By Isaac Vaught
In the newest entry of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the heroes — introduced over 10 years and 18 films — assemble to stop Thanos (Josh Brolin), a self-proclaimed cosmic savior, from obtaining six stones that he hopes to use to wipe out half of all life in the universe.
It was surprising enough in 2012 when Joss Whedon managed to successfully juggle the personalities of four avengers in a single movie. People thought it couldn’t be done — and if the original “Avengers” had turned out like “Justice League,” we’d still believe that. But that was training wheels compared to the ambitions of “Avengers: Infinity War,” which set out to do the impossible: juggle 64 major Marvel characters at once. It succeeds beautifully on almost all counts.
The film doesn’t try to cram all of its colorful characters onto the screen at once. The approach directors Joe and Anthony Russo use is much more efficient. We are re-introduced to most of the characters in the film (with the exception of the Guardians of the Galaxy) in groups of two or three, and as the movie goes on these groups collide and break apart again in different combinations until they’ve all congealed into three basic groups.
Telling “Infinity War” as a series of converging stories rather than one massive saga makes it much more digestible — and fun — for its audience. We’re able to see meaningful, interesting and often hilarious meetings between characters from previously unconnected worlds without feeling any superhero fatigue.
In addition to uniting the Marvel universe’s previously unconnected heroes, the movie also manages to balance its competing tones and styles. The ground-level realism of the “Captain America” films, the flashy futuristic tones of “Black Panther” and the hyper-colorful-funk eighties groove of “Guardians of the Galaxy” all manage to smoothly coalesce into a single coherent piece.
Despite the film’s success in this regard, some of the characters do get shafted. While no one is left egregiously out of the picture, there are a few characters that don’t feel like they got quite enough time at center-stage, namely Black Panther, Captain America and the Falcon. It seems, however, that part two of the story is set to put these characters in the spotlight.
Nonetheless, these absences don’t detract from the film’s merits, which go far beyond its impeccable balance. While it might be easy to think that the movie is all about flashy powers and visualized comic-book onomatopoeias, “Infinity War” actually weaves its moving parts into a tragic tale.
The film discusses the legacies parents leave. Furthermore, it explores the Malthusian methods children use to confront the past. These themes are manifested in Josh Brolin’s Thanos. Despite being totally CGI, Thanos’ presence is both thoroughly intimidating and human. The core of his character is a deeply emotional one, and even though the roots of his motivations are left somewhat unclear, his connections and interactions with other characters still make him very real.
The introduction of Thanos also allows for each hero to be pushed to the edge of what they’re capable of facing as characters. One of the film’s most compelling aspects is that its heroes face a dilemma that’s seldom been employed in the MCU before. The heroes have to choose between being righteous and being victorious. For the first time, everything feels truly jeopardized, and genuine sacrifices have to be made on the part of the heroes. This setup makes for an emotionally wrenching ending that proves Marvel knows how to hit the low notes.
Even if “Infinity War” hadn’t achieved these things, it would still be a momentous accomplishment just by virtue of its own release. Marvel has managed to move away from the old tradition of superhero trilogies that exist in a vacuum. They’ve created several series that are only small pockets of a much larger, visceral world. Just getting far enough to release a movie like “Infinity War” is astonishing, but luckily, we get the added bonus of having it done right.
Contact Isaac Vaught at ivaught ‘at’ stanford.edu.