Friday, 4 May 2018

Film Review No. 39 Avengers: Infinity War (12+)

Strong Points:
One of the best Marvel scripts
Balances humour and drama
Great acting from all
Humanising Thanos
The ending
Slick battle sequences
Great cinematography
Superb CGI
Successfully balances cast of characters
New interactions between well-known characters
Doesn't get bogged down
Risk-taking

Weak Points:
Some sound issues - missing one-liners etc.
Some romantic pairings suffered from pacing issues
Other villains don't have the impact - should have been introduced before hand
Mark Ruffalo in the Hulk Buster Armour had some visual effects tearing

Spoilers ahead:
In-depth Review:
So here we are. The big one. 10 years in the making. A culmination of thousands of people's work, from special effects to caterers. Uses comic books from the last 50 years as inspiration. Started or resuscitated the careers of many household names and prompted me to actually go to the cinema a lot more. Avengers: Infinity War.

Now, I'm not going to get bogged down too much on individual story beats in this review. And that actually brings me onto my first point, Marvel doesn't get bogged down either. In a film with a roughly 2-hour 20 minute run-time you can see why it would be easy to overly focus on certain characters, adding detail for the sake of detail. Instead, The Russo Brothers keep it quite light, with 3/4 main story arcs, and the focus only on a maximum of two at any one time. However, just as you start to forget the third group of characters, they are thrust back into the spotlight and you are quickly engrossed again. It's a tough balancing act, especially with moments of light banter contrasting with the serious tone of other scenes, but they make it work.

Another thing they make work (better than my paragraph transitions) is Thanos. Now, Thanos was the big unknown coming into this movie as he has been built up since The Avengers in 2012 with less screen time than King George III has stage time in Hamilton. He could have easily been another 'big bad' character, and sure, he still doesn't have the development of Iron Man or Star Lord. But it is the closest since Loki that we've had a well-rounded villain in the MCU and that's something to applaud, especially as we're not done with him quite yet. A singular moment which showed to me that Thanos wasn't the classic Marvel villain was when he sat down on the steps when talking to Gamora, becoming a similar height to her. This instantly humanised the character which instead could have easily been treated with close-up and slow pans.

The same cannot be said for The Children of Thanos. While I did like them, especially Ebony Maw (who had half a cup of development), they could have been so much more. I feel that while Marvel had a plan to bring Thanos into Infinity War from the beginning, the same can't be said for his children who seem more of an add on. I mean, one of them is nearly killed off straight away, only to return right at the end for a surprise attack. I liked the designs and powers, and the fights were decent, it's just, in a film which is a celebration of careful planning both on Marvel's and Thanos's part, these children seemed to be more place fillers. Although it did allow us to have the Aliens joke, so I'll let it off.

One of the biggest problems the MCU has had is that it constantly plays things safe. It is after all a commercial giant, which needs characters to satisfy its merchandising needs. This has led to a Marvel effect (although DC also does this) whereby it 'kills' off characters or hurts them, only to bring them back nearly straight away. Sometimes this works, allowing a story beat to progress but not losing an important character, such as with Coulson reappearing in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Other times it loses the effect of the character going through pain, such as with War Machine being nearly fully healed by Infinity War after his crash in Civil War.

Infinity War has no such qualms about its characters, focusing on the story rather than building a continuous universe. This is probably due to it being the major goalpost of the MCU for the last 10 years, so it itself doesn't need to world build. Not only was the ending of Infinity War cataclysmic in its destruction, but also risky in that it wasn't just the supporting characters. Marvel could have gone the easier route and killed off the 'Avengers' by removing all the supporting cast from the films, leaving the main groups alive and well.

Instead, and this was probably the best scene to describe this, they killed Black Panther. As the HISHE villain pub says, this should be commercial suicide and ten years ago Marvel would have never taken that risk, instead preferring to kill Okoye instead (the scene was certainly setting this up). Instead, T'Challa disappeared and I'm here talking about a scene which could have just been another classic 'death and scream scene'.

If meaningful death is relatively new to the MCU, something which isn't is humour. Infinity War has it in spades, although it never detracts from the grounded nature of the film in its entirety. This is a complaint I've had with the last few Marvel films - comedy added in, which while funny the first time, quickly turns stale. Bruce Banner jumping onto the Rainbow Bridge in Thor: Ragnorak and not turning into the Hulk is an example (compare this to the iconic Bruce Banner 'I'm always angry' scene from The Avengers).

Instead, the comedy is mostly in the form of banter between unlikely pairings. The entire Thor meets Star Lord sequence, for example, was excellent, as was Doctor Strange versus Iron Man. The different comedy of each series was brought together in Infinity War, from the more surreal humour of Guardians to the wise cracks of Iron Man and straight, dead-pan humour of Captain America, and it worked. Oh, did it work. Even the sight gag of Peter Dinklage being a giant dwarf worked, although it was treading the line.

So, we've had death, we've had comedy, now onto the romance. The MCU has an odd relationship with romance, sometimes focusing on it, sometimes shoving it in at the end for a focus group. Infinity War does a bit of both, showing characters which we always knew would get together, suddenly get together. While it was nice to see so many stories reach their conclusion, it did feel a bit of a shoe in to up the emotions when the ending hit. This was especially clear with Gamora and Star-Lord, as GOTG 2 had nearly eliminated the possibility anyway. I guess it's because Gamora had guessed how the rest of her story would go but still, it seemed a bit rushed.

Talking of Gamora's storyline, that was pretty good. While it was a shame to see the Soul Stone theories collapse, seeing the return of Red Skull more than made up for it. And the mind-bending reality techniques of the Reality Stone looked awesome, giving me equal measures of wonder and discomfort. However, the greatest surprise was to see the depth of Gamora come to light. Instead of being confined to side character status, Gamora was given room to grow in Infinity War, and it worked. She quickly showed how an ensemble character can be focused upon (much like Rocket in GOTG 2) and pushed to the heights of the main cast. Also, making Thanos cry was genius, a touching moment which didn't relinquish any power he had. It's always risky to make the villain or smaller characters have emotions (look at Pikachu in Pokémon: I Choose You!), but it really worked here.

Right, now onto the more technical aspects of the film. Infinity War had one of the best scripts of a Marvel. The jokes came thick and fast, never lingering too long for it to become stale. Many new one liners and conversations will become classics (like Spider-Man's goodbye). It's just a shame I couldn't hear it all. You can sometimes feel overwhelmed with just how much is going on on screen, and while it was handled well for the most part, every so often I had to blink and missed bits.

The visual effects, on the other hand, I had no qualms about. They seem to get better with each iteration of a Marvel film, and while Black Panther had a couple of stumbling points and you can start to see the green screen in The Avengers, Infinity War just looks astounding. Just like Star Wars, your brain gets constantly confused with just what is real and what isn't, and all I could think about during some of the fight scenes was - wouldn't this be amazing as a video game? Well, maybe soon.

Talking of fight scenes, they were great as well. Expertly choreographed, with the right amount of CGI and practical effects, and not being afraid to slow down (the entire ripping off of the Infinity Gauntlet). We also got a Hulk versus Thanos fight which is always awesome.

The direction as well, was superb. Abandoning the sped-up action of Civil War, The Russo Brothers and Trent Opaloch instead flow the camera around with finesse. Sometimes I was jolted out of the action, not in annoyance, but with satisfaction as I see a camera movement I've never seen before in an action movie. It was classy, balanced and just worked well.

Conclusion: it is simply astounding that Marvel were able to keep Infinity War coherent to be honest. After 10 years, 19 films and a host of other media all interconnected, as well as having to keep the reins on some of the biggest stars of the decade, you just have to give them credit. Thank you Marvel, for showing how it's done.

Rating: 96%

Thanks for reading, Satamer.

Note: as with any technical problem, I will be checking the film again, either at the cinema or when it's released on DVD to check it wasn't the cinema's problem

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