‘Avengers: Infinity War’ an emotional marvel

The trademark red pages of the Marvel logo appear, flashing by before leading into semi-impressionist portraits of the heroes that make up the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But as the massive “Marvel Studios” slides into place on the screen, the usual fanfare is nowhere to be heard. Instead, a quiet song in a minor key floats over the logo, more like a dirge than anything. From the first seconds of “Avengers: Infinity War,” Marvel itself tells us the movie on screen is no mere Hollywood thrill ride. It is the beginning of the end of an era.

Directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and starring far too many actors to list here, “Avengers: Infinity War” premiered April 27, making $258.2 million domestically from its Friday release to Sunday, April 29, the largest opening weekend in history.

This nearly unconscionable amount of cash is hardly surprising, as “Infinity War” is the 19th installment in the MCU and is the only installment of its kind hinted at since the premiere of “The Avengers” in 2012. “Infinity War” was always going to do well at the box office because every Marvel film from “The Avengers” until now has built up to this final showdown with he who lurks after the credits: the purple titan, Thanos.

Thanos proves to be the genius method the Russos and company use to fulfill the lofty expectations of such a long-expected movie. By framing the narrative less as a massive team-up movie and more as a film about Thanos guest-starring the entire MCU (minus Ant-Man and Hawkeye), “Infinity War” delivers on the promise of a cosmic threat by affording him the time to develop into a fully realized character, and what a character Thanos proves to be.

Every Marvel casting decision thus far is pitch-perfect.”

— Jaren Tankersley, 12

As mentioned above, to speak on every actor in “Infinity War” would take a review the length of a small book. Suffice to say, every Marvel casting decision thus far is pitch-perfect (except Edward Norton, but he’s not here anymore), and every actor brought his or her very best work to this flick. However, the emotional crux of the film hinges on five performances, and the five actors responsible — Josh Brolin, Zoe Saldana, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany and Chris Hemsworth — deserve mention.

One cannot mention Brolin as Thanos and Saldana as Gamora separately, as the two’s performances build on each other to take both performances from good to brilliant. The same fierce yet loving Gamora seen in the Guardians of The Galaxy series is here, but her resolute hatred for her adopted father Thanos has a different dimension now, as we see the small part of her left with feelings for the titan.

Brolin, for his part, grounds the genocide and death surrounding Thanos in a deeply melancholic performance, lending the titan a sense of grandeur and even nobility a lesser actor could never hope to achieve with such a demented character. Thanos’s only goal is to wipe out half the life in the universe, but his rationale for such a horror makes a perverted kind of sense, and the genuine suffering he is willing to endure to achieve what he believes is right makes him all the more threatening. Atop this, his clearly real, if twisted, paternal love gives what could have been just another giant CGI villain some actual relatability.

If Thanos steals the show as the villain, Thor and Gamora are in a neck-and-neck race to steal it back as the heroes.”

— Jaren Tankersley, 12

While the interplay between Thanos and Gamora forms the emotional backbone of “Infinity War,” the rest of the psychological beats deride from two other main emotional arcs, one of which Hemsworth as Thor carries singlehandedly. Fresh from his stellar work in “Thor: Ragnarok,” Hemsworth brings a different god of thunder to “Infinity War” than the bellicose, lovably arrogant mythic bro-dude seen before.

This Thor has lost far too much, first in “Ragnarok,” then in the first few moments of “Infinity War,” and the grim, stubborn heroism Hemsworth embodies makes the audience pull for him every second he’s on screen. If Thanos steals the show as the villain, Thor and Gamora are in a neck-and-neck race to steal it back as the heroes.

The third branch of the emotional trinity of “Infinity War” is the weakest of the three, but only by default. The romance between Olsen’s Scarlet Witch and Bettany’s Vision, previously hinted at in “Captain America: Civil War,” became a fully formed relationship between movies. While both actors sell the genuine concern the pair hold for each other, the universe-threatening events of the plot intervene before the actors can adequately show how the two behave around each other when the sky isn’t falling. Still, the gentle, noble Vision and simultaneously fiery and reserved Scarlet Witch seen in “Civil War” give the audience plenty to root and cry for.

The plot itself conspires to never give the heroes more than a second’s respite.”

— Jaren Tankersley, 12

Cry the audience certainly will, because while the small main cast described above steal most of the big, heartbreaking moments, the plot itself conspires to never give the heroes more than a second’s respite or more than a moment of victory. One crushing defeat leads to another leads to another leads to another, to such a point the sheer depressing weight of the titular “War” threatens to overwhelm the entire piece. Even the omnipresent Marvel quips and jokes have been turned to brief glimpses of light which make the darkness seem all the more vast.

Yet here is where “Infinity War” shines the brightest, as the filmmakers managed the tightrope act of writing a pitch-black story which still feeds the audience their demanded moments of fist-pumping catharsis. While the great work being done by every actor is responsible in part for this balance, the heavy lifting is done by the cinematography and music.

Director of photography Trent Opaloch did his homework. For large swaths of the flick, the camerawork is the standard, workmanlike fare expected from even the most second-rate Marvel movies. But for the big battle scenes or the moments destined to become iconic, Opaloch shoots to emulate the panels of the comics these characters sprang from. Every important moment is framed to function as a portrait, able to hang on the wall as a piece of still art. Opaloch picked up this trick from the original “Avengers,” where Seamus McGarvey used slow motion and slow pans for much the same result. As such, not only does “Infinity War” resemble the massive event comics it’s based on, but it also hearkens back to the first movie in its franchise.

Composer Alan Silvestri, who wrote the music for “The Avengers” and “Captain America: The First Avenger,” manages the score to near perfection. While most of the movie rings with the ominous melodies one would expect from such an ominous piece, Silvestri knows when to relent and introduce the Guardians of the Galaxy with “The Rubberband Man” or crank up the main theme from “Black Panther.” Best though is his use of the Avenger’s theme. Silvestri holds his own theme back for as long as possible then blasts it full-tilt at the most awe-inspiring moments to drive the pervasive gloom of the plot back and leave the audience some space for hope.

If “Infinity War” has one critical flaw, it’s that some viewers may find the film so negative it seems hopeless. But the message of the film is not to forsake all hope, but rather to cling to it. Our heroes fight and fight against the unimaginable strength of Thanos, to the last man and to the last second. “Avengers: Infinity War” is a brilliant and incredibly dark movie which everyone should go see, regardless of its darkness. For as every true Marvel fan knows, the story’s never over until the final credit rolls.