From the start, Infinite feels like a throwback to late ‘90s action movies, in which a steely protagonist was tossed into a hi-tech world of mind-bending truths that demanded a man of action to save the world. This terrain was charted by a string of Batmen, Keanu Reeves (The Matrix Trilogy), and Denzel Washington (Virtuosity). This time, Mark Wahlberg brings his working-class snarl to a tale of reincarnated warriors and an eons-stretching battle for the fate of the world. While the story is fresh, the path feels familiar, for better or worse.
Reteaming with Shooter director Antoine Fuqua, Mark Wahlberg stars as Evan McCauley, a middle-aged outcast who struggles to find work or friends because of the voices in his head. Since he was a teen, Evan’s been told these voices and visions are proof he’s a schizophrenic. However, after forging a samurai sword with inexplicable ease, he’s outed as one of the few humans on earth who can recall all their past lives. These rare people are called the Infinite. A spin on superhero origins, their recall allows the reincarnated to be master warriors and brilliant strategists, who’ve honed skills over the ages. In each new cycle, the Infinites band together to use their powers to preserve and guide humanity. However, not all of the reincarnated are grateful for the memory of thousands of lives lost. Led by the brutal Bathurst (Chiwetel Ejiofor), an Infinite death cult called The Nihilists wants to die. The only way to assure they die for keeps is with a special egg that’ll bring on the end of all life on the planet. There’s just one hitch: the egg was last seen with Evan’s previous incarnation (Dylan O’Brien), so the fate of the world lies somewhere in his untapped memories.
Adapted from D. Eric Maikranz’s 2009 novel The Reincarnationist Papers, Infinite pulls heavily from The Matrix, positioning an unsatisfied everyman (albeit with six-pack abs) as an unrealized messiah to all mankind. Also serving as an executive producer on the film, Wahlberg clearly relishes this power fantasy, flexing his 50-year-old buffness in shirtless scenes and bringing a simmering surliness to lines like, “Where I come from, we got bills to pay and rent to make. No one’s got time for destiny.”
Also, like The Matrix, this handsome misfit finds a community in a band of rebels, colorful though thinly defined. Kae Alexander has blue hair and martial art skills. Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson has a beard and a bad attitude. Liz Car has a wheelchair and a smirking sense of humor. You get the idea. The character development for much of the Infinites is only substantial enough to build the team, but not enough to have us emotionally invested when they’re at risk from the marauding Nihilists.
Even Evan is given little in the way of character depth. Schizophrenia, self-harm, and history of assault are peppered in as shortcuts to a harrowing backstory. However, the trauma such experiences would care are not exhibited but papered over by Wahlberg’s blank stare. Stern yet intense, he’s great at playing the tough guy, but when vulnerability is required, he’s missing the mark.
Only Infinite ass-kicker Nora (Sophie Cookson) gets much in the way of depth, thanks to flashbacks and a mournful monologue. She’s essentially the Trinity to Evan’s Neo, part guide/part sidekick. In a welcomed change, screenwriters Todd Stein and Ian Schorr don’t attempt to wedge in a romance. It would have been tawdry and awkward, as Cookson and Wahlberg don’t share a sexual spark. Instead, theirs is the chemistry of two world-weary soldiers, who have little patience but a deep loyalty to the cause. It’s actually refreshing that being in love isn’t a requisite for saving the world.
True to a dynamic that dates back at least to James Bond, Wahlberg’s steely hero must face off with an eccentric villain. Known for acclaimed performances in prestige dramas, Chiwetel Ejiofor appears to revel in the chance to get a bit weird with it, delivering an all-over-accent that is an aural smorgasbord. It’s ridiculous, but it works, reflecting all the times and places this Nihilist can’t shake. His every from-everywhere enunciation crackles with manic energy and the agony of a thousand identities shredding his brain.
The action sequences reflect this polarity of grit and garishness, busting out car chases, sword fights, hand-to-hand combat, and some truly audacious bits. Though the computer graphics sometimes fall into the regretful Uncanny Valley, some sections—like a scene involving a helicopter and motorcycle—are so bonkers that you can’t help but jump back on board. Still, the pace of all this action gets tripped up by a convoluted plot that Infinite tangles instead of unfurls.
Every Exclusive Movie and TV Series Coming to Paramount+
The whole Infinites versus Nihilists thing is explained repeatedly, often with a flurry of names of characters we’ve barely met. Making things more confusing, some of the names are hard to hear over the blare of screeching tires. Then, of course, there’s the tricky bit that multiple actors play the same character in different lives. (Think Doctor Who without time travel.) All this can make things murky, especially as dongles and subplots are introduced. Perhaps this is why a Wahlberg voiceover is plunked over the opening, explaining all the key points a full half-hour before his character will learn them.
While aiding in plot clarity, this Walhberg Explains It All introduction kills the tension of the first act, because we’re already ahead of Evan on who he is and what this world is really all about. Thus, scenes where Evan sneers through a job interview and gawps during a violent police interrogation fall frustratingly flat. We already know where it’s going. Let’s get a move on!