The build-up to Thanos (Josh Brolin) and his quest for the Infinity Stones has been building for several Marvel films now. What has been his plan in collecting the six glowing gems that have been scattered all around the Marvel universe? The answer is a whole lot of death. No spoilers here but be prepared, this is Marvel's attempt at The Empire Strikes Back.
Thanos's plan is essentially to destroy balance to the universe by wiping out half of every creature within it. He fancies himself a noble, merciful deity. He also is fighting against the bloat of the Marvel Universe and Infinity War almost proves he has a point. Overstuffed doesn't begin to describe a film that has over three dozen heroes it is juggling while also introducing new villains.
That isn't to say that there isn't fun to be had watching these characters from so many different films intermingle. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely do a nice job of making these moments feel fun and exciting. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo are capable of huge spectacle and breathtaking action scenes. So why does the film feel so ineffective? It may because over the two and a half hour running time, the film crams so much in it that it never takes a moment to breathe. Think of why the first volume of Guardians of the Galaxy was so much fun or why the first Avengers movies was a blast, they had time for characters to interact and play off each other's personalities. Infinity War doesn't have time for that. This bloated quality really hurts the film when it wants to go for emotional gut-punches in the form of some of your favorite heroes passing away. These moments feel like they should be huge, impactful ends to characters we have spent a lot of time with. Instead, they fly by with barely a moment for the audience to process what has really happened.
The issues with Infinity War are a surprise as The Russos have directed two of my favorite entries in the Marvel universe, Winter Soldier and Civil War. Perhaps not have a central character in this film makes it hard for them to explore the fascinating themes they did with those previous films. Infinity War has lots of plot surprises but underneath it all, there isn't as much going on. The torn apart Avengers seem to get back together without blinking an eye for example. There is also a sloppiness to how they handle the rules of Thanos's power. As he gains each stone - space, mind, reality, power, soul and time, it is unclear of what new powers he has gained. This murkiness in the rules of the game makes it difficult to really sense the gravity the heroes are facing.
While the overall impact of the film may be muted due to the gloat of the plot, individual moments have real verve to them. Thor and Star Lord's machismo battle is a highlight as is watching Captain America and Black Panther and the Army of Wakanda fight together. There is a satisfying amount of spectacle in the film that delivers here and there. However, for all the build up to this thing, one would have hoped for a more impactful film. Infinity War is a summer movie spectacle that never ceases to be entertaining but ultimately feels unsatisfying and depressing by the time it ends.