At this point, it’s hard to look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe as anything other than an unstoppable box-office juggernaut — but when Marvel Studios introduced the concept of shared-universe comic book adaptations 10 years ago with Iron Man (2008), the success of the model was far from assured. In fact, it must have been a remarkably tough sell to convince the money men that people would turn out for a dozen movies stringing together the B- and C-list properties of a comic book publisher that had declared bankruptcy in the not-too-distant past. For better or worse, in the brief span of a decade, these films have taken over the world, and with Avengers: Infinity War, they’ve reached their inevitable endgame.
But that endgame won’t deliver any true catharsis until its follow-up film next year. What we have before us now is a dramatically overstuffed and surprisingly downbeat piece of pop-culture ephemera that feels less like a self-contained film and more like a 2 1/2-hour buildup for the movie we actually want to see. If the cries of “bullshit” I heard as the credits rolled on Infinity War are any indication, this is a Marvel movie as likely to leave audiences frustrated as it is to make the bean counters ebullient.
And Disney/Marvel’s armies of accountants have good reason to smile, with Infinity War boasting the biggest opening weekend in history both domestically and globally as well as granting Disney the distinction of crossing the billion-dollar threshold just 117 days into the year, breaking the studio’s own record. So is this movie worth the money people have clearly spent on it around the world? Well, yes and no.
For die-hard fans, Infinity War packs more of what we love about Marvel movies into a slightly larger package than usual and then squeezes another 40 percent in on top of that. Instead of a handful of superpowered comic book caricatures, we have dozens. Instead of one mustache-twirling villain, we have five. Instead of one climactic set piece, we have two, albeit awkwardly intercut. It’s basically every character that’s been introduced in the last decade going up against a significantly larger menace, but as the threat level and body count rise, emotional returns diminish.
It’s hard to be too tough on writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directors Anthony and Joe Russo — trying to tie together 18 films is a deeply unenviable task after all. There’s no room for character development, save for the film’s villain/protagonist (?!) Thanos, kinda-sorta played by Josh Brolin but really performed by a litany of VFX artists. It’s probably in your best interest to bone up on the previous films before coming into this one, but who has 30-plus hours to spare prepping for a movie? Even if you did, Infinity War offers little novelty beyond its scope.
If I haven’t devoted much space here to character or performance or story summary, it’s because these elements are all sufficiently similar to the past Marvel films that they merit little discussion. This is the big, splashy CGI blockbuster that you expect it to be and nothing more. It’s not terrible, it’s not great, it simply is. If there’s little to justify the existence of Infinity War outside of its necessity to the following film, that seems to be enough to put asses in seats — even if those same asses leave the theater slightly flummoxed. The conversations I overheard in the bathroom after my screening — literally, everyone had to pee, because, again, 150 minutes — were possibly the most telling analysis of Infinity War. One fan dejectedly remarked, “Man, you’re supposed to feel good after these movies …” To which another replied, “Yeah, but if Wolverine had been there …” Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, language and some crude references.
Now Playing at AMC Classic River Hills 10, Carolina Cinemark, Grail Moviehouse, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville, Co-ed of Brevard, Strand of Waynesville.