AS THE embargo lifted Tuesday on film reviews for Disney/Marvel’s “Avengers: Infinity War,” the stream of early verdicts began to accumulate toward critical consensus: The mega-movie fairly succeeds on many fronts, but a mission this massive is bound to expose some structural flaws.
Ahead of Friday’s official opening, here is how film critics’ impressions are answering key, essentially non-spoiler questions about what the Hollywood Reporter calls a “densely packed superhero orgy.”
1. Is the film worth seeing?
Basically, “Infinity War” is no “Black Panther” (a.k.a. the highest-scoring Marvel Cinematic Universe film on Rotten Tomatoes) — it’s not even a “Thor: Ragnarok” — but this huge, 2½-hour cliffhanger hits its marks and sets things up solidly for next year’s follow-up moneyed monstrosity: “Infinity War, Chapter 2.”
2. But look at these scores of superheroes! Is this movie too darned bloated?
“ ‘Infinity War’ does suffer at times from a certain bloat,” writes IGN. “There’s no getting around the abundance of characters and subplots that are feeding into [villain] Thanos’s bigger story.”
Variety writes with praise: “ ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ can, at times, make it feel like you’re at a birthday party where you got so many presents that you start to grow tired of opening them. But taken on its own piñata-of-fun terms, it’s sharp, fast-moving and elegantly staged.”
And the Associated Press lauds the relative dexterity of this behemoth: “ ‘Infinity War’ rarely, surprisingly feels as overstuffed as such a superhero smorgasbord ought to, a testament to the filmmakers’ adept plate-spinning skills.”
3. But doesn’t it get confusing when trying to follow about a half-dozen narrative threads across the universe? Won’t my head spin like one of those plates?
Gratefully, the veteran filmmakers here are expert traffic cops of such major franchise intersections.
“Directors Joe and Anthony Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely — none strangers to the Avengers franchise — find clever groupings of characters and an equitable rhythm as the film shifts between narratives,” Vanity Fair writes. “They wrestle some kind of balance out of crossover chaos, doing an expert bit of crowd control.”
USA Today weighs in: “It could have been an unholy mess, but with directors Anthony and Joe Russo at the helm, ‘Infinity War’ is instead a glorious, multilayered and clever comic-book adventure with loads of emotional stakes.”
4. But doesn’t stocking the film with a decade’s worth of MCU superheroes result in too many of them getting short shrift?
“No one is relegated to stock player, no matter how small their role,” writes IGN. “Yes, ‘War Machine’ fans, there’s even something here for you.”
But the AP counters: “There may be some hint of overpopulation anxiety in Thanos’s ambition and in the Russos’ frighteningly overcrowded film.” And Entertainment Weekly slams: “Marvel is sitting on such an embarrassment of riches with its deep bench of characters that some don’t have much more to do than act as glorified extras.”
This super-packed cast prompts a sly Slate headline that says in part: “ ‘Infinity War’ suggests Thanos is right about there being too many Avengers.”
5. Okay, but what about tone? I hear this film goes dark.
“ ‘Infinity War’ is big, blustery and brave, taking viewers to places that they may not be used to going,” writes Washington Post critic Michael O’Sullivan, pointing to narrative shadows uncommon for the MCU.
6. So does Marvel’s signature humor help leaven the proceedings this time?
The screenwriters “have a deft, jokey, sometimes glib touch that spreads the humor around and prevents this long film from ever getting stodgy,” says the Hollywood Reporter, adding that the actors “snap off one-liners and sharp remarks with an extra edge of sarcastic disdain.”
But New York magazine’s Vulture is no fan, writing: “The relentlessly lame one-liners of those poor galaxy guardians are the movie’s low points.”
7. So how does Thanos stack up against the best MCU villains?
The worlds-crushing Thanos (Josh Brolin) measures up — perhaps even bests — such past baddies as Loki and Killmonger, becoming one of the film’s true highlights.
“Brolin makes Thanos a suitably authoritative, melancholy villain — someone who really does seem deluded enough to fancy himself a merciful deity rather than a mass murderer for the ages,” writes the Los Angeles Times.
The Hollywood Reporter says: “Brolin’s calm, considered reading of the character bestows this conquering beast with an unexpectedly resonant emotional dimension, making him much more than a thick stick figure of a supervillain.”
8. “Infinity War” pits goateed egotists against each other, as well as several actors named Chris. How does it all shake out?
“Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) stage a Sherlock Holmes meta-duel and compare goatees,” writes the New York Times. “The hunky-Chris showdown — Hemsworth vs. Pratt (Peter Quill) vs. Evans (Captain America) — ends in a three-way tie.”
9. So how do you classify such a huge cliffhanger of a cog within the efficient and massive Marvel Studios machine?
“As an exercise of studio might … it has no peer,” writes Vulture. “Flagrantly, bombastically extravagant, it plays its audience like a hundred-million fiddles.”
One of the best passages on that front comes from the New York Times: “This synergistic expression of the corporate interests of Marvel Studios and the Walt Disney Company … has come to be less a creative or commercial undertaking than an immutable fact of life, like sex or the weather or capitalism itself.”
10. One last question: Just how many films are there so far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
It is sometimes reported that there are 18 movies in the MCU, but don’t be fooled — and don’t forget Universal’s “The Incredible Hulk” (2008). The correct tally is 19 films, say such outlets as Time (one of the few major publications that shares a name with an Infinity Stone) — as well as Box Office Mojo.