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Avengers: Infinity War faces a high bar coming of the heels of the critically acclaimed and wildly successful Black Panther. The latest outing from Marvel Studios includes more superheroes per square inch than cinema has ever seen, and promises to tie together 10 years of storytelling.
Do directors Joe and Anthony Russo manage to pull it off? The reviews for the third Avengers movie are out, and the answer seems to be … maybe …?
“This grand, bursting-at-the-seams wrap-up to one crowded realm of the Marvel superhero universe starts out as three parts jokes, two parts dramatic juggling act and one part deterministic action, an equation that’s been completely reversed by the time of the film’s startling climax. Huge is the operative word here — for budget, scope and size of the global audience,” writes The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy. “Without giving anything away, the climax is startling in its gravity and no Marvel fan will leave before the long final credits scroll gives way to the traditional kicker tease at the very end, which amplifies the ending by serving up even more questions, not answers.”
If anything, Empire’s Helen O’Hara is even more enthusiastic. “The film dances nimbly across the cosmos from one group to the next, turning the screws on each group, shattering them and pulling them back together in new combinations,” she writes. “With all these different strands, you might expect to see the gears move to keep this intricate plot humming, as in Age Of Ultron and Civil War. But this time the Russos achieve the impossible. Not only did they bring all these disparate characters and stories together, but they made it look effortless. And the ending laughs in the face of carbonite when it comes to raising the stakes for next time.”
Writing in the Washington Post, Michael O’Sullivan sounds a note of caution, however. He is initially enthusiastic about the movie, writing “The entertainment media has made much of so-called Avengers Fatigue, from Marvel exhausting its storytelling capabilities — as well as our attention span. But brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, who return as co-directors after Civil War and its predecessor, Winter Soldier, keep things moving briskly and with frequent levity, as heroes from various Marvel franchises keep throwing things — sometimes literally — at Thanos, and as the scene of the action shifts from the Guardians of the Galaxy team’s spaceship to Black Panther’s African homeland of Wakanda to, at one point, Scotland.” But he he ends on a more downbeat note. “Infinity War is big, blustery and brave, taking viewers to places that they may not be used to going. Whether Thanos ends up getting everything he wants is one thing. But audiences should be warned that they probably won’t.”
That idea that audiences won’t be entirely satisfied by the movie is one that echoes through multiple reviews, curiously enough. The fault, many argue, is that the movie is just too busy. As ScreenRant’s Molly Freeman puts it, “While Avengers: Infinity War attempts to balance so many characters and give them compelling narratives, very few of the emotional beats stick their landing. This is partly due to the movie being crammed full with too much going on for the pacing to allow much time to process any major emotional development before moving on. Further, with Infinity War jumping around between different storylines involving different groupings of characters, the shift in location and tone can be jarring. In fact, there is a moment that’s meant to be particularly poignant and emotional, with big sweeping music to mark its significance, but it’s followed shortly by a change of scenery and a joke that undercuts any emotional response the movie was aiming to achieve.”
Similarly, Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers writes, “How long can you fake out audiences without pissing them off? Avengers: Infinity War leaves viewers up in the air, feeling exhilarated and cheated at the same time, aching for a closure that never comes … at least not yet. The Russo brothers have clearly never learned the concept that less is more.”
Both of those, interestingly, come from reviews that are mostly positive. It’s not that Infinity War gets no bad reviews — Time Out critic Joshua Rothkopf memorably calls it both “an overstuffed sausage of summer entertainment” and “the Ocean’s Thirteen of spandexed heroism, if you can imagine a version of that movie with two times as many Brad Pitts and no poker dealers” — but what’s notable is that the movie’s scope and scale leaves most reviewers seemingly uncertain about how they feel about it. Most seem to have enjoyed the movie, yet have more than a few concerns about it the more they think about it.
For example, is it praise or complaint when Justin Chang from the L.A. Times writes the following? “That sense of scale defines the production from top to bottom: Every line, every gag, every punch and every zap arrives on cue. The extended scenes of comic banter, no less than the wittily executed action sequences, are master classes in multitasking. The interlocking subplots are juggled with skill and economy. Themes of love, friendship and sacrifice pop up with metronomic consistency. Not even the threat of universal annihilation, it seems, will keep this assembly line from chugging ahead with its signature polished, mechanized efficiency.”
Time’s Stephanie Zacharek is more damning: “There’s no pacing in Avengers: Infinity War. It’s all sensation and no pulse. Everything is big, all of the time,” she writes. “Tucked amid the story’s numerous operatic sacrifices — barely a moment goes by when a character doesn’t almost die, or actually die, or temporarily die — there are jokes folded in, lots of them: Muttered gags having to do with Ben and Jerry’s flavors, jaunty references to the fact that two Marvel heroes are actually insects, knowing asides uttered by wisecracking raccoons. The Marvel Universe is not all serious infinity stones and stuff. It also wants us to laugh — but it will decide when it’s OK to poke fun, not you. It’s impossible to just relax into the zaniness of a Marvel movie — they’re never gloriously, inclusively, intergalactically loopy, like, say, a Sun Ra performance. Even when you’re supposed to be having fun, you’re really following a very strict set of rules.”
More charitable — and, arguably, more realistic — is Screen International’s Tim Grierson, who writes, “It’s inevitable that fans of individual Avengers will be disappointed that their favorite doesn’t receive more screen time, but that frustration is mitigated by Infinity War’s suggestion that these dazzling heroes must put aside their egos in the service of defeating a common foe. The Russos send the Avengers across Earth as well as other planets, constantly putting them in harrowing situations but also enjoying the novel friction that arises from such mismatched characters having to learn to work together. It’s been easy to criticise individual chapters of the MCU for being insubstantial — merely episodes in a longer, denser, years-long narrative. Infinity War pays off that patience, and even leaves one waiting for what comes next.”
Especially when you get to the end of the movie … but discussions about that will have to wait until April 27, when Avengers: Infinity War hits theaters.
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