There were lots of sounds emanating from the crowd throughout my sold-out IMAX screening of Avengers: Infinity War last night. Laughs. Gasps. Spontaneous applause. Audible weeping. All completely delightful to hear and entirely expected, of course, for the premiere of one of the biggest and most unprecedented blockbusters in film history.
The one thing I didn’t quite expect, however, is the amount of whispering Infinity War would inspire. It’s a real “Who’s that?” and “What they’d just say?” and “Why is that important?” kind of movie for anyone not seriously up on their Marvel Cinematic Universe and/or Marvel comics. Consequently, the coming days will undoubtedly see a deluge of explainer articles and videos and the year ahead of us will be a non-stop barrage of theories about exactly what’s going to happen in Avengers 4.
That represents both the beauty and pain of Infinity War: it’s a movie which absolutely inspires you to want to talk about it, but part of the reason for that is because it only tells half the story. You’ll want to dissect the biggest twists, applaud the best jokes, remember the geekiest action moments, and mourn the fallen, but, mostly, you’ll just want to know what happens next. For all of directors Joe and Anthony Russo and screenwriters Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus’ talk of making this a complete and separate story from next year’s Avengers 4, they can only do so much.
Infinity War, as they’ve often said, is Thanos’ movie. Convincingly mo-capped by Josh Brolin and given more nuance than his prior MCU appearances ever suggested was possible, he gets entire monologues to spell out his genocidal worldview, clearly seeing himself as the Mad Titan equivalent of a compassionate conservative even though his actions are more Hitler-like. By comparison, Bruce Banner and Black Widow’s reunion – the pair separated for years now after Age of Ultron – is confined to, more or less, an awkward head nod.
That’s not to say all of the Avengers and/or Guardians have their emotions or character arcs similarly sidelined. Gamora and Star-Lord and Scarlet Witch and Vision are quite effectively set up on dual tracks as the film’s central couples. Thor is actually allowed several moments to reflect on everything he’s lost from Ragnarok to now (remember, his dad just died like a couple of days ago in his timeline). Iron Man and Doctor Strange bicker over the morality of saving the universe versus saving each other. Even Spider-Man’s impromptu, we’re-about-to-fight-Thanos-so-I-guess-you’re-one-of-us-now induction into The Avengers is allowed a moment to breathe, the camera holding on Peter’s face to register how much this means to him.
But they didn’t put “War” in the title just because it sounds nice and ominous. It’s an all hands on deck situation placing the characters in a near-constant reactionary mode with little time for anything other than planning and fighting. Infinity War is them responding to a universal threat; Avengers 4 will be them reacting to the fallout. In that sense, a more accurate title would have been to call this one Thanos: Infinity War. The true Avengers movie won’t come until next year.
If you know and accept all of that, Infinity War is one of the most exhilarating cinematic experiences you could ever hope to enjoy. So many directors have tried to make their own Empire Strikes Back. These guys actually pulled it off. At the same time, they took what is essentially MacGuffin: The Movie and Splash Page: The Movie and turned it into a spellbinding narrative that seems almost scientifically designed to elicit applause and tears in equal measure.
Their handling of the biggest roster of superheroes to ever occupy a single comic book movie isn’t always perfect. Some characters get shorted. At times the plot’s constant zigzagging between locales and character pairings feels slightly hectic. But you’ll walk away still laughing about that one thing Thor said about Groot (“This is my new friend. He’s a tree.”) or rejoicing over that one time Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, and Okoye teamed up. Infinity War rarely feels like an actual movie that can stand on its own independent of the rest of the MCU, but it does always feel like the biggest geek out moment in cinematic history.
So, see this as soon as possible and with the biggest crowd you can find. Get ready to clap and cry a lot, but also get ready to go home feeling like you’ve only seen half the story. And if you are seriously not up on your Marvel comics and/or Marvel Cinematic Universe knowledge get ready to have to ask someone to explain some things to you.
RANDOM PARTING THOUGHTS
- Favorite character pairing: Thor, Groot & Rocket
- If you thought Thor’s new comedic persona from Ragnarok was explicitly tied to that film’s writer and director (Taika Waititi) and his unique sensibilities you were wrong. Hemsworth carries it over beautifully here, ad much as possible at least considering how much more serious this movie is.
- At times, the action is relentless and punches so non-stop you do start wonder if any of them actually feel pain anymore.
- If you are someone who has theorized at length about what might happen this movie – pointing at myself, here – try to just let go of that and let the movie play out rather than comparing it to what you expected to happen.
- Amazon currently has several Thanos-related graphic novels on sale. It wouldn’t hurt to pick up a couple of those, especially Infinity Gauntlet (the direct inspiration for the plot of the movie) and Thanos Rising (the likely direct inspiration for the version of Thanos we see in the movie).