The Jakarta Post
For mankind: The fight scene against Thanos and his henchmen in the kingdom of Wakanda brings together superheroes with one goal in mind. (Marvel Studios/File)
The first thing you should know about Avengers: Infinity War, the 19th film in the expansive, extremely lucrative franchise Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), is that the jokes keep coming.
Peter Quill or Star Lord (Chris Pratt) from Guardians of the Galaxy tells one. Tony Stark or Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) tells another. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) cracks a good one even when his demeanor betrays his jest.
But the second thing you should know is that, midway through the 149-minute movie, the jokes get less frequent, before they’re dropped altogether.
The epic spectacle of MCU’s most ambitious project to date — assembling a coterie of superheroes and pulling them by the same burden — is thus matched by the blood it draws and the hopelessness it carries.
Avengers: Infinity War is an explosive, strangely subdued film that never forgets its characters’ hearts by reminding them of their mortality.
That mortality is dangled by a terrifying common enemy. Thanos, the invincible purple creature who’s out to find all the Infinity Stones — powerful rocks that contain different physical powers — fulfills the prophecy laid out by previous MCU films.
He had been teased as a villain so badly it would take a village to merely let a drop of blood drip from his cheek. If or when Thanos finds all six of the Infinity Stones, he can take out half the world’s population just by the “snap of his fingers”, as his daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana) says.
Thanos and his henchmen are also the reason why the band is back together. Each member of the band — which includes Steve Rogers or Captain America (Chris Evans), Natasha Romanoff or Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), King T’Challa or Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Stephen Strange or Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Peter Parker or Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Bruce Banner or Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and more — drop their personal fights and stare at the ominous fate that awaits them in the sky.
After the events of Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War collides the characters with each other and, as per tradition, puts them directly in the grim face of adversity — split between planet Earth, planet Titan, Nidavellir, Wakanda, Scotland, nowhere and space.
But directors Anthony and Joe Russo, along with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, make sure none of these characters are safe. Once regarded as protectors of mankind, the superheroes will question their lives and contend with the impossibility of their shared mission.
The structure the filmmakers achieved was, of course, bold, but by having these superheroes act under the dark clouds of uncertainty is a score that makes Avengers: Infinity War a more complex movie than some of the previous ones.
Take the relationship between Wanda Maximoff or Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany). Of all the interpersonal dynamics in Avengers: Infinity War, theirs holds the most weight — as Vision has one Infinity Stone latched on his forehead. Both of these characters are breathing and walking proof the stakes raised by the film aren’t just about stopping the bad guy from wiping out people at ease.
A still from 'Avengers: Infinity War.' (Disney/File)
Speaking of “the bad guy”, Thanos’ motivation — and all the ways an indestructible villain could be provided with nuance — for his quest is also laid out with the kind of equanimity I didn’t expect the filmmakers would pull off.
The many facets of the MCU melodrama — father-daughter (Ant-Man, Thor: Ragnarok), friend-to-friend (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), father-son (Thor) — should fail a character like Thanos. But Avengers: Infinity Wardisabuses itself of that notion and runs with it, not necessarily making Thanos sympathetic, but morally ambivalent in his actions.
The battle sequences, especially the one in the African kingdom of Wakanda or on planet Titan are also satisfying, though expected. There’s always glee in seeing all the characters see each other (Thor notices Captain America’s new beard and Captain America points out Thor’s shorter hair) and get going. Payoffs might be lacking here, but small victories are still a treat to watch.
That said, Avengers: Infinity War still follows the same script that a superhero movie franchise would be expected to do. Unlike, say, Captain America: Winter Soldier, Avengers: Infinity War could be pulled apart into a simple narrative thread and look like a normal superhero movie: Good vs. bad, one fight scene after another.
With sequels imminent (the fourth untitled Avengers movie is set for 2019), what separates it from that pack is its willingness to siphon the last remaining hopes of its characters. To see them change course later will make for a thrilling watch. Or at least to see them try.
Avengers: Infinity War
(Marvel Studios; 149 minutes)
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Chadwick Boseman, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Holland, Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen