By Kyle Barr
Marvel movies tread a line between being formulaic comic-book style action movies and surprisingly nuanced examinations of real world problems with real emotional heart. Some do better than others with that.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” was as much a condemnation of modern government surveillance as it was a spy-style action thriller. “Black Panther” was an exploration of afro-futurism and a condemnation of isolationist policies as much as it was a high-tech, high-flying romp.
That’s not a bad thing, and in fact the formula has grown to the point it’s now expected that Marvel movies cannot have their introspection without the action, and visa versa.
So what extra edge does “Avengers: Infinity War,” directed by the brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, have to set it apart from its contemporaries in the action genre? Well, to avoid spoilers, the most I can say is that it flips the genre formula where “heroes learn a lesson and win the day” on its head.
In this movie, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the main villain is also the main character. Thanos, played with such subtle menace and intelligence by Josh Brolin, searches the universe for the infinity stones, glowing rocks that control an element of existence, from time to reality. Superheroes from Earth and beyond must find a way to stop him before he commits the biggest act of genocide the universe has ever seen.
Unlike a normal Marvel movie, it is the villain whose decisions drive the plot. In most Marvel movies, the main characters need to learn, grow and change in order to win the day. In “Avengers: Infinity War,” even if a character learns a lesson and even if they make the right decision, it doesn’t necessarily mean they win.
Being that this is the most recent big crossover Marvel movie, it is impossible to list the characters and actors who play them without leaving out a number of characters who all make contributions to the plot. Many of these actors have been in their roles for so many years it seems it would be hard at this point for any of them to not play their characters effortlessly.
Chadwick Boseman of this year’s “Black Panther” remains great as the stoic and noble King T’Challa. Robert Downey Jr. adds an extra edge of fear and foreboding to the character that really takes the performance above the usual I’m-too-smart-for you sarcasm of old Iron Man.
If there were to be a weak link, it would have to be Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk, who can’t seem to make an emotional impact compared to the other characters. His jokes land largely flat, and he doesn’t seem to be as invested as the rest of the cast. Another small disappointment is Eitri, the weaponsmith dwarf played by Peter Dinklage, who despite having an interesting play upon the “Dwarf” character, seems stiff and his performance seems almost phoned in.
Although it’s been a conflict built up to through 19 films so far, the ferociousness with how the plot develops is breathtaking. Again, trying to resist spoiling the plot is hard, but none of the characters come out of this movie clean.
Thanos’ race to find the infinity stones takes place both on Earth and across the stars, but nearly every character plays off of the emotional conclusions of their own separate movies. For those who have been keeping up with every new Marvel release, you might feel as if you’re watching family members being repeatedly punched in the gut.
If you haven’t been a hard-core Marvel fanatic, it might seem overwhelming. All of these characters have a backstory, and while some of them are meeting for the first time, several have long and troubled histories together like a big screen version of a soap opera. The movie tries to avoid info dumps (though it still has to go and explain what the heck the big colorful space rocks are) so people going into this as their first Marvel movie might have a hard time understanding what’s happening.
The film ends on a very deep and somber note. Of course that is in anticipation for “Avengers: Infinity War Part 2” to be released in May of next year. The sequel now has quite the task of concluding what happens at the end of Part 1, and one could be skeptical to see how they might manage to pull it off.
Isn’t it strange how we got here? It has been a decade of nothing but Marvel fever. When the idea for a shared film universe was still new there were quite a few people who were waiting for the bubble to burst. They waited for the first movie that was bad enough to let the whole thing crumble.
Of course that didn’t happen. For now, “Avengers: Infinity War” is the real deal. There are few good movie series like what Marvel has done that combine real emotional heart with comic book action gravitas. As long as they stay good, they still deserve an audience.
“Avengers: Infinity War,” rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action, language and some crude references, is now playing in local theaters.