REVIEW – ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

Just before we get started, I am a fanboy, at heart, and I abhor spoilers with every fibre of my being. You will not find them in my review. This is a SPOILER-FREE zone. Carry on.

For the last decade, Marvel Studios has carved out its mammoth cinematic franchise with stand-alone chapters ultimately culminating in a “let’s get the band together” Avengers chapter every few years. The first is one of Marvel’s finest. The second, eh, not so much. But nothing they’ve tackled before even comes close to the gargantuan spectacle that is Avengers: Infinity War. This is the culmination of ten years of groundwork. A master plan unlike anything ever before seen in the history of cinema. Everything has led to this moment, and what a moment it ends up being.

This could be a criticism from some, but the first thing you need to know about Avengers: Infinity War is how its sole purpose is ultimately fan-service. This is clearly not the first film you start your Marvel journey with. The narrative jumps straight into the action, picking up where Thor: Ragnarok left off, with no time for explanations or back-stories. When you think about it, there was no alternative. It would be nigh-on impossible to summarise the 18 films which have preceded this one for those who need reminding or those entirely uninitiated. That’s not to say you need to binge-watch the entire franchise before heading into the cinema, but a decent knowledge of the existing universe is practically mandatory.

With its incredible roster of over 30 characters, the film demands you already know your Star-Lord from your Spider-Man. Not only that, an intimate connection to each of them is also required, particularly when the fate of surviving this film is so decidedly up-in-the-air for all of them. Of course, you’ll have your favourites. And, naturally, you may be disappointed if a few don’t get the ample amount of screentime you personally desire. Even at two and a half hours long, there’s nowhere near enough time to give everyone equal time in the sun.

But one of the film’s crowning achievements is how the screenplay manages to juggle so many characters without it ever once feeling like any of them aren’t given anything to do. They all somehow manage to play a part in numerous dazzling and entertaining storylines, taking place across various locations on Earth and around the galaxy. Some are obviously given more to do than others, but, really, were you expecting any less? Not everyone can be Iron Man or Thor, and it’s best to allow this film to plot its course, without questioning the ultimate intention or destination. By the end, it all makes sense.

So, what can one really say about the plot without giving too much away? Well, you will likely know Avengers: Infinity War centres around big, purple baddie Thanos (a sublime Josh Brolin) and his quest to capture the six immensely powerful infinity stones, making him an unstoppable force of evil. He’s naturally out to rule the galaxy, and his sights are set on Earth, the unfortunate home of two infinity stones. Helping him enact his search are the “Children of Thanos,” the menacing quartet of Cull Obsidian (Terry Notary), Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), Proxima Midnight (Carrie Coon), and Corvus Glaive (Michael James Shaw), who will destroy anyone who dares get in the way of their overlord.

This impending threat arouses the attention of Earth’s mightiest protectors, and it’s not long before the likes of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and about 435 other Marvel superheroes are joining forces to save the galaxy. Speaking of which, also joining the fold are that intergalactic rag-tag bunch of a-holes, the Guardians of the Galaxy aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (a scene-stealing Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Racoon (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel), and, newest recruit, Mantis (Pom Klementieff).

If this summary sounds rather light to my usual reviews, it’s intentional. It would genuinely ruin the fun to inform you of anything more. Go into this film as cold on knowledge as you possibly can. Suffice to say, there are five or six major missions of sorts, each involving several characters attempting to work together. Some are old friends, reuniting after the events of Captain America: Civil War split them apart. Some are meeting for the first time, creating some deliciously awkward moments and playful conflict and bravado-laced competition. This all culminates in a spectacular battle back in Wakanda, home of Black Panther and co., which is on a level unlike anything else Marvel has delivered previously. And the ending…well, let’s just say, you won’t know what the hell hit you.

Throughout the film, there are plenty of shocks (several of which made me audibly gasp), surprises, and, yes, a few tragic deaths. This is not a spoiler. It’s been well-publicised, by both cast and crew, not everyone makes it to the end. Expect to shed more than a few tears. The other thing you must keep in mind is the fact this film was originally titled with Part 1. Therefore, do not expect an ending akin to the other Avengers films. It may leave some feeling unsatisfied, but rather wisely Avengers: Infinity War does not end neatly. We’re left with many, many questions to be answered in the fourth film in 2019. Plus a phenomenal post-credits teaser which I dare not spoil. This never once feels like a cop-out or a money grab. This was always to be a two-parter, akin to what the Star Wars franchise crafted with The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

For everything happening in this film (and there’s a lot going on), it’s a credit to both the Russo brothers and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely for keeping it all together. DC fell over when it attempted to unite seven of its superheroes in Justice League, so it’s a cinematic miracle these Marvel filmmakers have succeeded with five-times as many characters. Anthony and Joe Russo have already proven themselves masters of this genre, with their previous Captain America efforts The Winter Soldier and Civil War representing some of this franchise’s best entries. But they outdid themselves here, on a sheer entertainment level. Several moments in this film elicited applause from my cinema, and they were all entirely earned.

The pair consistently keeps the action moving at a swift pace, with no sagging in sight. The 149-minute running time may seem rather exhaustive, but you won’t even remotely notice, thanks to their deft directorial skills. They take advantage of every minute of screentime Disney has given them, making two and a half hours drift by with ease. We’ve come to expect sensational action sequences from this cinematic universe, and, of course, this new entry is loaded with them. It’s another piece of breathtaking popcorn cinema. But the best Marvel chapters shine brighter by also crafting a great character piece, particularly when they’ve got a great villain at the forefront. We saw this with Black Panther, and, only a few months later, Erik Killmonger already has competition for Marvel’s greatest villain.

The best cinematic villains don’t think of themselves as actually being the villain. They see their actions as justifiable, noble, or essential. Thanos is the perfect example of this. Yes, he’s a menacing, unrelenting, murderous psychopath, but his ambition is clouded by the devastating emotional toll it will ultimately require to achieve his goals. For a 9-foot tall purple alien, he’s actually a wonderfully humanised character, thanks to Josh Brolin’s impeccably nuanced performance. In Brolin’s hands, Thanos is a fully-fleshed, dimensional character with deep pathos and a painful moral compass, especially in interactions with his two adopted daughters, Gamora and Nebula (Karen Gillan). For a villain to elicit sympathy from an audience is a spectacular achievement, and you will feel for Thanos, even as he decimates and destroys everything in his path.

The relationship between Thanos and Gamora is the film’s true highlight, after we learn of their complicated past and how Gamora will play a key role in Thanos’ future. It’s a tragic tale which will hit you with all the emotional feels, particularly towards the film’s conclusion. Saldana gets the film’s meatiest scenes, which she handles with aplomb assurance. But it really is Brolin who steals this movie, gifting us one of the greatest villains this genre and franchise has ever known. The motion-capture effects of his character are sublime, perfectly capturing Brolin’s subtle facial expressions and imposing stature. Many may be surprised how heavy the film focuses on Thanos, given the huge array of characters surrounding him. But it doesn’t take long to realise why he’s the star of the show.

Regardless of several characters being relegated to supporting roles, it’s still a giddy experience to see Marvel’s full roster of superheroes finally come together, especially for the diehard fanboys. The more light-hearted interactions between several characters are downright superb, gifting further comedic gold we’ve seen from recent entries in this franchise. You can probably guess Pratt and Hemsworth are a dream opposite each other, as Star-Lord and Thor challenge each other in the hunky leader role. But it’s Downey Jr. and Cumberbatch who may outshine them in the comedy stakes, going toe-to-toe numerous times with uproarious results. And hold on to your hats for when several female characters join forces to battle together. Magic stuff.

It may be a tired statement by now, but Marvel Studios really do deliver the goods with this genre like no other. Avengers: Infinity War is both wildly entertaining and utterly devastating, keeping its audiences constantly on its toes with where this film is heading and who won’t be left standing by its conclusion. It’s a film which will demand repeat viewing (good news for the box-office) and delivers a painful wait until the second chapter next year. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll cheer. You’ll shriek. But, most of all, you’ll have the bloody good time you’ve been waiting ten years for. It was worth the wait.

★★★★1/2☆

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt
Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Producer: Kevin Feige
Cinematography: Trent Opaloch
Production Design: Charles Wood
Music: Alan Silvestri
Editor: Jeffrey Ford
Running Time: 149 minutes
Release Date: 25th April 2018 (Australia)

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