After several cameos and teaser appearances, Thanos [Brolin] has finally enacted his grand plan to unite the mighty, universe altering, infinity stones, attach them to his gauntlet and restore balance to the universe by wiping out half of its populace. As the stones have been housed in various locations throughout the established Marvel plane, his dark quest means he will have to go through the Guardians Of The Galaxy, the Avengers and all their allies along the way. At its heart, this movie is actually comprised of a handful of simple set pieces and immense character jostling but the weight behind the legacy of the back catalogue of films is present and elevates the whole. And this is something that a lot of imitators have never been able to replicate: momentum. Like a train hurtling at increasing speeds, the longer it’s on its track, the more power and built up energy it accumulates, giving it more of an overwhelming appearance. Sticking with that analogy for a second, a train thundering through a station at high speeds is pretty impressive but one that doesn’t slow down and flies past with tonnes of haulage, rattling the nearby structures is a fearsome spectacle. And that’s very much what this feature is, more spectacle and experience than conventional narrative; which is both the best and worst aspect of its existence.
As with every review I pen, this will be more of a post-viewing analysis than a spoiler free tease; this is to ensure that I can justify, in detail, where a film succeeds or fails. Naturally, this film has been heavily marketed to ensure its secrets are kept but this review will cover a lot of content, so if you haven’t already seen this movie, for God’s sake stop reading. With that cautionary statement out of the way, I can say that this is a spectacularly bold release. As the film ended and the audience sat waiting for the single post-credit sequence, we watched the names plainly displayed on screen like an in memoriam segment. And once that final snippet was served up, everyone slowly filed out of the cinema in shock, reeling from the film’s funereal close. Again, no matter how good or bad the film was, the climax was extraordinarily bold.
Speaking of merits and faults, let’s get the biggest defects out of the way. Marvel has always had an issue with their scores and aside from a few standout pieces and themes, the majority has been disappointing, lacklustre or forgettable. Having created the Avengers theme – one of the more distinctly memorable and pleasing – Alan Silvestri returns but despite the vast library of character-related themes to play with, we have ended up with an acceptable score that regrettably lacks a lot of presence. Naturally it’s perfectly serviceable but after a while retreats from the fore to simply become big background brass and string elements that do little to spur on the emotional resonance. Another huge point of contention is the CGI. For the most part, it’s spectacular and thoroughly enjoyable but there were a few shots of snarling alien beasts, Thanos in his armour and floating heads on CGI bodies that didn’t work as well as they could and if these cracks are showing on the day of release, they will definitely age horribly. And that’s about it, the rest of the film follows some truly astoundingly competent direction and I fear that amidst all the forums of possible future developments and the specific fates of certain characters, not enough credit will be awarded to several background factors that have been working perfectly throughout these films; things like set design, costume, hair and make-up, cinematography, editing, all working harmoniously in the shadows.
Looking over the marketing for this release, a great deal of this film’s grand appeal was recreating and escalating something that was first successfully done in Avengers – crossover. Obviously I’m not stating this is the first franchise crossover but it is the payoff after literally a decade of world-building. Despite a few stumbles and course corrections, Marvel has never really fallen flat on its face and at this stage, no one else is coming close to the kind of industry spearheading that they are pioneering. Subsequently, it feels like they are trying to burn the engine out and simply run as hard and as fast as they can to see where the audience’s limit is but in doing so have created something that probably cannot be replicated. And I would posit this returning loyalty and desperation for “what comes next” is largely thanks to the characters themselves. Marvel has such an arsenal of characters and each of them have been portrayed in a way that will suit different audience demographics, meaning a crossover as intense as this will draw in every Marvel fan. And yet this film, in spite of the giant game of superhero bingo, doesn’t have a great deal of contained arcs. I say contained specifically because while certain character arcs are practically non-existent, their actions and stories in the previous standalone instalments serve as foundation for the conclusions presented here. To give an example, take Bruce Banner [Mark Ruffalo]. For too many boring legal and rights reasons, we won’t be getting a Hulk film any time soon and as such Marvel only has Banner’s appearances in other features to further his story. Interestingly, his actions in Thor Ragnarok and this film feel like the first two parts of a three act journey which will conclude in the next release. This is also visually interesting for viewers, as we don’t just see the Hulk smashing things (although there’s a fair amount of that at the start) and puts Banner in a position to take part in a fight in a unique and pleasing way. There is also the surprise appearance by the spectre of Johann “Red Skull” Schmidt, which I thoroughly enjoyed as part of a legacy closure, some seven years in the making but it generated so many questions that I doubt would have satisfying conclusions. Could this set up a return of the character? It’s unknown at this point and I think his presence was more a cameo for shock value purposes rather than a launching pad for something bigger or more detailed. And then we have Peter Dinklage as Eitri, the Dwarf King and master of a galactic weapons forge. Much like Red Skull, the role is a very small incidental one but something about it felt extraordinarily off. It’s very hard to quantify primarily because it’s such a weird performance. I totally get the casting but of all the ridiculous things these films have thrown at me, this one took me out of the film entirely and I stepped into the shoes of someone who doesn’t care about this franchise at all, muttering to myself, “this is stupid.” But I wouldn’t be surprised if Marvel is somehow aware of this because every time you get too close to realising it’s all nonsense, they undercut with humour and you’re back and under their mighty spell once more.
As stated previously, this film is more spectacle than story but it still manages to come out surprisingly well balanced. I have no doubt that because of the tone there will be several comparisons to things like The Empire Strikes Back but in truth, I feel the more accurate comparison would be The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, specifically, the third instalment. So much ground work has been laid and finally every character is brought together for one mighty, fatigue-inducing battle.. and yet somehow it works magnificently as a pairing of beloved characters and monumental developments. Throughout, there is a very clear impression of desperation, that this is the last battle which has genuine stakes and it is very rare for a film – even one bisected like this – to follow through with the implications. After all, the film was advertised on the threat that Thanos could wipe out half of the universe’s populace with the snap of his fingers, to not see such an act would rob the audience of something momentous but the fact they followed through was still surprising; but then, that’s what happened in the comics. Before I get onto the bulk of my thoughts about the film’s ending, I need to address something that has come up a lot recently: the concept of the half film. Several adaptations of hefty novels have, for creative or fiscal reasons, chosen to split the story into two separate features. This partition often ruins the natural flow and we end up with one entire feature of setup and one of pay-off but neither having that necessary balance. With these Marvel films emulating the on-going serial aspect of the source material, the never-ending story aspect kind of works in its favour and while this movie is most certainly a part one, the presence of a cliff-hanger does not make something half a movie. I will openly admit that there is no real story, just a series of bombastic events, yet Infinity War still retains its three act structure. In truth, if you shift the perspective and make Thanos the lead character, then the film has a complete arc and happy finale because of the victory attained.
As much as the ending is a temporary state, it is still a powerful one. To take a franchise of familiar faces and extremely well-known actors and almost dismissively remove them from existence is something that takes an exceptional amount of confidence and bravado. Up until this point, death in the MCU has never been felt thanks to reversals, resurrections, lack of development/connection (looking at you Quicksilver) and plot armour so to deal such a devastating blow, I wouldn’t be surprised if many audience members will feel simply unprepared. And I’m all too familiar with comic lore, I know that the bulk of the post-click deaths will be reversed but it genuinely doesn’t matter if these things are unwritten because, much like The Last Jedi, they are real in this moment and what is presented as real for the characters is presented as real for us. Now we will have another year of theories, speculation and discussion which is, at its heart, word of mouth marketing, generating twelve months of hype and expectation that ensure ticket sales and interest long before the elusive title of this follow-up are even released. Ultimately, these films were made for the internet age, they know people trawl through trailers, combing for details so they purposefully subvert the promotional material to both retain their secrets and sell you on the concept rather than the content. Things like Thor’s bloody eye in the Ragnarok trailer, the Hulk running with the group in the main pre-trailer title card charge, Spider-Man in the background of the Star Lord/Iron Man planning rather than Doctor Strange, just little amendments that either stem from reshoots or an active attempt to keep things secret. But if I was pressed, I would say I genuinely appreciate these tactics. With both the Star Wars and Marvel universes, Disney have taken to revealing so precious little, knowing that the rabid and obsessive fanbase will do all the marketing for them with minimal prompting. The only things they need to confirm are a handful of characters (mostly in new outfits), a tantalising tone, a title and a release date. That’s it. I mean, I went into this film with no idea how it would turn out and I left it with no idea what is coming next and that is so very, very exciting.
27th April 2018
The Scene To Look Out For:
In the absence of much of a story, this is a film of moments. Among the countless quips and cool fight sequences there is seemingly something for everyone. Even at two and a half hours, screen time is so limited but a marvellous job has been done giving almost everyone both something to do and awarding them with a standout moment. Rather than pinpointing one, I would say it is a great exercise in highlighting the sort of Marvel fan/critic you are. With so much going on, the thing that stands out to you would more than likely dictate the kind of character and values you support or the kind of film you wanted to see. Admittedly, that is an incredibly broad statement but one that I believe fits.
Thanos. How could it be anyone else? After six years of setup and escalating promotion, which amounted to doing very little, we finally get an insight into the man pulling all the strings. I was genuinely anxious, fearful of a crushing anti-climax but Thanos is such a detailed and layered character, full of conflict and motivational drive that you can’t help but be taken in by it all. More than that, the performance is so painfully brilliant that at times, you are taken in by his twisted logic. This is truly the best kind of bad guy, the one who feels he is right in his actions and starts to coerce you into thinking the same thing. From a screenwriting angle, through Brolin’s performance and the extremely impressive visual effects work, he is a collaborative triumph. Thanos is a being addressing a very real problem with the worst possible solution; truly both a story and creation to represent our socio-political times.
“I’m not looking for forgiveness and I’m way past asking for permission”
In A Few Words:
“A triumphant release marred only by the smallest of complaints but Marvel are pushing further out into unchartered waters yet somehow thriving”