Superheroes … so … many … superheroes. Photo by Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios

Superheroes … so … many … superheroes. Photo by Chuck Zlotnick/Marvel Studios

‘Avengers: Infinity War’ and the Infinite Cinematic Universe

The overstuffed “climax” of Marvel’s long-running superhero series is undercut by the knowledge that it’ll continue.

Young Peter Parker, still a newcomer to his role as Spider-Man, asks his mentor Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) to explain why a villain is pummeling New York. “He’s from space,” says Tony. “He came here to steal a necklace from a wizard.” End of explanation. Back to saving the universe.

If only snarky Stark could have been in charge of telling the Marvel Comics saga, it might not have taken 18 movies to set up Avengers: Infinity War—which itself is only the first half of the series’ climactic opus. In a way, of course, Stark’s voice (in the invaluable person of Robert Downey, Jr) has been telling the Marvel story; these movies have usually taken a sarcastic squint at their own ludicrousness, while at the same time expecting us to stay emotionally invested in their gallery of superheroes.

As Stark delivers his line to Spider-Man (Tom Holland, underused here), all we know is that the evil purple-skinned space-giant Thanos (Josh Brolin) has indeed cast his eye toward Earth in order to pluck an Infinity Stone from the pompous breast of the wizardly Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). Thanos wants all the stones—there are six of them, as you very well know—and the longer Infinity War goes on, the more likely it seems he’ll get them. The Avengers reunite, as Stark patches up his bro-spat with a bearded Captain America (Chris Evans), while Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) return from outer space and the rest of the gang fights for limited screen time.

The expansion of the Marvel universe means sidelining certain characters (if you’re a big Ant-Man or Hawkeye fan, well, maybe next time), and carving out room for the Black Panther and Guardians of the Galaxy crews. The Guardians get a couple of sharp early scenes, and Gamora (Zoe Saldana) figures prominently as Thanos’s adopted daughter. Some of the jokes at Star-Lord’s (Chris Pratt) expense remind us that despite their testosterone-heavy surface, the Marvel films have been relentless in their mockery of macho posturing and male rivalry. Part of the climax is set in Wakanda, the kingdom of Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), although that royal character has no more than a dozen lines of dialogue.

The real problem for directors Joe and Anthony Russo is not the crowded roster, but the sameness of the canvas. Same planets, same New York, same long final fight scene with superpowers jettisoned as the heroes punch each other in the face. Infinity War gets by with a witty first hour and the starry appeal of the cast, but the gears really grind near the finish. The actual ending might be kind of intriguing if we didn’t know this was all part of the Marvel-Disney blueprint, and that everything will be set back to normal in the 2019 Avengers episode. These two films are “climactic” only in marketing terms, and because some of the main actors want out. Marvel and Disney are smart enough to know the real threat isn’t Thanos, it’s audience fatigue—putting Iron Man and Hulk out to pasture makes sense, while Black Panther and Spider-Man (and a female Captain Marvel, due next year) carry the load for a while. This thing will never really end. That’s what makes it an Infinity War.

Avengers: Infinity War

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