There is a panning shot in 2011’s Avengers of the titular heroes assembled for the first time that elicited awe within the audience. As Alan Silvestri’s score plays over each hero standing side by side to one another, it was on a micro level – a culmination of five films worth of build up and on a macro level – a demonstration of the power studios could have not just in crafting films but universes. Expanding with each subsequent film, the scope of the Marvel Cinematic Universe carries a gravitas no better exemplified than through their latest venture Avengers: Infinity War. However, universes as the imposing totalitarian Thanos puts it requires balance; a balance that becomes Infinity War’s greatest asset but also its greatest detriment.
Dubbed “the most ambitious crossover event of all time” the process of assembling all 76 heroes in one feature film is indeed ambitious. United by the looming threat of the intergalactic tyrant Thanos (Josh Brolin), our heroes must set aside egos and superficial disagreements to stop the villain from obtaining the Infinity Stones – which if collected together grants the wielder control over time, space and reality. Benefiting from years of build up and post-credits teasing the setup works on two counts: 1) it removes the necessity for excessive exposition (a blessing in an already packed 160-minute runtime) and 2) allows the division of the expansive cast into more manageable subgroups. In that regard, credit has to be given to directors Joe and Anthony Russo as well as the whole Marvel team. Infinity War is massive and its scope will make it a cultural touchstone much like Star Wars, Lord Of The Rings or Harry Potter before it.
The spectacle of it all reigns supreme with scenes made to overwhelm the audience with sensory information but little by way of technique is ever executed.
The MCU has always strived for homogeneity among its products – this is the cost of developing a universe rather than just a film. Everything must feel and look the same in order for the universe to feel conjoined as one. In spite of this recent entries have seen Ryan Coogler and Taika Waititi infuse a bit of unique flair in Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok respectively but Infinity War (coming directly on the heels of these two efforts) returns to the same reserved trappings. Action scenes (of which there are plenty) are shot mostly with no regard for flow or pace. Rapid cutting eliminates much of the physicality and coherency of the combat. The spectacle of it all reigns supreme with scenes made to overwhelm the audience with sensory information but little by way of technique is ever executed.Expression in the MCU has always been dictated by actions rather than words and Infinity War being almost entirely devoted to its action set pieces leans on this more so than any other MCU movie which makes the lack of ingenuity on this front rather disappointing. While there are brief occasions where the distinct personalities of the characters shine through such as the inventiveness of mixing Doctor Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) abilities with Spider-Man’s (Tom Holland) acrobatics in combat, Infinity War also captures the redundancy of its characters. Such is the case when one particular grouping sees Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and Doctor Strange put together only to realize all three occupy the same space as the witty ego centric macho hero. The dynamic does derive some humor in their mutual attempts to one-up the other but as Thanos will tell you, balance is key.
To that end, balance means effectively managing the screen time each character gets and having such an extensive cast means that this distribution of screen time is not always equal. As Infinity War jumps between storylines, the Russos do their best to give everyone a moment to shine but it is very easy to get lost in the shuffle of the masses. Perhaps that is by design – a built-in advertisement that offers just a tease for the next slew of films in the ever-expanding canon. But still to see some of the more prominent characters in previous installments reduced to little more than cameo characters brings up one of the cons in constructing such an expansive story.If there is a star among the ensemble cast it would be Brolin’s performance as Thanos. Previously only seen in short segments, his arrival is the magnet that draws the rest of the universe together. As such he becomes the focal point of Infinity War, a surprisingly calm figure given his penchant for chaos. Though fully CGI, Brolin is more fully realized than previous iterations of Marvel villains. Part muted idealist philosopher and part formidable force Thanos carries the film on his broad shoulders leaving destruction (and some tears) in his wake.
There is an old saying in comics “no one stays dead (except Uncle Ben)”. In that realm, the cyclical nature of death makes sense because of the constant refreshes and resets of the comic book universe. Applied to movies, however, this principle lessens the weight of the stakes at hand. Because the MCU doesn’t reset so much as it has been a continuous machine (that looks to continue for the foreseeable future). Why should we care about any consequences knowing that actions can be reversed and altered at any time? There is no sense of finality here and though (no spoilers) Infinity War ends on a devastating note that on the surface has widespread implications, these implications are truncated by the knowledge that they can (and likely will be reversed) negating any sort of impact – functioning more as a dramatic ploy rather than a seismic event.
“Clever things make people feel stupid and unexpected things make people scared – Infinity War plays it far too conservatively”
Infinity War’s scale is unquestionable but the rest of the film does not engage at the level its ambition dictates. In direct contrast to The Last Jedi which challenged convention (to much subversive debate), Infinity War plays it supremely conservative. Nothing about the film from its direction, to its plot, to the choreography of its many action sequences feels expressly ambitious save for the fact that it is bigger. To steal a line from Futurama “clever things make people feel stupid and unexpected things make people scared” so maybe it is too much to ask of a billion-dollar franchise marketed to the masses to take risks (especially after the fallout to The Last Jedi) but to call it the most ambitious crossover of all time feels like a stretch as a result.
The culmination of 10 years worth of careful universe design meticulously molded to a specific aesthetic. Infinity War is uneven at times and frankly quite conservative for something of this magnitude, however, it is nonetheless an achievement that functions thanks to the charisma of its cast. Doubling down on the scope of The Avengers, Infinity War showcases the power Marvel possesses. A demonstration of the mind-boggling control one company can have even without the usage of infinity stones.