FILM REVIEW: Avengers: Infinity War

Infinity War is the culmination of Disney/Marvel’s game-changing cinematic universe building; after ten years and eighteen films, this commercial juggernaut masquerading as cinema had all been building towards this pivotal moment. Featuring over 100 characters, and costing more money than the GDP of most countries, one may not appreciate the artistic merit of such an undertaking – I certainly don’t – but one cannot help but appreciate the sheer audacity of it all. Starring more big names than should be feasible for one movie; Robert Downey Junior, Josh Brolin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansen, just to name a few, this film is big in every conceivable way. Does it come off?

Sort of.

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The narrative is, for such a complicated series of films, surprisingly simple. Thanos – who looks hilariously like a penis, meaning I have to try very hard not to refer to him as Dick-Man – wants to collect the six Infinity Stones that will allow him the ultimate power of the universe. The various Avengers want to stop him. That is, essentially, all there is to the plot. This simplified plot leads to the film’s first major issue – it’s a step-by-step narrative. The film will focus heavily on one stone, Thanos will come for it. Rinse and repeat and so forth. It leads to a relatively boring and predictable story. What they have done, though, that deserves plaudits, is place Thanos as effectively the central focus of the film. He’s no in-the-shadows villain; he is the driving agency of the film, and it essentially could have been named Thanos with nothing changed. This, in turn, causes the titular characters to take a back seat, as they react to his actions and don’t really have a lot of agency of their own, save for Thor. In fact, the film could actually be called Thor Vs Thanos, as, once the whistles and bells are removed, that’s how it essentially feels. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. It creates an interesting dynamic to the story that most Marvel films haven’t attempted, and finally ends their run of having paper-thin awful villains. Josh Brolin, to his credit, gives a great performance as the phallic-titan. It’s almost entirely voice acting – as he is entirely CGI – but that doesn’t detract from the performance itself. In fact, almost everyone gives a solid-to-great performance, though Downey Junior and Chris Pratty effectively play themselves, as they always seem to nowadays.

The only stand-out bad performance, for my money, was Mark Ruffalo, who seemed to either sound as though he was reading from a prompter, or, alternatively, as if he was over-acting and trying too hard. It’s a jarring performance; like a floppy salmon among a sea of majestic whales. Especially jarring considering he was the highlight of the first Avengers movie. Perhaps he’s simply stopped caring? It’s hard to tell. It also is inconsistent in tone; one minute feeling like a strong, powerful epic with magnitude, and the next like a breezy, silly comedy. It’s a problem that plagues most of the contemporary Disney films and entirely derailed Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It’s hard to buy into the supposed pathos of this universe-shattering situation when the characters themselves continuously sound like they’ve fallen out of a terrible sit-com. It’s a problem plaguing not just Disney, but all contemporary Hollywood tentpole productions; feeding into my previous assertion that they are all beginning to seem exactly the same; as though rolled off a factory somewhere as opposed to flowing from the fingertips of an artist. Often, as comedy is so subjective, I tend to look around the cinema and see how the general audience is reacting. While some of the jokes solicited a hearty laugh, most got no more than a small scattering of half-hearted chuckles, like the sympathetic laugh one gives a comedian dying on stage. Drax – played by big Dave Bautista – was the worst offender. In the Guardians of The Galaxy series – a series that is much more of a full-on comedy – he works, as the entire situation calls for humour. Here, he’s jarring. He was also, in Guardians, funny due to his oblivious and serious nature. In Infinity War – for whatever reason – they’ve decided to drop that and turn him into a complete imbecile, as if he were Dougal from Father Ted, or Baldrick from Blackadder. It is lazy writing. A problem, it must be said, that plagues the entire film. Especially in terms of a lot of the situations that arise.

Thanos’ superpower, though never explained, appears to be ‘Appearing wherever is convenient for the plot at this point’, as he appears whenever the plot needs to be carried on in exactly the place he needs to be to do so. Perhaps it’s down to the stones in his gauntlet, but that’s never really explained. He just seems to know where to be at whatever moment; as if the script-writers were guiding him. This may work for the general public, but it sure didn’t work for me. Neither, it must be said, did the attempts to make him a deep, complex sympathetic villain. He comes off more as a poor attempt at a Shakespearian antagonist, with dialogue that could basically be taken from any Hollywood attempt at an ‘intelligent’ villain over the last twenty years; speaking in an odd combination of classic lexicon and contemporary English. Visually as well, the film is inconsistent, and the over-abundance of CGI is frustrating for any traditional cinema fan. I’d wager that at least 90% of the film was shot on a green-screen somewhere, and, while the effects themselves are relatively impressive, CGI is yet to feel authentically real. This means that, while watching, you feel less like this is a motion picture and more like you’re viewing your friend play a video game and never allowing you to handle the controller. The cinematography itself is by-the-numbers basic and certain scenes are lit so darkly it’s near-impossible to see what is happening.

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CGI is still a considerable distance away from feeling truly tangible. The action set-pieces, as with most of the film, go on far, far too long and are uninspiring, not particularly innovative, and only on several occasions do they serve the plot. Mostly they just appear to happen because they assumed the Netflix generation would get bored if they had to listen to more than three minutes of dialogue. The Wakanda battle scene is possibly the worst offender, even if it was actually central to the plot. It’s lifeless and boring; coming off like a poor man’s Lord of The Rings. However, that all said, the film is surprisingly coherent for someone featuring so many characters. I expected a messy clusterfuck, and, instead, got a coherent piece. The directors and writers do deserve a lot of praise for making this somehow work, as it seemed a thankless, impossible task. It is also quite engaging, if you care about these characters. I have to be honest and say I don’t, really, but that’s just my subjective take. Objectively, if you have followed this series throughout and have grown attached to them, you’ll be more than pleased. It also has one of the bravest and ballsiest endings to a contemporary blockbuster, as they throw away Marvel’s previous label of being almost offensively safe. It was, easily, my favourite moment of the film and deserves kudos. In short, Infinity War is – frustratingly to me personally – far from being a terrible film. I can’t honestly say that I hated it or found it deplorable; which irritates me, as crass in-your-face commercialism brings out the deepest cynic within me. However, I must remain objective – as any critic should – and, while not the five-star masterpiece fans and some other members of the critical sphere are painting it out to be, it’s a decent watch that takes some serious risks towards the end. Risks, of course, that will most likely to be undone in the as-of-yet untitled Avengers 4. If you’re looking for a fun, mostly mindless blockbuster experience, you could do a lot worse.

REVIEW BY JOSHUA MOULINI

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