“Avengers: Infinity War” is more a piece of connective tissue than a movie. Featuring an expansive collection of cinematic superheroes united in opposition to an intergalactic, genocidal environmentalist, there are enough characters here for ten movies, and enough plot for half of one.
A decade in the making, the film features dozens of superheroes, precious few of whom had even been heard of by a non-virgin before 2008. In the process of doling out sufficient time for each of these characters to get their quips in, few get the chance to shine, and one appreciates how it’s better to have a few close friends than dozens of acquaintances. Wisely, writer/directors Anthony and Joe Russo reserve the most time for Thor, who Chris Hemsworth plays with a special humorous, sensitive haughtiness that makes his escapades equal parts snarky and meaningful (at least by this film’s standards). But the whole gang is here, and each gets a few moments to themselves, ranging in quality from captivating (Thor) to respectable (Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man) to lame (Chris Pratt’s goofy Star-Lord).
The plot sees the Marvel Cinematic Universe under siege by Thanos (Josh Brolin), a gigantic purple alien who seeks to exterminate half the universe with a magic glove. Why half, you might ask? Beats me, but Thanos claims this mass murder will save everyone. I hope for a deleted scene where Thanos explains a complicated mathematical formula explaining why 50% is the magic number that makes intergalactic living sustainable, but I’m not counting on it.
Split into three groups on three different planets, the heroes take turns battling Thanos, who must collect several space gems to bring his magic glove to full function. The formula, repeated at least five times, sees the heroes:
1. Notice Thanos has arrived
2. Attack Thanos head-on despite his obvious firepower advantage
3. Rough Thanos up a bit, even though he’s clearly impervious to serious harm
4. Be defeated by Thanos, who neglects to kill any of them, leaving his primary opposition intact as he teleports away
These action scenes are fine and exciting, though forgettable in their repetition. One climactic confrontation with Thanos would undoubtedly have carried more dramatic oomph than several variations of the same fight, but this isn’t a film concerned with holding the kitchen sink in reserve.
It all leads to a finale that effectively issues the audience an invoice to buy a ticket to the next installment, replete with deaths that not even the most naive child would think are permanent. It takes a step in the opposite direction of last year’s “Logan,” which had the stones (pun not intended) to kill off its iconic character, by slaying heroes the audience objectively knows will be resurrected.
As a standalone film, “Infinity War” is a failure, only marginally better than last year’s disastrous “Justice League.” But as part of the MCU, it works, although it lacks the grandeur earned by previous installments. Watching “Infinity War” requires an appreciation of what came before it, though as an answer to those movies, it’s a hollow. What Marvel fans have instead of something meaningful is a glittery treat, enjoyable but far from nutritious.