'Avengers: Infinity War' Is a Critical Turning Point for the Marvel Hit Factory

With 'Avengers: Infinity War,' Marvel goes to the next level, and it's spectacular and terrifying

From Marvel's "Avengers: Infinity War."
Chuck Zlotnick/AP

Marvel’s universe is imploding, but that’s no cause for concern. It’s a controlled explosion, planned and engineered, and it’s an interesting show for superhero fans. “Avengers: Infinity War” is the peak point of the fictional universe, which is celebrating a decade since its inception with its 19th film. The movie brings together almost all the popular heroes from the whole series and pits them against the most successful of enemies. Marvel’s declared intention is to turn the universe – which had begun to grow moldy – inside out.

The seeds of the new film were planted a decade ago and first sprouted in the form of “Iron Man” in 2008. In a brilliant move by Marvel Studios’ new president at the time, Kevin Feige, the decision was made to set all the movies in the same universe and on the same time continuum. Feige understood that fanatic fans wouldn’t pass up any film that took place in that universe, and that this would permit a range of unexpected heroes to be spotlighted. With each hero appearing independently, it would be possible to attract new audiences, like devotees of “The Black Panther” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” who weren’t necessarily interested in Hulk or Thor. The “Avenger” films form the platform designed to unite heroes and thereby draw as many diverse viewers as possible.

Marvel created its universe – which has already brought in billions of dollars and has billions more looming on the horizon – like a thriving industrial plant, the kind that every Hollywood studio would like to imitate if it could. “Avengers: Infinity War” is a critical turning point in this assembly line. In an interview last year, Feige said that the universe is readying for a significant shift, with a change in the composition of the superheroes. He declined to say what’s in store, but explained that after the two “Avenger” films – the present one and a sequel scheduled for next year – the universe would no longer look the same. He told the Collider website that he didn’t know exactly what the next phase would be, but it would be “something new.”

Official trailer for Marvel's Avengers: Infinity War movie. It was released to cinemas April 27.Marvel Entertainment

Even if it’s not clear where Marvel is headed, there’s no doubt that the new movie will appeal to everyone who follows any of the superheroes. It’s a new start, so it’s also an ending. For Marvel, and particularly for Feige, this is cause for jubilation. It’s an opportunity to celebrate a decade of creating a world with the aid of all the heavy artillery. It’s time to flaunt the heroes who have become worldwide hits and to show off all the actors who stood in line to get a character. In Hollywood terms, it’s a demonstration of clout by a filmmaking superpower, located somewhere between a show parade in Red Square and Miri Regev’s torch-lighting ceremony.

Directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, collaborating once more with scriptwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (of the “Captain America” series), plunge straight into the action in the first scene and don’t stop to catch their breath until the last minute. At the heart of the story is Thanos (Josh Brolin), an intergalactic mass murderer who has already been mentioned as the stepfather of Gamora (Zoe Saldana) from “Guardians of the Galaxy.” The huge purple alien saw his world destroyed by a population explosion. The bleeding heart in him wants to save other planets from a similar fate, while the lunatic in him goes about that by destroying half the population of the universe. Thanos is searching for the six infinity stones that together form the strongest weapon in the universe. The stones have turned up in earlier Marvel movies, and with the appearance of Thanos, the heroes are compelled to gather in the different arenas in order to defend each stone.

Nonstop fighting

Thus, for two and a half hours we are witness to dizzying movement between the battle sites. That’s the movie, from start to finish. Thanos is searching for six stones, and the heroes don’t want him to have them. To say there is no plot would be wrong, because there is one, albeit of an extremely simple nature. So the story becomes the battles themselves, and this is the place to shower compliments. The major battle, which takes place in the kingdom of Wakanda, spearheaded by the Black Panther and Captain America, is the most impressive ever mounted by Marvel Studios. For aficionados of action and visual effects, this is reason enough to see the film.

From Marvel's "Avengers: Infinity War."
/AP

There are also other heroes and other battles, gorgeous and appalling simultaneously. The transitions between them are creaky, but Thanos and his army of truth easily steal the show. Thus, without wasting time on explanations and characterizations of the heroes – whom we’ve already seen in previous films – it becomes possible to just fight nonstop.

However, beyond the action, “Avengers: Infinity War” is also the most meager movie so far by Marvel, which in any case isn’t known for its sophisticated, complex narrative structures. Its 150 minutes of battles with dozens of heroes lead to untenable flimflam between the events. Also obvious is the insistence that each of the heroes get at least one resounding line. The result is inconsistency in the movie’s level, when it moves between the different arenas of battle. The encounter between Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy – aliens brimming with self-confidence and lack of self-awareness – generates entertaining chemistry. The unification of forces of Iron Man, Doctor Strange and Spiderman evokes tension and humor in the meeting between two towering egos and a dwarfish personality.

But the true drama is reserved for Gamora, her sister Nebula and the tough stepbrother Thanos, even if it too is not fully played out. In a picture like this, even two and a half hours aren’t enough to develop the most central segment.

With the superheroes reduced to the status of supporting roles or guest appearances, Thanos becomes the biggest star of “Avengers.” This is the first movie in the Marvel universe in which the villain gets the most screen time and his character is the most significant. The film has plenty of problems, but its daring in the superhero genre can only be applauded. Thanos is out to perpetrate genocide, and it’s fascinating to see a whole universe dragged in the wake of his logic.

Villains in Marvel movies die and are replaced incessantly, and with only a few exceptions they are also uninteresting. The films made from DC Comics were respectful of scoundrels, such as Joker and Lex Luthor, and this time Marvel seems to be moving in the right direction. Thanos is no caricature. It’s a bit difficult to see this past his digitalized purple covering, but Brolin’s skills shine through nonetheless.

The best thing in the movie, for which it will likely be remembered in the annals of superhero pictures, cannot be mentioned without inflicting a devastating spoiler on the reader. But it’s important to remember that the movie’s original name is “Avengers: Infinity War, Part I,” ahead of the release of the second part next year. Despite the film’s weaknesses, it fulfills its aim of sparking curiosity about the next phase in the Marvel universe.