Avengers: Infinity War Review
The culmination of 10 years, 18 movies and ticket sales rivalling the GDP of a small nation is a relentlessly hard-hitting but very human beginning-of-the-end for our favourite comic book heroes
Yes Boy Rating: ★★★★★
For the legions of Marvel fans, it's all been building to this. Avengers Infinity War is a film that has had the longest teaser trailer in history – back in 2008, a little post-credit scene at the end of Iron Man hinted at the possibility of the formation of Marvel Comics' signature superhero dream team somewhere down the line. However, a post-credit scene is no guarantee that the lofty story that is being teased will come to be – just look at the closing teaser of 2003's League of Extraordinary Gentleman. A thorough panning by critics and audiences alike ensured that there would be no payoff to that little question mark.
Since Iron Man kicked things off for Marvel, characters including Thor, Captain America and Guardians of the Galaxy have each had their own showcasing on the big screen, all the while slowly interweaving their own plot lines, and gradually introducing crossovers that have acted as kindling to the final payoff of this all-out comic book bonanza.
Marvel have managed to succeed where others have failed, and spectacularly craft an extended universe of iconic (and some less instantly recognisable) superheroes that now get to share the screen together in facing down the necessary villain-to-end-all-villains.
A movie such as this could not hope to work if said villain was just another cookie cutter CGI beast who wants to rule over X, destroy Y, or a combination of the two. Instead, we get Josh Brolin's interpretation of the Mad Titan Thanos – a seemingly psychotic, all-powerful wrong'un who doesn't dream small. He doesn't want to snuff out the Avengers. He wants to snuff out half of all life in the universe.
For this sobering task, Thanos needs all six of the Infinity Stones – the mysterious gems that have gradually made their way into the various Marvel movies, all with their own respective powers. Once he has all six of these placed into the Infinity Gauntlet, half of all life everywhere can be extinguished with a casual snap of the fingers.
Avengers: Infinity War doesn't rely on the high stakes of universal death for its sense of gravity though. Instead, the reality of Thanos's plan is brought far closer to home. Within five minutes of the film's opening, Thanos has quite graphically killed two established audience favourites, and delivered a brutal beating to another. The audience is immediately reminded of what this villain is capable of, and that none of their favourite characters are safe from his hands.
Brolin may be almost unrecognisable behind his makeup and CGI masking, but it is his measured performance as the ultimate villain that truly makes this story. Thanos isn't striving to end trillions of lives because he wants to, but because he feels he has to. Throughout the film, we are given insights into his motivation, and the crushing choices he is forced to make in order to see his grim task through. We of course don't want him to succeed, but his melancholy malevolence is brilliantly teased out as the film progresses, especially when relating to his relationship with his adopted daughter Gamora with whom he shares an unwelcome but undeniable bond.
Earth's Avengers are hopelessly outmatched, which is a refreshing feeling in a Marvel superhero movie, especially in one where a team-up of mind-bendingly powered individuals like this can leave viewers truly doubting that the good guys will win.
The true test of this film was to adequately cram all the Marvel heroes in, without the plot feeling rushed, bloated, or patchy. No mean feat, considering that the action stretches between several planets, and a dose in deep space. Not only this, but directors Anthony and Joe Russo had to find a way to maintain the sense of looming dread, but also throw in the pithy signature spunk of Robert Downey Junior's Tony Stark, and the Guardians of the Galaxy crew.
The Russos have largely pulled this off without a hitch. It's not perfect – the sheer scale of giving over 20 Marvel players their own screen time and character development in the space of two and a half hours is mind boggling. Not only this, but we have to get introduced to new worlds and set pieces, while also bringing back in recognisable settings such as Wakanda.
A pitfall that Infinity War has avoided is the fatigue of drawn-out battle scenes. So often in movies occupying this arena, the final act is too reliant in an all-out nauseating CGI-generated battle that could be cut in half and still accomplish the same thing. Peter Jackon's The Battle of the Five Armies took this to downright ridiculous lengths, and quickly undid much of The Hobbit's whimsy in favour of spectacle. Infinity War thankfully feels less of a war, and more of a series of concise skirmishes. A few scenes feel like they could have been expanded on, but unless you have access to the Time and Reality Infinity Stones that can let you fit in all the necessary storyline meat without ending up with a movie that is six hours long, what can you do?
The character development we do get is perfectly handled though. The meeting of Chris Pratt's cocky Starlord with Iron Man and Dr Strange is one giant banter bash, and it's these altogether human moments that soften the campy effects of any extremely comic book-centric jargon or action set pieces. We need to identify with the characters throwing thunderbolts from their hands, or opening up rifts in space time. These are characters that have all the power in the cosmos, but are also subject to the same pain and loss that your average Joe has to face.
Marvel has always excelled in striking this fine balance between humour and heartache. DC have been struggling to catch up. Man of Steel went too far in the sombre direction, which resulted in an altogether joyless slog or superpowered punches and grim brooding. Suicide Squad went too far in the other direction, and felt like a slapstick mess. Justice League was the most measured of the lot, but made the mistake of trying to do an Avengers-style team-up without taking the time to make us have any kind of connection with the main characters beforehand.
Thanks to Marvel's measured and meticulously planned universe building for their line-up of characters, this feels like a true payoff for a decade of superhero action. This, however, isn't like any superhero movie that Marvel has done before. Expect laughs, but far more gasps. Some viewers may find the tonal jumps from humorous to downright depressing a little too closely cut together, but every little piece of comic relief is respite from the impending doom that you just know is coming, and coming hard.
This is only the first chapter of a two-part story. Avengers: Infinity War closes with such a sobering snap that it really is impossible to speculate just how Marvel will move forward in the conclusion. It can't come soon enough.