It’s finally here. An event 10 years in the making. But is it an epic worth the name or have Marvel finally bitten off more than they can chew?
Avengers: Infinity War is a big film!! A very big film. Over 20 lead characters, a 10 years in the making story and 18 films in its rearview mirror to honour, then it is no wonder the film to wrap up the so-called Phase 3 would be split into two parts. What has been achieved since the surprisingly risky Iron Man stormed into cinemas back in 2008 has been much imitated but (in the case of the fledgling DC filmic universe among others) never bettered. The reasons for all this are numerous; shrewd casting choices, smart utilisation of singular directorial voices and keen grasp of tone. Above all these though lies one thing, patience. Steadily lacing in long form character development (the evolution of Captain America is a thing of beauty) whilst gently combining story elements before the inevitable collision of these multiple figures. There have been struggles (Thor 2 anyone?!) but Marvel have always sought to rectify and learn from them. Infinity War represents both the good and bad of such a cinematic universe. Whilst a number of their films can be appreciated on their own terms (the huge success of Black Panther just this Feb is proof that you needn’t have seen all the rest to enjoy), Infinity War very much only works when seen as part of an overall structure. Now this may frustrate those that already see these cinematic universes as a barrier to original filmmaking (boo to them), but for those who have followed the journey Infinity War is an emotional thrilling ride.
It certainly helps that The Russo Brothers have returned to direct, as have screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley, all of whom were responsible for the two best films in the MCU (Winter Soldier and Civil War). They clearly know just what makes these characters work, alongside the balance needed to bounce between dozens of larger than life heroes. Events kick off at pace, with an unexpectedly dark and brutal opening, and continue at full tilt for the next 2 hrs 30 mins. It is all very close to being overbearing, especially in the first act which pings about between a number of settings without true time to absorb the events playing out. None of this matters though as the interplay between the characters and especially the ones who have never crossed paths before absolutely zing off the screen. Barely contained animosity leeching out as barbed quips, as per Whedon’s original and still best Avengers film dialogue is at its best when featuring characters fraught with friction. Infinity War also happens to be the funniest flick of the MCU so far, as despite the gravity of the situation at hand The Russos realise we will accept the stakes far greater if we aren’t overwhelmed by them.
Now don’t fret I’m not about to delve into any spoilers here, after all Marvel have kept this one so secret that the premiere was held just a day before release in order to stave off leaks. However in terms of story beats Infinity War is remarkably lean. Big purple Titan bastard Thanos (more on him later) has finally arrived to hunt down the elusive Infinity stones that when all collected will allow him to wipe out half the population of the universe. So begins an almost heist like picture as he rounds the stones up with the help of his mo-capped groupies The Black Order (sadly a little generic), coming face to face with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, oh and the Guardians of the Galaxy. To ease off incessant editing jumps The Russos combine the large ensemble into 3 or 4 plot strokes, before combining them all in a final act of truly epic proportions. Their editing wonderfully constructed, utilising smart visual cues to link differing scenes. I’m pretty sure fans will be well divided into which parts they like best, but none of them feel disparate in terms of quality. Especially with the sheer level of surprises laced between them.
Disappointingly, but not unsurprisingly in a film this loaded in character, a few members of the group are left a little shortchanged. Captain America notably plays a diminished role which is galling when The Russos so nailed the hero in their last 2 flicks, whereas there is some generous screentime given to characters you wouldn’t expect, particularly Gamora (a painfully emotional performance from Zoe Saldana). Alas in telling a story of such scale and with such stakes, there are choices made which aren’t always in favour of films past, yet serve this instalment well. Notably in the use of Thor, whom gets some of the weightier material, whilst building on the wonderful comedic timing Chris Hemsworth so displayed in Ragnarok. Outside of all this though there was one character above all else that Infinity War HAD to get right, Thanos. Barely glimpsed in previous films and when seen was a bit of a nothing presence, it didn’t take a lot to feel worried. It certainly was not ideal that the character was going to be an all CG creation, after all how many of those have we seen that have gone well. We needn’t have worried though. Gifted a tragic and almost understandable motive, he barrels through Infinity War with a purpose that is both determined and believable. There is a logic amidst all the war-mongering that whilst not the most intellectually nuanced carries a real dramatic weight. Solid writing works like gangbusters when combined with Josh Brolin’s formidable softly spoken performance. Marvel have long struggled with their villains but it is nice to see that for their anniversary they’ve pulled out all the stops.
To go over all the terrific character beats, story surprises and joyful interactions (Quill meets Stark is an immense highlight) would take an age, and would in no way be fair. Infinity War is a film you have to discover for yourself, the thrills, the feels and the utterly ballsy ending. Taking things in a hauntingly effective twisted turn, it leaves things tantalisingly dangling for next years Avengers 4 culmination. Despite what they may have said in interviews that this was in no way a two parter, The Russos seem to have very much stirred the pot as whilst this film ends things in a neat if shocking bow, there are certainly many many storylines to finish off. This will ultimately frustrate many in the audience but it is hard to deny the impact such a move has on the heart. The final shot in particular is an absolute doozy.
Technically the film represents just how awe-inspiring a machine Marvel have become now (just watch 2008s Iron Man to see the remarkable evolution the studio have taken both financially and creatively), utilising no less than four major effects houses to realise some stunning CGI work. Action wise there is an occasional airlessness to some of the battles, especially in the early parts of the film. A fight in New York is chaotic noise of the highest order, and yet the entire third act is tightly constructed breathlessly thrilling stuff. The Russos also manage to achieve some beautifully evocative shots albeit I cannot help but miss the grounded nature of their previous Marvel flicks.
Infinity War is so epic though that multiple watches are necessary in order to truly grasp its many many strands and details. It is flawed, at times unwieldy but a true event. A reflection of just what an achievement this franchise signifies. 18 films in, this movie has a 10 year shorthand in defining motivations, interactions and frustrations. It is novelist storytelling and evolutionary world building built out of remarkable planning, yet never forgets that they are pieces of entertainment first and foremost. Here’s to the next 10 years!!
Verdict: A Marvel-ous (sorry) culmination to 10 years of rich storytelling. Audacious, thrilling and drenched in playful banter delivered by a formidable cast, with an actual multi-faceted villain. Avengers 4 cannot come soon enough!