By Chip Chandler — Producer
"We're in the end game now."
That's how Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) describes the carnage of Avengers: Infinity War, and I can't think of a more apt phrase.
The latest installment of the now 19-chapter Marvel Cinematic Universe is more than just another entry in the unprecedented series of interlocking movies. It's a culmination of what began in the post-credit scene in 2008's Iron Man, when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) surprised Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and said, "I'm here to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative."
Filmgoers had no idea what would explode from there: Universe-spanning adventures like Guardians of the Galaxy. Mystical derring-do with Doctor Strange. Gods and monsters in Thor and The Incredible Hulk. Political thrillers in Captain America.
It's all slammed together in Infinity War, and I don't think it's a spoiler to say that it ends on a hugely dramatic cliffhanger. Strange's words will be echoing in your ears as you walk out of the theater.
Infinity War brings in virtually every major character from the previous 18 films and sics them on would-be galactic conquerer Thanos (Josh Brolin), whose dream is to collect all six Infinity Gems and have the power to wipe out half of the universe's population with the snap of his finger.
Sibling directors Anthony and Joe Russo previously showed that they were skilled at handling large ensembles with Captain America: Civil War, but that had about half the number of heroes to juggle. And in Infinity War, against all odds, they pretty much succeed. Kind of amazingly so.
We're rocketed to and fro around the ever-expanding cinematic universe, from the surviving Asgardians from Thor: Ragnarok to the mighty Wakandans from Black Panther to the New York home of Strange and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Stark to the still squabbling Guardians of the Galaxy somewhere out in the stars. There's barely a moment to catch your breath — and believe me, you're going to be gasping already at some of the surprises.
Now, Infinity War isn't as perfectly streamlined or as totally successful as Black Panther, this year's reigning superhero film. It's occasionally a little clunky, and some characters and some plot points get slighted. Some CGI effects look a bit unfinished in the climactic battle, which is virtually one giant CGI effect, come to think of it. There's very little of the rousing hand-to-hand combat of Civil War.
But, boy, is there a lot of joy elsewhere. The Russos, working from a screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, delight in teaming characters in unexpected ways, teasing out the implicit humor in a way that truly lightens what's otherwise a pretty dark film, particularly for a Marvel movie.
That nearly oppressive darkness is honestly earned, though: Thanos is a massively daunting foe, not only physically (he literally towers over even the tallest hero) but also in motivation: To make a more orderly universe, Thanos thinks its necessary to commit genocide on a nearly unimaginable scale. But one of the film's biggest surprises is the way it humanizes Thanos. Next to Black Panther's Killmonger, he's easily the most complex, fascinating villain we've seen in a Marvel movie.
Other characters, like Thanos' Guardian daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Strange and Stark, get nice story arcs, too, but others, particularly Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and even Captain America (Chris Evans) himself, kind of get shafted.
But even with a running time of more than two-and-a-half hours, there's only so much screen time to spread around to more than 30 main characters — no matter how fast the Russos keep the pace.
That's where I wonder if the film will falter with some viewers. For an old-school comic-book nerd like me, seeing the heroes broken up into smaller teams spread all across the world and the galaxy is par for the course for a major crossover. But it's gotta be bewildering to folks who've just watched the movies to go hither and yon like this.
But who knows? Marvel has defied expectations all along, and there's no stopping them now, even as Infinity War suggests some major changes are ahead for the shared universe.