Like last year’s exemplary Twin Peaks: The Return, Avengers: Infinity War blurs the line between the mediums of cinema and television, only in the opposite direction: Infinity War is a movie which operates more like a TV serial–really, a three-hour TV commercial or trailer for a movie franchise. Indeed, Infinity War and TP:TR have some common characteristics: both try to balance an enormous, unwieldy cast of characters and locations; both have time-bending cosmic plots involving different realms and dimensions; both aim for an ambiguous and unsettling ending, one which forces its audience to wrestle with the dynamics of evil, death, and chaos. But where David Lynch’s 18-hour cinematic masterpiece succeeds in all that it aims for with its wondrous, mystical, confounding de- and re-construction of both the medium and narrative storytelling, the pseudo-TV episode Infinity War just builds upon its 18 predecessors only to burn them all to the ground to make us Tune In Next Time. The stakes here are incredibly dire and existential while also somehow unaffecting and aloof. Characters we should care about are snuffed out, and we (read: me) don’t care much at all. Why? We know there will be an Infinity War: Part 2 and a Spider-Man film in 2019 (along with Captain Marvel), and a third volume of Guardians of the Galaxy in 2020. Where TP:TR was incredibly patient and empathetic with the return of beloved characters and truly heartbreaking with the deaths* of others, Infinity War is just more (a lot more) of the CGI-punchfest we’ve come to expect from the MCU.
To be clear: Infinity War does this punchfest very well. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America: Civil War) are not distinct auteurs like Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok) or Ryan Coogler (Black Panther), who each recently brought their unique style and directorial vision to the franchise. The Russos are solid, boilerplate directors with a penchant for making action filmmaking look discernible. Even in the chaotic frenzy of battle, we are aware of characters’ decisions, movements, and locations. We can even tell the Chrises apart–that’s Captain America (Chris Evans) punching an alien, or Thor (Chris Hemsworth) pounding a different alien, or Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) shooting yet more aliens. The locations range from battles on Earth (New York, Scotland, and Wakanda) to cosmic locations and other planets (Titan, Knowhere, Space itself), each of them given just enough screen time in order to get onto the next location. I loved see the vibrant world of Wakanda again, as well as the snarky humor of the Guardians and Thor, whose hilarious interactions are the life of the film. Tom Holland as Spider-Man is just delightful, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange goes goatee-to-goatee with Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark/Iron Man. And then there’s Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olson, Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle, Zoe Saldana, etc. etc. etc.
I won’t get much into the details of the plot here, aside from noting that Infinity War is basically *all* plot.The film’s rhythm of “fight sequence-talking scene-fight sequence-talking scene” is almost rhythmic, even formulaic. There’s no need for character arcs or development of the superheroes, who have had 18 previous episodes…er, films for us to get to know them all. The only character developed is the villain Thanos (Josh Brolin), with his quest to bring literal balance to the universe by ridding half of its inhabitants. Indeed, it is Thanos who is given flashbacks and dream sequences, moral and mortal decisions. Brolin portrays him as a melancholic prophet on a divine mission, surrounded by his “children,” assassins who’ve drunk the purple kool-aid. Were it not for the immoral nature of his goal, one would think Thanos was the protagonist of Infinity War; he’s certainly the character who gets the most attention. Which is appropriate–we’ve been waiting for him ever since we waited through the credits to see his post-credits appearance in The Avengers in 2012. And we’ll wait to see the fate of the MCU in 2019, and again in 2020, and so on for the history of foreseeable cinema until we are all dead and gone–ashes to ashes and dust to dust. To infinity and beyond, indeed.
*RIP, Log Lady.
IMDB Listing: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4154756/