Review – Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

by Old King Clancy

10 years ago, Marvel Studios released Iron Man. It was a funny, action-packed romp with a charismatic lead and in any other time would’ve come and gone and possibly been looked back on as a better than expected comic-book movie. But in 2008, Marvel gave us a promise, a post credit scene that nearly everyone missed talking about “The Avengers Initiative,” and with those three words, The MCU was born. 10 years and 19 films later, it has stood out as one of the biggest, possibly even the most successful franchises of all-time and while it hasn’t been perfect all the way, the highs easily outweigh the lows.

And Infinity War might just be the crowning jewel in Marvel’s crown.

After suffering a heavy loss at the hands of Thanos (Josh Brolin) and his Black Order, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is left wounded and broken in the vacuum of space until he’s picked up by none other than The Guardians of the Galaxy who arrive answering a distress call. After learning more about Thanos from Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Thor sets off with Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) to find an Asgardian forge that will allow him to build a weapon capable of killing Thanos, while the rest of the Guardians (Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista and Pom Klementieff) head to Knowhere to protect the Reality stone.

Having escaped Thanos’ attack, Banner (Mark Ruffalo) returns to Earth, arriving at Doctor Strange’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) sanctum. After getting back in touch with Stark (Robery Downey Jr) – and being introduced to Parker (Tom Holland) – a legion of Thanos’ forces invade Earth looking for the Time and Mind Stones. While the combined efforts are enough to hold off the forces, Strange, Stark, and Parker quickly find themselves on a rescue mission heading for Thanos’ home planet of Titan.

Meanwhile, Banner gets back in touch with Rhodey  (Don Cheadle) just as Rodgers (Chris Evans), Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Wanda (Elizabeth Olson), Vision (Paul Bettany) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) return following a fatal attack on Vision. Realizing that without the Mind Stone, Thanos will never complete his mission, the team decides it must be destroyed by Wanda, though she is reluctant to kill Vision who she has come to care for. Looking for a way for no-one to die, Cap takes the team to Wakanda hoping they have enough time to remove the Stone without killing Vision, all before Thanos arrives.

What’s key first and foremost is that this is definitely the first half of a much larger story, even at over 2 and a half hours – the longest MCU film to date – the majority of the film has cast split in their own separate story-lines; Thor, Titan, and Wakanda, with Thanos being the connecting element between all three. It helps knowing this because while Wakanda does deliver a huge, epic finale battle, it doesn’t tie everything together, but how it leaves things off to lead into Part 2 is something special. On its own merits, the story manages to cover a lot of ground without feeling too stretched, some characters get more work than others, but given the scope of the film that was to be expected. Some people might be disappointed with the lack of closure, but it’s a hell of a cliffhanger, and Part 2 can’t come soon enough.

As previously mentioned, the cast for this film is huge and naturally there are some characters that get more screen-time than others. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and Bucky (Sebastian Stan) don’t come into play until the near end, but both have their moments. Bucky has a great team-up with another of the MCU’s finest killers and T’Challa’s fight on home-turf has him stepping up to the role of King, plus it was fun to see Shuri (Letitia Wright) immediately schooling Bruce before even saying Hello. Bruce himself takes on a much larger role than Ragnarok due to suffering from Hulktile Dysfunction, for most of the film, and as odd as it sounds, it does work quite well allowing the more awkward and excitable Banner to take center-stage without Hulk taking away focus.

Falcon, Black Widow, and Cap have all been in hiding since the events of Civil War, but are brought back in after the attack on Vision and join with Rhodey who’s been recuperating after breaking his back. There’s some beginnings of Arcs for these characters, Rhodey and Flacon not so much, though getting to see them fight together was fun and while it was only hinted at, Romanoff meeting Banner again hinted at a rekindling. Cap (now bearded up) is still Marvel’s MVP, but while this is far from his film, there seems to be a lot of set-up for Part 2 to put him into the spotlight. His return to the fight is natural for his character and he still retains the same mixture of leadership and awkward charm that made him so entertaining, but Thanos is unlike any battle he’s ever faced, and it takes a lot out of him.

Wanda and Vision cover the wounded heart of the film, both having decided to give a relationship a shot. While admittedly I would’ve liked some more build-up between them (Civil War hints at it, but I guess the missing two years we can fill in the blanks) I do like their relationship and how it factors into the story. Vision is the more rational of the two, understanding the need to put down his own life to save the universe, but unfortunately Wanda is the only one able to kill him, and she’s reluctant to even think about that as an option. It’s a strong dichotomy between the two that taps into the classic ‘needs of the many VS the few’, and crucially you never feel like Wanda is acting selfishly. None of the team want to lose a friend, but Wanda especially has lost her brother, is constantly on the verge of losing her freedom and now stands to possibly lose the man she loves. The two of them work well together and Marvel manages to make their relationship stand out among the chaos.

The Guardians – finally tying themselves into the main MCU story – are as fun as ever. Rocket and Groot spend most of their time with Thor, Groot as a video-game loving, foul-mouthed teenager, and Rocket as the body-part stealing mass murderer. Obviously teen Groot isn’t as adorable as Baby Groot, but he’s showing some humility that Big Groot had, while Rocket shows his own growth by handing down some wise words to Thor regarding loss. And also using massive guns against his enemies. Thor himself brings arguably the best performance of the character, the amount of loss he’s suffered through Ragnarok only to lose again five minutes later, and you have someone who’s not in the best place before the film even starts. This is the most regal Hemsworth has ever been as the character, even with some great comic lines you can tell this isn’t the same Thor we saw 7 years ago.

Drax and Mantis don’t play too heavily into the story, but both are still hilarious in their shared misunderstandings, Drax in particular might have the funniest moment in the film regarding standing still. The main duo of Quill and Gamora have the best work, Gamora especially with her relationship to Thanos. Saldana does some of her best work in the MCU showcasing how torn she is between hating her father and accepting this man raised her, her scenes with Brolin carry a lot to them even with very little between them beforehand. Pratt isn’t as forefront as The Guardians, movies but he still nails the hilarious outlaw of Starlord, but when things get heavy, the amount of rage he has almost takes you offguard.

Rounding out the heroes are Stark, Strange, and Parker. Tom Holland still makes his place for the best Spider-Man with a ton of pop-culture references and a fast-paced, often worried demeanor befitting of a teenager stuck on an alien planet. Cumberbatch has gotten a lot more confident, and indeed snarky as Doctor Strange, while using a lot more spells and tricks, but his match is met… in the confident Tony Stark. There’s a lot more behind the scenes to Strange that I can’t get into, but it leaves his character on an interesting note going into Part 2.

Downey started this franchise and he continues to be one of it’s biggest players. Here Stark is still trying to have a normal life and the universe still gets in his way. Downey is still charismatic as ever, more so perhaps with Strange to battle wits with and Parker to mentor/keep under control, but like Pratt when it comes time to get serious, Downey nails it. In particular, his ongoing trauma from Thanos’ invasion of New York, being finally able to face the guy down clouds his judgement, he’s in one of the most difficult situations of his life and more than once questions if he can even survive this fight.

On the villains side, Thanos takes top prize of course, but his Black Order lieutenants make an impression for a variety of reasons. Be it brute strength from Cull Obsidian (Terry Notary), psychic prowess to rival Strange from Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughn-Lawlor), sneering brutality from Proxima Midnight (Carrie Coon) or the power to…. get his ass handed to him by Black Widow from Corvus Glaive (Michael James Shaw). But it’s Thanos who takes center-stage and boy does Brolin bring it, Thanos might just be the best villain in the MCU and for good reason, there is so much depth to him and why he does what he does. He’s the hero of his own story, his mission to collect the Infinity Stones comes from a place of mercy, of wanting to save the universe from itself and willing to sacrifice anything to do so. Brolin is great as the bloodthirsty Titan, but what really sets him apart is how he handles the emotional weight of the character, you can tell that Thanos doesn’t always enjoy what he does, but in the name of balancing the universe he’ll hurt even himself. There is a ton of great work done to make Thanos a much deeper villain than anything the MCU has seen before and by the end of the film, he’s made such a mark on the franchise that you just want to see more of him just to see what he does next.

With Joe and Anthony Russo having taken the reins of the MCU, there was a lot riding on them to make this work, and it absolutely works. This is ten years worth of build up paying off in the biggest, most epic way imaginable, from its brutal start to it’s speechless ending. This is why people have put their faith in Marvel, to see them make it work, and work so well. As you might expect from a Marvel film, there is humor and quite a bit of it. It won’t change your mind about how necessary humor is in a Marvel film, but if you like it, then it still works here. Drax still carries some of the best lines, but for the first half of the film most of the characters have a great line to raise a chuckle.

That’s the first half, towards the second half things get dark, really, really dark. This is Marvel doing their Empire Strikes Back in which they have their Darth Vader in the form of Thanos and they just let him loose. Genocide, annihilation, and failure all have a part to play in shaping where Thanos goes and what he does, it’s difficult to go into details, but the film is constantly subverting your expectations, every time you think something is going to go right, Thanos knocks it on its ass and tells you to piss off. Just trust me when I say that this will drain your emotions more than any other comic-book film to date, it has to be seen to be believed.

Even on a pure entertainment level this has some of the biggest spectacles in the MCU to date, I’d still put the Airport Battle as the best fight in the MCU to date, but there’s enough here to come close to it. Smaller fights like Strange, Stark, and Parker vs Ebony Maw or Wanda and Vision vs Proxima and Glaive do enough to keep interests high with superpowers and threats galore, but it’s during the final act that things get massive. On Titan, our heroes unleash everything they have at Thanos and struggle to even make a dent against him while in Wakanda, the Black Order unleash their animalistic army, using the sheer numbers to push through the impossible barriers and overpower everything in their path, while T’Challa and Cap lead their own forces waiting for a secret weapon to show up. It’s the biggest battle the MCU has seen since New York and it is incredible, even knowing there’s more to follow and only bigger to come, I can’t imagine what Marvel have in store for us next.

Marvel proved their cinematic universe could work when they made the first Avengers, but now with Infinity War, they’ve brought everything together, and pulled off what 10 years ago seemed impossible. While this is still just an opening half for a much larger story to come, it’s hard to imagine how much better it can get. The set-up is excellent with a multitude of teams all fighting for the same goal, the acting was solid with the massive cast all pulling their weight with special mention to Olson and Bettany for giving this epic showdown the necessary heart, Downey for taking Stark’s arc to its next logical step, and Brolin for delivering 6 years of waiting to see what the big purple guy on the Avengers post-credits was going to do while turning Thanos into a complex, layered villain. And of course, The Russo’s take everything they brought to Winter Soldier and Civil War and ramp it up with the humor, the shocks, the darkness, and the MCU is in the perfect hands for it. Avengers: Infinity War is the apex of a studio that took a chance and came out on top.

 

I am giving Avengers: Infinity War a 5 out of 5 Hairpieces!

 

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