Warning: this review contains mild threat of spoilers and fantasy fisticuffs
The Avengers: Infinity War is rated 12A in the UK which is entirely reasonable because it contains everything that a twelve year old could want from a movie: goofy characters in bright, vaguely spooky looking costumes, lots of computer graphic punch ups and the general feel of a computer game but with time out for laddish banter. And for the twelve year old girl there are goofy characters in bright, vaguely spooky looking costumes, lots of computer graphic punch ups and the general feel of a computer game but with time out for tragic and moving scenes between a Universe destroying purple monster and his death dealing daughter
The plot, developed over previous Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy movies and post credit sequences sees Thanos (Josh Brolin), alien Titan god of death, trying to gather the six Infinity Stones that are scattered across the Universe (although half are on Earth) to add to his Infinity Gauntlet for one reason or another. Fans of Adam Warlock will be saddened to hear the soul gem is yet to become part of him and so the character is still to make a proper appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as the sprawling mass of franchises in known.
I cannot imagine how anyone who hasn’t seen any of the Marvel movies will make head or tail of Avengers: Infinity War, although each move is carefully spelt out. Thanos’s motivation is to restore balance to the Universe by halving its population. It seems there are just too many wise cracking humans, mumbling plants and angry furry thing in the Universe and they are just a drain on resources.
It is a weirdly Malthusian move. Pragmatism replaces the mysticism of Star Wars‘ balance of the Force or the arcane resonances of Michael Moorcock’s multiverse spanning gods of chaos and order. A more interesting balance is struck between moments of humour and moments of drama. This is a film that takes its superheroes seriously whatever the rather hilarious pairing of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) might lead one to believe.
(Thank goodness this film eschews the utterly dreadful, piss-taking tone of Thor: Ragnarok).
Special mention should go to Josh Brolin who, along with a host of CGI artists, brings Thanos to life. One of the masterful strokes of this film is the way Thanos is humanised and not turned into one of those crushingly dull despots or ‘big bosses’ that just snarl and shout or preferably both at the same time. If this film has a heart it is in the relationship between Thanos and Zoe Saldana’s Gamora, Thanos’s daughter. Their relationship is, by turns, touching, tortured and just plain lethal. Elsewhere, the film balances personal moments, notably the developing romance between The Vision (Paul Bettany) and The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) who are hanging out in ‘Scotland’ (actually Edinburgh disguised as Scotland) , where they are getting to know each other a little more intimately and setting up an heart wrenching scene later in the movie.
Otherwise, the film stars this lot: Robert Downey Jr. , Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista, and Chris Pratt; plus Vin Diesel, here stretching his vocal talents to the limit as Groot, the stroppy teenage stick of wood copiced from his former adult self. Peter Dinklage makes a surprise appearance as a giant dwarf, a rather uneasy joke.
It’s hard to discriminate between these members of the cast, they are all as good and convincing as each other and reprise, with similar credibility, the character roles that we have seen them in before. And I am not sure that even understand what acting is any more – raising your palms in front of you and looking grim in front of a Green Screen? It is hard to tell if we are actually watching the actual on the screens. Although, in some instances you can. For instance, there is a particularly rubbish shot of Ruffalo’s head floating in a Hulk Buster suite, but CGI is getting quite good (as it should be in a film that is the second most expensive ever made!).
My main quibble as a comic book fan is that the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and particularly Avengers: Infinity War blends the characters into a set of mix and match composites of each other. Many now ware armour that gives them abilities (such as Iron Man,The Falcon, Spider-Man, The Black Panther and, in this movie, Bruce Banner) and many fire energy beams of one kind or another. Doctor Strange and The Scarlet Witch are particularly badly served in this respect. Strange nary utters an incantation, let alone try to summon a supernatural army or cast Thanos into another realm. And I don’t know what The Scarlet Witch’s powers are any more, as there is no real hexing going on, nor reality changing (although that’s maybe to come). Instead, both characters fire beams at their foes, the only difference is that Strange’s are orange and Wanda’s are red, so there you go.
A fellow critic friend of mine found that the film took some surprising turns but it didn’t for me, as it rushes towards the seemingly inevitable big fight between cartoon characters. Again, Marvel do enliven the somewhat boring trope by involving us in the heroes personal lives and judicious picking out of characters to personalise the universe wide context, even when it appears that our heroes are comprised of nothing more than little bytes of floaty pixels.
What is suprising is how invested the cinema audience is in these characters and their fates. The MCU has successfully translated comic book characters and their giddy mix of soap opera and war story to the big screen. Avengers: Infinity War is this century’s X-Men, a film that is confident in its source material and has the resources to materialise its epic scale, quirky characters and sheer bombast on the big screen.
There are those who may wish Thanos had cut this epic in half, but the two hours and forty minutes pass quickly enough and, of course Marvel already have cut the movie in half. Part II will be out May 2019. And it will, no doubt, answer with the same playful efficiency any outstanding questions, such as: what does Gamora know that Thanos doesn’t? What does Doctor Strange see in the future? And just what is up with the Unhelpful Hulk?
My main question is ‘how on Earth is DC, with its frankencinema direction (evidenced by Batman Vs Superman and Justice League movies), ever going to match Avengers: Infinity War? I suspect that the answer is ‘Never!’
Which is ironic because DC are currently trouncing Marvel on the comic book shelves.
A freelance journalist and Doctor Who fanzine editor since 1978, Tim Robins has written on comics, films, books and TV programmes for a wide range of publications including Starburst, Interzone, Primetime and TV Guide. His brief flirtation with comics includes ghost inking a 2000AD strip and co-writing a Doctor Who strip. He reviewed comics and films in posts and podcasts for the Mindless Ones until he became a net diva and forgot to name check the rest of the team at a San Diego Comic Con. panel. The Mindless Ones gave him the nickname ‘Tymbus’.
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• Panini Comics in the UK (and other European countries) have published The Thanos Quest which the film is loosely based on. It’s available in branches of WHSmith on their newsstand in the section with various superhero and Doctor Who partworks
• The company’s Marvel Heroes (Issue 125), on Sale now, is an Infinity War Special.
This issue, Doctor Strange takes on the Dread Dormammu in a battle that draws the Hulk into a fight against an underwater foe – Tiger Shark! There’s heaps of action-packed activities to get stuck into, and a chance to win loads of cool Marvel Prizes! Avengers Assemble!
• Titan Publishing‘s Avengers: Infinity War – The Official Movie Special is on sale soon in all good newsagents and book shops. Read our news story