This is spoiler free
Iron Man 1, aka the one that started all, came out in 2008. It was by no means the guaranteed success that practically all of its predecessors would become. It starred a B list superhero played by a just out of rehab B list actor. There’s only 21 minutes of action in Iron Man compared to the typical 45-50 minutes+ of its successors. It was a surprise megahit at 500 million at the box office, but it didn’t break any records. No one could have predicted it was going to launch the most successful franchise in movie history.
The post credits scene merely hints at the possibility of a crossover. A cameo by Samuel L. Jackson that would only make sense to the true comic book fans in an era where there were far fewer of them. No one was really even certain it was anything other than a cute gimmick. Were they actually going to make a movie with a bunch of super heroes in it at once? How was that going to work? How could you have enough screen time to develop that many characters. The very notion of the cinematic universe did not exist.
The very idea of the original Avengers movie seemed so large in scale that it bordered on absurd. Now it seems laughably puny. There are only six heroes in the original Avengers fighting Loki, who is already an established villain. Two of these characters are really side characters, so it’s really a movie that centers itself around four heroes (Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Captain America).
By “phase 2” Avengers was already a pretty average scale movie. Avengers 2 added Vision, Scarlett Witch and Quicksilver (who dies because the movie got crowded).
Avengers 1 is now absolutely miniscule to the scope of Marvel phase 3. Captain America: Civil War, which exists as some hybird between a stand alone movie and a crossover event, basically doubles the size of Avengers 1’s protagonist roster.
The scale of Infinity War is so ridiculously absurd it makes Civil War and Avengers 2 look even smaller than Avengers 1 looks in comparison to those movies. I don’t even know who to categorize as a protagonist and who as a side character because of the absolutely absurd scope of this movie. It contains every protagonist from Guardians of the Galaxy (which by Volume 2 had become as large as Avengers 2), every protagonist from Avengers 2/Civil War (sans not-quickenough Deadsilver), T’Challa from Black Panther, Dr. Strange from his self titled movie I already forgot about, Spiderman who Disney finally managed to wrangle the rights to. Not to mention the cast of villains is much larger than the usual solo villains of Marvel movies, and the just equally absurdly large cast of side characters too big for my puny brain to list.
In addition, this movie also has tons of logistic problems for its characters to bypass so that they can all be in the same movie. The Guardians characters are all in a different galaxy. Civil War split the Avengers 2 cast into two seperate groups who have essentially no communication with one another. The plot dictates all of these seperate groups must be fighting the same evil.
Avengers: Infinity War is only 23 minutes longer than Iron Man 1. Producer Kevin Feige’s promise that Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers 4 would be 2 separate self contained movies, rather than a 5 hour epic split in two that was previously assumed (like Harry Potter Deathly Hallows), is an accurate assessment.
If the massive scale and weight of this movie seems incredibly problematic, that’s because it is. That is more or less my impression of the movie. It is a 2 1/2 hour movie that pushes for a scale that TV doesn’t have the budget for and movies don’t have the time for. It is bloated even by the standards of literature. The most important (and riskiest) creative decision this movie made magnified the problem.
Marvel picked Infinity War of all movies to really seriously attempt to address its villain problem. Out of the 19 MCU movies released, only two of them have good villains (Loki and Killmonger respectively.) That is because the MCU movies are hyper focused on making their heroes compelling. The problem that most super hero movies have had pre-MCU is that their villains were far more interesting than their heroes (Batman, Superman, X-men to a certain extent, Spiderman etc.) The problem with this is that a villain can only stick around for one movie, and that eventually to keep the franchise going they have to raise the stakes, which usually means more villains (Spiderman 3, Dark Knight Rises, Batman Returns etc.) which will never be as interesting as the original movies with only 1 villain. Marvel fixed this problem by focusing on the heroes, who could be reused until the end of time because the hero gets to survive for the sequel.
Infinity War, more than any other marvel movie, would be completely justified in having a generic super powerful villain with a “rule the world” motive for the heroes to defeat given the massive scale. This movie spends a good chunk of screen time telling us Thanos’s motives and self-justifications for his actions when it needs every minute to simply get characters from Point A to Point B. Not only this, but it fails at making Thanos interesting. He’s more interesting than say, The Dark Elves from Thor 2 or the blue guy from Guardians 1, but only barely. His justification is both generic and completely ludicrous. His end goal is still the always generic “destroy the world(s)”
Another chunk of this movie is spent acquiring a macguffin to fight Thanos with despite the premise of the movie’s one major advantage being that all macguffins can be preestablished in other movies. The premise already has the movie working at a major disadvantage, and its creative decisions hurt it even more so.
There’s not a bad acting performance in this movie. The ones you expect to be A+ fantastic live up to their usual standard, but the movie is so bloated that it just doesn’t matter like it would in any other movie. The action sequences and visuals are a step above the generic “good guys fight CGI army and sky beam,” but nothing in it is memorable. Like the 18 movies before it (Discluding maybe Iron Man 3 depending on my mood), there is not a single action sequence that people will talk about for years or that I will remember a week from now. I don’t expect this from Marvel movies (see my point about Iron Man above), their priority is character rather than visual, but the draw of Infinity War is supposed to be its sheer massiveness of scope, and the battles don’t even manage to illustrate that much. Compare any sequence in Infinity War to any large scale battle in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and by comparison it seems puny despite Infinity War’s literally intergalactic stakes.
There is one moment that is quite good, I would say even great. Without spoilers, I’ll say It is mostly because it is just completely unexpected as a plot development because it subverts all expectations set up without exception for 18 movies straight. It’s nowhere near enough to make the movie good, but it deserves credit for what it did.
This movie will break every record. Even if it were a Batman and Robin level disaster, which it is not, it would break every record. It will probably get mostly positive reviews because Marvel movies are judged on much lower bar than every other movie in Hollywood. I’ll continue to watch them, mostly on shady internet websites or months after they hit home-video, because of a perverted, self-inflicted obligation to be connected to pop culture. Some day I’ll get married or get old and then I won’t feel that obligation anymore.