Avengers: Infinity War (2018).
Directors: Joe Russo and Anthony Russo (Captain America: Civil War, Captain America: The Winter Soldier).
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, Idris Elba and Benedict Wong.
There’s not much to say about Avengers: Infinity War that hasn’t already been said. It’s the culmination of a decade’s worth of storytelling and build-up (until the actual conclusion next year), possibly the biggest movie of the year, and an unprecedented event in cinematic history.
Marvel Studios have been doing well for ten years, and despite a couple of bumps along the way (wave hello to Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 2), even Marvel’s worst is still perfectly serviceable. So, it’s not hard to say that Infinity War is just as good as what’s come before, but the biggest surprise is how well it blends together the large handful of franchise at its disposal. If Captain America: Civil War served as the Russo Brother’s proof-of-concept, then Infinity War (and the yet untitled sequel) are the A+ final project.
Diehard fans know what they’re getting into. They know that the Avengers are currently broken up, they know Thanos has been a background threat for some time now, and they know that eventually, there’s going to be a team-up and fight against droves of computer-generated cannon fodder. But to me, the most effective element of Infinity War is its screenplay. The film is structured and written so that even those who don’t have a wealth of back story or knowledge of all the characters can enjoy and understand the movie. There’s certainly going to be some concessions for those who haven’t watched the last 18 films, as you’d expect if you opened the last chapter of a book. But the film does a lot of the heavy lifting to help the viewer establish its tone, its story, and its characters.
Despite coming from a rather grounded perspective, both the Russo Brothers and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have balanced the tone of the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy without feeling disjointed. Even coming off the back of Thor: Ragnarok, a comedy driven, colourful romp from the mind of Taika Waititi, Infinity War proves that you can have your cake and eat it too. There are very real threats, with very serious characters, but also the film keeps it light-hearted from moment to moment, as to ensure the film isn’t entirely bleak for the audience.
Bruce Banner hasn’t been on Earth since Avengers: Age of Ultron, he’s unaware of the events of Captain America: Civil War, Spider-Man: Homecoming and Black Panther, and serves as the audience’s entry point back to Earth, even if you’ve never seen or heard of the Avengers (don’t pretend like you haven’t). These events are quickly explained to him at the film’s breakneck speed “The Avengers broke up? Like a band?” and “There’s a Spider-Man and an Ant-Man?”. Immediately the audience is informed that there’s some friction between this group of superheroes, but they might have to set these differences aside for the sake of the universe, as Banner so kindly reminds us “Thanos is coming”. That’s really all you need to know to understand what’s going on. When it comes to telling us who’s who, the movie just lets the motifs and symbols work their magic. Kid who can spin webs? Spider-Man. Dude wearing a magic cape? Wizard. Guy dressed as a black panther? You get the idea.
The Guardians are really the only outlier here, but even then, the use of The Rubberband Man by The Spinners infers that Peter Quill is from Earth but hasn’t been back in a while. You can then fill in the rest of the team by simply thinking “Space Avengers”. They bump into Thor, and there you go, that’s it. The film resumes the breakneck speed and soon enough we’re a third of the way into the film.
But perhaps one of the more ingenious ways this film accommodates new viewers, is that the protagonist is a new threat to almost everybody, Thanos. He is the one who pushes the story forward, he is the reason events occur and he’s the one our superheroes are constantly reacting toward. Without Thanos, there is no film. This way, everyone watching, die-hard fan or casual viewer, is essentially on the same page. Big bad purple alien guy wants the shiny stones and is willing to do anything for them. Simple enough.
Composer Alan Silvestri is firing on all cylinders, and I feel like I can safely say this is the first Marvel film with an accompanying score that fully compliments the movie. Previous scores had some memorable tracks but the majority of them were character themes. Some came close to being completely consistent, but Silvestri understands when to incorporate a motif within a scene and when to let the action do the talking. It’s a blend that’s taken a while to reach Marvel’s shores, but its arrival is much appreciated.
My biggest complaint with the film, is that while there is a finality to Thanos’ objective, it’s quite obviously not the end for these characters. It doesn’t end on a cliff-hanger, but the end of the film obviously sets up another part in which the tides will turn. It’s not so much a “Part One”, but closer to finishing your main meal when you know there’s still desert after. That lets the film down, it loses some of its impact that the last 20 minutes do so well to set-up. But to play devil’s advocate for the writers, they can’t write around the audience having outside knowledge of these films. We know there’s going to be another Spider-Man film, we know there’s going to be another Black Panther film. It’s a hard switch to turn off as a critic, but I know ten-year-old Daniel would have been devastated by the events of Infinity War. On the one-hand, I felt the threat and force of this film, but on the other, I know it’s not over yet. It’s hard to critically come to terms with that.
Avengers: Infinity War is the shining jewel on Marvel’s crown, and it’s left me with a lot to think about. How are our heroes going to continue after the events of this film? Why were Hawkeye and Ant-Man absent and what role will they play in the sequel? How will the directors top the insane, pulled-straight-from-the-comics action sequences that were set throughout the film? What will Captain Marvel bring to the team? These are the epic questions that Infinity War has asked, and it’s up to its as-yet-untitled sequel to deliver epic answers. In a way, this review isn’t finished until Phase 3 is finished. Come back in a year’s time and we’ll see how it all turned out.
Feature image courtesy of Marvel Studios & Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.