No specific spoilers but this is written for folks who have seen this movie. A general spoiler-free review would just consist of “Holy shit, it’s really good.”
A thought occurred to me while watching some of the Avengers: Infinity War actors on Jimmy Kimmel the other night about the nature of growing up and maturity, and not just with regard to the film. Many, many years ago I used to walk to school every day, about 30 to 40 minutes both ways, and every morning I would listen to 106.7 KROQ’s morning show starring Kevin and Bean. This station has been the birthplace of a lot of talented folks like Adam Carolla and Dr. Drew Pinsky but one of my favorites and an eventual collaborator with the former was Jimmy Kimmel, originally known as just “Jimmy the Sports Guy”. As a kid I didn’t know much about sports and I didn’t really care but he was given about a 60 second spot every other hour and I liked listening to Kimmel, he had a good voice and a sharp wit.
But if you had told me that one day he would go on to be one of the more entertaining and decent late night hosts on a major television network I might have picked up my pace on the way to school out of disbelief and distrust. And yet here we are, and I’m a little proud of how far the guy has come. The same can be said of Marvel, a company that was once a plucky publishing house with a friendly rivalry with DC Comics. I like to think I grew up with them as well, and while DC had had Batman and Superman movies out for years, Marvel wasn’t even on the board until the late 90s. Then X-Men came out and it was pretty good even for how vigorously it seemed to want to distance itself from the source material. And the Sony and Fox purchased properties that followed varied in quality until Marvel finally went all in on Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. and the rest, as they say, is history.
Ten years later Marvel, now a powerhouse film studio owned by Disney, has produced a bracing, thrilling, charming, breathtaking, complicated-yet-accessible crossover film, the first of its kind in the history of cinema in Avengers: Infinity War and the word that keeps coming to mind is maturity. Despite the obvious financial success of all 18 films in its canon up until this point, Marvel has been edging further away from fun superhero movies and closer and closer to what I’d describe as grown-up features. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is probably the best example of this which, even without the fireworks and effects, is just a damn solid spy drama and character piece. Black Panther is also a step in this direction with its social commentary and conscience on full display. And in Infinity War, with the superb work of the Russo brothers, Marvel has produced probably the least kid-friendly superhero movie of all time, besides maybe Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. I don’t say that to suggest children couldn’t enjoy IW, not by any stretch, in fact its a lot more fun than I was anticipating and I laughed out loud several times. However, there’s a darkness to this film, as fantastical and otherworldly as it is. I’d argue that it’s not, in fact, really about the Avengers as much as it is Thanos’ film from start to finish.
With that maturity comes one of the most shocking and heartbreaking finales of any tentpole franchise film ever, darker than The Empire Strikes Back, darker than the death of Mufasa in The Lion King, darker than that other Vin Diesel vehicle, The Iron Giant. I obviously don’t want to go into detail because with the forthcoming sequel/continuation due out a year from now, there is little doubt the story will find a way to undo the extensive damage that Thanos has wrought, rather I’d like to marinate in the feelings and sensations that followed the conclusion of Infinity War. By now, as an audience, we are all well trained by Marvel to sit patiently through the credits for whatever morsel or tease of information Kevin Fiege and company see fit to brush off the table, but this time was different. This time I sat in relative silence along with the rest of the theater trying to process the deep sense of loss and impermanence, the feeling of tragedy without succor. And in retrospect, from the first trailer, they told us it was coming all along, “I know what it’s like to lose. To feel so desperately that you’re right, yet to fail all the same. Dread it. Run from it. Destiny still arrives.”
So where do we go from here? Where can Marvel go from here? Ant-Man and The Wasp is due out this summer and although that looks like a charming diversion I feel like we’ve just stood out in the pouring rain at some misty station, watching the love of our life get on a train to some new life without us, like a scene out of a Miyazaki film and now we’re expected to just move on and take a Tinder date to Applebee’s. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Paul Rudd and he might be the only face from that universe that I could handle right now, but I’m just not sure my heart is ready to love again. In case anyone missed it, the logo at the end of the post-credits scene has foreshadowed the arrival of Captain Marvel to the MCU, the long overdue female superhero pic. My expectations are low, for some reason, even though Marvel has continuously found a way to exceed them. I mean, how did they make Guardians of the Galaxy work? How was Ant-Man in any way a good idea? And how did they land Avengers: Infinity War so perfectly, so fantastically, so thrillingly that they’ve absolutely broken my heart and all I want is more.