Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers: Infinity War ★★★★★

In time, you will know what it's like to lose. To feel so desperately that you're right. Yet to fail all the same. Dread it. Run from it. Destiny still arrives.

UNPRECEDENTED. UNPARALLELED. UNBELIEVABLE.

Avengers Infinity War is so much more than a culmination of Marvel’s 10 year empire building, it is the pinnacle of blockbuster film and shall be looked back on as an epoch of cinema in years to come. The Russo brothers have handled the Marvel Cinematic Universe here with the intricacy and complexity reserved for the true epics of art, they are visionaries working from the sacred text of Marvel mastermind screenwriters Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus, together weaving a tapestry of superheroes and setpieces, humour and heart, darkness and light that is, for want of a better word, staggering. 

From the get-go we are thrust into the centre of danger and introduced to the stakes in the film. They’re high, far higher than fans will expect and far more brutally realised than the typical blockbuster-goer will be prepared for. There is a tangible fear created of the Titan Thanos, and his crew of super villains, The Black Glove, are given much more to do than the standard henchman fare, even if they are ultimately disregarded narratively too soon. The heroes are put on the back foot and spend much of the film with their backs to the wall, reversing the traditional format of the Avengers films thus far, and this gives the film an Empire Strikes Back feeling that really does pack a punch and break the mould of Marvel’s own making.

Our beloved heroes are all present, correct, and somehow given equal focus mostly on screen, continuing their journeys as set upon in the standalone films whilst coalescing with one another for this monumental challenge in a way that is organic and, more importantly, REALLY FUCKING COOL! The Guardians and Thor go together superbly, Strange and Stark with Spidey is a revelation and gives Benedict Cumberbatch freedom to really loosen up as the mind bending time stone holder, and the occurrences in Wakanda - coming off the back of the luke warm yet culturally huge Black Panther - are a great pay-off for our wait and bring together the film’s third act beautifully. 

And it is the bringing together of everything that is so satisfying. Hearing the themes of every hero from every film thus far, reconnecting separated allies and reconciling old wounds, assembling the Avengers again but bigger than ever for a common cause, reinforcing the notion of the group as a dysfunctional yet inextricably linked family, all of this reasserts their status as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. And what could be more revolutionary, more powerful visually and emotionally, than to see what would happen to these heroes should they at their best still fall? Because that is exactly what the Russos ask of us, and it is a thematic recurrence in a film that for nigh on 2hr30m elevates and crushes the characters we have loved for so long in ways we could never have imagined. I won’t divulge plot details, but there are 2, maybe 3 scenes which will make anyone who has a shred of care for this universe cry, and 2, maybe 3 more that give us a surge of pride and ‘fuck yeah’ feelings that top anything seen before in the MCU.

The villain issue that has plagued the MCU for a decade, I can safely say, has been solved. I touched upon this before, mentioning the true star of the film off the cuff, but it really has been fixed. And the solution is, and always has been, Thanos. He is menacing, captivating, complex, and unfathomably powerful, and you can palpably feel his presence every time he is on screen and you will find yourself basking in the majesty of the lines he delivers and the way in which Josh Brolin deliciously executes them. The CGI lets the brilliance down at times, but don’t mistake that for a reason to feel undersold, even dodgy effects cannot spoil the true introduction of what will surely be one of film’s most iconic villains. It is spine tingling and in many ways entirely unexpected. He is destined for the upper echelons of cinematic villain history, and deservedly so.

The cast are all on top form, with RDJ really knocking out of the park his performance as Tony Stark, the man who began the whole MCU back in 2008. Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Elizabeth Olsen, Cumberbatch, everyone is giving everything they have without being overawed by the occasion. Surprisingly however, for the good guys it is Paul Bettany’s Vision who quietly steals the show, sneaking in a stunningly emotive and nuanced performance that drew a splash of tear on the cheek once or twice. Also, special nod to Dave Bautista’s Drax who is far funnier than is to be reasonably hoped for and will surely be many viewers’ favourite for his deadpan delivery and impeccable timing.

The action is really something special, grounded in realism through intelligent camerawork and editing even when it is threatened to be overwhelmed by the abundance of CGI that clearly drained a good portion of the mammoth budget of the film. There are small-scale intense encounters and sprawling epic battles, with visual diversity and a true sense of purpose guiding each one, and in the final act of the film the action is so furious and frenetic that my heart was racing as my eyes and mind tried to keep up with everything.

There is, occasionally, an overpowering effect that the film evokes that I must address. So much is happening, in such rapid succession, that it often leaves you with no time to digest what you have seen and experienced before the next big set piece comes along, and though it is part of the spectacle and grandeur of the film it does occasionally happen to be detrimental to the narrative cohesion and clarity. To counteract this however, coming out of the cinema I felt a desire to go straight back in and relive it all again, to soak up the story more wholly and to view the film through a less hype-filled gauze, which is a good sign. I cared enough to want to relive the moments that I missed in the mayhem, and yet I at no point feel like I was cheated or undersold by the experience I had.

And it is an experience, it truly is. CGI quibbles aside, the film is spectacular in almost every sense. Barring a significant choice of action by a character (you will know what I mean when you see it) that serves its purpose to the film’s needs but felt unnecessary and uncharacteristic of the character in question, every plot beat is methodically thought out and expertly handled, and in terms of blockbuster films, it is right up there with the very best of ‘em. Jaws. E.T. Indy. Star Wars. Jurassic Park. Lord of the Rings. You name it, Infinity War can stand toe-to-tie with it and pull some mighty punches. In my conversion to the religion-like fan base of the MCU, this is the closest thing to experiencing God’s presence I have felt yet. If you are already a worshipper, this is your holy land; if you are on the agnostic spectrum, this may be your revelation; and if you didn’t believe in Marvel’s plan for us all, this will probably at least make you start wondering if there could be an omnipotent superhero movie making God out there.

 Comic book threads have been at times teasingly picked up, tossed aside, and reimagined at the behest of the creators, enriching the intertextuality of a film that was already attempting the biggest cross-over in film history and giving die hard fans some long-awaited pay offs and bait and switches in the process. The climax of the film however especially overwhelmed me and shook me to the core, making me feel the full force of the Russos’ vision for the future of the MCU. It will never be the same again, and the way they filmed the sequences that have been coming for a decade had an objectively stunning composition. The profundity of silence, the mid-close shots that bring us close to our heroes but hold us far enough away to never lose the bigger picture that surrounds them in the wake of the final act’s events, and the very final moments of the film bring all of the spectacle and grandeur back down to an eerie tranquility that for some reason calls to mind Percy Bysse Shelley’s Ozymandias - “Look upon my works ye mighty and despair”. It is literally epic, and evocative of an image first posed midway through the film, poetically realised to devastating effect. All of the noise and the fanfare aside, in these moments there is something universally appreciable to anyone who loves film. It is, aside from the comic book sensibilities it cannot disavow, the closest Marvel have come to an assimilation of pure cinema.

The discussions will rage on, the debates will be heated, and the reception will be mixed as with every film when Infinity War releases worldwide and the social media circus comes back to town. But make no mistake, this will be the biggest film of all time by the end of the next few weeks, and carrying such a burden will be lightened by the fact that it is a damn good film. I foregrounded my review by using three words, Unprecedented, Unparalleled, and Unbelievable. Avengers Infinity War is unprecedented in scope, unparalleled in spectacle, and unbelievable in experience. It dispelled my reservations off the back of Civil War, made me ashamed of my dismissive approach in the past to this brand of Superhero comic book filmmaking, and proved that - above all else - cinema is at its most captivating when it takes risks and pushes boundaries, no matter the source. 

You can have your artful, cinephile worshipped masterpieces, your Citizen Kane or your Godfather or your Taxi Driver, and they are phenomenal in their own right and revered quite rightly and justly but... for entertainment, for energy, for sheer scale, for making the screen feel like it has you well and truly under its spell with no intention of letting you go until its revealed itself in all of its splendour, I may be hard pressed to think of anything I’ve ever seen that is quite like this. It is not perfect. It has faults. But it is a must-see by default for its inventivity and endeavour. My opinions will probably alter as time goes by, but these thoughts are fresh and true and the best I have to give right now. This can’t be rated the way I’ve rated anything else, it is truly one of a kind, my score is almost obsolete but it is there anyway for perspective with the other films I have bestowed such a high mark upon... and it deserves it. 

And for now, that is all. The end is near.



EDIT: 5* after second viewing, rewatch was essential, reassured me that this is a work of genius in its field!

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