Avengers: Infinity War: You’re Bound to Lose Control, by David Bax
When we talk about the mainstreaming of nerd culture, we’re mostly talking about how kids wearing Captain America logos are less likely to get beaten up and more likely to be doing the beating up. It’s not that basic bros have become more nerdy, it’s that formerly nerdy interests have become basic. But one of the more positive–and less talked about–side effects of the success of things like Game of Thrones and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that general audiences have become more accepting of, and even hungry for, fantasy storytelling. Anthony and Joe Russo’s Avengers: Infinity War is about various armies of creatures of all shapes and sizes, serving different lords and masters, traveling from made-up place to made-up place, trying to find and/or protect a bunch of rainbow-colored rocks with magical powers. This right here is some nerdy shit. And people are gonna love it. This is a modern day urban action fantasy (very heavy on the action; we never go too long between thrilling, breathtaking fights) that has escaped from furtive reading material into the broad daylight. It’s terrific.
Thanos (Josh Brolin), who’s been showing up in these things since the end credits of The Avengers six years ago, is finally making his presence known to Earth’s mightiest heroes. He’s collecting the Infinity Stones, which have been showing up in these things even longer than he has. Once he has them all, he can achieve his goal of saving the universe by eliminating, at random, half of all life. Since two of the Stones reside on Earth–one around the neck of Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and one in the forehead of Vision (Paul Bettany)–that’s where he’s headed for his final showdown. Some of the team head into space to intercept him and, subsequently, end up with considerably more screentime than their earthbound counterparts. But first, they have to meet the Guardians of the Galaxy and, per the same crossover rules that governed The Avengers, fight their new allies before realizing they’re allies.
That’s not to complain about the Guardians, though, who prove crucial to both the mission at hand and the overall tone of the movie. Instead of having their recklessly goofy tone dampened by a dour tale of attempted genocide, it’s the rest of the players who often seem to be adapting to them. Introduced singing along to The Spinners’ “Rubberband Man” and finding time for Drax to hilariously practice standing still and failing at it, it’s clear these are the same Guardians of their last two films. Of course, humor has always been a part of this cinematic universe but Infinity War land so many jokes–from smartass Spider-Man (Tom Holland) to no-time-for-your-bullshit Okoye (Danai Gurira) and everyone in between–that the movie could rightfully be classified a comedy.
Much has been made of the prevailing look of these Marvel movies, an aesthetic that has often been described as “ugly.” But that’s too easy a dismissal for the choices–and they are choices–that have come to define the appearance of these movies. The truth is that the Marvel universe is full of visually impressive locales, characters and action; it’s just that all are often shot in ways that seem unimaginative or uninspired. There are exceptions–the contributions of James Gunn and Kenneth Branagh come to mind–but the Russos excel at turning this perceived fault into a strength. Their seemingly loose and haphazard framing is actually a formalistic tool used in service of the sense of humor that’s so important to Infinity War. Part of why this movie is funny is that it’s often unimpressed with itself. It’s easy to get away with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Captain America (Chris Evans) pausing in the middle of a crucial battle to comment on each other’s haircuts if that nonchalance is reflected by the camera.
Of course, it’s not all jokes. This is, after all, the story of a monstrous, mad alien trying to wipe out half the universe. Marvel’s villain problem is well documented but Thanos’ terrible goal, not to mention his somewhat fleshed out relationship with adopted daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana), put him at least in the top half of the bad guys so far, well above Lee Pace’s Ronan the Accuser and maybe on par with Kurt Russell’s Ego but nowhere near Tom Hiddleston’s Loki (who appears here) or the current frontrunner, Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger. There’s also the fact that he brings actual death to some of our favorite characters here, although perhaps my biggest gripe with Infinity War is that, while some of these demises carry emotional weight, others very much do not.
My other complaint will come in the form of a warning. Those of you who pay attention to such things may remember that the movie was originally announced as Infinity War Part I. Though they shortened the title, there’s still another movie coming out next year and, prepare yourself, this one is only half the story. As such, there’s a feeling of anticlimax when the credits roll, even with the stakes as high as they are. But how important can the stakes really be when everything in Infinity War is so enormous? Even Gamora’s brief flashback is a gargantuan set-piece that that probably cost more than any other movie opening in theaters this weekend. This movie is huge in so many ways, which makes it a spectacle. Luckily, the Russos also remembered to make it good.