The new Avengers film is a nice surprise…
I have felt a little burned out about marvel films for quite a while now. The problem is that there are so many superhero films coming out at the moment. While I love films like Thor Ragnarok I just can’t muster the same enthusiasm as back in 2012, when superheroes were becoming so popular for the first time. It’s been ten years, and I feel as though Hollywood needs a new fad, perhaps fantasy. So, when I went into this film I was fully expected it to be mediocre in every way. I couldn’t see how they would juggle so many characters in one film, or how they would make a coherent plot to begin with. However, I find myself pleasantly surprised by Avengers: Infinity War. It’s not a masterpiece, but it is a well-made film with some excellent action and some genuine character growth. Let’s take a closer look. Oh, and spoilers of course.
One of the first things that struck me about Infinity War is that is has managed to find focus. The Russo brothers have learned from directing films like Civil War that an ensemble film needs a character to focus on in order to have purpose. There were so many heroes in this films line-up that to focus on any to a large degree would have made the film feel uneven, and so the clever solution of the film is that is makes Thanos essentially the main character. Making the villain of the movie the most prominent character might strike some as odd but it allows him to become a much more layered and interesting character, which solves the villain problem Marvel has had for a while. Normally a Marvel villain, with one or two exceptions, is simply an antagonistic force to propel the plot forward, rather than an interesting character in his/her own right. Thanos by contrast has a plan, motivation, backstory and even a relationship to one of the characters. He has genuine affection for his adopted daughter Gamora. This is helped by some fantastic CGI, and a great motion capture performance by Josh Brolin, who makes Thanos into a very human character, one we may not root for, but can all understand.
The cast all give solid performances, although inevitably the more popular and older characters get more screen time. There are too many actors to go through each of their performances and so I’m focusing on a few choice characters that stood out to me. Off the success of Ragnarok, Thor now has a much larger role, spending time with the Guardians of the Galaxy and taking Rocket and Groot to make a new weapon to take on Thanos himself. Thor is beaten soundly at the start of the film by Thanos and watches helpless as his people and friends are slain. The decision to kill Loki was a smart one, as his character arc had really finished in Ragnarok. Him dying at the hands of Thanos is also symbolic, representing a new, more threatening antagonist destroying the old. Chris Hemsworth plays a darker Thor than ever before, deeply hurting from the loss of all that he holds dear and is ready to die in order just to get back at Thanos. The scene in which takes the full force of a dying star in order to make his new axe is very powerful, as it forces him to earn the powerful weapon. When he uses it in battle at the end of the film, it doesn’t feel cheap because he has spent most of the film earning it.
Robert Downey Jr is always fun as Tony Stark, and the way he clashes with the similar character of Doctor Strange is satisfying. Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana gives a moving performance as she grapples with her severe father issues, as well as the close bond she and Peter Quill have developed. Her and Chris Pratt have a great chemistry and it is great to see them share a moment. This emphasis on her character did make it clear she was going to die from the beginning, but it was still a powerful moment watching Thanos sacrifice her to gain his power. His genuine regret made the scene all the more unnerving.
Speaking of death, the film pulls few punches. We lose Gamora and Loki, two fairly major players who been with the MCU for a long while. At the end of the film, Thanos succeeds with his plan and wipes out half the universe. This is so refreshing I cannot emphasise it enough. Death has not mattered in the Marvel Universe for far too long. So many of these films are hampered by the fact they have not real stakes. We know the characters will all survive. In this film, not only do we fear for all the characters, knowing now that they may die, but it makes Thanos a credible threat. The fact that the film begins with him wiping out the Asgardians, whilst sort of ruining the ending of Ragnarok, sets the tone perfectly. No-one is safe.
Admittedly it would have been nice if one of the big three, Iron Man, Captain America or Thor had bit the bullet, but it is still a great start. The fact that the Avengers lose in failing to stop Thanos is so refreshing it elevates the film. No doubt they will still triumph next year in the sequel, but it is great to have the villain win for once. Many characters disappear as a consequence, including several major characters like Black Panther, Spider-man and almost all of the Guardians. However, I can’t feel sad about this, as it is pretty obvious they’ll all be returning next year. There are plans for sequels to Black Panther and Spider-man: Homecoming for a start. But nevertheless, the stakes have been raised for the next film, and I wait with bated breath to see what they will with Thanos next year.
Finally, the action in this film is top-notch. There are some decent skirmishes on Earth early in the film which are quite fun, but for me the standout is the Battle for Wakanda that happens whilst Thanos fights Iron Man and Doctor Strange on Titan. The battle is shot very well, using the Russo Brothers signature hand held style, and it gets in amongst the action in a very unique way. The scale of the battle is impressive, and the brutal way they fight is a nice change from the over choreographed flippy style that tends to affect other Marvel films. I love that basic tactics are used in the battle, such as opening the shield around Wakanda to create a bottle-neck. Each of the fighters get a moment to shine, all except for the Hulk, and it almost reminds me of the battle sequences from Lord of the Rings. That isn’t to say the fight with Thanos is boring; the magical duel between him and Doctor Strange uses some very beautiful visuals, including transforming energy blasts into butterflies. A great gag in the film is that Thanos keeps turning his enemies’ attacks into bubbles. Overall the action is well done, and in places outstanding.
Apart from a few moments in which the film renders plots from previous movies obsolete, my major gripe is that the film lacks a unique visual style. Whilst it has many beautiful moments and images, it suffers from the blend of so many different locations, as though several marvel films crashed into each other. But this was never distracting and I can’t really think of any way the Russo brothers could have avoided this.
Avengers Infinity War may not be a masterpiece, it has issues and could definitely improve, but it is still a great fun movie. It has learned quite a lot from the films that came before and manages to juggle the most characters I have seen in one movie, while not feeling overstuffed. It somehow keeps focus, finally provides an engaging villain, and creates a desperate tone that keeps you paying attention all the way through. It has real stakes for the first time in a Marvel film and some fantastic performances from its cast. I recommend this, but be warned, you do have to have seen most of the previous Marvel movies in order to get what is going on!