Avengers Infinity War movie review: Marvel has made an epic tragedy of Godlike proportions
Avengers: Infinity War
Directors - Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Cast - Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Josh Brolin, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Hiddleston, Chris Pratt, Scarlett Johansson, Chadwick Boseman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Zoe Saldana
We are all, in our own way, chasing dragons. Large or small, permanent or fleeting, it is with these memories of the past that we look at the present, and the future. The elderly want to be young again, the young want to be free. Tony Stark wants redemption, and I want my blockbusters to remind me of the first time I watched the Avengers unite on screen. The first time that Iron Man brought the party to us, and Hulk told Cap that he’s always angry; the first time that we heard that classic Avengers theme and saw our heroes in the same frame together, ready to save the world.
These are the moments that movies are made of. These are the dragons we chase. In Avengers: Infinity War, our optimism pays off. Almost.
Watch the trailer for Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War here
But back then we didn’t really know what to expect. It’s possible that many of us hadn’t even seen all the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as we have now, multiple times. For instance, only the geekiest among us were aware of director Joss Whedon and his particular brand of storytelling. Even those of us that did know of his work were left scratching our heads -- Whedon was a television guy, untested in blockbuster moviemaking, let alone with a $220 million budget.
But neither were the Russos, when Marvel plucked them from relative obscurity and charged them with essentially rebooting Captain America. Like Whedon, the Russo Brothers - Joe & Anthony - also come from the world of TV, but unlike him, their experience lies almost solely in sitcoms - Arrested Development and Community. They’re two of the best sitcoms of recent times, but they’re sitcoms, and not, like Avengers: Infinity War, the most expensive movie ever made.
Their experience in tackling parallel plot lines, ensemble casts, and balancing humour with gravitas, I feel, perhaps served them well on Infinity War, which is, despite its astounding scale, rooted in sitcom storytelling. Bet you hadn’t heard that take before.
So faced with the understandably daunting proposition of juggling close to 30 characters with respect, remaining faithful to previously established tones, and ensuring that we, as an audience, find ways to care about everyone involved - although a decade’s worth of movies has done a lot of the heavy lifting for them - the Russos went about it the only way they knew how. They segregated the Avengers into teams.
Two parallel plots drive Avengers: Infinity War, two plots destined to collide by destiny itself: Thanos, the Mad Titan, on a quest to unite the six Infinity Stones, which, when embedded in the Infinity Gauntlet, give the owner the power to kill half the universe with a snap of his fingers.
Thanos, as played by Josh Brolin, is the tissue that binds these parallel storylines, driven by an almost inexplicable thirst for power. He is, in many ways, Marvel’s version of the Old Testament God - desperate for love and obedience; a wrathful being who is quick to punish, all the while convincing himself that he is showing us - the mere mortals of Earth - a kindness. By killing us, and every other ‘weak’ race in the universe, Thanos believes that he is being merciful.
Thor is the first to learn of his plans. Aboard Thanos’ ship with Loki, he is given the briefest glimpse of the sheer immensity of his villainy. He escapes, and is soon rescued by the Guardians of the Galaxy, who happen to be in the same sector of outer space, snapping their fingers to ‘80s chartbusters. The Russos send Thor and the Guardians on their own mission, while Iron Man, Doctor Strange and Spider-Man - who is hilariously inducted into the Avengers at the most inopportune moment - go after Thanos directly, after being warned of his arrival by Bruce Banner, and a couple of Thanos’ henchmen.
Meanwhile, in Wakanda, Steve Rogers brings together Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, Falcon, Bucky and T’Challa - who, by the way, gets a hero entry to beat even Captain America’s. Their job is to help defend Vision, within whom resides the Mind Stone, the most coveted piece to the puzzle Thanos is so close to solving.
Somehow, despite coming very close (on almost as many occasions as there are Infinity Stones) to messing it up - there is a certain relentlessness to the storytelling - the Russos are largely successful in their attempt to make another episode of a larger story. Because that’s exactly what the Marvel Cinematic Universe is - the most expensive piece of episodic entertainment ever made, run by the trailblazing Kevin Feige. No wonder he hires TV guys for these movies.
This is also the most visually ambitious the Russos have ever been. They ditch the dull, grey uniformity of their previous two Marvel movies for a more vibrant, more freewheeling palette. But despite how tremendous Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War were, the Russos’ handling of small-scale action (by which I mean hand-to-hand combat) was oddly jittery, too heavily edited, without any room left for us to appreciate its nuances. Unfortunately, it appears that the problem would have to be solved another day, because they certainly didn’t address it here.
There can be no doubt, however, as to their ability to shoot large-scale set pieces. God knows there’s enough evidence here - this movie is, at a polite estimate, 60% action. But while the Russos showed restraint in Civil War by limiting IMAX to the airport fight, Infinity War - and many of you might not know this - is the first film ever to have been entirely shot in that format. Watching it in IMAX 3D was an overwhelming experience.
You will notice every pore on Thanos’ incredibly rendered skin and every minor tick Brolin sneaks in, every wrinkle on Robert Downey Jr’s ageing face, and every fibre on Doctor Strange’s cloak.
We’ve come a long way since the Mach I armour, haven’t we?
But it was a necessary journey, a journey that prepared us for the utterly jaw-dropping conclusion to this one. Despite being more bloated than any other Marvel movie, Infinity War’s strengths lie in the relationships that we’ve developed, over 10 years, with these characters - and the relationships they’ve formed with each other. New friendships will be made, as will new enemies. And as we’ve made more than clear with the $15 billion we’ve paid to watch these movies, we don’t really have anything better going on for the next 10 years either. It’s Marvel’s move next. It’s always their move.
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