I hereby promise that this review of Avengers: Infinity War shall be spoiler free. And, I’ll also start by saying that Leigh’s response to discussing the film, which we saw last Tuesday, is still “I’m shook”. Oddly enough, I’m not shaken now – nor was I shaken at the film’s end. I think my initial response was more of a contemplative, “Huh, well, that wasn’t how I expected the first part of this story to go down. But hey, the film was still good.” So, today, I’m going to talk about the good and the bad – what I liked and what I didn’t particularly think was handled well. There’s so much more I want to say, but I’ll wait until after more people have seen the film to make those comments.
The Good. Infinity War did a lot of things well, creating a massive sense of scale with high stakes, balancing the huge cast of characters, and delivering on the needs of an action-packed war movie in an engaging way. So let’s look at the sense of scale and high stakes. The height of the stakes are set simply: Thanos, the Mad Titan, plans on using the Infinity Gauntlet with all six stones so that he can “restore balance” to the universe by wiping out exactly half of the population at random (in a few weeks, I’ll talk more about my thoughts on his logic, but that will wait until more people have seen it). Within the first half-hour of the film, we see attacks in space (The Asgardian refugee ship), an attack on New York City that includes Peter Parker’s class going on a field trip, trouble in Edinbourough (where Wanda and Vision are enjoying a bit of quiet time together), and the “peace-filled” utopia (for a few more minutes) that is Wakanda. Showing all of these locations, and giving the scene setting for the attacks (often to collect Infinity Stones) is a tall order, and I felt everyone involved did a good job showing what was at stake. After seeing the numerous attacks on others, the idyllic land of Wakanda exemplifies what everyone stands to lose – peace, hope for a brighter future, and life.
Additionally, the film did a great job, in my opinion, balancing the numerous characters. I’ll start with Loki, who, though he wasn’t in the film for very long, felt like he was essential and meaningful. He wasn’t shoehorned in, as he was in Thor: The Dark World, He also got an entertaining call-back to his first appearance in Avengers when he got to tell Thanos, “We have a Hulk”. That’s just one example, as each character seemed to have their own moment to shine in a meaningful way. Also, the only time in the film that tears came was when Wanda had to make her choice at the end and its impact was revealed. I won’t say more, but she was dealt a cruel hand.
And while on the subject of characters, I do want to talk briefly about Thanos. I’ve never cared for him, finding him pretty flat. And, let’s be honest, his teasers throughout the MCU haven’t developed his character very much. Infinity War did that nicely. We got to see his motivation, his history, and some emotional response to the price his “destiny” demanded he pay. I like my villains to seem real and to be fully-realized characters. This film did that for Thanos.
N.B. As a brief aside, I do want to say that the “Dementor-esque” appearance of Red Skull was nicely placed, allowing us to see actual consequences for being unworthy. of possessing power. It also sets a nice foil between Nazi genocide and Thanos’ genocide, at least as Thanos would see the difference.
The action sequences in the film delivered. I won’t say too much, because that may be filled with spoilers. Let’s just say from the devastation of refugee transport to the destruction of cities that’s classic for comic books, to fast, action-filled battle scenes on the ground (Wakanda Forever!) and on desolate wastelands of former planets, Infinity War delivers on action.
The Bad. There’s not a lot that I find bad about Infinity War, but I will say this: the film felt somewhat incomplete in its presentation due to it being Part I of a two-part feature. Let me explain why. Growing up in the Western Tradition, I’ve become accustomed to the basic Three Act Structure of narrative (Setup – Confrontation – Resolution). The film handled the First Act well, because, as I’ve already discussed, we get a sense of the main players, the stakes, and what’s about to go down. The Second Act is also handled nicely. The heroes confront the villain and experience complications and setbacks. That happened. However, the Third Act was omitted. We don’t get an actual Resolution – either for good or for ill. We get the promise of one to come in the future (next year when Part II is released).
For a movie that was nearly three hours long, this makes the film feel incomplete. Yes, again, I know that Part II is coming. However, consider other films that are part of a multi-film arc. Let’s start with the Thor trilogy. While each film built toward Ragnarok (It’s Norse Myth, that is the ultimate telos), each film featured all three acts, giving each one a sense of individual completeness – each film told a story. The same can be said for each of the films in the Star Wars saga and the Lord of the Rings. Yes, each film basically presents one of the acts in the overall narrative, but each one also has its own three act structure to give it a sense of internal completeness. We didn’t get that with Infinity War, making the film feel incomplete.
Now, let’s complicate this a bit by switching sides. What if we see the film from Thanos’ perspective? Without providing spoilers, we do get a complete presentation of the three acts. That would be satisfying, except for the fact that we’re meant to see this film from the perspective of the heroes whom we’ve spent a decade following. I can’t point to anything in the film that indicates that we should shift our perspective. That’s what makes this “frustrating”. While I may have missed something in the film, this sudden shift in perspective away from viewing the events through the eyes of familiar heroes to those of a villain who has made only a handful of cameo appearances needs some clear signal so that the audience knows to shift their focus. That’s what makes me wonder if this is “lucky happenstance” that someone who has spent the better part of two decades studying narratives overintellectualizes about the film or if it’s intentional – and brilliant – storytelling. With a clear signal, this would certainly be the latter. However, without such a signal, it makes the film feel unfinished in a satisfying way.
Final Thoughts. Overall, both of us loved Avengers: Infinity War. I’d be happy to see it again while it’s still in theaters. It’s a movie that should be seen on the big screen. It has that level of scope and scale. It’s not perfect, but it’s very good.
Rating. 3.7 out of 4 cape-wearing superheroic bats.