Well, well, Marvel… you surprised me. You actually did it.
While the Avengers splinter apart from each other after the events of the Sokovia Accords, the Asgardian refugee space craft is attacked by none other than Thanos, the mad Titan. The warlord has begun his search for all six Infinity Stones, taking him across the galaxy and to Earth, bringing total annihilation to everything in his path.
Ever since Iron Man released in 2008, audiences were promised “The Avengers” to amount to something, and ever since Avengers Assembled in 2012, audiences have been promised the “biggest bad guy” Thanos to emerge from the shadows. Yet Marvel Studios has a woeful track record for writing antagonists so far. With this as the nineteenth movie production that’s part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, perhaps only two or three villains have ever “stood out”… So pinning the cinematic event of the last decade on Marvel’s weakest link made for some trepidation when watching Avengers: Infinity War.
And to say “cinematic event of the decade” isn’t so much Marvel fanboying as you might think. 2008 was prominent for both DC and Marvel, what with The Dark Knight and Iron Man. The former was lightning in a bottle, but the latter changed Hollywood forever; everyone wanted a sprawling cinematic universe once the Marvel train got going. Disney buying the franchise only poured gasoline on the fire, allowing for a shocking nineteen movies to be made in only ten years.
So Avengers: Infinity War has a lot to live up to. It doesn’t only need to prove the MCU worked, but it also needs to prove cinematic universes in general can work. That Hollywood hasn’t wasted a colossal amount of time and money…
All things considered, Infinity War is a huge success. Probably the best team-up movie since the 2012 film.
Which is no small praise. This film is a technical and writing achievement of monstrous proportions. The film starts off literally from where the deep space ending of 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok left off, but from there it leaps and weaves across different planets, countries and time periods with relative ease. Combining the use of the Guardians of the Galaxy space ships, Thor’s Bifrost bridge, and the Space Infinity Stone, the screenplay can make these leaps of distance almost insignificant.
Largely the film follows Thanos, the antagonist. The tone of the film is surprisingly morose. Thanos isn’t a hulking monster who wants to destroy everything, he has motivations and he has feelings, and an almost reluctance in his actions, as if he is burdened by destiny. There’s a character here, and actor Josh Brolin does a great job in delivering it. We learn to fear Thanos too. This isn’t like every other Marvel movie where the hero and the villain are on equal footing, in fact, the cleverness of Infinity War is how it treats our heroes… They don’t realise the rules have changed; they don’t realise the enormity of the threat that Thanos poses. Neither do we, the audience.
So when Thanos appears, the film (quite systematically) shows us the escalation of the power he wields, all the while the heroes reach for and throw whatever traditional macguffin they believe will stop him. Everything is designed to show how unstoppable this villain is.
Yet, the film takes time to slow down. There are moments were Thanos is centre stage and given moments of drama, even existential turmoil, the sorts of things previously exclusive to Marvel heroes. This was fantastically effective.
Of course, the film takes time to have some fun as well. While the big purple guy’s presence does tear the rules apart, we have moments more familiar to us to enjoy. The Russo Brothers get to enjoy introducing characters who haven’t met before; Spider-man and Star Lord, Tony Stark and Doctor Strange, to name some. Which are delightful and not invasive or particularly forced. The film does well to give each character a moment or two.
There’s almost no hero infighting. It is about time! In fact, we have an assortment of villains for them to fight instead. How quaint.
Thanos has his Black Order, a small group of henchmen who cause chaos for our heroes across the globe as they look for the Infinity Stones. While they are treated a little more like normal Marvel villains, they make for good, traditional Marvel action sequences.
The best sequences however, involve Thanos. Especially one with the Titan battling five heroes simultaneously. While it was almost entirely CG, it was a fantastic fight.
It would be immense spoilers to go into further details, but Marvel Studios have done something very surprising and very clever with their franchise that subverts expectations better than anything The Last Jedi tried to pull. Parents be warned: kids might not actually be ready for what happens. Praise to the writers of the film, but unlike all previous Marvel films, this is a game changer.
Negatives are few and far between. An abundance of CG is expected, but without being hypocritical (see Justice League), the visual effects are remarkable here. Thanos and his Black Order are mostly CG, and while there will (always) be an uncanny valley effect, they look awesome. A real richness in skin tone, and weighty movement. Much better than the “bendy” animations in Doctor Strange.
Perhaps one draw back is Scarlet Witch and Vision, and their relationship. While it was effective enough to suit the film’s purposes… what happens here is too much too soon; we don’t feel invested enough in them to care fully. We’ve had a couple of scenes with them together previously, that’s it, otherwise they fought each other in Civil War. Here, the writers are trying to pull from “history” that doesn’t really exist, and make the audience feel something. It was effective enough, but not as effective as it should have been (but at least it was better than whatever was happening with Bruce and Natasha in Age of Ultron!)
Working knowledge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a must, but at this point that is fairly obvious. You need to have seen Avengers Assemble, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, Guardians of the Galaxy 1 and 2, and Thor: Ragnarok, if you are to have a hope of understanding who the main players are.
When you strip away the dazzle and the usual Marvel flare, this is a surprisingly dark and somber toned action movie. It isn’t the upbeat and victorious experience that every other Marvel film has been so far; general audiences will be slack-jawed with bewilderment.
I enjoy when blockbuster films do something the general audience won’t expect.
Additional Marshmallows: What’s interesting is that Infinity War has, in some ways, weakened other Marvel movie installments. Thor: The Dark World was all about the Reality Infinity Stone, yet here we see it actually used, and it is cool! If The Dark World had even suggested similar things, it would have been so much better for it.