THOUGH EVERY EFFORT HAS BEEN MADE TO ENSURE THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER FREE IT WAS MADE IN A FACTORY THAT CONTAINS BOTH SPOILERS AND NUTS, THEREFORE TRACES OF BOTH MAY BE FOUND.
I was not ready.
After ten years of cinematic world building, Avengers: Infinity War is here. Following three phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, comprising of eighteen movies, it’s fair to say that there has been a LOT of hype surrounding this film. MCU screenwriting regulars Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely are credited for the screenplay, and directing we have Anthony and Joe Russo, also responsible for Captain America: Civil War and Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
The concept is simple, take every superhero that Marvel has spent a decade inserting into our hearts, and pit them against the greatest foe they have ever faced, Thanos, the threat that has moved behind the scenes since The Avengers in 2012. The goal of Thanos is to collect all six Infinity Stones, shiny macguffins that have recurred within the MCU, in order to wipe out half of all life in existence. The plot has to be this basic, because with the number of characters that need to be given adequate screen time, and plot threads that already require resolution, Avengers: Infinity War simply has no room for anything else.
There are some missing faces, most notably Hawkeye and Ant-Man. It’s heavily implied that, after the events of Civil War, both men brokered deals in order to be released from superhero pokey and be with their families. However, for me this wasn’t enough to explain why they weren’t in the movie. The Avengers know that Thanos is on his way to take the stones, they know they haven’t faced anything like him before, and they know what will happen if they fail, yet none of these things are enough to convince them to give Hawkeye and Ant-Man a call and see if maybe they want to help? I don’t know, maybe I’m overthinking it. The addition of the Guardians Of The Galaxy realistically mean the movie is so stuffed to the brim with faces that you’re not really likely to miss the ones that are not there.
With so many vying for attention, Avengers: Infinity War could have ended up as top heavy as an elephant balanced on top of a bowling ball, and just as likely to collapse. Yet the volume of characters is handled reasonably well, mostly by having them break up into smaller groups and giving each group a separate task and focus. There are a lot of big egos here, and the screenwriters were definitely aware of this, incorporating some good-natured bickering and banter that is mostly played for laughs.
The action sequences, which encompass about two thirds of the film, are glorious to behold. If you look at the credits you’ll see that a veritable army of CGI artists and animators worked on this, and it really shows. There was probably only one effect in the entire movie that struck me as not that great, and in a film containing as many set pieces, CGI cinematography, and overall spectacle as this one? That’s pretty impressive. If there is fatigue or nonchalance at large scale superhero movies spectacularly destroying various bits of property then I certainly wasn’t feeling it. The showdown in Wakanda is particularly good, incorporating thrilling visuals, moments of tension, and dramatic weight, while giving several individuals moments to shine.
Thematically Avengers: Infinity War continues the threads that have been a constant throughout the MCU, sacrifice, loss, and fatherhood. It is here where I come to one of the best things about this movie, Thanos.
It is no secret that one of the weakest elements of the MCU has always been the villains. Loki was the only antagonist to ever get any real development, and he flip-flopped so much that it’s hard to truly call him a villain. Most MCU villains, such as Ronan The Accuser and Kaecilius, are flat, bog-standard, power-hungry nutters, and villains that should have been the absolute centrepiece of their movies, like Red Skull, are given so little screen time that they end up being completely wasted. I’d say that the closest that the MCU got to a four dimensional villain was Zemo in Captain America: Civil War, but that’s only because he had the simplest and easiest motivation for an audience to identify with, a desire for justice and revenge.
One of the biggest worries about Avengers: Infinity War was that it would relegate Thanos, one of the greatest villains of the Marvel comic franchise, to being a one note, wasted, side character. This fear was strengthened when images of Thanos were released, and fans immediately reacted with derision at what they saw. The aesthetic, that of the purple love child of Joss Whedon and Stone Cold Steve Austin, did not inspire much confidence that Thanos was going to be given the respect that he was due. However, what the MCU have managed to do is create one of the most fascinating characters within the whole franchise. Bucking the trend of the usual villain that we expect from Marvel, Thanos does not lust after power, or even enjoy death and destruction. He is a fanatic, a true believer driven solely by the force of his own will, and the absolute certainty that he alone is capable of assuming the burden of doing what is necessary for the good of the universe. The effects for Thanos are superb, there is never a moment where you doubt that he is there or interacting with the environment around him. Josh Brolin’s performance manages to give Thanos an air of almost tragic nobility, even as he tries to destroy half of existence. The best part is it’s not all murder and torture, we actually get some character development and filling in of past relationships with other characters. The scenes between Thanos and Gamora are particularly interesting, allowing us to see more than one facet of them both.
So aside from a phone book list of characters, and a buttload of really cool action scenes and effects, does Avengers: Infinity War have anything else to offer? Well, in the grand tradition of trying to recreate the magic of the first Iron Man, Infinity War does try to bring the funny as well as the awe inspiring. What we end up with is a bit of a mixed bag. Some of the witty remarks, particularly the smack talk between Iron Man and Doctor Strange, work really well. The problems occur with another persistent issue within the MCU, not allowing itself to go five minutes without a quip, even if it kills a tense or emotional scene. There are several moments in Avengers: Infinity War which should be poignant, or even heartbreaking, that are completely destroyed by verbal or visual gags. One example being a scene in which Wanda and Vision are having a heart to heart on the streets of Edinburgh, and the emotional potency of the moment is ruined by having Wanda stand next to a sign that says “We Will Deep Fry Your Kebab”
This leads me to another complaint, I personally felt that some of the relationships between the characters were rather overstated. Pairings who were previously skirting around each other or had the potential to be a couple are now talking to each other like they’ve been together for years, and people who have barely spoken to each other before are now BFFs. Of course this is all to make the emotional gut punches that come later all the more shocking. While this in itself was not a huge problem, for me it was a little jarring, like I had missed some steps in the story somewhere.
The third act is where Marvel takes the most risks. I won’t say what they are, but it was the first Marvel movie finale I had ever seen that left the cinema audience in complete and total silence. However, the risks were largely mitigated by the very large and obvious avenues inserted into the plot signposted as later ‘Get Out Of Fan Fury Free’ cards. Marvel have also somewhat shot themselves in the foot by already announcing some of the movies that will make up phase 4, even if they have been rather coy about it. It’s a reasonable bet that some, if not all, of the events of Avengers: Infinity War will be reversed or countered in some way, removing most of the stakes and rendering some of the emotional impact rather moot.
Overall Avengers: Infinity War makes you feel precisely one thing:
It was this feeling, and the period of mental and emotional processing required afterward, that I was not ready for. I went into this movie expecting to feel a measure of triumph, excitement, or possibly even boredom or disinterest. I was not expecting something so cataclysmic and surprising, particularly after the hammer-like wit of the first two acts, that my brain almost went into a state of shock. That is precisely the intention, most of this movie is a set up, designed to lull you into a false sense of security before not just pulling the rug out from underneath you, but the floor as well, leaving you to fall into the abyss.
Being the movie that Marvel fans have waited ten years to see, it’s not really that surprising that Avengers: Infinity War has already surpassed $1.5 billion at the box office. Is it a good film? Uhh…erm…I actually don’t know. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it and was glad that I saw it. However the story is on such a knife edge, in such a state of incompleteness, that I think it will be almost impossible to fully judge Avengers: Infinity War without seeing how contrived the conclusion will be. I can’t help feeling like Marvel won’t commit to the path it has chosen, and is just waiting to bottle out, yell “PSYCH!” and make everything shiny and new again. I have seen the signs for that, I may even be a little relieved if it happens, but it will disappoint me nonetheless. I have enjoyed the feelings that Avengers: Infinity War evoked, even though they were not expected. Maybe I’m secretly a masochist, or maybe it’s like the Tower Of Terror ride, you dropped into the abyss but you’re strapped in safe and you know that Marvel isn’t going to let you plummet to your doom. We have a year to wait, but at least we have Ant-Man And The Wasp as well as Captain Marvel to enjoy in the meantime. One thing I am sure of, when Avengers 4 hits next May? I will be ready for it.