I had to chuckle when I saw a couple of discussions on the Internet last summer on the principle that "Thanos did nothing wrong." If you are one of the six people worldwide who have not seen Avengers: Infinity War that phrase may puzzle you, but I suspect most of you already know to what I am referring. Infinity War is a celebration and culmination of the first decade of Marvel films, and it even sports a Marvel anniversary logo before the action. Here, the Avengers battle their most impressive foe yet, Thanos (Josh Brolin), a super-villain who seeks the six Infinity Stones that will make him the most powerful being in the universe. Unfortunately for Earth and its inhabitants, Thanos wants the stones so that he can wipe out half of the universe's population in an instant, something that Thanos feels is critical for sustaining life into the future. While it is stuffed to the gills with characters and universe-crossing action, Infinity War is dramatically effective thanks to a smart screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and the lively work of directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, who also helmed my personal favorite Marvel film, Captain America: Civil War.
The filmmakers behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe have for the last decade carefully crafted characters and stories with the intent of merging the properties into huge collaborations like Infinity War. Their work has, frankly, put the DC Extended Universe of film properties to shame, besting it in quality and box-office receipts at nearly every turn. Characters like Thor, Captain America, Black Panther, Hulk, Iron Man and Star-Lord, all nicely represented in solo projects, now can happily coexist under one roof, and Infinity War is that first, huge shelter. A superhero-collaboration movie like this can easily become a mess of divergent plot threads and unrelated characters, but Infinity War has 10 years of history and character development to lean on instead of wasting valuable screen time introducing these well-known characters to viewers. While it has its moments, DC's recent collaboration Justice League struggled to add new characters into a mix of superheroes already struggling with rocky origin stories. Here, again, Marvel did their homework where DC did not.
So, what is Infinity War about? Well, it's about Thanos collecting Infinity Stones with the intent of annihilating half the universe's population, as I mentioned above. As the action begins, Thanos already has one stone, and he soon intercepts a spaceship with survivors of Thor's (Chris Hemsworth) home world, Asgard, to steal another. Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) holds a stone in safety on Earth, and android Vision (Paul Bettany) keeps another in his forehead. Villain Red Skull (Ross Marquand) and the Collector (Benicio del Toro) hold the remaining two stones, and Thanos makes quick work of sending his followers to track them all down. The film wastes no time throwing viewers into the chaos of the opening battle, in which Thor, Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) are quickly defeated by Thanos. On Earth, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Doctor Strange and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) join the fight when Thanos' children arrive to wreck New York City. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and the Guardians of the Galaxy, Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Groot (Vin Diesel), all come back in the fold to fight Thanos. A huge battle eventually begins in Wakanda, where Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) leads the other Avengers in a fight to save the universe.
I was worried that I would be disappointed by Infinity War, as I was with Avengers: Age of Ultron. Although not a popular opinion, I feel Age of Ultron throws too many characters at the screen and feels like a who's who of the MCU with the same sterile, disorganized atmosphere as Justice League. Fortunately, Infinity War never feels like that, which largely has to do with its effective but relatively simple narrative. This is truly a good versus evil story, except the evil here may not actually be evil, at least in his own mind. Brolin is excellent in motion capture as Thanos, and I was not excepting this character to be so well developed. The material with his estranged, adopted daughter Gamora is particularly effective, as is Thanos' realization that he has "lost everything" for his ambitions.
I was also not expecting (SPOILERS AHEAD) Infinity War to end on such a downbeat, as Thanos snaps his finger and half the universe's population, including Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), turns to dust. I suspect not all the casualties in Infinity War are permanent, but the film nonetheless makes an impact with its willingness to allow characters to fall in battle. The film is not all loss and despair, and Downey Jr., Pratt, Hemsworth and Cooper offer plenty of humor. Saldana bears the brunt of the heavy lifting of the melodrama, and does so effectively. Holland and Boseman settle into their characters and prove valuable members of the Avengers team. Trent Opaloch's cinematography and Industrial Light and Magic's visual effects are top notch. I do not need to sell anyone a ticket to this $2-billion-box office smash, but I do think it represents a milestone in the MCU and the superhero genre. Thoughtfully crafted from a decade of previous films, Avengers: Infinity War is exciting blockbuster entertainment with a surprisingly affecting dramatic undercurrent.
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
Disney releases Infinity War on 4K Ultra HD with a 2.39:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 encode with HDR10. Shot digitally at 6.5K resolution, the film was finished with a 2K digital intermediate. The 4K Ultra HD offers subtle upgrades over the excellent Blu-ray presentation, particularly an increase in fine-object detail. This is evident in facial features, and in the textures and details of fabrics and sets. Early scenes in Doctor Strange's home are gorgeously detailed amid shadows and dark woods. The interior of the Guardians' spaceship comes alive with minute set dressings and gauges and vivid, beautifully saturated colors. The grit, grime, and blood that clings to Thor's face after defeat is lifelike and effective. Colors get a nice bump in HDR but never look overly manipulated, and contrast is appropriate throughout. Blacks are inky and impressive, as is shadow detail, and I never noticed any digital noise. The image is also impressive in motion, and even quick pans do not blur. Edge halos and aliasing are absent. Overall, this is a nice presentation.
The disc includes a Dolby Atmos track, which I sampled in 7.1 Dolby TrueHD. People have been bitching a lot about Disney tracks of late, and this soundtrack does have some of the trappings of those mixes. The gist of the problem is that the track is mastered at a low volume, which requires an increase in volume above normal levels. I do not think this is a fatal flaw, but I was not as impressed as I should have been by the subwoofer output. I'm not sure why Disney is mastering these mixes at 10dB or so lower than normal, and I doubt they're going to comment on it. Nevertheless, the track is still immersive, with strong sound panning and excellent dialogue integration. Ambient effects surround the viewer subtly, and bigger, action-heavy moments do make good use of the surrounds. Gunfire, spaceship crashes and general carnage rattle the rear speakers and receive LFE support, even if it feels somewhat tempered. The soundtrack is nicely integrated amid dialogue and effects. Spanish, French and Japanese 7.1 Dolby Digital Plus mixes are included, as are a host of subtitle options.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the 4K Ultra HD disc, a Blu-ray disc and a Disney Movies Anywhere HD digital copy. The discs are packed in a black 4K case that is wrapped in an embossed slipcover. All the bonus features are found on the Blu-ray, and, as expected from Marvel and Disney, they are not particularly extensive. You get an Intro (1:32/HD) from Joe and Anthony Russo; Strange Alchemy (5:08/HD), about the collaboration of a host of MCU characters; The Mad Titan (6:34/HD), about Thanos; Beyond the Battle: Titan (9:36/HD), which explores the extensive action sequence on Titan; Beyond the Battle: Wakanda (10:58/HD), a piece that further explores the movie's extensive action sequences; Deleted Scenes (10:13 total/HD); a Gag Reel (2:05/HD); and an Audio Commentary by Directors Joe and Anthony Russo and Writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Disney and Marvel decided to reward digital customers with a half-hour filmmaker discussion that is absent here, which further proves they care little about physical media.
This 2.5 hour, character-packed blockbuster could have easily derailed into a sloppy, unfocused mess, but is instead a fitting culmination of a decade of Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Avengers: Infinity War sees villain Thanos threaten the Avengers with their greatest battle yet, and directors Joe and Anthony Russo return to the franchise in this effective collaboration of MCU favorites Iron Man, Black Panther, Thor, Captain American, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange and Spider-Man. The 4K Ultra HD disc offers subtle upgrades in picture, an OK soundtrack and a few supplements. The strength of this offering is the film, which is both tremendously exciting and dramatically affecting. Highly Recommended.