Ordinary rules of drama don’t apply in the Marvel Universe, so expecting “Avengers: Infinity War” to build suspense, reach a climax and deliver some sort of conclusion is just…unreasonable.
There is no closure with this Neverending Story, because if Disney wasn’t going to let “Toy Story” or “Pirates of the Caribbean” slip free of the death grip the accountants have on them, what hope did Marvel’s ever-expanding comic book cast of costumed cocks-of-the-walk have? So story arc is dispensed with for a colorful collection of action beats, sentimental fan-favorite moments and other Easter Eggs for the faithful.
“Infinity War” is a generally joyless mash up of “Avengers” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” where much of the fun–what little there is — is in “Name that Movie Antecedent.” A little “Lord of the Rings” here, a dollop of “Star Wars” there — self-sacrifice, romance, more self-sacrifice, more “Lord of the Rings” borrowings, etc.
Directed without a whit of style by two place-holder directors — Joe and Anthony Russo — of the “Harry Potter and We Can Save a Bundle by Just Letting This David Yates Hack Make the Trains Run on Time” variety, “Infinity” has moments of warmth, witty lines here and there, one very special effect (and one cringingly bad one), some passable performances amid several career-lows among the stellar cast.
It is, as its title promises, merely the latest set-up for the NEXT installment in this slam-bang superhero soap opera. Going on into infinity.
But I was moved by the parade of actors passing before mine eyes in the two hours and thirty-five sometimes dull and repetitive minutes, and the passage of time. Greying Robert Downey Jr., burning off the flower of youth and the comeback from unemployable drug-addicted hell to be sentenced to endless Iron Man iterations, Mark Ruffalo, making us forget how dazzled we were at the idea of an empathetic actor taking on The Incredible Hulk (this is Ruffalo’s worst performance ever), the novelty of seeing two Sherlock Holmes (Downey and Benedict Cumberbatch) slinging cutting one-liners at each other as Spoiled Arms Merchant Tony Stark and his new BFF, the mesmerizing Doctor Strange.
Downey is still delivering fair value here, but Cumberbatch is at a loss, playing a fifth banana in a movie that demands too little of him.
Then Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany have a touching moment, as Scarlet Witch and the computer entity come to life, “Vision,” and you remember why Marvel insisted on hiring very good actors for these things. Zoe Saldana takes her stab at pathos and Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow takes Downey’s Tony Stark down a notch or two.
That’s when the great Chadwick Boseman reprises his Black Panther turn, and you wish this crowd was watching his Thurgood Marshall, James Brown or Jackie Robinson. The accent, the feeble commitment to being a bit player here make this his weakest performance as well.
Am I sitting on the fence on this one, after giving “Black Panther” the formulaic benefit of the doubt with a nod to its cultural significance? Hell no.
Like far too many of these films, “Infinity'” isn’t really “about” anything — unless you think the villain’s thoughtful consideration of universal eugenics “deep.”
Thor and his people take a bloody beat-down from universal nemesis (a Greek Titan, in essence) Thanos and his minions. Thanos is a digital giant Josh Brolin with metallic gauntlet and a huge, scrotum-wrinkled chin which one and all comment on. His minions?
“Hear ye and rejoice! You are about to die at the hands of Thanos!”
The Avengers, “Earth’s mightiest heroes.” — “Like Kevin Bacon?” “NO.” — have met their match.
Team Titan is too much for mere Avengers to handle. “We’re gonna need help” is what the over-matched heroes in movies like this have always said. Thus, The Guardians show up. Thus, Thor needs a hand getting a fresh hammer.
Maybe put in a call to Wakanda. Make Captain America Great Again. Etc.
The kid playing Spider-Man (Tom Holland) grows on you, the Star Lord (Chris Pratt) is fast wearing out his welcome. Rocket the Racoon, whom Thor keeps calling “Rabbit,” has run out of things to do or say.
But everybody gets their one-liners, most get their Big Scene. Most, but not all.
As such scenes have to come in the middle of fights, that means the Ladies of Marvel (Scarlett J., Elizabeth O., Danai Gurira (Wakanda’s Finest) and Saldana) get their due in mid brawl.
There’s something at stake here. Characters die.
The funny people are as funny as usual — Dave Bautista has a boy crush on Thor — “It’s like a Pirate had a baby with…an Angel!”
Pom Klementieff, the pale wide-eyed mentalist Mantis, is a delight.
You forget Brolin’s stuck in a stolid, hulking digitally-rendered giant version of himself, that’s how subtle his voice-acting is. But you forget what it was you loved about Ruffalo’s take on The Hulk as well.
I’ve taken to comparing these pictures to Bollywood movies, where excess is best and giving people what they want isn’t enough, giving them MORE of what they want is how you fill two and a half hours of screen time.
“Infinity War” is all that, and then some, from its grim open to an end that isn’t so much a climax as a “petering out.” Call it “Marvel’s ‘Empire Strikes Back’ if you want. I don’t see it. The script spoils the big “sacrifice” moments by encoring them, the “story” is more snatches of this and that — flashbacks, set-piece brawls or what have you.
It’s “Lord of the Rings,” with crystals instead of rings, metal-working dwarves and pop culture references — “Remember that old, old movie, ‘Aliens’?” and “Rubber Band Man” — aimed at a certain audience to get a certain response — mainly high-fives from those who figure they “get” the joke.
And it’s not about anything, except setting up the next box office bonanza.
Maybe “Deadpool 2” will be better.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, language and some crude references.
Cast: Josh Brolin, Robert Downey Jr., Zoe Saldana, Chris Evans, Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Dave Bautista, Tom Hiddleston, Mark Ruffalo, Benedict Cumberbatch
Credits:Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, script by Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely . A Marvel release.
Running time: 2:35