Marvel decided to throw themselves a birthday party, and they invited everybody! Avengers: Infinity War puts the cap on 10 years of Marvel movies and sets the stage for many more to come. Bringing together the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Dr. Strange, Black Panther, and the people of Wakanda to fight the greatest menace the universe has ever faced, the film does an amazing job of juggling multiple intersecting storylines and enough characters to fill a Greyhound bus.
I’m going to do my best to write a spoiler-free review here, but first we have to establish what constitutes a spoiler. I was once castigated for revealing the first four words of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens opening text crawl. Sorry, no, that’s not a spoiler. A spoiler is something that spoils the film – a major plot twist, a surprise, the answer to a mystery that threads through the film. “It was Earth the whole time!” “It was his sled!” “He was already dead!” “It’s made of people!” Those are spoilers. If knowing the first four words of the opening text in the first two seconds of a film “spoils” the following two hours for you, you have more problems than I can help you with.
All of which is to say, I think I can mention anything that’s been in the posters for the film, the trailers, revealed in interviews and other studio publicity, and everything that’s been seen in the previous movies, and nobody gets to cry about spoilers.
Avengers: Infinity War is a complex and continuity-heavy film, but surprisingly, I think it would still be enjoyable and understandable for someone who has missed most of the previous films. Past events are referenced often, much of what goes on is the consequence of those stories, but there’s still enough context given to allow a newbie to catch up. The films that contribute most to the setup here are Thor: Ragnarok, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Black Panther, and Captain America: Civil War. It wouldn’t hurt to have also seen Doctor Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy, but those are really only for background on some of the characters. Any of the other Marvel movies may be referenced, but only in fairly trivial ways.
So let’s set it up:
When last we saw, Thor, Loki, and Hulk were on the Asgardian refugee ship heading toward Earth; the Avengers had split into factions, with Captain America, Black Widow and Falcon going rogue, Hawkeye, Ant-Man, Vision and Scarlet Witch rescued from the super-prison called “the Raft,” War Machine seriously injured, and the rest of the Avengers acquiescing to the Sokovia Accord; Bucky Barnes was a patient in Wakanda; the Guardians were looking for adventure — Groot had grown into a truculent teenager, Nebula was off to try to kill her father, and Mantis had joined the team; Spider-Man was the friendly neighborhood hero of Forest Hills; Dr. Strange was guarding the world from mystical threats; and T’Challa was in the process of opening up relations between Wakanda and the rest of the world. Meanwhile, as revealed in the Age of Ultron post-credit sequence (how do people STILL keep getting up and leaving before those?), Thanos (the villain who sent Loki and the Chitauri to Earth in Avengers, later revealed in Guardians of the Galaxy to be Gamora and Nebula’s monstrous adoptive father) has decided to take matters into his own hands and collect the Infinity Stones.
In case you missed it, here’s a quick overview of the Infinity Stones, what they do, and where they are:
The Infinity Stones are six gems of incredible power formed along with the universe; each provides control over one aspect of reality, and anyone who has all six would be nearly a god, able to reshape the universe as they see fit.
The Space Stone (Blue) is contained within the “cosmic cube” (AKA “the Tesseract”) that was a plot point in both Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers. It has the power to control space, create advanced weaponry, and teleport. At the end of The Avengers, Thor took it to Asgard for safe-keeping.
The Reality Stone (Red) was the Aether, the swirling red liquid/mist wielded by Malekith, the Dark Elf, in Thor: The Dark World. It has the ability to warp reality at will, and gives the user immense strength, durability, powers, and subjective influence over the universe. It was given to The Collector for its protection and is in his vault on the world called Knowhere.
The Power Stone (Purple) is inside the orb that Peter Quill was sent to recover in Guardians of the Galaxy. It increases physical abilities and allows manipulation of energy. It is powerful enough to obliterate an entire planet when unleashed. Very few beings in the universe are capable of touching it without being destroyed. The Power Stone is protected by the Nova Corps on the planet Xandar.
The Mind Stone (Yellow) is the stone that was previously the source of power for Loki’s scepter in The Avengers, which he used to control Hawkeye. It allows its possessor to subjugate the minds of others, bending them to the will of the user and gives the bearer increased intelligence. It was used to give Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver their powers. It is currently embedded in the forehead of the sentient android known as Vision.
The Time Stone (Green) gives its user control over time. It can cause time to move forward or backward, accelerate or slow to a stop, or cause an event to repeat indefinitely. It is hanging around the neck of Dr. Strange, inside the Eye of Agamotto.
The Soul Stone (Orange) is the one we haven’t seen yet. What it does and where it resides have not yet been revealed, though the stone’s location is a significant plot point in Infinity War. In the comics, the soul stone is the thing that brings Adam Warlock to life. In Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, Ayesha, the golden leader of the Sovereign, was in the process of creating a “perfect” man she named Adam. Volume 3 should be interesting.
Once he collects all of the Infinity Stones and mounts them in his golden Infinity Gauntlet (first seen in Thor), Thanos intends to use this ultimate combination of primal cosmic power to remake the universe to suit his own purposes, in the process destroying half the life in existence. The massed contingent of interstellar heroes are drawn together to stop him. Explosions ensue.
Directors Joe and Anthony Russo (with script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) cleverly divide up all their teams and then mix and match the members into different groups, each with a different goal, none of them knowing what the others are doing, with their threads gradually coming together in a two-and-a-half-hour adrenaline rush. The Russo brothers have proven themselves adept at moving a large number of characters around in intersecting stories, going all the way back to when they worked on Arrested Development and Community. Here they do it on an interplanetary scale.
Given that the film pulls together elements of the previous 18 films, it’s understandable that certain elements get more attention, but it’s impressive how many secondary plot points are touched on and enhanced, thereby enriching the characters and escalating the stakes in the battle. The Russos somehow manage to keep track of about two dozen heroes, about a half-dozen supporting characters, and a handful of villainous underlings, and present all of this in clearly presented narratives that are never confusing.
Is it good? Yes, under its own terms. It achieves everything it sets out to do, and provides a lot of good characterization and storytelling along the way. Avengers: Infinity War is not a film destined for the AFI’s list of all-time great movies, but it is a well-constructed and exciting popcorn-muncher with fantastic effects, an exciting story, compelling characters, and a gut-punch of a shock ending. Thematically, I’d compare it to Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers or Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. It’s a complete movie, but it’s not the whole story. It may very well be that when Infinity War is joined on the shelf by 2019’s Avengers movie, the two together will be an amazing epic saga to place on those all-time greats lists.
A couple of random notes:
- When originally announced a couple of years ago, this film and the next were titled Infinity War Part 1 and Infinity War Part 2, before being quietly changed to Infinity War and Avengers 4. There’s a reason for that.
- Peter Dinklage is wonderful in his role. All of the fan theories are wrong, what they gave him to do is brilliant, and he’s brilliant doing it. He plays a larger role than I expected.
- There is a nice meta-text note in having two actors noted for playing Sherlock Holmes trying to outsmart each other, and the interplay is grand, almost as good as the Thor vs. Star-Lord male posturing challenge.
- Thor and Rocket make a great team.
- Teenage Groot is every bit as much of a fearless hero as Grown-up Groot and Baby Groot. When he steps up, you say “DAMN.”
- Wakanda remains awesome. Shuri, Okoye and M’Baku remain awesome.
- Characters who are not in Infinity War are mentioned with some explanation for their absence. I expect all of them to show up in Avengers 4.