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Josh Reviews Avengers: Infinity War!

Once again, the wizards at Marvel Studios have pulled off the near-impossible: seamlessly weaving together characters and story-threads from the previous EIGHTEEN Marvel Studios movies into an epic, compelling super-hero extravaganza that is fun, funny and heartbreaking in equal measure.  The years-long win-streak that Marvel Studios has been on is so far beyond unprecented that I am running out of words with which to describe it.  Avengers: Infinity War is pretty much everything I wanted it to be.

Avengers: Infinity War, like all the previous Marvel Studios films, certainly can be viewed and judged on its own.  The makers of these Marvel films never forget to allow each movie to stand on its own two feet.  But its emotional heft, like that of so many of the recent Marvel films, most notably Captain America: Civil War, comes from the way the film moves forward and pays off story-lines and character-arcs that have be developing over the course of so many of these previous eighteen movies.

Primarily, of course, this film finally brings together the story of the Infinity Stones, so many of which have been popping up throughout this film series.  For instance, we have followed the Space Stone — also referred to as the Tesseract — from the Red Skull’s possession in Captain America: The First Avenger, to the hands of S.H.I.E.L.D. and then Loki and then the Asgardians in The Avengers, back to the hands of Loki at the end of Thor: Ragnarok… and now into the hands of Thanos in this film’s opening sequence, which follows immediately from the end credits sequence of Ragnarok in which the spaceship of surviving Asgardians was intercepted by Thanos.

It’s great fun to finally see all of the stories of these different Infinity Stones finally come together in this film as Thanos tracks them down, one by one, across the universe.  (Although the details have been changed, I was pleased that this movie’s structure borrows as much from Jim Starlin’s Thanos Quest story as it does from his more famous Infinity Gauntlet series.  The original Infinity Gauntlet story opens with Thanos already in full possession of all six Infinity Gems, as they were called in the comics.  It was the two-part Thanos Quest miniseries that told of how Thanos managed to acquire all the stones and, in a wise choice, it is that story which forms the basic structure of this film.)

But beyond that, this film is packed with moments that reward the attentive viewers of this series.  When a character mentions that Thanos devastated Xandar in order to get the Power Stone, that has meaning if you remember getting to know that world in the first Guardians of the Galaxy film.  When you see who the hooded keeper of the Soul Stone is, that packs a wallop if you remember where and when we last saw that character.  Infinity War doesn’t waste a lot of time with exposition: it assumes that you know these characters and that you have been paying attention to the previous films.  I love that.

I was incredibly impressed by how skillfully this film wove together almost every single super-hero from the previous eighteen movies.  Some get more attention that others, of course, but almost everyone gets a few great moments of humor or heroism.  The Big Three original Avengers, Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America get a lot of attention, as they should.  So much of Tony Stark’s story throughout these past several years’ worth of movies has been his PTSD following the events of The Avengers, and I love how this film continued to explore that, showing us how Tony reacted when his worst fears finally came true.  This film had a tricky road merging the serious Thor we knew from previous Avengers films and the silly, goofy version of the character from Ragnarok.  That challenge was exacerbated by the film’s opening, in which the mostly happy ending of Ragnarok is ripped away and Thor pretty much loses everything.  How could a character facing such crushing losses still be silly and goofy?  That’s a tough needle to thread, but I thought they did a great job, allowing Thor some humor but also allowing us to feel the emotional ramifications of the carnage in that opening sequence.  When Thor admits, late in the film, that he has nothing left to lose, it recontextualizes some of his goofiness as a way to cover over the pain he’s grappling with, and that works great.  While Steve Rogers has a lot to do in the film, I wish we’d been able to get into his head a little more, to see how he was really feeling and handling his life on the run ever since the events of Civil War.  But I understand there is only so much you can do in a film this jam-packed, and Steve gets some great moments, from that great sequence (that was a big hero moment in the trailers) of Steve catching Thanos’ fist and struggling to hold him back, to his very last moment in the film (more on that later).

I was surprised how much screen-time Doctor Strange got, but I loved his role in the film and glad that the film gave him his due as the keeper of the Time Stone (in the Eye of Agamotto).  I was also extremely happy how central Gamora was to the story, and the way the movie fleshed out her and Nebula’s backstory and their childhood being raised by Thanos.  We have heard a lot about that from the first two Guardians of the Galaxy films, and I was happy how important Gamora’s history with Thanos proved to be here.  I was also happy that the film didn’t forget that a big part of Drax’s backstory was his hatred of Thanos.

There is a ton of action and super-hero spectacle in the film, and it’s all pretty terrific.  This is a huge film, set in many different locations and many different worlds, but the film’s reach does not exceed its grasp in terms of the realization of this huge canvas.  Each new setting was brought to life with incredible detail.  And don’t forget, this film also features quite a number of completely CGI characters, from Rocket to Groot to the Hulk to, of course, Thanos.

I have been saying for years that for this film to work, Thanos needed to work.  I adored his initial appearance as a fantastic surprise in the end credits of The Avengers, but the handful of times he has popped up since then (in Guardians of the Galaxy and the end credits of Avengers: Age of Ultron) had left me a tad worried.  But thankfully Thanos is incredibly well-realized here.  He looks great.  There are a handful of shots where the CGI of this huge, bulky figure wasn’t 100% convincing, but in the vast majority of the shots, particularly the many close-up shots of his face, I found him to be fantastically, compellingly real-looking.  (They film wisely quickly drops the too-shiny armor we saw Thanos wearing in Guardians and Age of Ultron, although it does look worlds better here when we see it in flashbacks.  His more slimmed-down outfit which he wears for the bulk of the film is much better.)  More importantly, the film spends the time needed to develop Thanos as a character.  The film follows Thanos’ story more than any of the other characters!  While that means that one might be left wishing that, say, Bruce and Natasha’s reunion got more screen-time (though I was happy with the way that moment was handled) or that other characters got more attention, the focus on Thanos is essential to paying off his much-hyped status as the ultimate baddie of the Marvel universe.  I love that this film is Thanos’ story!!  (If you had any doubt that was the case, just look at the ending of the film!  More on that later.)  Josh Brolin is fantastic as Thanos.  I loved e his voice: it’s perfectly grim and epic, just the way Thanos should be.

Infinity War plays for keeps, as it should.  The film sets its stakes early when several beloved characters get offed even before the main title appears, and it successfully maintains that tension throughout its run-time.  The audience is not allowed to rest easy and assume everyone is safe.  And that ending.  Wow!  I will discuss it more in my spoilers section below, but let me just say again: wow.  I wasn’t sure Marvel would have the guts to end the film the way I’d hoped it would, but boy did they go there.  I loved it.

If you haven’t yet seen the film, STOP READING NOW and come on back once you have.

SPOILERS beyond, OK?

I loved the film’s opening and I was so happy that, as I had hoped, the film picked up right after the end of Ragnarok and paid off Loki’s presumed theft of the Tesseract from Asgard.  So, all of the women and children saved at the end of Ragnarok have all now been murdered by Thanos and his goons?  That is dark.  I was NOT expecting Loki to kick the bucket so quickly.  There certainly are ways to bring back this character if they want to, but if not, wow.  That’s a heck of a way to end his journey and to kick off the movie.  I was also sad to see Idris Elba’s Heimdall get killed off, but it was a worthy death at least (as opposed to the terrible way the Warriors Three went out so quickly in Ragnarok).  I was interested to note that we don’t see Korg (the rocky gladiator played by Taika Waititi’s character in Ragnarok) at all, even though he was on that spaceship with all the Asgardians at the end of Ragnarok.  So maybe he survived to appear again someday!

I loved that Banner crashed into Dr. Strange’s Sanctum at the start of the story, just as the Silver Surfer did in Jim Starlin and George Perez’s original Infinity Gauntlet comic book series.

There were so many great new character match-ups in this film!!!  I loved the pairing of Tony Stark and Doctor Strange, and the way the film pushed their early antagonism for one another in logical, true-to-their-character ways.  I was happy to see the film continue the Tony-Peter Parker relationship from Spider-Man: Homecoming, and I liked the way the film found to get Peter into the souped-up Spidey costume that we glimpsed at the very end of Homecoming.

Back when Guardians of the Galaxy first came out, I wrote that I couldn’t wait for Peter Quill to meet Tony Stark, and that didn’t disappoint (even if their best moment together was spoiled in the trailers).  I also loved the seamless way Thor meshed with the Guardians characters (something that the very Guardians-esque Thor: Ragnarok made clear would be the case).  Thor calling Rocket a bunny was never not funny.

As has been the case in the previous Avengers films, I was so happy that even a film as jam-packed with main characters as this also included so many of the supporting players from the previous solo films.  I loved seeing Gwyneth Paltrow back as Pepper Potts, and Wong from Doctor Strange, and Ned from Spider-Man: Homecoming.  I loved that Mantis, who I felt didn’t have much purpose in Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, actually had a critical role to play in the heroes’ strategy against Thanos!  I loved that Shuri and Okoye and M’Baku, from Black Panther, were involved.  loved that General Ross (from The Incredible Hulk and Captain America: Civil War) showed up.  All of these moments made me so happy as a fan of these films!!  They help make this feel like a cohesive universe that flows from one film to the next.  It’s incredible.

I was wondering if Benicio del Toro, as The Collector, would pop up in this film.  They’d kept his involvement quiet, but since we know that he was the keeper of the Reality Stone (from his end-credits appearance in Thor: The Dark World) (and I love how so many of these end credits scenes from previous films have proven to be so important!!) I expected that he would appear here, and happily he did.  (Though I wish he’d had a teensy bit more to do.  Thanos’ Reality Stone trick is a fun surprise, but it means we don’t actually get to see The Collector’s final moments.)

I knew Peter Dinklage was in this film, but Marvel was keeping his role a secret.  Many suspected he’d be playing one of Thanos’ minions, but I was delighted by his appearance as a Hephaestus-like forger of weapons for the gods.  (We knew there were Elves in the Marvel Universe, from Thor: The Dark World, so it makes sense there’d be Dwarves as well.  I love that these Dwarves are giants!)

I was blown away when The Red Skull popped up as the keeper of the Soul Stone!!  What a surprise!  The ending of Captain America, The First Avenger, in which the Tesseract swept the Skull away into space, was always a big open plot thread, but given that Hugo Weaving didn’t speak highly of his involvement in the Marvel Universe in that film, I’d long since given up on seeing the Skull again.  What a perfect way to tie off that story-line!  That was a fantastic surprise.

There were so many great, memorable moments in this film.  I loved the way Thanos crumbles the Tesseract in his hand to reveal the Infinity Stone within.  I loved Thor’s big hero arrival into the battle at Wakanda at the end.  I loved hearing “Wakanda Forever!”  I loved the idea of Banner inside the Hulkbuster armor (from Avengers: Age of Ultron).  I loved Banner and Natasha’s reunion.  I loved the way the film showed that the Vision and the Scarlet Witch’s romantic relationship has progressed.  I loved Tony’s nannite Iron Man armor.  I loved Peter’s reaction to meeting others from Earth (and his debate with Peter about Footloose.)  I loved that Peter again referenced a “really old movie” (just as he did in Civil War).  I loved sullen teenage Groot (teased in an end-credits bit in Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2).  I loved when Thanos throws a moon (a moon!) at Iron Man.  I could go on and on!

For me, the only weak point in the film’s story was the way Quill screwed up the heroes’ plan to get the Infinity Gauntlet off of Thanos on Titan.  I want the villains or heroes to win by being smart, not because their opponents are stupid.  While the film tried to sell Quill’s actions as due to the emotion of the shattering news he’d just heard, in the end, he’s just acting like an idiot which sort of makes him responsible, in a way I don’t think the film intends, for all the devastation that follows.

I was also a little bummed that Tony Stark and Steve Rogers didn’t share a single scene, or communicate at all in this film.  I’ve been waiting to see how their inevitable next encounter would go down, ever since the end of Civil War.  I am hoping this moment gets the time it deserves in the next Avengers film.  (Curiously, the fracturing of the heroes from Civil War doesn’t play as large a part as I’d expected it to in this story.  The heroes are separated from one another in Infinity War, but that’s more due to all the chaos going down than to the repercussions of the events of Civil War.)

It was interesting that we don’t see Ant Man or Hawkeye at all in the film.  They’re about the only heroes who were missing from this huge ensemble!!  I wasn’t surprised that Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang didn’t show up, since the next Ant Man movie is opening in just a few months.  I assume that film will take place before or concurrently with Infinity War, and that Scott will appear in next year’s Avengers 4.  I’m also assuming Hawkeye has been held back for a reason, and that he will get his due in the next Avengers film.

Let’s talk about that ending.  Wow.  I have been wondering for months where this film would end, and one of my crazier hopes was that we’d actually get to see Thanos succeed in gathering all the Stones and killing half of the universe’s population, just as he did in the original Infinity Gauntlet comic, and that that would make an incredible cliffhanger moment on which to end this film.  And wow, they went there!  When we saw Gamora snapping her fingers in the film’s trailers, I worried that meant we wouldn’t actually get to see Thanos do that — which is the classic moment in which he carried out his plan of killing half of the people in the universe in the comic.  I thought that the film wouldn’t be going there, and so they included that Gamora moment as just a for-the-fans reference.  But thank goodness, we DID get to see that classic Thanos moment!!  Wow!!

I love the way those final moments of the film played out.  The heartbreak of character after character getting snuffed out was incredible.  I love Cap’s final, defeated “oh God” moment at the end.  It reminded me of seeing Captain Kirk, finally defeated, staggering back into his captain’s chair after David is killed in Star Trek III.  Tony Stark is left equally broken, defeated and alone on Titan.  I can’t wait to see how these two characters rebound in the next film.

I love that this dark ending wasn’t played as a cliffhanger TO BE CONTINUED moment, though OF COURSE that’s what it is.  But it did somehow feel like a complete and satisfying end to this film.  I’d commented above that Thanos felt in many ways like the main character of the film, more so even than Tony or Steve or Thor or any of the other Marvel heroes.  When you look at that ending — in which Thanos wins and gets his happy ending, sitting and watching the sunset, you realize that, wow, this movie really WAS Thanos’ story!  (And the “will return” line that usually pops up at the end of the credits didn’t say “The Avengers will return” or any of the other heroes… it said “Thanos will return.”  Wow!!)

I’d hoped that Samuel L. Jackson would appear as Nick Fury, and boy did the film make us wait for him, but I was happy he did finally appear, along with Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill, in the post-credits scene.  I am intrigued by the reference to Captain Marvel!  I know that we’ll be getting a Captain Marvel solo film next year, before the concluding Avengers film, so clearly that character and the story of that film will lie into the conclusion of this Thanos story… though I have no idea how!  I can’t wait to see.

It’s interesting to consider that Thanos’ total victory here may yet be a part of Doctor Strange’s plan, and the “one time” that he saw the Avengers defeating Thanos when he used the Eye of Agamotto to look into millions of possible futures.  We thought Strange was saying there was only one way to beat Thanos in the fight on Titan, but maybe that’s not what he meant at all.  Remember that he does willingly give Thanos the Time Stone, and he later tells Tony that it was the only way.  I am interested to see how this all plays out!

Also — what exactly is going on with Banner and The Hulk??  I hope the next film clears that up.

I’m also very curious to see how much will be reset when the heroes do eventually defeat Thanos in the next Avengers film.  I know that all of the characters who died in this film’s final minutes can’t possibly stay dead.  We know, for instance, that more Spider-Man solo films are coming, so there’s no way Peter Parker is really dead forever, right??  (Though I would be tickled pink if all the talk of a Spider-Man sequel was just a fake-out, and the next Spidey film will actually tell the story of Miles Morales becoming Spider-Man after the death of Peter Parker!  But I don’t think that’s what’s going to happen.)  And Gamora has got too live to be in the next Guardians film, right??  (Speaking of which, how many years have passed between Guardians vol. 2 and this film?  Will the planned third Guardians film take place during those missing years, or AFTER the events of this and the next Avengers film??)

Reflecting back on the film, I am struck that a number of key bits and pieces in the trailer didn’t make it into the finished film.  I’m thinking specifically about Thanos’ dialogue about something (presumably some evil act) bringing a smile to his face, and the big hero shot at the end of the first trailer of all the Wakandan-based characters racing towards the camera.  (The Hulk was in that shot, and he doesn’t appear in the film after his brief fight with Thanos in the opening.)  I also don’t think the funny shot that ended the first trailer, with the Guardians waving towards the camera (towards Thor, presumably), made it in.  Infinity War is a huge, complicated film — I wonder if we are getting a glimpse at the editing struggles to get the film into it’s final finished form.

There is so much to think about and to discuss.  It’s going to be a long wait until next year’s concluding Avengers film!  (What is that film going to be called??  I am so curious to know.  I’ve been trying to guess what the title could be; what would be a title that Marvel is considering is such a spoiler that they have to keep it hidden for now??  I can’t figure it out… my best guess is that the sequel will be called Avengers: Infinity Gauntlet, but I don’t see a reason why Marvel would be keeping that title secret…)

But for now, I am enjoying basking in the glory of Avengers: Infinity War.  Bravo to Marvel Studios mastermind Kevin Feige, and to directors Anthony and Joe Russo, and to writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely.  Infinity War is a staggering achievement.  I can’t wait to see it again.

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