This was never just a movie. With a full decade of buildup over 18 installments, this was the end of Kevin Feige’s and Marvel Studios’ riskiest venture. The MCU was never guaranteed to be a success and it certainly wasn’t guaranteed to become the unstoppable pop culture behemoth it is today. Iron Man was a gamble, as were the following few films, but it was hoped that they could culminate in an outing for The Avengers – which it did in 2012. It was this installment which solidified the MCU and laid the groundwork for the next 6 years leading up to Avengers: Infinity War. It all comes to a close in the sequel, Avengers: Endgame, but for that film to work, it requires the context of Infinity War.
The hype surrounding Infinity War was huge. It was first announced in October 2014 to a crowd of ecstatic fans, although it was titled Infinity War Part 1, with the title for Endgame being Infinity War Part 2. The films would shoot back to back in 2017 but not before they were tentatively retitled again to Infinity War and Untitled Avengers Sequel. The title for Endgame ultimately wouldn’t be revealed until Infinity War had finished playing in cinemas so as to not spoil the final act of that movie. Secrecy was a major element surrounding both the production and the marketing. Infinity War was the beginning of the end for Marvel’s Infinity Saga and the studio were determined to ensure that everybody get to experience it for themselves. This secrecy even applied to the cast and crew who weren’t told how the film would end until they were about to shoot it. This kind of secrecy would play a much larger role in Endgame’s production, but that story will come soon enough. The marketing was coy, with the first trailer focussing less on the plot and more on this film’s place in the context of the MCU. It was full of hero shots, a sprinkling of fight scenes, and entirely fake shots. Altering shots in a trailer to conceal important plot points is understandable (see Thor’s eye in the Ragnarok trailer) but to insert entirely fake shots feels manipulative. The very last hero shot, of everyone running towards the camera, stands out above it all as the most heinous crime. This meant that, as the premiere approached, only the vague plot of “Avengers fight Thanos” was known and the film was all the better for it.
Infinity War was to be The Avenger’s greatest battle. The mad Titan Thanos was on a quest to collect all 6 Infinity Stones, which would make him the most powerful being in the known universe, and it would be up to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to stop him. The synopsis fails to mention Thanos’ ultimate goal, that being the destruction of half the life in the universe, and the number of separate plotlines contained within.
Wanda Maximoff and Vision are taking a break from The Avengers before the arrival of Thanos’ Guard sees them being dragged back in by Steve Rogers, Sam Wilson, and Natasha Romanoff, who have been on the run since Captain America: Civil War. When Bruce Banner returns from Ragnarok’s Asgardian rescue vessel warning of Thanos, they all head to Wakanda to prepare for war. Meanwhile, after the destruction of the aforementioned Asgardian vessel, Thor is picked up by the Guardians of the Galaxy before taking Rocket Raccoon to Nidavellir to create a Titan-killing axe. The rest of the Guardians encounter Tony Stark, Peter Parker, and Dr. Stephen Strange, who have killed one of Thanos’ Guards and taken his ship, before the newly formed group head to Thanos’ homeworld Titan to fight him. Throughout all of this, Thanos is searching for the remaining Infinity Stones, having already retrieved the Power Stone from the planet Xandar and the Space Stone from the Asgaugrdians. This is a lot to pack into a 160minute runtime. There are 97 individual characters and every single one is given a fair amount of screentime but the film never feels bloated or oddly paced. The storylines never become convoluted or difficult to follow which is a real testament to the creative team. Whilst the title may say Avengers, and they are present, this is really Thanos’ movie. It is his mission that drives the plot forward and his emotions that ground it. He is completely in the wrong. That shouldn’t need to be stated, but an alarming number of people think his plan to wipe out the universe is reasonable. No. Incorrect. The issue is not “lack of resources” it is “lack of equal distribution of resources” but even if that were the issue, the solution would be to provide more resources.
The greatest strength Infinity War has, besides pacing and character, is its ending. It is the perfect culmination of all that has come before. With both sets of heroes struggling in their respective battles, which take up a large portion of the screentime, Thanos arrives on Earth for the Mind Stone which is embedded in Vision’s head. The footage slows, the music swells, the characters each make one last desperate rush towards him. However much of the focus is on Wanda, who is the only person capable of destroying the Stone, and Vision, who is dying in the process. It is their love and their loss that gives the scene so much weight, with actors Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany absolutely knocking it out of the park with their performances. As the scene goes on, Thanos swipes the Avengers away without a second thought (except Captain America who he seems impressed by), leading Wanda to singlehandedly destroy Vision and hold back Thanos. The scene is tense but that tension breaks the moment Vision dies. Until Thanos rewinds time and takes the Time Stone anyway in a soul crushing moment. All hope seems to return when Thor plows an axe into his chest but it immediately vanishes again when Thanos snaps his fingers. Thanos wins. The music cuts out and all that is left is the silent sound of sheer horror as many characters turn to dust. It’s a stunning ending, amplified by the uncertainty of what comes next, with the most tragic being the dusting of Spider-Man. The MCU’s iteration of the character has flaws but seeing a beloved childhood character turn to dust is a moment that stays long after the credits are over. All the other characters are exasperated and composed but Peter Parker is full of utter fear and it hurts to see a childhood icon like that.
Infinity War is defined by loss. Thanos lost his people, his right-hand man and his “daughter” Gamora. The Avengers lose their battles, the Stones and each other. Thor loses half of his already deplete people including Heimdall and Loki, with the film specifically taking time to inform the audience that there will be no resurecctions this time. The MCU has been lighthearted and childish at times but Infinity War is a tonally dark film. Loki’s death occurs 10 minutes in and sets that tone, which rarely leviates throughout. There are moments of humour within the plot, mainly through character interactions like Steve Rogers and Thor, but moments like Star-Lord trying to out bravado Thor are full of that classic MCU cringe. This is to say nothing of Bruce Banner being unable to summon The Hulk which is both cringeworthy and a complete waste of his character. The only uncertain aspect of the whole thing is Peter Dinklage as the giant dwarf Eitri, who runs Nidavellir. His story is tragic and sympathetic but it’s difficult to look past Dinklage doing a dodgy British accent.
Despite being the penultimate chapter, Infinity War still has a mid-credits scene which allows for a bit of extra storytelling. It sees both Former-Agent Maria Hill and Former-Director Nick Fury getting dusted, with a clever use of timing which almost allows Fury to drop an F bomb. In the moments before his devise, Fury sends a pager signal to Captain Marvel, although you’d only know that if you were aware a Captain Marvel film was on the way and what her logo looked like. A member of the audience I was in did not and it really helped to alleviate the tension, so shout out to that guy.
As a prelude to Endgame, Infinity War is outstanding. As a culmination of a decades-worth of work, it’s mostly brilliant. Some of the payoffs are a perfect example of the kind of long-term planning that the MCU eventually managed to get ahold of, especially the return of Red Skull. Had Infinity War been the final film in the franchise, it would have been emotionally devastating, and perhaps less divisive than Endgame. It doesn’t promise closure but it provides a hell of a powerful ending. It was inevitable that the MCU would continue but if this had been it, it would have stood the test of time as one of the greatest endings of all time.
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