After years of planting the seeds of the "Infinity Stones" saga across their many blockbusters, Marvel Studios finally brings the story front and center in Avengers: Infinity War. But while it's fun to see (nearly) every cinematic superhero they've introduced over the past decade onscreen together – this is as much a Guardians of the Galaxy movie as it is an Avengers movie – I missed the moral complexities that made films like Captain America: Civil War and Black Panther so interesting. Infinity War is little more than just fight-fight-fight the bad guys.
Not that the fights aren't impressive, nor the bad guys unremarkable. The chief villain Thanos (a motion-captured Josh Brolin, very good) is a truly compelling character, and although I wish he had been further developed in earlier films, he anchors Infinity War well, even as our super-powered protagonists flit in and out of the storyline.
Infinity War's plot is astonishingly simple: Thanos wants the six Infinity Stones that various Marvel characters have come across over the years. Once he gets them, he will destroy exactly one-half of all life in the universe. Our heroes have to stop him before he does. Boom, that's it.
For all the brouhaha over Thanos's plot, the film leaves a lot of logistical questions unanswered. For example, when we're talking about wiping out half of all life, do we mean half of each planet? Or, given the nearly infinite possibilities inherent in a vast universe, will some planets be untouched and others wiped out? And when we speak of "life", do we mean only sentient lifeforms like humans? Or are we talking half the fire ants, half the Sumatran tigers, half the Douglas firs, half the paramecia?
Moreover, I wish the film could have better sold Thanos's pitch. What made Erik Killmonger such an effective villain in Black Panther was that his plan – to arm the black people of the world against their "oppressors" – was rooted in real urges and real fears. But Thanos only touches on the benefits of wiping out half an overpopulated planet. Since he is committed to a completely random culling of life, he can't seduce anyone with promises of an Earth free of jerks, or of the wretchedly poor, or even of mosquitos. The movie would have been a lot stronger if it could convince us that Thanos kind of has a point.
Mostly, though, the problem I had with Infinity War is that by this stage, all the superheroes are so all-powerful, thanks to magic and/or technology, that the fight scenes become risk-free and boring. In the original Iron Man, you feared for Tony Stark's life because the moment someone ripped off his helmet, he was a goner. Now his armor regenerates instantly, as does everyone else's. Ditto their unlimited rounds of ammunition. I get it: you have to essentially be invincible to stand a chance against an über-baddie like Thanos. But it does make me wonder where we go after this, in terms of getting us to fear for people's lives.
Speaking of which... If you haven't seen the film yet, stop reading now. Although knowing that this is a two-part saga, from a dramatic point of view, it's clear that there was really only one way Infinity War could have ended: with Thanos winning, Empire Strikes Back-style. (There's a meta bit of dialogue from Dr. Strange that alludes to this.) This "Oh no, what do we do now?" cliffhanger is actually the best and most poignant part of the film, though with so many franchise-leading characters being offed, you know something will happen in the next film to bring them all back to life. In other words, more magic and/or technology. I'd love it if Marvel could pull out some surprises from within this inevitable solution, but we'll just have to wait and see.