For sheer value-for-money, you can’t top AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. It’s pure entertainment with an endless parade of the kind of whiz-bang special effects, not quite sloppy sentiment, and a constant barrage of the quips and banter that define grace under pressure in the Marvel Universe. Plus, pretty much everyone from the MCU finds his or her way into this flick, which, truth be told, feels more like several movies squished together like a cinematic panini. All the individual elements are there, but compacted. If it makes for a film that flits hither and thither with wild abandon through the universe, so be it. No complaints here.
The action takes up where Thor’s last adventure ended. Asgard is no more, and Thanos (James Brolin working surprisingly well as a CGI projection), is on the hunt for the Infinity Stones that give this installment its title. Don’t know what Infinity Stones are, nor why at least one of them is sometimes referred to as a tesseract? Not a problem! The exposition, as Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and Thanos face off in the vacuum of space, explains it all. That accomplished, the film begins its flitting with Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who is discovered debating materialism versus spirituality with Wong (Benedict Wong) at his New York headquarters, when Bruce Banner/ The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) drops in, literally, to warn him that Thanos is coming. From there it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump through the first of several apocalyptic battle sequences, before the rest of the Avengers join the fun, starting with Iron Man, aka Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), who is promising new fiancée, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) that there will be no more surprises in their relationship, despite the nanotechnology that he’s had surgically implanted in his chest.
Wait, you’re not quite sure who all these people are, nor their backstories? Well, yes, that might be a problem for those who haven’t seen all the other films. Still, and I don’t say this lightly, this is a film that is so much fun, it’s easy to be swept along by it before those mysteries cause any real trouble. Just go with Banner’s Hulkus Interruptus condition that frustrates him mightily as the effects wizards achieve a half-and-half manifestation to externalize the problem, or the serio-comic quality of the ersatz father-son relationship, the one that makes them both awkward, between Iron Man and high-schooler Peter Parker (Tom Holland), who gets a spiffy and shiny new Spiderman suit from Stark just in time to join him in outer space. Don’t fight the giddy silliness of the Guardians of the Galaxy Crew as they become embroiled in Thanos’ plot to improve the universe via those infinity stones and the gauntlet (custom made by a giant dwarf (Peter Dinklage) to display them. Of course they’re embroiled. There is a connection between Guardian Gomora (Zoe Saldana) and Thanos that is just as passionate, though in a different way, as the connection she has with fellow Guardian, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). There’s less exposition in this segment, though there’s also a tidy bit of Gomora’s backstory that annotates and illuminates just how complicated things were between her and Thanos.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, the Avengers are having fewer issues reuniting after half of them went rogue, than the government, in the person of cigarette-smoking Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) does. Oh, and Vision (Paul Bettany) and Wanda, The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), have finally found true happiness together. At least until Thanos’ evil minions destroy part of an ancient cathedral in Scotland to get to them.
Yes, it’s a lot, and I haven’t even gotten to Wakanda, yet, where Captain America (Chris Evans), receives a nifty new shield from T’Challa/ Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman).
The through-plot, that winds its way through many characters and many places, is a spare one. Its sole purpose, and in this it succeeds divinely, is to showcase what it is that makes those characters so compelling to watch as they sling webs, missiles, mystical balls of occult energy, or those zinging one-liners. Even Dr. Strange’s Cloak of Levitation retains, and then builds on, the puckishly assertive personality that made it the breakout star of that stand-alone movie.
At a running time of over two hours, there’s never a dull moment, and there’s even a bit of fodder for pondering, including Thanos’ noble intentions that spring from a misinterpretation of the proposition Malthus wrote about a few centuries ago, and just why it is that Thor thinks that Rocky Raccoon is a rabbit. Fair warning, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR is a two-part epic, so temper your expectations accordingly. And, as always, wait through the credits for the teaser that has become de rigeur for MCU.