“There’s an Ant-Man and a Spider-Man?!” – Bruce Banner
Hey, did you hear that Marvel Studios decided to cross over all of their popular superhero franchises into a single super duper blockbuster this summer? It was a small little project that the studio tried to keep a secret and there certainly wasn’t any merchandise available. So yeah, this year Marvel kicked off and defined the summer movie season with a massive production the likes of which had never quite been seen outside of the comic book pages. A crossover event designed to rock an established universe and force viewers to embrace and discover characters that they rarely encountered before. The movie was hyped for ages, in keeping with old Marvel funnybook marketing traditions. To say Avengers: Infinity War succeeded would be an understatement. The flick pulled in the fourth highest box office tally in history, making fans squeal with delight and children cry uncontrollably all summer long before transitioning onto Blu-ray this week to get even more of your money. It’s easy to be cynical about something this big and corporate, but there’s no denying that Infinity War is one of the most notable, thrilling, and intriguing superhero blockbusters in recent years.
So, there’s no real need to dwell on plot. You know it by now. Evil purple space lord Thanos (Josh Brolin) decides to kill half of the universe to curb inequality and overpopulation. To do it, he needs a bunch of gorgeous glowing gemstones and a sick gold glove, because if you’re going to be space warlord you might as well look fabulous. With a few exceptions, like Hawkeye and Ant-Man (neither of whom could possibly appear in the sequel, right?), all of the Marvel heroes appear to fight Thanos. Co-directors Anthony and Joe Russo and co-screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely do a remarkable job juggling twenty some odd characters from previous properties. Every familiar face and iconic costume gets a chance to show off what they do well (mostly quipping and fighting). It all flows with the pulse-pounding pleasure of a popcorn-munching blockbuster, while still satisfyingly serving a sprawling cast of Altmanesque proportions.
A big reason why it works is the simplicity of storytelling within the big colourful explosion of cinematic stimuli. The plot isn’t complicated, the delivery system is. Thanos is the closest thing to a protagonist, getting the most screen time and going on the richest emotional journey of all the characters. After building the MCU on the backs of iconic heroes and predominantly forgettable villains, Marvel gives the most memorable antagonist they’ve ever had center stage on their biggest production. Josh Brolin does a remarkable job grounding his grizzled cartoon, even finding moments of empathy and understanding for his titanic testicle of evil. It was a wise move and one that fed directly to Infinity War’s already infamous ending.
Spoiler alert, but I’ll now discuss the ending that everyone has been discussing for months. Sure, there are so many things to praise in Infinity War from the mind-bogglingly impressive action sequences to the hilarious character beats. However, nothing made a mark like that ending, silencing rowdy audiences and demystifying heroism for children all summer. Sure, everyone knows a sequel is coming within a year that will set everything right and there’s no way that the Disney marketing machine has any interest in killing off many of its most popular characters. Yet for a brief moment, Marvel left audiences stumbling out of a superhero movie on a sour note. The bad guys won. Hope was useless.
Yet somehow, viewers kept coming back in record numbers. Why? Maybe because it had never happened in a film of this scale before? Maybe because the character of Thanos actually earned his own happy ending at the expense of a universe full of heroes? Or maybe because the time was right for masses to accept their good guys losing to evil autocrat and for parents to explain that to their children (I’m not sure what specifically in geopolitics might have set that tone for viewers, but surely there’s something!)? Hard to say. Either way, nothing sucked the air out of multiplexes like Infinity War this summer and now you can finally bring all of the superhero fun and failure home! What a time to be alive.
As usual, Disney have delivered an exquisite Blu-ray. The transfer is defined by deep inky blacks, vibrant comic book colors and a level of digital detail that only one of the largest budgets in the blockbuster history could provide. Toss in a lossless soundtrack designed to shatter speakers and fill bowels with base-fueled dread and you’ve got yourself a beautiful Blu-ray that’ll show off what any home theater system is capable of. A stunner.
Given that Marvel movies were starting to get a little light in the special features department a few years ago, it’s also a pleasure to find that Disney filled up this disc with some worthy extras as well. There are ten minutes of deleted scenes featuring absent characters and extra jokes clearly cut for pacing reasons over quality (alongside a gag reel that’s probably very fun if you worked on the movie). There’s also a half-hour making of documentary broken up into four chapters that’s well worth a watch. The Russo brothers get the most screen time, covering the main storytelling and technical challenges of the production, while pretty much every MCU actor also sits down for a soundbite or three. It’s ultimately a promotional documentary without many deep secrets, but one that showcases the artistry and army required to pull off such a stunning work of summer movie spectacle.
Finally, the Russos sit down for a commentary track alongside co-screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. They dig deep into everything from effects techniques to comic book origins and how they fit into the architecture of Kevin Feige’s overall MCU storytelling team. It’s a rich and refreshingly candid chat that should please any fan of these movies. However, anyone looking for hints and leaks about the Infinity War sequel can be sure that they won’t find even a little of that here. No one involved in the production is that stupid. They all know the answers, but we all have to wait another year to hear them. Oh well, at least we can rewatch this Blu-ray a few dozen more times before next May and spin wild theories about clues we’ve discovered that indicates where the story is heading. The theories will inevitably be wrong of course, but hey! We’re nerds. What else are we going to do?