Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Chris Pratt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Scarlett Johannsen, Chadwick Boseman, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Dave Bautista, Danai Guirra, Letita Wright, Karen Gillian, Peter Dinklage, Pom Klementieff, Vin Diesel with Josh Brolin and Tom Hiddleston
Plot: Thanos (Brolin) is coming, intent to balance the universe using the six Infinity Stones that the Avengers must protect. At all costs!
The MCU has a heavy load to bear on its back. Back when Avengers Assemble came out, the load seemed daunting enough. Having Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the Hulk share the lead role, while introducing Black Widow and Hawkeye, seemed near impossible, yet somehow Whedon and Feige managed it, knowing that the correct way to make the greatest ensemble movie possible was to recognise that each hero was as important as each other. No one seemed like the sidekick. Everyone mattered. However, as each chapter in this grandiose cinematic universe unfolded, another weight was added to the staggering burden the producers carried. Ant-Man was introduced. The rights to Spiderman were obtained. Someone actually made the Guardians of the Galaxy storyline work. However, the downside to bringing all these heroes to the fold was that this neat balancing trick managed in Avengers Assemble was becoming harder and harder to achieve. There were excuses and ways around the writing. Age of Ultron decided to acknowledge that the likes of Falcon, Quicksilver and Vision were supporting stars after all. Civil War declared itself to be a strictly Captain America movie, so when Cap took the lion’s share of the limelight, when Black Widow popped her head in it was a treat. However, with Infinity War, those excuses are over. Kevin Feige now has to manage what his entire business plan was from the start and somehow make a movie with all of these characters struggling for the spotlight work.
The other thing to consider was the plotline. Infinity War is largely focused on its villain, Thanos, as he carries out his diabolical plan to trim the population problem across the universe. Marvel has been in dire need of a decent villain for quite some time. Since Tom Hiddleston’s glorious turn as Loki, none of the other bad guys have really compared. James Spader came the closest, but the others, Kurt Russell, Michael Keaton, Michael B. Jordan… they all felt frustratingly disposable. Then again, Marvel has been building up to Thanos since the very start, a being with the power to destroy the universe. On a good day, he is more than a challenge for the Avengers, but as he begins collecting reality-bending, universe-destroying Infinity Stones, he is, without a doubt the greatest challenge the team have come up against. This is proven in the very first scene where Thor and Loki are outsmarted, followed by a punch-up where Thanos takes down the Hulk without breaking a sweat. The stakes are definitely highlighted early on. However, as the movie episodically shows various gatherings of Avengers and heroes try to defend the Infinity Stones, the movie feels somewhat deflated by the grim epicness of it all. One cannot help but be reminded of the flat X-Men: Apocalypse where a similar storyline about an unstoppable being knocking previously unbeatable superhumans to one side with ease. Infinity War arguably faces a lot of the same problems. When the stakes hit the roof, some of that charm is sucked out of the room. While the best superhero films acknowledge that almighty leads like Superman are dull, there needs to be a sense of strength. No one wants to see Spiderman beaten up for two hours. Arguably that is what we get with Infinity War. The movie does its best to add some sense of structure to proceedings. The team are fractured into units, so rather than one big set-piece, we are treated to a handful of different movies. Iron Man, Dr Strange and Spidey highjack a space ship to Thanos’ lair. The Guardians find Thor and set out to find a weapon that can kill Thanos. And meanwhile, those left on Earth, strive to defend the Infinity Stones that they possess, as Thanos’ henchmen, all able to hold their own in a fight before Thanos even sets foot on the planet, assault the world. It works for quite some time, but as the third act kicks in, the events are beginning to sag. Like Pirates of the Caribbean’s third entry, its dark material is constantly threatening to sag in on itself. There is also an undeniable sense that the entirety of Infinity War is merely a prologue to the fourth Avengers movie. Like the middle chapter of a trilogy, Infinity War is desperately in need of a sense of closure, a sense of being its own movie. In ten years’ time, if I was to pick a random Marvel movie to watch for a Friday Night’s entertainment, this is likely to be on the bottom of my list, simply because of its lack of an ending.
Mind you, these problems are not really the movie’s fault. They are the obstacles that Feige signed up for when he started setting up this movie. Yes, there are too many heroes, yes, the plot wavers on the breaking point of seriousness (don’t go DC on me now, lads!), and yes, it feels like half a movie – but I knew that going in. These negative issues with the movie are more slightly disappointing predictions coming true than disastrous nose-dives into mediocrity. In fact, the point I kept coming back to was that I couldn’t think of a single franchise, production team or script that could have come out with a better project. Infinity War is essentially a chapter in a great franchise, handicapping itself. While it isn’t quite the product you want, it still ticks off that solid Marvel thrill. Even when the stakes are almost too much to bear, the heroes are quipping their way through the darkness. Tom Holland is constantly a joy to watch, always seeming like he is only half sure what is going on, and Chris Pratt, for a large portion of the film, holds the weight of the movie, making sure that no scene he is in becomes too depressing to bear. Feige’s secret weapon is that he has already done the bulk of the characterisation in previous films. We are merely witnessing the climax of relationships built over the course of a long time. Vision and Scarlet Witch are already at the peak of their character arc, plot points waiting to be uncovered. The Guardians are easily likeable, so we feel the pain of each beat. Chadwick Boseman, stepping fresh from the greatest Marvel movie in two years, only needs to show up and we are impressed. The Russo brothers make sure that the heroes in need of development get centre-stage for a long time. There is a satisfying amount of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange, so, for those unsure about the character’s place in the universe, will be won over by the actor’s dry wit and the character’s abilities by the end of the film. The writing makes good use of this impressive universe as well, delivering some stand out scenes. Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana have a cracking scene when they finally meet Thanos. Banner and Widow have a sweetly understated reunion. Loki breaks hearts. There are several wonderful moments sprinkled across the film that do truly deserve their own praise. The issue is that, in such a crowded movie, they become lost in a sea of explosions, punch-ups and quips. I am sure in writing this review I am missing out on some golden moments worth complimenting, but in the sheer mass of the movie, they have got lost in the rush. There is only so much wallowing in grief that a movie can do. There is even some self-parodying of the loss that everyone has gone through when Hemsworth and Pratt begin tallying up their dead relatives in a bid to impress the rest of the Guardians.
Then there is that ending. Infinity War almost cheats its way out of a bad consensus from the general public, because upon leaving that cinema, you will only be talking about the last five minutes. The theories were everywhere, as the producers hinted at a major character death and fans began figuring out which contracts were up. Robert Downey Jr should have bowed out way back in Iron Man 3. Chris Evans has wanted to leave for a long while. What else can we do with Hulk’s character? I doubt few would have predicted the way that Infinity War chooses to go. Opinions will be divisive – was the emotional ending beautifully subtle or severely under-cooked? Is the almost definite backlash for the ending born out of actual disdain for the twist or a sense of sadness, transforming into an angry condemnation on IMDb? One thing is for sure: this will be the most talked about movie of 2018!
Final Verdict: Infinity War has a lot on its plate and, as a result, feels very over-stuffed and without an ending. But why are you laughing – and very likely weeping – throughout the entire movie anyway?