AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (M, 149 MINS) DIRECTED BY ANTHONY AND JOE RUSSO
This Marvel franchise has been rolling out blockbusters for almost exactly as long as I have been scribbling reviews for this company. In that 10-year stretch, I figure we have all had our highs and lows. But, at its best, Marvel has yielded some of the very best big-budget popcorn-floggers the world has ever known.
So, although I failed to grasp the appeal of that first Iron-Man instalment the first time I saw it – the BBC was running live footage of the American bombardment of Fallujah as I wrote the review.
A film about the exploits of a playboy arms dealer seemed a little tone-deaf to me on the night – in the years since, Marvel has delivered me out into the evening – mostly – with a goofy grin on my face and a positive review to come.
Argue all you want about the desirability or necessity of spending the world’s resources on $250 million movies. I say, if you’re going to do it, at least get for your money something that not only delivers all the requisite bangs and thrills, but also has a bit of nga¯ kau in its kaupapa.
And in Avengers: Infinity
War we are looking at the culmination of what has been a very satisfyingly put together grand vision.
Over the decade, Marvel’s head of studio, Kevin Feige, has – at the rate of nearly two films a year – delivered story arcs around a huge roll call of quite disparate characters. But with Infinity War, even more than with the Age of Ultron and Civil War instalments, several stories reach their definitive ends. Well-established characters do die in this film, and with a finality that suggests they really won’t be coming back.
The plot is one we know well. Somewhere out there in the galaxy is a baddie so bad that maybe even the combined might and will of all our heroes won’t be enough to stop him. It’s actually not a million miles away from the story that underpinned the rival Justice League movie late last year.
But unlike that noisy and superficial – mostly – mess, Infinity War takes the time to set up its themes, establish exactly how high the stakes are and then to draw out individual character arcs that are far more complex and well thought through than the interchangeable default we associate with the genre.
These spandex warriors might not quite be the stuff of great drama yet, but they are standalone individuals with quite discernible personalities. For a film in which characters can use whole moons to punch each other, that’s quite a feat.
The baddie – Thanos (played by Josh Brolin, with support from many kilos of prosthetic putty and several billion pixels) – is a failed leader on a quest to save the universe from itself in his own unique way. By killing exactly one half of the population of every planet in it. To do this, he needs to find all six ‘‘Infinity Stones’’. Two of which are on Earth.
Put like that, I’ll grant you that Infinity War really does sound like exactly the reheated pile of nonsense it could have been. But put together with care, some truly inspired casting and a script that is about a thousand times better than it needed to be, this film just works on every level it swings at.
Love or loathe the genre, when I see a film this ambitious actually hitting its targets and managing to stay human and accessible, I can’t help but be extraordinarily impressed.
The overwhelmingly dark and mournful tone of many of the film’s best scenes are leavened by some well-delivered laughs, to be sure. But this is a film that remembers and respects that it actually is a war film, with fear and loss always present.
In the leads, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Downey Jr, Elizabeth Olsen, Chadwick Boseman are all just as watchable as ever. There are other names I can’t mention for fear of spoiling some surprises.
But a late cameo from Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) really does bring the house down.
Avengers: Infinity War is pretty much as good a superhero movie as I have ever seen.
It raises the bar for spectacle – we expect that now – but it also makes us care. I’m looking forward to seeing it again.
– Graeme Tuckett