Sunday 29 April 2018

Avengers - Infinity War

No Turn Unstoned

Avengers - Infinity War
2018 USA Directed by  Anthony and Joe Russo 
UK cinema release print.

Well this was surprisingly good.

I honestly thought that Avengers - Infinity War, the first of two movies which is a culmination of the various plot threads left deliberately dangling in the wake of the first ten years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), was going to be only half watchable at best. Since the film teams up most (but, contrary to what was advertised, not all) of the specific Marvel superheroes in those films, I was assuming that this would be patchy at best. After all, with over 60 major characters making appearances... well... my thinking was that you could only give them a few lines of dialogue each and then there would be no time left for action. I’m happy to say I was wrong about this... plus a few other things I’d predicted for this film so... yeah, happy to be proved incorrect in this instance. There are some minor problems but not really enough to do overall damage.

Now I’ve not read the comics these are based on but I’m well used to the Marvel movies not being anything like the original source materials and this one certainly isn’t... although I’m guessing the basic plot elements are the same. For instance, in the comics it’s the Silver Surfer who crashes through the roof of Doctor Strange’s mansion and warns him what is coming his way. Well, we still get the roof crash and warning here but it’s courtesy of one of the other characters... specifically one who isn’t locked into sticky negotiations as Disney’s lawyers retrieve the Silver Surfer and many other characters from 20th Century Fox.

The film follows the antics of super villain Thanos, played by Josh Brolin, as he gathers the five Infinity Stones seen in a fair few of the previous movies so he can wield them with his Infinity Gauntlet. Standing in his way are Iron Man, Spider-Man, Thor, Doctor Strange, Hulk, Black Widow, Captain America, War Machine, The Falcon, White Wolf (formerly The Winter Soldier), Black Panther, Scarlet Witch, The Vision, The Guardians Of The Galaxy... and a fair few others.

Now the script is actually quite well written and, breaking the burden of the story to what is effectively three mini teams working together in different parts of the universe, the directors manage to pull together an entertaining movie which doesn’t get distracting and which doesn’t feel like the story is in service to the characters instead of, how it should be, the other way around. In fact, even when they're cross cutting on mini cliffhangers built into the action sequences from one group to the next, it never becomes too overpowering that you don't know exactly where you are with the various characters.

It’s actually very dark in places... in fact the threat and tone of the movie is dark all the time but that doesn’t stop the film-makers from having a lot of humour with it and it’s great to see new combinations of the characters reacting and arguing with each other. There are some truly funny scenes in this and it’s a really nice juggling act because you do find yourself laughing even though the lives of half of the population of the universe can be wiped out at any second.

The movie starts off with a fairly bleak opening sequence, the sound of which can be heard even as the opening logos are rolling up on the screen, which carries on from one of the post-credit sequences in last year’s Thor - Ragnarok (reviewed here). The film takes a little time here to show us just how lethal going up against Thanos can be, in no uncertain terms. It also shows up just how ineffectual against Thanos the biggest ‘character weapon’ in The Avengers' arsenal is. And, yeah, the story didn’t go the way I thought it would. The IMDB cast listings for the film are, at best, wildly inaccurate and I suspect that this, along with other strong hints along the way, were deliberate instances of misinformation by Marvel/Disney so the fans of these movies wouldn’t be able to figure out what is going on here until they were in a cinema watching this thing. Everything is handled quite deftly and, with the excellent performances we get from regular cast members such as Rob Downey Jr, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Hemsworth and Elisabeth Olsen, it makes for an entertaining movie, to say the least. A cast ably supported by Alan Silvestri’s music for this one...

Now, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Silvestri’s score for the first movie but he does some good work here which, obviously, utilises his main Avengers theme to good effect. The best use of this, for my money, is when two of the characters are about to get ‘taken out’ by allies of Thanos in a train station in Scotland. Just as things are about to go dark for two of the characters, three of the other regular characters show up for the first time in the film and the music suddenly swells on Silvestri’s main Avengers melody. It’s a great movie moment and gets the hairs on the arm standing to attention, that’s for sure.

Okay so, there’s some bad stuff here too. One of which is the recasting of a character from one of the previous movies. If the character is not that important and could be replaced by another if the original actor didn’t want to come back then... why use that character at all? It seemed a bit odd, to be honest.

Another thing is... well I’m not going to reveal the ending here but how dumb do Marvel think their audience is? Some stuff happens in the last 5 to 10 minutes of the movie and... it just feels like Marvel are insulting everybody’s intelligence here. I can understand how they might have been able to tease out this specific ending around thirty years ago, before the internet but... well all I’m saying is that we all know what movie sequels will be coming out in the next couple of years. Sure, the next two MCU movies... Ant Man and The Wasp and Captain Marvel (in reality, Ms. Marvel) are both set before the events of Infinity War but, you know, people already know what other stuff is in the works down the line. The end of this movie makes the prospect of next year’s follow up seem like it’s going to be a big ‘control z’, ‘undo’ moment of a film, to be honest. So the, actually quite nicely done, dramatic punch of the final act is somewhat softened by the fact that, I would guess, most of the audience don’t believe a moment of it.

One final thing I question somewhat is from the film’s post credit sequence. If you have a distress beacon you can send to a specific person that you think can make a difference to the clear and present danger the various characters find themselves in here... wouldn’t you have activated that during the events of the first Avengers movie? I find it a bit of an odd deus ex machina, to be honest.

Apart from these few things, however, the movie is not the mess I was expecting it to be and the Russo Brothers have knocked out one of the better of the MCU movies with this one. Especially in terms of the main villain. Thanos is not the one dimensional bad guy you might at first think. His motivations for the wholesale slaughter of half of the universe are, it has to be said, not that different to what should be happening in real life on this planet now anyway. We are a vastly overpopulated world and we should be looking for ways to cut back on the growing population... which I think could be done without killing anyone. It’s exactly the same kind of motivation that the ‘evil’ mastermind in Ron Howard’s Inferno (reviewed here) has and, although Thanos’ pursuit of his goal is inherently evil (what with all the wholesale slaughter and such), it doesn’t change the fact that these are exactly the conversations people should be having here now and his arguments do make a lot of sense. When Thanos returns in the next movie, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s Thanos himself who sets everything back the way it was before some of the events of this movie take place because, if nothing else, he certainly has an unshakeable moral centre.

And that’s about all I’ve got for you on this one. I suspect that the follow up part of this story could easily be a bit of an anticlimax... although I am still expecting the character I thought would die in this one to meet his maker in the next one, that’s for sure. Avengers Infinity Wars is a truly entertaining, funny but also bleak movie experience and, you never know, I might go back to this one and have another look while it’s still at cinemas. Not Marvel’s best movie but certainly one of their best. If you claim to ‘Make mine Marvel!’, as the phrase used to go, then you don’t want to be missing out on this one.

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