although I found Thanos' plans to cull the herd of the universe's sentient beings rather stupid, I cannot say the same about Josh Brolin's portrayal of the homicidal super villain. Brolin gave a superb performance as the Titan, who not only proved to be ruthless and canny, but also affectionate and loving . . . in a twisted way. Frankly, I think Brolin deserve a major acting award nomination or two for his performance. I found him more effectively scary and complex in this film than I did in "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY".
It must seem pretty obvious that I do not have a high regard for "THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR". I do not believe that it is a terrible movie. In fact, it struck me as a pretty damn good movie. I thought the Russo Brothers, along with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and a first rate cast led by Josh Brolin created a memorable and entertaining film. But the movie seemed to be marred by a good deal of plot holes and questionable narrative decisions that have led me to wonder if this film might be overrated by so many movie critics and fans of the MCU. You know what? I believe it is. And yet . . . I would still recommend the movie for viewing.