The End is Here… Kinda. — Avengers: Infinity War Review

The “epic conclusion” to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is exactly as epic, drastically more emotional, and infinitely less conclusive than you might expect.

Before we begin: if you’re planning on seeing this movie, hurry up and go see it. Don’t even stop to read this. This will be a spoiler-free review, but even spoiler-free reviews can convey much more than they intend at times. I’ll be here when you’re done. And try to avoid the Internet until you do; I made plans to go on opening night to avoid being spoiled, and still got partially spoiled by a troll in the comments of a friggin’ sports site.

Rest assured, they will be dealt with once I’m done writing this.

The important thing to remember heading into Infinity War (apart from the events of the preceding eighteen films) is that this movie was initially pitched as the first installment of a two-part story. Marvel eventually backed off of this plan, insisting that Infinity War and its unnamed sequel were, while still connected, two movies that could stand on their own. The marketing for the movie certainly tried to hammer home as much.

That’s… not the case. The DNA of the Part I that this movie was planned to be is still evident, and fairly or not, that at least partially mitigates the impact it’s going for. And while it’s not hard and fast (I will defend The Matrix Reloaded until my dying breath), the general rule governing two part blockbusters in recent years is that Part II tends to be significantly better. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, even… sigh, even Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part II hold up much better than their lead-in films. So if you’re a little put off by where things land at the end of this movie’s 160-minute runtime, and you probably will be, remember the enduring wisdom of Berra and Kravitz: it ain’t over ’til it’s over. You’ll just have to wait a year and a week until then.

But until then… wow.

The plot of Infinity War has been foreshadowed and marketed and nerdpieced to death over the last few years, but once more for the record: the alien warlord Thanos is on a quest to unite the six Infinity Stones, powerful primordial jewels that have fueled the plot of several movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date. When gathered, the six stones grant the bearer functional omnipotence — which wouldn’t necessarily be so bad if Thanos didn’t intend on using it to wipe out half of all life in the universe. Predictably, the denizens of the universe are none-too-pleased with this plan when they catch wind of it, and lo, the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and an assortment of other heroes join forces to put the kibosh on the Mad Titan’s machinations. What follows is emphatically not Marvel’s best movie, but easily one of its most daring, most dramatic, and darkest outings since Tony Stark first suited up a decade ago.

A lot of this stems from the movie’s villain, the purple dimply-chinned menace named Thanos. I’d long suspected that when the producers at Marvel billed this as a Thanos-centric film, they were just trying to drum up interest in the big guy. But rest assured, they meant it; however generic his plan may be, Thanos himself is a surprisingly effective villain, with a generous chunk of the film’s running time dedicated to diving into his motivations and movements. And as much of his impact comes across from plot as it does portrayal; as good as Josh Brolin is, it’s the special effects on Thanos that really sell him as both monster and man. And for a villain that easily could have been portrayed as a cackling genocidal maniac, the filmmakers do their level best to infuse the Mad Titan with some depth. There’s a twisted Malthusian logic to Thanos’ plans, and while you’ll never agree with him or want him to win, it’s difficult to not see how he became who he did. After the recent run of great Marvel villains courtesy of Vulture, Hela, and Killmonger, rest assured that Thanos keeps that streak hot.

Necessarily, Thanos’ screentime comes at the cost of the other heroes assembled to stop him. And there’s a lot; ten Avengers, seven Guardians of the Galaxy, at least three independent heroes, and an assortment of allies who step up to the plate in their own way. Even with 160 minutes to spare, there’s not a whole lot of room to split that and keep a cohesive story running with a lot of character development while still introducing new backstory and lore. Daunting though it may be, Infinity War really demands that you’ve seen a healthy chunk of the previous films to get a grip on where the characters are supposed to be and what their motivations are, and even then, your fave might get only one scene to really shine before the movie moves past them.

There’s also the movie’s breakneck pacing to consider, which, while not too much of a problem for your friendly neighborhood reviewer, may not be everyone’s cuppa tea. You know how a film like Inception relies on a quiet first half to power the second, or how The Last Jedi uses a quiet second act to mute its opening and set up its ending? Despite a few quiet scenes scattered throughout, the momentum in Infinity War starts from the opening tip, and doesn’t really let up until the credits roll. Until the ending, there are as many as five bombastically intersecting plotlines that the film relentlessly leaps back and forth from, and it isn’t always a graceful transition.

But if you’re all caught up on what’s come before and can keep up with what’s ahead of you, then the movie rewards you with the expected explosive action and battles, which are fantastic. There’s nothing more that needs to be said about that; you’ve seen the trailers, you know what the filmmakers, studio, and characters are capable of, let’s leave it there. The action is phenomenal, featuring set pieces and surprise appearances that may well lead to impromptu ovations from an engaged crowd.

Pictured: Chris.

Much more importantly, Infinity War is packed with a slew of oddball character interactions that are, and there’s really no other word for it, delightful. To dive too much into the pairings runs the risk of spoiling the movie, but nearly every time a hero runs across someone they’ve never seen before, the magic is instantaneous. From callbacks to the events previous movies that those out of the loop are incredulous about, to heroes being visibly impressed with the combat prowess of their new partners, one of Infinity War’s runaway strengths is the cast of characters it has to play with and the ability to tap into what made those characters shine in their respective franchises to begin with. When two strangers butt heads for the first time, the results are sometimes tense, but almost always hilarious. It may be the end of the universe, but it’s still a Marvel movie. You already know there’s gonna be jokes and jokes and jokes and jokes.

And that hilarity is much needed; without question, Infinity War is dark as the MCU has ever gotten. From the pre-title opening to the end credits, the apocalyptic stakes of this movie infuse every action scene and every cool-down alike, hanging in the air like an executioner’s axe waiting to fall. Previous films in the continuity have put the fate of planets or the galaxy at risk before, but here, you really do feel as though the heroes might not pull it out. There’s a sense of lingering dread that’s reinforced by the death toll in this movie; I refuse to say much more than that, but just know that yes, several characters you care about fall in this movie. The filmmakers absolutely were not kidding in that regard, and some of them are legitimately shocking; while I nailed some of them perfectly in my way-too-long Gambler’s Guide, there are a few that I couldn’t have been more wrong about if I’d tried. Bring tissues if you style yourself the crying type; you may need them.

In truth, that’s what annoys me most about this movie. By its very nature, it’s an emotional roller-coaster. But it also feels like Infinity War cheats at times to make the highs higher and the lows lower; in particular, romances that were building at a more natural pace are accelerated to worsen the impact when tragedy inevitably strikes. And they didn’t have to be. The events alone are plenty impactful and traumatic enough without the added manipulation, and paradoxically, it almost serves to lessen their effect once the dust settles.

Then of course, there’s the ending.

Man, that ending.

There’s a part of me that wants to avoid being overly laudatory of Infinity War’s conclusion, because as I noted, this is just Part I. Even as far as this movie goes, there’s a smarky sense at the end that much of what we’ve seen will be rolled back by the time the infuriatingly still-untitled Avengers 4 drops next year. But until then, let credit be rendered unto Caesar where it’s due; if the stunned silence at my screening was any indication, the ending to Infinity War will leave audiences shaken, shook, stirred, and every other adjective in between. Every other Marvel movie to date has dedicated at least part of its existence to setting up what’s to come, but the wait for the next installment is usually bearable. Not here; it’s been less than twenty-four hours, but I want Avengers 4 now.

Hoo, it’s gonna be a long year.

So does Infinity War live up to the hype? That depends on what you were expecting. If you wanted the absolute best that Marvel Studios has to offer, you missed the boat by anywhere from a few years to a few months, and if you wanted to see how everything ended, “once and for all,” you’re a year early. But if you wanted some amazing action, some laugh-out load moments, and and an unexpected bucket of cold and hard pathos dumped over your head, then you’ve come to the right place. Marvel’s streak continues, and as much in-universe as out of it, it feels as though the best is yet to come.

Yibambe!

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