In the post-credits scene of Iron Man, Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury approaches Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) about the Avengers Initiative. “Mr. Stark, you’ve become part of a bigger universe — you just don’t know it yet,” Fury says. Moviegoers were also being introduced to a bigger universe they didn’t know of yet. This one scene incited a tidal wave of change within pop culture — the superhero genre no longer had its nerdy reputation and the shared universe seemed entirely possible, no longer constrained to the pages of comic books. Back in 2008, no one could’ve guessed that 10 years later, a Norse god flying through space with a talking raccoon would practically be commonplace.
Avengers: Infinity War lives to its meme-ified moniker as the “most ambitious crossover event in history, bringing together our familiar heroes from Earth and beyond in one epic feat of narrative convergence. Despite the sheer scale of everything, the plot is relatively simple: the Avengers must prevent Thanos (Josh Brolin) — the purple thumb-chinned father of Gamora (Zoe Saldana) — from collecting all six infinity stones. As Gamora explains, with the stones he plans to wipe out half of the universe “with the snap of his fingers”. This is an act of mercy, Thanos claims with his twisted sense of morality that seems perfectly normal only for him. Brief flashbacks to enlighten us on his motivations puts forth an interesting dilemma to explore — Thanos really does think he is doing the right thing, acting as the spearhead for radical but, in his mind, necessary change. But these attempts to scratch at something deeper only reach the surface level.
Directors Anthony and Joe Russo want to make it clear that Infinity War is not your typical Marvel movie. There are grand setpieces on faraway planets, biblical levels of destruction, and shocking deaths that are completely unexpected. “No more resurrections,” Josh Brolin’s Thanos says almost in a wink-and-nudge manner towards the audience as if to say “DO YOU SEE! THIS ONE IS DIFFERENT!.” The problem is that, as much as the film wants to set itself apart, it still feels like it’s come fresh from the assembly line. Following Black Panther is not easy task even for an Avengers film, and it doesn’t entirely succeed. Black Panther marked such a departure from the studio’s usual output that Infinity War is far too cookie-cutter in comparison, even with the plot’s numerous shocking surprises.
Infinity War moves at a lightning pace, only giving the briefest of respites between fight scenes (of which there are many). The film achieves what it set out to do, that is to create a grandiose spectacle like no other. What it sacrifices for the sake of spellbinding action however, is moments of character and emotion. Joss Whedon’s The Avengers (which, while revolutionary at the time seems quaint now) worked so well because it balanced sprawling city-wide battles with character development, taking the time to explore the emotional bruises of each Avenger individually. Despite its two-and-a-half-hour runtime, Infinity War has no time for this — character development is unthinkable compared to the insurmountable task of giving 50 or so cast members a good share of screentime. A few major characters fall victim to spotlight-sharing — standouts like Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) barely have a dozen lines each. With the expectation that you know every major narrative beat prior, the film is more concerned with going from point A to B than taking a second to reflect. That isn’t to say that the film is completely devoid of these moments — the scenes between Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) make the bulk of the film’s emotional core, but it isn’t long until these touching interactions are interrupted by someone being flung across the air by a villainous usurper.
With 18 films under their belt, Marvel has mastered the procedure of making a crowd-pleaser. Fans will eagerly await the next installment, and as much as I have criticised the franchise, I will too (especially after the agonising cliffhanger that bookmarks the end of this chapter). It’s easy to succumb to giddiness at the interactions of characters you would never expect to meet, or stare in awe at the galaxy-traversing battles. What is indisputable is that Avengers: Infinity War is a major achievement in blockbuster filmmaking. It isn’t often that a film can take on a task this daunting and somehow manage to pull it off…somewhat. The stakes have never been higher as they have in Infinity War, and that may be to the film’s detriment. With Marvel’s stratospheric aspirations, the film can barely carry the weight of its own ambition.