It’s all been leading to this. The beginning of the end of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it. An emphasis on “as we know it.” The MCU is in no danger of stopping anytime soon. Aside from the latest Avengers receiving a follow-up feature next year, there’s Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel, as well as future Spider-man, Guardians of the Galaxy and Black Panther films. There seems to be no end in sight. The official time-span for Phase Four or the second chunk of the MCU reaches from next year to 2028. I can hope that whatever Kevin Feige and Co. have in mind is strong enough to hold interest that long. As it stands with the third Avengers film, Marvel is firing on all cylinders, creating their most visually and emotionally driven experience so far.
If this is, bizarre as it may seem, your first viewing of any MCU property, you may find yourself bewilderingly lost. Yes, the film despite its huge cast, is coherent and mercifully willing to give some well presented exposition but let’s not kid ourselves: Avengers: Infinity War is not the same experience without having seen a good number of the eighteen prior films. Not all of them are needed for prior viewing, but it helps. Considering the sheer popularity of nearly all of these films, it shouldn’t be a tall order to be in the know. The titular Avengers, consisting of iconic heroes like Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, and Black Widow, among others, team up with outside heroes like Spider-man, Dr. Strange and the now phenomenally Black Panther. Why are they teaming up? Well, the fate of the universe, of course! Actually half of it. The main antagonist Thanos, who wisely serves as arguably the main character for which everything revolves around, seeks to control six colorful and powerful Mcguffins known as the Infinity Stones, who when brought together onto a gauntlet, can allow the user to bend the universe however they see fit. Thanos, having suffered the destruction of his people and homeworld to overpopulation, now seeks to “balance” the rest of the universe, so it won’t wear itself out to a slow, horrible death. In other words, if half of the universe’s population goes away, things will be sustainable once more.
Thanos, despite his brutal nature and genocidal plot, especially in the cruel opening scenes, is relatable and his plot, no matter how ghastly , makes an uncomfortable amount of sense. Considering our own modern day anxieties surrounding overpopulation, climate change and poverty, Thanos seems too close to home, and that’s for the better. It doesn’t hurt, that the stones Thanos seeks, have been built up since 2011’s Thor. That film’s Tessaract acted as a stealth introduction to the concept that would as the series progresses, introduce the mind(The Avengers), reality(Thor: the Dark World), power (Guardians of the Galaxy), and time( Dr. Strange) stones to audiences. the sixth and final stone, soul, is given an unforgettable introduction in this outing.
One way to make the 30 plus cast of characters easier to follow and keep track is split them up. Consider the galactic scale of the movie and it also serves to highlight the epic scope too. One team consists of a now bearded Captain America, leading a rogue group of Avengers following the schism caused in 2016’s Civil War. That includes Black Widow, and The Falcon. Once circumstances force the Avengers back together, Cap’s group swells to War Machine, The Vision, Scarlet Witch, Bruce Banner( having returned to Earth after Thor: Ragnarok) and once they arrive for the third act battle royale in Wakanda, King T’challa the Black Panther, his generals Okoye and M’baku, and of course Cap’s best friend and fellow “man out of time” Bucky, now going as “White Wolf” instead of the Winter Soldier. Quite a team. Out in space, Iron Man, Spider-Man and Doctor Strange find themselves meeting up and working together with the lovable rogues the Guardians of the Galaxy themselves. Not all of the Guardians meet up with our earth-based heroes and there is a very spoilerific reason for why the Guardians themselves split up. One of them involves Thor’s place in the story, that in itself leads to one hel of a guest star appearance. It works wonders in keeping the narrative buoyant and sea-worthy.
Despite IW being the longest film so far in the Cinematic Universe, it doesn’t feel that way as there’s a break neck pace that while it will slow down for the more intimate and emotional parts, doesn’t keep the film from at times seeming a bit exhausting, albeit an enjoyable fatigue. The same heroes and perhaps, villains, also seem to feel the wringer of this desperate race against fate wheels on. It helps that the action sequences are among the best the MCU has yet offered, out of an already impressive number to choose from in its ten year lifespan. The Russo brothers have a directing eye towards both how they shuffle characters which one-ups Joss Whedon’s initially impressive results with the first Avengers, and they have clearly evolved from their work from their two preceding Captain America pictures. For all the real emotional stakes at play, sometimes it’s just fun to look at how creative and detailed the still heavily CG -fights and spectacles get. It’s all the more rewarding due to this film having a soul accompanying the mayhem.
Despite the excellent efforts of all involved in the film, it’s unavoidable that some characters get shortchanged in development or time on screen. That’s where their presence in earlier films come to play. In terms of characters who do have a presence beyond fighting, Thanos, Iron-Man, Gamora, Dr. Strange, Thor, Spider-Man, Star-Lord and the Vision are the ones who shine brightly and have the most to do. Contrary to earlier reports, Hawkeye, Ant-Man, and Valkyrie are conspicuously missing and I’m sure Marvel is knowledgeable to why they are absent. There’s a large enough cast as it stands.
It remains to be seen how well Marvel can stick the landing with Avengers 4 wrapping up the events Infinity War launches. Ant-Man 2 and Captain Marvel will serve as appetizers and lore builders before the feast truly concludes, and we are then previewed to whatever the MCU will become afterwards. If Infinity War’s end results are any indication, it will be…marvelous.