This Infinity War review is spoiler free. For the quick version, it’s an entertaining solid film. There’s an unusual central viewpoint, a good use of the majority of the (quite large) cast and some clever through lines on 10 years of films to this point. If you like any of the Marvel Movies to date, then this film has something for you.
Infinity War sees the combined heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) trying to come together to stop the interminable force of the Cosmic Villain, Thanos. Thanos is trying to collect the Infinity Stones, those magic gems that have been the lynchpins of the MCU narrative so far. Scattered across Earth and Space, the heroes of the past 17 films are left scrambling to halt the plans of this ultimate apocalyptic Villain.
The plot is straightforward. Thanos wants the stones. The heroes are breaking down into smaller groups to try and protect them. Since we’ve had 17 films of setting up characters and backstories, we can dispense with pretense and padding. Instead, the film opens about five minutes after the end of Thor Ragnarok. What then happens is two and a half hours of the Marvel Universe being tested like they never have before.
The question of how to design a film structure where there are several dozen heroic characters is a tricky one to answer. The Russo’s opinion seems to be that you don’t need a heroic protagonist.
This is a movie about the bad guy. What he wants, and what he’s willing to do to accomplish that goal. So while we may be following groups of Avengers on screen, this is a film driven by the Villain’s journey.
As a concept, this could be very tricky to pull off. Especially considering the general weakness of Marvel’s villain pantheon to date. You’d need an actor with some real vocal acting chops. Especially as they’ll be mocapped as a giant wrinkly space grape for the whole film.
Josh Brolin is a surprisingly captivating wrinkly space grape. In fiction, Thanos is given an interesting and darkly logical motivation for everything he does. He has a genuine earned pathos to his mission, and it’s chilling to learn what must be done to complete it.
On screen, Brolin is doing sterling in the mocap department. He (with the help of some excellent animators) has a face that somehow finds subtle and meaningful emotion in what could easily be a mess of computer generated effects.
With the time to genuinely delve into the motivations of the villain, Thanos’s central position to the plot is earned justly. As a result of having the Gargantuan cast exist in the orbit of Thanos’s plot, the potential destabilisation of so many threads is somewhat managed.
In fact, credit should go to the Russo Brothers and their team for doing such a good job of blending the tone and texture of such a wildly varying palette of films into one huge tableau.
Every character gets at least one heroic on screen moment, with enjoyable interactions between characters who may have spent ten years not having a conversation or even having the chance to meet.
More than that, running gags and plotlines from all the films are addressed and integrated into the plot near seamlessly, including one tied up loose end that elicited gasps from my theatre. That some aspect of this film didn’t grind to a screaming halt due to the amount of moving pieces is incredible in and as of itself. That the final result is a very watchable, credible film is astonishing.
In fact, apart from some wobbly action in the largest set pieces, the claim of hollow cgi heroes hitting cardboard cgi villains doesn’t quite ring true for Infinity War.
Instead, for the most part, we get some very physical and character driven action sequences. A scene in a train station in particular deserves high praise for the way it really sells the narrative of the characters involved through their actions.
This storytelling can exist as a result of these characters already being fully fleshed out in this universe, as emotional, earnest people.
These emotional stakes really do highlight who the standout actors of the film really are though.
Zoe Saldana’s Gamora, who really does not get enough credit for carrying the emotional soul of the Guardians of The Galaxy films, is mesmerising. As the favoured daughter of Thanos, she takes on a central role in the narrative. The focus is completely earned, with her warmth and conviction being a central pillar of the film as a whole.
Chris Hemsworth continues his star turn from Thor Ragnarok. Taika Waititi has redefined the character, and the confident but charming Thor of that film is sent on a Journey that showcases the full range of Hemsworth’s capacity for both comedy and drama.
The character interactions mentioned in passing above are cute/funny in the most part, but the ongoing mentor/ward thread of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man and Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man gets room to breathe here, both actors stealing laughs in the majority of their scenes, even when competing with each other.
This is not to diminish any other actors, with Pom Klementief, Benedict Cumberbatch and Mark Ruffalo also getting some really excellent scenes in, but even with so many actors on duty the set above are truly special.
More than anything else though, in a way that hasn’t quite materialised since 2012’s The Avengers, this film feels like a natural adaptation of a comic book.
It’s easy to imagine flipping the pages of the Infinity War Paper Volume. The splash pages showing new locations. The gorgeous otherworldy horizons. The creative ways in which characters battle and fight alongside each other in miniature stages, quipping as they go. The fascinating uses of the infinity stones to break the rules of that reality.
Which is to say, this film is a comic book film. As it should be. The conventions of the genre work for a reason. More than that though, this is a film that truly grasps the point of these larger shared universe stories.
It’s not just about throwing all the action figures together and seeing which one hits hardest in a massive punch up.
These films are at their strongest when the audience is trusted to just accept and appreciate the actions of the characters they’ve come to know.
It’s why this film can have such an unusual narrative arc for the protagonist. Knowing that the audience has already been willing to follow these characters means that the filmmakers can just get on with telling the most interesting story possible with this cast.
Which they do.
Without going into Spoilers, Infinity War is a good film. It doesn’t have the meaningful messages and readings of the last crop of marvel films in phase three. It lacks the lightning in a bottle factor of The Avengers. But this film understands that what is key is that the audience already deeply cares, even if it’s only about one character in this whole saga.
That care is what drives this film. Thanos is a great villain, but he would ring hollow if we didn’t care about what happens to the people opposing him.
There’s a convention that comics often revel in world changing events that promise actual consequences for their characters.
That Marvel have managed to make a film that captures the heart in mouth feeling of watching a fictional world be changed utterly is high praise indeed.
Go see Infinity War if you have any interest in Marvel Films. It will be worth it.
(Public Service Announcement: There’s one Post Credit scene. Right at the end.)