Every time I review a Marvel movie (except “Black Panther”), I can’t help but use a simile that popped up while reviewing “Captain America: Civil War.” These movies are like eating at a chain restaurant. It’s comforting because you know what you’re going to get, but it’s never anything new or exciting.
To extend the metaphor to “Avengers: Infinity War” — which is a Part 1, even if it isn’t named as such — this offering is a lot like ordering the sampler platter. It’s the stuff we know and like, in different combinations, but you’re not going to get a full meal of anything you particularly love.
But “Infinity War” isn’t all comfort food. In fact, it’s a very dark film about loss and grief, following our superheroes through the traumas and violence they’ve endured. It also attempts to pull the rug out from under fans who have followed these characters from film to film for a decade.
Don’t worry though, there’s still a healthy amount of easy humor threaded throughout (one of the hallmarks of the Marvel superhero films, where the heroes crack wise as much as they crack heads). The film almost plays like a comedy in a crowded theater, especially with some of the more inspired pairings.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) finds himself teaming up with Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), and the two cocky geniuses trade dry barbs. When Thor (Chris Hemsworth) crashes into the windshield of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) is instantly emasculated by the impressive God of Thunder. The pairings and deft humor are the best part of the film, and the plot leaves a lot of room for them to breathe.
With so many characters and backstories to weave together, the story isn’t all that complicated. Giant purple space titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) has some strong beliefs about overpopulation and resource management. The problem is he thinks random genocide is the only way to solve this. He’s trying to collect six powerful Infinity Stones, elemental gems that will make it easier for him to disappear half of the beings in the universe.
Although the Avengers have broken up, they assemble to prevent Thanos from getting all his coveted jewels. It’s tremendous fun watching the band get back together, introducing some new members and seeing them all jam. The dialogue is smart, fast and highly self-aware, and it adds much needed pizazz to a backdrop that’s largely just blasted gray space rocks (a trip to Wakanda is a welcome respite).
But “Avengers: Infinity War” isn’t all fun and games. These heroes are tired, they’ve lost loved ones, they seek revenge, they’ve torn themselves apart. They are committed to one last gig to save (half) the universe, but it doesn’t seem joyous. They’re all dealing with grief in some form, and relationships are tested, broken apart and destroyed.
These themes are a bit of a bellwether for fans, who at the end of the film just might be dealing with these emotions themselves. And that is the most surprising thing about “Infinity War” — that Marvel goes dark.
But they do so in such a way you can’t help but consider they haven’t pitched the stakes quite right (overblown stakes are yet another hallmark of the Marvel cinematic universe). But despite any nagging implausibility, the emotions there are real, because, truthfully, these characters have earned them.
‘Avengers: Infinity War’
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, language and some crude references.
Time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.