Film Review | Avengers: Infinity War

Like the best blockbusters in the Marvel stable, it packs on the adrenaline and the humorous quips, but in a way that more closely resembles the emotional rollercoaster that is Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead, it will also pummel you, subverting expectations within an otherwise very constrained set up • 4.5/5 

Tip of the iceberg: Danai Gurira (Okoye), Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther), Chris Evans (Captain America), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) and Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes) are just a fraction of the superhero pantheon featured in this sprawling franchise touchstone from Marvel
Tip of the iceberg: Danai Gurira (Okoye), Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther), Chris Evans (Captain America), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) and Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes) are just a fraction of the superhero pantheon featured in this sprawling franchise touchstone from Marvel

Who would ever have thought that one day, we will be experiencing films in distinct ‘Phases’? But with the ever-ballooning Marvel Studios franchise, and its interconnected universe of superhero narratives that every couple of years releases a benchmark ‘super-team’ chapter in the form of the Avengers movies, we are getting precisely that.

Having started with Iron Man in 2008, we now appear to be wading into ‘Phase Three’ of the comic book-turned-blockbuster-film empire’s masterplan for interconnected, fully-consolidated entertainment. And picking up where Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Black Panther (2018) and Avengers: Civil War (2017) all left off, Avengers: Infinity War is a crossover event that shows off the full powers of the American Entertainment Industrial Complex in all of its might, for better or for worse.

Secret protagonist: Josh Brolin is Thanos
Secret protagonist: Josh Brolin is Thanos

As such, summarising this nearly three-hour epic of interlocking storylines is nigh on impossible, but the good news is that its core premise roughly amounts to a “collect the tokens” chase. The twist being, however, that the
person doing the chasing just so happens to be the film’s villain.

Thanos (Josh Brolin), has been teased as the ‘big bad’ ever since the first Avengers film made its way into the multiplexes back in 2012. Having grown up impoverished on a planet ravaged by overpopulation, Thanos firmly believes that wiping out half of the universe’s population is the only logical move one can make. To perform this ambitious act of calculated genocide, Thanos needs to fill his ‘Infinity Gauntlet’ with the appropriate ‘Infinity Stones’ – all of which correspond to a cosmic space-time principle which he would be able to manipulate at will once his collection is complete.

Having already wreaked substantial havoc on our heroes in the first frames of the film, Thanos appears to be distressingly on a course to personal fulfillment. But with the Avengers torn down the middle after the events of ‘Civil War’ and with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) halfway across the galaxy, new recruits like Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) need to be brought into the fray. Along with, to the audience’s delight but to the more conventional heroes’ chagrin, that rag-tag band led by Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt) and calling themselves The Guardians of the Galaxy. One of whose number, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), happens to be the adoptive daughter of Thanos, along with her estranged cyborg half-sibling, Nebula (Karen Gillan). Brute force may not be able to defeat Thanos, but the dynamics of this unconventional family may just reveal some chinks in his purple-skinned armour.

Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo from a script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, ‘Infinity War’ is a sometimes exhausting but incredibly well put together piece of franchise machinery,
running at breakneck speed and – miraculously – giving all of its heroes and villains an adequate amount of time in the spotlight.

That’s not to say that the toils of this kind of labour aren’t entirely evident. The gloomy pall that hangs over most of the proceedings – down to not just the aforementioned schism between ‘the Earth’s mightiest heroes’, but also Thanos’ brute efficiency – makes this less of a zippy adventure that other former Marvel instalments, for one thing. And while the jokes work – and some of them land wonderfully – on the whole humour is used as something of a band-aid solution to prevailing mood.

Also, the nature of the beast requires roughly three major conflicts to be taking place at any given time. While this certainly ensures something exciting is happening on screen at all times, overkill is another real risk here, and you may feel as though you’re beaten into submission just as our heroes clobber their way through Thanos’ minions and the purple man himself (when they do, in fact, managed to land a blow). As such, the moments when the monster in charge is undergoing his existential and/or metaphysical ruminations actually feel like something of a respite from the madness. In fact, one of the boldest moves by all concerned was to make Thanos’ ‘journey’ the backbone of the film. This gives a unique twist to the franchise architecture, and it also goes some way towards addressing a perennial problem in its backside: the consistent inability to deliver compelling villains.

Unlikely heroes: Led by Peter Quill/Starlord (Chris Pratt), the Guardians of the Galaxy are back
Unlikely heroes: Led by Peter Quill/Starlord (Chris Pratt), the Guardians of the Galaxy are back

And yes, one would be hard-pressed to call ‘Infinity War’ a movie in any traditional sense of the term. Instead, it simply feels like an inflated season finale – both in terms of its budget and running time – that assumes its audience is fully on board will all the prior ‘episodes’ of its sprawling franchise, and which baldly and neatly sets up future episodes. It’s all starting to look like their comic book world now in almost every way – the continuity is hard to get if you’re not an ‘initiate’, and the franchise has netted enough ‘new fans’ over the past decade for the studio not to worry about getting the general public up to speed.

For the general public is now in on it all, for the most part. And while this sounds positively dystopian in some ways, the rewards of success mitigate the dangers of risk. For this reason, Marvel could afford to make the striking choices it makes at the tail end of Infinity War. Like the best blockbusters in the Marvel stable, it packs on the adrenaline and the humorous quips. But in a way that more closely resembles the emotional rollercoaster that is Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead, it will also pummel you, subverting expectations within an otherwise very constrained set up.

And that has got to count for something.

The verdict

Virtually impenetrable for the casual viewer and something of an exhausting assault of the senses though it may be, Avengers: Infinity War also makes for a staggeringly efficient slice of blockbuster sound and fury. As a key touchstone in Marvel’s ongoing and mammoth-scale franchise, it does an incredible job of tying loose ends and paying off long-gestating character set-ups, and it does so to a thrillingly composed and well-paced array of action beats that may tire one out occasionally, but which succeed in delivering the coveted “bang for the buck”. And this is, after all, the logical endpoint for such large-scale exercises of corporate brand consolidation.

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