I feel morally obligated to warn you, dear reader, that below there lies a nest of spoilers regarding Avengers: Infinity War, but chances are you have already seen this movie. It did, after all, make a record $258 million in its opening weekend and has already crossed $1 billion at the international box office.
Marvel’s latest superhero extravaganza is a behemoth in every sense of the word. It is immensely successful, massively expensive, and a genuinely impressive spectacle that provides a fitting culmination to the ten-year span of interconnected films that began with Iron Man in 2008. Somehow, Marvel’s creative masterminds have managed to stuff nearly all of their properties into one movie that isn’t completely suffocated by the sheer volume of its characters.
The key word there is completely. Before I explain why, let me just say that there are a LOT of characters in this film. Infinity War sees the Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, Vision, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, Falcon, Thor, and the Hulk) team up with Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Nebula, Loki, Black Panther, and the Guardians of the Galaxy to fight Thanos, a hulking purple spaceman dead set on wiping out half of all life in the universe.
To account for this cascade of protagonists, writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFreely position the villain, Thanos (Josh Brolin), as Infinity War’s main character. This gives him critical character development that most Marvel villains lack, but robs several of the heroes of both screen time and interesting story arcs. Chris Evans’s Captain America is the biggest victim in this regard, losing any semblance of the subtly complex stoicism that made his character so fun to watch in 2014’s The Winter Soldier and 2016’s Civil War.
Contrasting Infinity War with Civil War, the third movie in the Captain America series, is perhaps the best way to highlight the other major flaw resulting from this film’s over-saturation. Civil War also has a multitude of characters, but balances them perfectly, ensuring that each has a role in moving the plot forward. There is a satisfying progression to the story. Walking out of the theater after Infinity War, however, I was disappointed with the insignificance of several plot threads. Thor’s entire arc, for example, consists of him teaming up with Bradley Cooper’s Rocket Raccoon to build a magic axe. That’s it.
But, despite its flaws, this is not a bad film. Its humor is its biggest strength. Unlike so many — too many — blockbusters these days, Infinity War doesn’t take itself too seriously. It even dares to poke fun at itself and the genre on occasion.
I was initially miffed at the “surprise” ending, in which Thanos wipes more than half the protagonists from existence, because I considered it a cheap and empty way to appease fans and critics who (rightly) criticize Marvel for failing to kill off any of its major players. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but there is absolutely no way that the majority of those characters will stay dead through the next Avengers movie this coming summer. They are just too valuable. Among others, Black Panther, Spider-Man, and most of the Guardians of the Galaxy all vanish at Infinity War‘s climax. But Black Panther is the third-highest grossing film in United States history, and sequels to Spider Man: Homecoming and Guardians of the Galaxy have already been announced.
But now I see why that was a good creative choice. Eliminating so many of Infinity War‘s characters alive will allow for loads more meaningful development of the characters still alive in the sequel next summer. Markus and McFreely have killed two birds with one stone here. They have crafted both a great cliffhanger and preemptively cured the next movie of the oversaturation that plagues this one.
Avengers: Infinity War is in theaters now.