Though I like them, I’m not the biggest fan of the first two Avengers movies. The first was an event, but it hasn’t aged particularly gracefully. The second was kind of mess from the get go. They aren’t bad; they are the kind of movies that provide a decent amount of entertainment when you stumble onto them on FX on a Saturday afternoon but not ones that invite much thought. Really, though, the previous Avengers movies aren’t really the predecessors to Infinity War; it follows up on the previous two Captain America movies and Thor Ragnarok.
This movie should have been a huge mess. It has so many characters, so many locations, so many storylines, and the Russos didn’t show themselves to all that adept at juggling this stuff in Civil War. But here they pulled it off. Infinity War manages to tell a story, or at least half of one, that despite its massive scope never really loses it focus on the story its telling.
There is a story here. Sure is has a ton of plot, but it also has themes and characters with goals. Those are low hurdles to clear, but too many movies fail to clear them. The structure of the movie makes it hard for any of these arcs to be resolved, but at least they are there. The big one is sacrifice. All throughout the movie, our heroes are confronted with the choice of sacrificing one or a few people to save the many more. And nearly every time they refuse to do so. Captain America flat out states that they don’t trade lives. This is contrasted with Thanos, who is willing to sacrifice anything to achieve his goals. It is as blatant as possible, but that works in superhero stories, which are rarely helped by being subtle. I’ll take the themes being too obvious over them being non-existent.
Avengers Infinity War puts the format of a big comic crossover to surprisingly great use in setting up the pacing of the movie. It plays out in roughly twenty minute chunks that are their own little stories, much like the individual issues that make up a comic crossover. After a quick opening with Thor that was set up at the end of Ragnarok, it opens with a section that is focused on Hulk, Dr. Strange and Iron Man. After that little story resolves itself, the movie introduces Captain America and his crew and then the Guardians of the Galaxy. Every group gets a enough time to play out a small story, usually meeting a new character before breaking off into a slightly different group for the next section of the movie. Each storyline has its own tone and for the most part every character gets their chance to shine. The only group that really doesn’t are those with Captain America on Earth, who really don’t have anything to do.
There are some weak links. We haven’t seen enough of Vision or Scarlet Witch to make us care about their romance. Thanos’s lieutenants are barely faces for our heroes to punch. The big one, and one that most Marvel movies share, is that the fight scenes are mostly really bland. There are a few moments where characters use their powers in interesting ways or in interesting combinations, but mostly it feels kind of inconsequential. Lastly, the movie doesn’t really end, it just kind of stops. But that problem with be solved, or exacerbated, in the follow up next year. There are also some clear winners. I wasn’t crazy about Spider-Man Homecoming, but Tom Holland was excellent in this. Chris Hemsworth continues to get better as Thor.
Avengers Infinity War is an Avengers movie that finally feels like a big event in movie instead of just outside of it. It isn’t quite as coherent as the best of Marvel’s output, there is a lot more meat on these bones than previous movies in the series had.