7/10 It’s upper-echelon for the MCU, but for half a billion dollars, does it have to be so ugly?
In Avengers: Infinity War, Earth’s mightiest heroes are once again called to action to protect it from an unstoppable alien threat. This time it’s Thanos (Josh Brolin), a mad god who has decided that the only way to save the universe from its inevitable heat death is to murder exactly half the population. To make this easier on himself, he is seeking the six infinity stones, artifacts from the dawn of time that, once collected, will allow him to accomplish his goals with a literal snap of his fingers.
Infinity War has a lot of effective moments and a lot that falls flat. Part of the trouble with creating crowd-pleasers that are supposed to be everything to everyone is you almost always end up with something uneven with some scenes far less interesting than others.
The film seems to have put a decent amount of effort into mitigating this effect. It’s very roughly divided into several vignettes, about 10 minutes each, a division that ensures many scenes get the attention they deserve instead of being cut away from to move the plot along. It’s so effective that I almost want a harsher divide with more blackouts — see Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as a movie that used frequent blackouts brilliantly to shift a series’ tone darker.
Infinity War makes a genuine effort to be a more severe film than its predecessors in the MCU, and that’s probably what’s best about it. Where many other entries are spoiled by characters cracking wise while chaos reigns around them — Captain America: Civil War, a movie about betrayal and bond-breaking constantly interrupted by snide remarks, was a particularly flagrant example — Infinity War takes itself seriously, and the audience takes it seriously as a result. Thanos is constantly torturing one character to get to another, and it creates several revealing relationship moments.
The entire 10-year history of these characters in film is brought to bear — you can’t enter the series on Infinity War, and that’s a good thing. This movie’s mere existence, and the existence of all that came before it, is monumental, and incorporating all of that backstory instead of trying to make something more accessible is the right direction to go in.
The other thing Infinity War does systemically well is capture the magnitude of Thanos’ power and threat. In the very first scene, he beats the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in a fist fight — in one of the only well-choreographed fight scenes in any Marvel movie — and later, he throws a moon at Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughn-Lawlor), his nightmarish black priest, drives home the idea of Thanos as an evil god, evangelizing to his victims about their noble sacrifice as they are murdered en mass.
There’s a lot right about this movie, but it’s the little things, those illusion-selling details that at times feel like they’ve been flat-out ignored, that take me out of it. Infinity War is a wonderfully conceived movie, and I want to lose myself in it, but I can’t.
Thanos looks like a testicle. He looks like someone covered Arnold Schwarzenegger with a giant scrotum. It’s awful. It looks half-finished. Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) making a joke about it doesn’t do anything to help at all. One of the weak points for Justice League last November was how poorly animated Steppenwolf was, but Thanos doesn’t look any better.
In previous MCU features, the studio has gone to great lengths to texture its characters and properly incorporate them into a photo-realistic world, but here they default to lazy motion-capture work with Thanos and the Black Order. In what feels like a conscious insult, Iron Man and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), two characters whose suits were given incredible detail in their own films, have it mostly stripped here — Stark looks like he’s wearing a green man outfit, and T’Challa has gone from the richly textured suit from his own movie to what look like patterned pajamas in the crossover.
Remember when Rebecca Romijn and Alan Cumming sat through hours of makeup at a time to bring Mystique and Nightcrawler to life? That’s the difference — they actually brought those characters to life. Mystique was walking around with her co-stars, and it looked like it on screen. These characters and performances were landmarks for comic book movies as an idea, proving that blue people could be created convincingly for the silver screen. But now, in a movie that is the great-great grandchild of those first X-Men movies featuring several characters who call for the same techniques and dedication, they default to a computer-generated main character who looks like a giant beansack.
Many of the sets aren’t convincing. Scenes that take place on Titan and Vormir, despite taking place on alien planets, are in pretty mundane environments and could easily have been shot on location in parts of Scandinavia and the Middle East. Instead, they’re drawn in a soundstage, and it’s far too easy to tell the difference.
They recast Hugo Weaving and gave his character sweet fuck all to do, so, that’s major points off.
As much as the spectacular cast — and Brolin in particular — elevates the film and does a great job of making the characters believable, just about nothing else is. I know I’m supposed to suspend disbelief, but I’m so, so, so tired of giving these movies a pass when they’re not nearly what they need to be or what they could be. I’m so tired of saying “I see what they were going for” and triangulating the better movie they had in mind in my head and pretending the fascimile they put on screen is good enough, tired of seeing perfectly decent movies that feel more like missed opportunities.
Infinity War may be “the most ambitious crossover event in history,” and it is damn ambitious. Nobody ever would have thought even one Avengers movie would work as little as 10 years ago.
But of course it works. Anything can work when you cut this many corners.
Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate and managing editor of The Lewisville Texan Journal. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter and Instagram and support it on Patreon. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.