Avengers: Infinity War ★★★★½

Going to preface this with my usual disclaimers to bypass some unnecessary lack of clarity, those being that:
a) I have (and hopefully always will be) in love with comic books, superheroes and the stories that I grew up with about them.
b) I like to try and love these movies. Disliking movies I'd always dreamed of being made as a kid seems illogical and wasteful.
c) ratings will be inflated (by probably a full star in this case).

With those things in mind, an added element here for me is certainly the uniquely elaborate (and personal) journey it has been to this movie, a decade in the making. I still remember my friends and I getting dropped off at the local theater to see Iron Man when we were just eleven years old. We were excited to see comic books enter the mainstream, backed by a substantial budget, impressive star-power and staggering franchise ambitions; it was like a dream. Ten years, eighteen films and billions of dollars later; comic book movies have become the surest bet in the blockbuster landscape. Some movie fans are overwhelmed (justifiably), but admittedly this is a dream for me. And Infinity War, a movie teased, developed and built too for exactly a decade, feels like an event. An uncommonly exciting and involving affair that feels completely personal despite being similarly anticipated by millions across the world. Sort of a weird feeling, but also part of the magic of what Disney has done with the Marvel canon.

And the movie behind the hype? Pretty damn good. It's an epic celebration of this franchise, playing like a greatest hits album, in that we see the most endearing or recognizable attributes of each character in almost every moment. Thanos is a strong villain, presented with an imposing physical presence and a commanding mo-cap performance from Josh Brolin. His intentions are conveyed well here, justified by a fiercely utilitarian vision of universal salvation by a great and terrible genocide. He feels he is the only one willing to confront these truths and bear this burden; a hero in his eyes. This compellingly runs contrary to the enduring MCU belief that, as this movie states, "we don't trade lives". A simple philosophy, perhaps, but one that has developed some real weight and meaning after being challenged and tested in recent films.

But the greatest strength and weakness of this movie is its absurd ambition and scope. Locations span across galaxies, as do the several storylines. There are at least thirty (!) unique, compelling personalities to fit in here, often having to mix and match for the first time over the course of this franchise. Their stories, as well as Thanos' crusade and the occasional flashback are shoved into this 160 minute film. In a way, this is glorious. The movie is epic, complete with a literal army of superheroes battling an army of bad guys, epic fights between a squad of heroes and a supervillain, bits of real emotional depth and several conclusive character arcs; and that's not even including the multiple demises that are met.

But on the other side of the coin is the general inability for the film to breathe. The whole movie is an epic battle followed by a powerful emotional moment, then another epic battle, another moment, another battle, another moment, and so on and so forth. I wouldn't say it's exhausting, but the chains pulling this movie's plot along are ever-present and very apparent. It's tough to explain, but I just felt the movie lacked those small, quiet moments that populate the best films of this franchise. What it could be described as is a lack of a true identity. That sounds harsher than I mean it to be, though. Mostly I like how each hero (or group of heroes) so far have defined their movies, the feel and general vibe of both the story and thematic framework. Infinity War feels like a stepping stone of sorts, a vehicle built for franchise progression.

But the strongest attribute to this movie, and the substitute for a real isolated identity is its apocalyptic attitude. The film is dark. Things happen. People die. I hope at least some of it is permanent, that part 2 doesn't roll back all those decisions. Every course of action taken here is between a bad choice and an even worse one; there's no cutesy plot armor this time. There are haunting moments, mysterious ones, and impactful story beats that feel too lasting to be true, especially for this franchise which has a habit of going back on some of it's bolder moments. But the movie demands a level of respect that I happily give it.

And as I stated earlier, I don't care to nitpick here too much. Yes, there are enough issues, inconsistencies, and hiccups to tear this behemoth apart, but what's the point? I've loved the Infinity War saga for years now and seeing the story backed by this absurd cast, enormous budget and a literal decade of laying the tracks, so to speak, rarely are movies more exciting and satisfying. This is the unique, fascinating dynamic something like the MCU allows for. To my knowledge, there is nothing else quite like it in the history of cinema; a sprawling, interconnected saga of films with no end in sight and virtually limitless potential for spinoffs, reboots and new stories to tell; it's a dominant force in an unclear future for mainstream movies. I and many others have come to develop an emotional attachment to many of these characters, and Infinity War is, at its most basic level, a payout for our years of investment. And in the franchise's tradition of churning out sturdy, widely accessible and mostly satisfying superhero movies; Infinity War fits right in. It's inherently limited by the function it must serve but immensely impressive in that it manages to encompass so much, so smoothly. Thanos reigns and I'm still in love with superhero cinema, so by all accounts this movie is a success. I absolutely loved it.

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