IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 149 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Having previously acquired the Power Stone from the planet Xandar, Thanos and his Children Cull Obsidian, Ebony Maw, Proxima Midnight and Corvus Glaive intercept the ship carrying the survivors of Asgard’s destruction and extract the Space Stone from the Tesseract. Hulk crash-lands in New York City and warns Stephen Strange and Wong about Thanos’ plan to gather the six Infinity Stones and kill half of all life in the universe. As the remaining two stones are on Earth, the Avengers have to work together again – though all may not be lost, as the The Guardians of the Galaxy respond to a distress call from the Asgardian ship….
And so, after 18 years, we’ve finally come to what the Marvel movie series has been building up to. The fate of the whole universe is at stake, and when a major character is killed off early on, you know that, however much of that sometimes funny but also sometimes grating Marvel humour [which is something of a problem in this particular film, even more so than in Doctor Strange – but more on that later] is thrown at us, things are essentially now serious and scary. People who’ve become really familiar to us after all this time can – and will – die. Avengers: Infinity War is nothing if not ambitious, seeking to cram in such a huge number of characters that some have had to be cut out as the credits list several performers who are no longer in the film. It runs 149 minutes – which makes it by far the longest Marvel film yet, and I’ll say one thing for it right away – those 149 minutes fly by. However, this is really one film that should have been considerably longer for its story to breath – or split into two films. For some of the time it just feels like a series of fight scenes connected by the tiniest of dialogue bits to get our characters from ‘A’ to ‘B’, and some of the Avengers really do get short shrift. The latter of course is something to be expected in such a packed film, and directors Anthony and Joe Russo, plus screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and editors Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt, deserve credit for making what was obviously a very hard film to shape as coherent as it is. But I can’t help thinking that we’ll get an extended version for home viewing which will be far superior.
So we open with some action which includes some of our favs including the Hulk – and you’d better make the most of that as for the rest of the film Bruce Banner seems unable to transform. We’re not given the reason for this, so I hope the sequel provides one. It’s a shame, because we’re stuck with Mark Ruffalo who up to now has been great as Banner but who seems oddly disinterested here. Thor is captured, and Banner informs Stephen Strange and Wong about Thanos’s impending arrival, then Strange and Banner brief Tony Stark about the Infinity Stones and Thanos. Two of Thanos’s children Maw and Obsidian arrive in New York to retrieve the Time Stone from Strange, and Stark, Strange, Wong and Peter Parker confront them as Banner is unable to transform into the Hulk, and after another big fight Strange is also captured. Banner contacts the rest of the Avengers, but in Scotland, Wanda Maximoff and Vision, who has the Mind Stone in his forehead, are ambushed by Midnight and Glaive, two of Thanos’s other two children. You can probably tell from this that Avengers: Infinity Wars is literally packed with incident, but it’s also rather exhausting. I’m sure many fans will disagree, but I could have done with a couple less fight scenes [especially when they’re CGI dominated which to my old eyes gets rather boring after a while] and a bit more time spent with the characters who just aren’t allowed to shine. In fact the first half is really quite choppy, almost feeling like a highlights reel in which we go all over the universe at such a rapid speed that it’s sometimes dizzying in the wrong way.
However, something that really makes up for some of the iffy, rushed storytelling is the bad guy. Now villains aren’t really something that Marvel excels at unless you count Loki, but they manage to make Thanos into a surprisingly strong one here, a kind of religious fanatic who’s essentially a rather lonely, wistful figure who, in his best moment, actually sheds tears when he kills someone. I’m not going to say that you feel sorry for him – you remain properly frightened of this character who seems unbeatable and is willing to torture and kill anyone to get all those blasted Infinity Stones. But his twisted plan has a cruel logic and James Brolin’s performance shows just enough through all the CGI that you may not stop to think about things like why on earth Thanos waited until now to go after these stones that he’s been aware for eight years or so. Also given room to shine in this film is Zoe Saldana as Gamora. She’s given the opportunity to deliver some quite emotionally driven scenes, which makes it such a shame that other subplots that have appeared throughout some of the other films are given hardly any time within which to thrive.
After a while the film kind of settles just a little bit as we follow two groups of the Avengers on missions and the Guardians come into the picture with their usual wisecrackery. Groot is still saying “I am Groot”, something which got tired the third time he said it in Guardians Of The Galaxy. In fact the often self-aware Marvel humour that undoubtedly worked in some of the other films really gets in the way of this one, clashing with the essentially dark material in a film where we also see two characters getting tortured on screen. Banner and Natasha Romanoff see each other for the first time in quite a while and what do we get – somebody saying “this is awkward”, totally undercutting what could have been an emotional little moment. And putting Tony, Peter Parker and Peter Quill in the same scenes may sound like a great opportunity for laughs but all the smart-assery begins to feel very forced and all three characters shown to be overly similar – though on the other hand the bits between Thor and the Guardians are funny with Thor basically playing the straight man to Quill who feels threatened by his incredible masculine beauty [Chris Hemsworth really is getting better and better in the part]. And at least that charisma-free zone Chris Pratt gets one major scene in which he seems to have been asked to be not annoying and to actually act. Proof that you can do it Chris! It’s probably Tony Stark and Dr Strange who get the most screen time, and Robert Downey Jr and Benedict Cumberpatch are as excellent as before. I think that effective casting is one thing that has made the Marvel series endure despite low points like Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World – these performers truly inhabit their roles, and if they ever reboot this franchise in the future they’re really going to be stuck finding people to fill their shoes.
Things end up largely centering around Wakanda though the Black Panther himself is restricted to being a general on the battlefield. The expected big battle sequence mostly delivers even though it’s a little blurry in places, the Russo brothers just about managing to avoid full-on shakycam though there were a few bits with action scenes where I wasn’t sure what had happened, or where somebody was. It’s properly upsetting seeing Wakanda being laid waste, the terrible but logical result of this once-secret country being revealed to all. And then – well, you may already know that it sure doesn’t end well for some and I certainly commend Marvel for having the guts to do this even though I’m sure that many younger fans may find it rather disturbing. Of course no plot development is irreversible in a universe such as this! There’s a haunting sound effect heard in the last few minutes that may stay with you [it’s certainly staying with me]. Talking of sound it was good to hear Alan Silvestri’s score given the chance to shine in the mix and not be drowned out by crash bang wallop, though I wish that he’d referenced the other musical themes of the characters a bit. The way music is not used in one pivotal scene adds to its effect. And – after some rather sub-par CGI in Black Panther – the visual effects here are mostly up to scratch and the impressive variety of worlds are often beautifully evoked, sometimes looking like Jack Kirby artwork come to life.
I suppose I’ve been a little hard on Avengers: Infinity War. It certainly delivers all the sound and fury you could want. It also provides some surprises which is always a good thing. But I can’t help feeling that this particular film was rather problematic and that – despite the best efforts of many – they couldn’t quite surmount said problems in a way that a comic book – because of its very nature – can. I wasn’t quite as hot on Black Panther as many but it did have a consistent, coherent approach plus a somewhat different feel, and Thor: Ragnorak was an absolute blast [where the humour most definitely worked for the film]. Crammed with blood and thunder but also rather messy, Avengers: Infinity War doesn’t reach those heights but you have to praise Mr Feige and co. for starting out with this big plan and sticking to it. Marvel certainly know what they’re doing – which is more than you can say for their major rival.