Avengers: Infinity War

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 8/14/18;
Disney/Marvel;
Action;
Box Office $678.11 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, language and some crude references.
Stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Peter Dinklage, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benicio del Toro, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, William Hurt, Winston Duke.

If the first “Avengers” film was the superhero movie equivalent of an all-star game, then Avengers: Infinity War has got to be the genre’s Super Bowl. This isn’t just a few heroes uniting for a fight to save the Earth from the megalomaniacal villain of the moment. This is a massive intergalactic brawl with nothing less than the fate of the entire universe at stake.

Though nominally the third film of the “Avengers” brand, Infinity War is really a sequel to the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which began with the original Iron Man in 2008. Infinity War is the 19th film in the mega-franchise, while the 20th is the recent Ant-Man and the Wasp, whose characters are mentioned but aren’t directly involved here.

What makes Infinity War stand out, however, is how much it deconstructs the traditional “hero’s journey” arc of a typical fantasy adventure to ream suspense from the audience’s expectations of how the story will play out.

The film pits the Avengers against the alien warlord Thanos, who has made minor appearances in previous films as the mastermind behind a quest to collect the six Infinity Stones, gems of immense power that when combined can give the holder nearly godlike abilities.

Thanos is motivated by a desire to wipe out half the population of the universe in order to preserve resources and improve the quality of life for those who remain. Tired from untold years of pursuing his agenda planet-by-planet and earning countless enemies along the way, Thanos realizes that obtaining the Infinity Stones will allow him to complete his goals with the snap of his fingers. It’s not every day a comic book movie can inspire debate over the morality of Malthusian ethics.

The Avengers, on the other hand, are scattered across the cosmos and not much of a threat to Thanos following the events of Captain America: Civil War and Thor: Ragnarok. While Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans) can organize their own factions on Earth, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is able to bring the Guardians of the Galaxy into the fight, which pretty much finally connects all the quadrants of the MCU.

One of the strengths of directors Joe and Anthony Russo in their previous MCU films has been their ability to tell bold, complex stories with efficiency without sacrificing exciting action or engaging character dynamics. As if finding a way to involve a dozen heroes in Civil War without it feeling overstuffed weren’t enough of an achievement, with Infinity War they pull off one of the greatest balancing acts in cinematic history. Each character serves a function without seeming extraneous, while adding enough to the story to satisfy fans of each particular sub-franchise.

The plot builds weaves between action and quieter character moments to heighten the emotional impact of a powerful conclusion that unsurprisingly had fans lauding the film as the MCU equivalent of The Empire Strikes Back.

While it may be technically possible to follow along without having seen the previous films, one of the great joys of Infinity War is the chance to see so many of these characters that were established in earlier movies interact with each other for the first time. New viewers who want something of a primer without fully committing to the MCU should at least check out the “Avengers” movies, the “Captain America” movies, the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies and Thor: Ragnarok.

Infinity War’s visual style offers an eye-popping array of color that really looks spectacular on an HD screen. It should be noted that the entirety of the film is presented in a 2.39:1 aspect ratio that doesn’t shift for the scenes that were specifically engineered for the film’s Imax theatrical presentation.

The visual effects are well rendered without overwhelming the senses, even though there is often a lot to take in, especially in the battle sequences (compared with, say, the stretched-to-the-screen’s-edge details of Ready Player One). Infinity War is as much of a science-fiction epic as anything, but in keeping with previous Marvel films, the presentation veers toward the hyper-real, fittingly evoking the feeling of fun comic book art rather than something more true-to-life.

The Blu-ray includes a nice smattering of extras that give a good sense of the scope of making the film but don’t really dive too deeply into specifics aside from a few key scenes.

The five-minute “Strange Alchemy” looks at the fun of uniting the various characters and why some were grouped together the way they were. The six-minute “The Mad Titan” focuses on Thanos and how his history in the films has led to his actions here.

Two “Beyond the Battle” featurettes explore the making of two key sequences, with nearly 10 minutes devoted to team Iron Man and the Guardians fighting Thanos on the planet Titan, and 11 minutes looking at Captain America’s and Black Panther’s squads joining forces to battle the armies of Thanos in Wakanda.

There are four deleted scenes that run a total of about 10 minutes each. Each contain unfinished visual effects but for the most part serve as fun little short films that provide some additional insights about the characters. “Happy Knows Best” features the hilarious cameo by Jon Favreau that was cut from the film. “Hunt for the Mind Stone” is an extension of the fight between Vision, Scarlet Witch and Thanos’ goons. “A Father’s Choice” offers some more Thanos backstory. And “The Guardians Get Their Groove Back” pokes a little fun at the “Guardians” films’ penchant for classic rock soundtracks. These are accompanied by an amusing two-minute gag reel.

Finally, the Blu-ray includes a feature-length commentary from the Russo brothers and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. This is a great discussion as they share all sorts of tidbits about the construction of the film, from pulling together many of the loose threads of the MCU to organizing the screenplay in a way to effectively tell the story while still giving all the characters their due.

Digital editions of the film, which can be accessed through Movies Anywhere and participating retailers using the code provided with the Blu-ray, have an exclusive half-hour roundtable discussion with eight directors of several of the MCU films. This is a great discussion about the art of collaboration on a massive franchise such as this, and how the various directors were able to evolve various characters’ storylines to the point where Infinity War could pay of so much of them. The participation of Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn in the discussion does make the featurette a bit of a victim of some awkward timing, considering how recent revelations over his past Twitter postings have clouded his role role within the MCU.

The Ultra HD edition includes a Dolby Atmos soundtrack but none of the bonus features, which are on the regular Blu-ray Disc included with the combo pack.

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