Published on April 30th, 2018 | by Damien Straker
Avengers: Infinity War – Film Review
Reviewed by Damien Straker on the 29th of April 2018
Disney presents a film by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
Produced by Kevin Feige
Screenplay by Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, based on The Avengers by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Pratt, Chris Hemsworth, Zoe Saldana, Josh Brolin, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista, Pom Klementieff and Scarlett Johansson
Music by Alan Silvestri
Cinematography Trent Opaloch
Edited by Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt
Running Time: 140 minutes
Release Date: the 25th of April 2018
Avengers: Infinity War is the most ambitious comic book film since The Dark Knight Rises (2012). It is predictably big, loud and loaded with video game aesthetics. It is also a wildly uneven spectacle due to its fluctuating pacing and occasional tonal clashes.
However, the major concession is that the film’s organic structure and its resistance to showcase one indestructible character adds much-needed spontaneity to Marvel Studios’ ageing formula. The sheer number of competing elements at play makes it an expansion of an overused template. Unexpected detours set it on a collision course with the expectations of fans and the genre’s repetition.
The story starts off in generic and paper-thin fashion, resorting to a predictable McGuffin device. Thanos (Josh Brolin in motion-capture) is desperate to capture several gemstones that will power his Infinity Gauntlet glove, which will allow him to control the world. He quickly defeats Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) to steal the first gem. Having not seen Thor: Ragnarok (2017) yet, the opening is initially confusing.
Thanos might not have the physical intimidation of Christopher Nolan’s Bane, the benchmark of physicality, but he is less of a pushover than Marvel’s ensemble of weak villains. Meanwhile back on Earth, Tony Stark and Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) are planning to have their first child but are interrupted by Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch).
He warns Stark about the threat of Thanos. The city is then attacked by alien spaceships, leading Strange and Stark to act. They unexpectedly pair with Spider-Man (Tom Holland) in their pursuit of one of Thanos’ ships, which takes them into outer space. The film then cuts to the Guardians from Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), including Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and his team, Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Drax (Dave Bautista), Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana).
The Guardians discover Thor floating in space, which leads to further divisions and breakaway threads. There are other plotlines involving a romance between Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany), Gamora and her relationship to Thanos, cameos by some familiar characters, and a welcome trip back to Wakanda, the home of Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman).
One drawback of the film’s organic structure, where the narrative continually filters its characters down different paths, is the tonal instability. Some of the script’s quips, mostly supplied by Downey Jr. and Chris Pratt, are genuinely funny, and underline the ridiculousness of the universe and its situations. Yet the goofball tone wavers as the film reveals its dark controlling idea, sacrifices, and explores scenes of unexpected bleakness.
For example, Star-Lord’s jokes are jarringly countered with a tense scene where he must fulfil a deadly request asked of him by Gamora. Similarly, the cartoon action and colourful tone compete with slower, talky scenes between Gamora and Thanos. Zoe Saldana’s commitment to building emotion in Gomora is surprising but the subplot lumbers through some weird scenes of genocide and torture. How these threads unfold time-wise is adrift too. Some subplots are suspended for long stretches before unexpectedly returning to them.
A positive of the film’s splintered structure is that any forced attachment to one character is considerably lessened. Empathising with a single hero for an entire film is frankly a burden when they are sometimes unlikable or indestructibly filtered through repetitive set pieces. A small taste of Tony’s snark can go a long way in one entire Iron Man film. By cutting to different characters, the dosage is smaller and more palatable. Early on, the humour of the Guardians is more enjoyable than their first solo film because their scenes are less cluttered by subplots. There’s more of everything but also less at the same time.
Another interesting creative choice is opting to put the most recognisable characters on the backburner. Captain America (Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) only feature in cameos, which is unexpected. Given how wooden these characters have previously been, it’s not a major detraction. Ant-Man and Hawkeye are absent, which is again odd but not unwarranted. Spending more time in Wakanda is pleasurable even though there’s not enough of Black Panther and his sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright). Both made a big impression a few weeks ago in their debut film. This makes it considerably easier to care about them when they’re in danger in their brief scenes.
There’s flair in how the film’s directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo have appropriated the action according to which character they are following. The camera and the setting tilt as Doctor Strange is flung around and pinned to the side of a building, recalling the digital tricks of his solo movie. He also uses a teleporter to throw a monster into another dimension, which leads to a hilariously brutal moment involving a severed arm. There’s a hugely inventive special effect late in the film where he briefly creates the illusion of dozens of copies of himself attaching ropes to his nemesis before the image shatters.
Tony and Spider-Man’s exploration of a ship recalls pop culture staples. A confrontation is unexpectedly resolved by Peter borrowing from the scene of a ‘really old’ sci-fi movie. Furthermore, Wakanda lends itself to a monumental battle scene. This sequence, involving giant hamster wheels bursting from the ground and rolling across the landscape no less, is spectacular enough to overcome the input of the CGI-heavy imagery.
The most memorable impression made by the film is undoubtedly its ending, which won’t be spoiled here. It is a bleak finish befitting of the unexpected misery of defeat in the Trump era. Some critics have already argued it’s a cheap marketing ploy. It is a deliberate cliffhanger and one that will inevitably be solved in second next year’s follow-up. The question though of how the finale’s problem is going to be resolved and what exactly has happened is ambiguous enough to warrant further exploration. It also complements the film’s controlling idea about sacrifice. War reveals that personal sacrifice as a choice is often an illusion, an idea evident in several scenes.
One’s enjoyment of Infinity War is tested by how much they tolerate the video game imagery and if they find the quip’s funny. Admittedly, it doesn’t hurt to have some icing once a year. The gags land, and at this stage in Marvel’s cinematic universe no one is anonymous. Compare this to DC’s recent Justice League (2017) feature, which awkwardly introduced characters most of us couldn’t give a lick about meeting.
While the thin story is divided into tonally conflicting parts that move at different paces, it is less tiring than following one indestructible character through dull set pieces—an annoying staple of this genre until now. Its form is hugely ambitious, and it doesn’t end predictably, which is welcome. There is much to unpack, good and bad, but judging by the excited fan reactions at an early screening, most should be satisfied until next year. Once the second part arrives though, the gloves are off.
Summary: The major concession is that the film’s organic structure and its resistance to showcase one indestructible character adds much-needed spontaneity to Marvel Studios’ ageing formula.