Trying Times and Tribulations for The Marvel Cinematic Universe


The impossible geek dream of most every Marvel movie character together in one adventure has, at long last, landed.  Iron Man!  Captain America!  Thor!  Spider-Man!  Doctor Strange!  Guardians of the Galaxy!  (This could go on for a while).  But is Avengers: Infinity War more than an extremely impressive cast list?  While it may not be the best or most satisfying of Marvel movies, or even of the Russo Brothers’ three Marvel movies, it is a cosmic epic on the grandest scale, lots of fun but also increasingly dire.  And, it is no less than one of the biggest corkers in movie history.

If I were to list the prominent cast members, I’d reach reach the studio mandated word-count for film reviews before even beginning to detail my spoiler free thoughts on this film.  So I will spare you and myself that, and simply say that nearly anyone who’s anyone who’s ever been in a Marvel Studios production is in the mix.  While not everyone who shows up necessarily has a lot to do, several characters take narrative priority in perhaps unexpected ways.  

The stakes are, of course, huge, and all of reality hangs in the balance.  The battles are numerous and sometimes brutal.

It’s always great to see Paul Bettany as The Vision, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, and Chris Evans as Steve Rogers.  But it’s even cooler to see Josh Brolin, as the mad titan himself, Thanos, really get to command the screen.  The ever underrated Brolin, amid much chaos and craziness, manages to render this mega-villain into something worthy of the decade-long build-up to his major arrival.

Josh Brolin as Thanos in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR.

At Marvel Comics back in the day, editorial had a saying that every issue was someone’s first issue.  Hence, the repetitive recaps of character origins and current plot points.  Sure it was clunky, but whomever coined that edict wasn’t wrong.

Marvel Studios has generally operated with an eye to that method, insomuch as the films have been kept pretty straightforward, keeping most plot threads within their respective sub-franchises.  (I.e., Winter Soldier gets resolved in the Captain America series, Asgardian drama is kept to the Thor films, etc). All the while, the meta-franchise-spanning storyline of Thanos seeking the six infinity gems  has been planted, grown, and occasionally briefly revisited throughout the whole eighteen-film shebang.  It’s the simplest of drawn-out storylines, one that asks refreshingly little of audience members: There’s this big scary purple guy who wants the full set of magical cosmic stones that will make him all-powerful.  Even someone’s dim uncle who might catch a Marvel movie here and there every now and then, and couldn’t tell you which is which, could track that.  More power to Marvel for keeping things just that simple, but also granting attentive fans enough to chew on.

But this is where the casual commitment ends.  Don’t go into Avengers: Infinity War without having seen Thor: Ragnarok, both Guardians of the Galaxys, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, and all the Captain Americas and Avengers movies.  It wouldn’t hurt to also catch Spider-Man: Homecoming, but don’t overwork yourself.  Infinity War is every bit of two and a half hours, and does not stop to explain who any of the mind-bogglingly massive array of characters are, or why they’re doing what they’re doing when we first catch up with them.

Here comes everybody!

Of course, the thing that all the superheroes end up doing is battling Thanos.  It turns out that his dastardly plan is to eradicate half the population of the universe with a snap of his fingers- something he can only do once he gets all six gems firmly installed on his golden gauntlet.  The stakes are, of course, huge, and all of reality hangs in the balance.  The battles are numerous and sometimes brutal.  (Suffering from “superhero fatigue”?  AVOID this film at all costs). (Then step aside and let the fans enjoy it).  While it’s quite fun to witness all the offbeat combinations of characters as they either meet for the first time or are reunited, all the fighting does take its toll after a while.  

Which may contribute to the sense of exhaustion that one is likely to feel as the credits roll.  There is also a well-earned emotional exhaustion that will be shared by fans of the MCU.  (Know what “MCU” stands for?  Then you’re a likely member of that group). Plenty of spoil-able things occur by the end; and yet, more than any other Marvel film to date, this one ultimately feels more like a very well orchestrated situation than a movie proper.  The resolution is like nothing prior, in a comic book film or otherwise.  Yes, the tribulation will continue in Avengers 4 next year.  But what, pray tell, will that story possibly be?  And after this, how much more can anyone stand?  

Infinity War feels like a big turning point for this super-franchise, though a certain lack of resolution makes it impossible to pinpoint just why that is at the moment.  It’s a very satisfying ride for the most part, a must-see for anyone remotely interested in following these characters (or whatever’s left of them) into their next decade.  Infinity War is and isn’t many things, but one thing no can deny… It is a marvel.