Monday, 30 April 2018

Film Review - Avengers: Infinity War (12A)

No resurrections this time.
It might all have gone so badly wrong. Ten years and nineteen films into the 'Marvel Cinematic Universe' project, the studio went for broke, creating a movie that weaves threads from numerous individual MCU franchises - The Avengers, Thor, Guardians of the Galaxy among them - into one vast cosmic tapestry. It's a cinematic venture of almost preposterous ambition and there are so many ways in which it might (in creative terms if not financial) have crashed and burned. The wonder is that it succeeds remotely, let alone to the extent it does. Yes there are a couple of caveats I need to add, but I'll save those till the end.
The Avengers, 'Earth's Greatest Heroes', are geographically scattered and at odds with each other following the events of Captain America: Civil War. Thus when their greatest challenge to date - a great purple destroyer-of-worlds named Thanos - shows up to wreak galaxy-wide destruction, they are in no place to challenge him. Thanos is seeking the Infinity Stones, six gems from the dawn of creation, possession of which will enable him to wipe out half of what he deems an over-populated cosmos. He's got a big metal glove too, into which said gems will fit snugly, enabling him to wield their power. And with each jewel discovered, his power grows. Basically, the Avengers need to get their **** together fast and make some good alliances into the bargain (the Guardians and the cast of Black Panther for instance), otherwise everyone is doomed. You and me included. 
Infinity War is a huge proposition on every level, not just that of its epically large cast. Its scope is immense, its vistas operatic and its action both complex and stunning. The story frame is reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings' latter stages, only on a galaxy-wide canvas - with this fractured fellowship of Avengers fighting the same staggeringly bad odds in multiple locations, none with any clue how their friends are faring. Because the stakes are high, something established beyond all doubt in a gutsy (and gut-punching) opening sequence. The same creative team who brought us Winter Soldier and Civil War, i.e. some of the best stuff in the MCU canon, know exactly how they want to play this.
As the villain, Thanos (a motion-captured Josh Brolin) is utterly compelling. His gem quest provides the sprawling movie with a clear narrative through-line, while his motives prove surprising. This conqueror is contemplative as well as brutal, a reservoir of emotional depth even as he destroys. He commands a clutch of fearsome generals too, any one of which is a dangerous proposition for our heroes. And the fact that he catches everyone off-guard throws a brooding shadow over the proceedings, as the disassembled team scramble to muster a response.
Given that backdrop of foreboding, this still manages to be a hugely funny and entertaining film. Personalities are thrown together in combinations we haven't seen before, sparking new and often hilarious dynamics. Situations expand and then converge, delivering explosive, crowd-pleasing moments of heroism. Events take mighty twists that subvert even the most die-hard fan's expectations. True the band of world-defenders has little time to stop and breathe, but there's still a good scattering of poignant character moments among the finely crafted mayhem. Peter Quill and co get their comedy mojo back after the semi-disappointment of Guardians 2, and Thor combines all that made him loveable in Ragnarok with genuine gravitas. Both sharp, snarky humour and meaningful connections abound.
It's inevitable with the sheer logistics of this multi-stranded story, that some scenarios lose momentum, which certain characters lose out. But ultimately the plots converge in what is - and I say this with some understatement - a memorable conclusion. Everyone has their moment, and Marvel studio's most heroic achievement to date ends in a way that will have fans debating and theorising for the next twelve months.   
Which brings me to those two caveats regarding the movie's success. One: if you haven't already guessed, this is a film for fans rather than casual viewers, and will impact much less on those who don't already care about Ironman and Star Lord and the rest of them. In fact it will be two totally different experiences (transcendent or just plain frustrating), depending on your level of connection to these characters and their overarching story. Two: my rating below feels curiously dependent on the follow-up film due out same time next year. That story has the capacity either to undergird Infinity War's drama, or to undermine it. I will say no more.
For now, Avengers: Infinity War is a trans-global, pan-galactic triumph. And I can't wait to watch it all over again.
Gut Reaction: I didn't realise how just how MCU-invested I was until around five minutes into this film. A lot of laughter and a lot of thrills, all in the context of strangely mounting dread.

Where Are the Women?: Several of the Cinematic Universe's growing roster of women feature prominently, even if this episode is a bit hijacked by the dudes.

Ed's Verdict: 8.5/10. Like I said - that score might change either direction. But a film that could have stuffed up on so many levels, gets a formidable amount right. And that makes Infinity War one hell of an achievement.

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