Avengers: Infinity War carries the burden of ten years of storytelling and various disparate facets of its cinematic universe to harmonise. For many other movies, these aspects would be a final nail in the coffin of a fast descent into narrative wonkiness, and it’s a credit to the expansive comic book movie that it never feels incoherent, lumbering or indulgent. In fact, in its most intimate moments, the picture illustrates that death weighs as heavily on the wicked as it does on the good.
Taking place two years after the events of Captain America: Civil War, the nineteenth Marvel Studios movie chronicles Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) search for the remaining Infinity Stones. These are elemental gems that grant its wearer various abilities, such as turning back time and manipulating the environment. Once armed with a complete roster, the Mad Titan can exact his goal of wiping out half of the universe.
While Infinity War is bursting at the seams with various character interactions that would make even the most devout and ardent admirers swoon; a particular favourite is the first meeting of two characters, in which a well-intentioned universal greeting is used as a punch line in the midst of a battle sequence. The picture engages as a reflexive meditation on death in the cinematic universe.
In a good number of Marvel movies, the concept has lacked potency because of foreknowledge of the real world movie making plays that would render a character immortal to the point of absurdity; i.e. top tier characters with their names above the door escaping death’s cold embrace because of economic flow charts.
Infinity War trades mind-numbing worldly destruction and death for the significant cost of one life. In many instances, the characters are challenged to pull the trigger on loved ones for a slim possibility of universal and personal salvation. In these instances, death is not so much a dispassionate execution, but an act of heartbreaking devotion and trust. And in a climactic action sequence, the magnitude of a person’s passing causes a brash outrage that at the moment has earth-shattering consequences.
In the picture’s real masterstroke, this pervasive weight of death equally applies to Thanos. His conquest for balancing the universe carries its share of personal anguish and cost. Infinity War’s most sly trick is making the purple overlord the central figure of the movie and making the rest of the characters seem like star-studded tourists. Josh Brolin plays the famed comic book villain with the ruthless authority and weariness of a stern general, who’s prepared to make the sacrifices for the continued existence of the entire cosmos.
Equally as impressive is Chris Hemsworth, who shines in an extended role that combines the sublime comic timing that he displayed in Thor Ragnarok with the necessary dramatic weight the part requires. Hemsworth has always played Thor with an air of self-knowing confidence and to see that manifest as an external shield and motivator was heartening to watch.
From a technical point of view, the third Avengers picture lacks some of the previous Marvel movies’ dazzling phantasmagoric imagery. Though, the planet Vormir does provide the film with a few fleeting moments of memorable visuals. In particular, the looming and shadowy snow terrain of the planet’s surface looks like iconography from Stephen King’s Dark Tower filtered through the lens of Soviet-era Russia.
Various money shots accentuate the importance of some characters, mainly thinking of Doctor Strange’s many feats of wizardry. However, the most striking cinematic moments are when directors Anthony and Joe Russo occasionally employ framing to fascinating effect. One sequence juxtaposes the visual embodiment of Thanos’ worldview, via a small child balancing a knife on her palm (in the foreground) and the harsh and sobering reality of said idea in practice, which comes from a line of people getting massacred (in the background).
Despite the grim spectre of death earnestly looming over Infinity War, one can’t help but feel that its effects might be temporary, with the distinct possibility of Avengers 4 undoing the final grim moments. However, even if this comes to pass, Infinity War will be remembered as the sole Marvel movie that looked upon the face of death and for a moment had a chill run down its spine about its various implications.