Review – Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
Directors: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Starring: Robert Downey Jr. Chris Hemsworth, Josh Brolin, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Chadwick Boseman, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Benedict Wong, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Peter Dinklage, Idris Elba
With the incredible success of Black Panther, which is the year’s top grossing film by some margin and Marvel’s third highest grossing film ever, 2018 was already a winner for Marvel Studios before they had even played their trump card. Avengers: Infinity Wars is, by most any measure, one of the biggest movies in history. The film that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been building to for a decade now, it is a crossover epic 18 films in the making, and promises to be the blockbuster movie event of the year.
When Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), who has been missing from Earth since Avengers: Age of Ultron, comes crashing down into Doctor Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) Sanctum Sanctorum he brings with him an ominous warning. The titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) is gathering the infinity stones. These six gems forged in the big bang each control an elemental power and if he gets his hand on all six, and he already has three, he will become all powerful. His ultimate goal? Genocide on an unimaginable scale. Elsewhere in the universe, the Guardians of the Galaxy respond to a distress signal from an Asgardian ship which brings them together with Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who brings the same warning. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) knows the location of one of the remaining stones, so they set out to try and get it first. The other two are located on Earth, one in Doctor Strange’s necklace and the other embedded in the forehead of Vision (Paul Bettany). This means Thanos is coming, but with the Avengers still fractured after the falling out between Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), will they be ready?
Directors Joe and Anthony Russo and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely had great success with what was previously Marvel’s most ambitious undertaking, Captain America: Civil War, but Infinity War is a crossover movie on an entirely different scale. It features 34 established characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, many of whom have appeared in numerous films. Where Civil War was able to tell a story that exploited and deepened established character relationships, Infinity War strains under the weight of so many characters. The MCU’s great strength over the last decade has been its characters. They have depth, developing and growing both within and across films. While Infinity War gives everyone their moment to shine, no one develops. Even with a 150 minute runtime, trying to service that many characters doesn’t seem to allow for meaningful arcs. Zoe Saldana’s Gamora is the only hero who really goes on a personal, emotional journey – followers of the MCU will remember that she is the adopted daughter of Thanos. A number of favourites are underserved: Steve Rogers, the heart and soul of the franchise, is given little to do, and Bruce Banner, who Mark Ruffalo has shaped into a complicated and interesting character, is reduced to comic relief.
But while the character development is lacking, the film does make good use of the fact that we already know these characters so well. The film plays with different character combinations, which is great fun for the fans. Rather than bring all of our heroes together, they are combined in random groupings around the galaxy. We get to see Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) insecurity when confronted with Thor, the colliding of two of the great egos when Tony Stark and Dr. Strange are required to coexist, and T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) is called upon to try and surgically remove the stone from Vision’s forehead. The dialogue and interplay between the characters is sharp and fun, adding moments of levity to a movie which is otherwise quite intense.
The stakes are set higher than ever before from the opening scene which sees an established MCU favourite callously dispatched. This is a serious villain we are encountering and there are going to be casualties. The Russo brothers do a masterful job of managing the tone of the film, balancing frequent moments of humour with high stakes drama and tragedy, something plenty of other blockbusters in recent times have shown is no easy feat.
When dealing with this many heroes it is almost inevitable that the villain effectively becomes the main character. Fortunately, Thanos, who has loomed in the background of the MCU since The Avengers, continues Marvel’s recent streak of more interesting villains and warrants such attention. Much like Black Panther’s Killmonger, it is Thanos’ thought process rather than simply his ability to physically outmatch out heroes which makes him so intriguing. Initially his plan to restore balance to the universe through mass genocide sounds nonsensical, but then we get the chance to hear it from his perspective. Resources are finite. The universe is overpopulated. This strain is responsible for famine, poverty and conflict. His hope is that a random culling, with no prejudice for rich or poor, will allow those who remain to thrive. Rather than seeking dominion, his motives are almost altruistic. It is a genocide based on hope rather than hate. It is a cold logic, but he values the good of the whole over that of the individual, which separates him from our heroes. This is continually demonstrated in our heroes’ unwillingness to sacrifice one they care about, even if they are willing to sacrifice themselves. It is only Thanos who is willing to sacrifice what he loves for the cause.
While all the information you need to make sense of the story is contained in the film, the lack of character development means that if you haven’t seen all or at least most of the previous eighteen films in the MCU you will likely struggle to invest in what is going on. But then trying to judge Marvel’s films as stand alones is pointless because they are not stand alone films but episodes of a serialised narrative. A feast of effects and spectacle and wall to wall action, Avengers: Infinity War is a thoroughly watchable film. It doesn’t build to a climax so much as it is a climax. It features the boldest ending to a blockbuster movie ever seen, one which points to the supreme confidence in their storytelling that Marvel Studios operates under, but also to the fact that there is more to this story to be covered. For much of its development the movie was to be called ‘Avengers: Infinity War Part I,’ and while the ‘Part I’ has been dropped, the sense of it being a set up has not.
Review by Duncan McLean
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