Sunday, May 13, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War

SPOILER ALERT: Unlike most of my reviews, this review includes a very direct focus on the specifics of the actual plot of the film. It is strongly suggested that only those that have seen the film read further.

You have been warned...

When I reviewed the magnificent Black Panther a few months ago, the one thing that I was quite sure about was that it was going to make the next Avengers film seem completely sub-par. Not only was Black Panther a unique take on Marvel’s go-to superhero film recipe, but it introduced us to a world and characters never touched upon before by the franchise, resulting in an exciting and fresh superhero adventure.

Except for the fact that Infinity War was going to have to follow in the giant footsteps left by Black Panther, there were other credible reasons why I was sceptical and nervous about the new Avengers film. For one, the formula that Avengers was relying on up until now was already wearing thin in Age of Ultron – the ever-growing list of main characters all felt underdeveloped, the humour was cheesy at best and the film makers were indulging so heavily in CGI that there wasn’t much actual substance to appreciate.

The Avengers franchise was in desperate need of a change in writing and directing staff and luckily, Walt Disney had the foresight to handover the lead to a new team. And not just any team. The team that was responsible for two of the best Marvel movies ever made (Captain America Civil War and Winter Soldier): director duo Anthony and Joe Russo and writers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. If anyone could save the franchise, it was this formidable directorial and writing ensemble.

But even with the hope that such a formidable lead team brought with it to the project, for Infinity War to rise from the ashes (excuse the pun) left by its direct predecessor, something really different and noteworthy would had to be done. And as luck might have it, the film team did exactly that, delivering a final product that does not only rejuvenate the entire franchise, but also places the Avengers series on an unexpected and intriguingly darker future trajectory.

Although there are quite a few things that one can highlight that helps make Infinity War the surprising success it is, there are two aspects that truly stand out.

The first and foremost being the film’s focus on its main villain, who has been teased and hyped for a considerable time throughout the franchise. And rest assured, kids, now that Thanos has finally arrived, he delivers in spades. What makes Thanos different to most villains (across both the Marvel and DC film universe) to date is that the filmmakers had the wisdom to appreciate the importance of allowing him to develop into a fully rounded and fleshed out character during the course of the film. For the most part, this film is about Thanos and I struggle to think of another superhero movie where the main focus was actually on the antagonist.

The intriguingly layered villain is one of the best things about this film. 
Thanos, although admittedly insane, perceives himself as a messiah of sorts, working towards an objective of universal genocide that he deems necessary and completely humane, rather than sinister. Better yet, he displays a relentless sense of conviction to this end goal that puts most of the film’s heroes to shame. He even displays a clear sense of reverence and even admiration for his adversaries: “Stark… you have my respect. I hope the people of Earth will remember you”. In short, Thanos is the intriguingly ambiguous and non-stereotypical villain that the Marvel Universe has been in dire need of and now that he is here, it is my sincere hope that we see more of him in the films to come.

"... he displays a relentless sense of conviction to this end goal that puts most of the film’s heroes to shame."

The other standout aspect of the film is the ending. I very rarely talk about the ending of a film in a review, but considering its impact on the overall poignancy of the film, it’s worth discussing in specific detail. Due to the spectacular nature of the now considerably vast MCU character database, we have gotten to a point where most of the characters in the franchise feel virtually indestructible, leading to a feeling of low risk that has dulled the intensity and sense of thrill that comes with heated encounters between goodies and baddies - When you have characters like Dr Strange that can bend the rules of time to his pleasing, is there a way for the heroes to actually lose? Thanks to the sheer scale of Thanos’ power though, it provided the movie with the perfect opportunity to re-imbue the franchise with a real sense of dread and actual risk – and if you’ve seen the film, you’ll know the film utilises this opportunity to spectacular effect.

Not only do certain key characters die during the course of the film (which doesn’t happen often in big Hollywood blockbusters), but half of the main cast are obliterated into dust particles before the main credits start rolling – the antagonist has not only won, but left various casualties in his wake. Some of these deaths are even highly emotional, with special mention to the final moments of Spiderman, resulting in one of the film’s most difficult moments. And no, there is no secret ending where everyone magically re-appears – in fact, the end credits even see more characters dying. Although the disbelief that comes with this dramatic ending might be a bit too much to handle for certain fans who are not accustomed to such dramatic endings for a Hollywood blockbuster, I wholeheartedly believe that this ending is exactly what was needed to re-route the franchise in an exciting new direction. Was the ending merely a clever way for Walt Disney to slash their staff expenses for future films in half or will the franchise find a way to bring the dead cast members back to life? Nevertheless, it’s rare for a crowd-pleasing blockbuster to have such a risky, controversial ending and the overall film benefits from it massively.

Spiderman and Iron Man deliver some of the film's most emotional moments.
1000 words into this review and I haven’t even mentioned how well the film manages to juggle so many different characters and story arcs into a final package that feels noticeably polished. Add to this amazing on-screen chemistry (standouts are scenes between Thor and Rocket, as well as Spiderman and Iron Man); surprisingly clever dialogue; thrilling fight scenes; jaw-dropping CGI mastery, and you have a film that stands tall amongst most superhero films that have come before it.  

Avengers: Infinity War is a highly ambitious and courageous MCU entry that doesn’t only manage to save the core Avengers film franchise from what seem to have been an inevitable demise, but also pushes the boundaries of what audiences have come to expect from superhero movies in general. If you only watch it for the sake of seeing Thanos kill off a bunch of speedo-wearing nerds, then it will be money well spent.  

Highlight: The final battle sequence, culminating in a highly surprising ending that I doubt you will see coming.