Avengers: Infinity War Film Review
More showreel highlight than cinematic event
While watching Wonder Woman in a packed screening, something occurred to me about modern superhero movies, Marvel and DC alike. It happened as the credits rolled, and a teenager from the back row yelled out, ‘Marvel sucks!’
It made me think that, rather than movies, the superhero crop is more akin to sporting events, in which supporters gather to cheer on their favourite teams. It was the only way I could make sense of a jacked-up teenager decrying an opposing production company.
Avengers: Infinity War seemed to me like the Grand Final, arriving after DC’s strained Justice League (2018) to cement its place on top of the box office ladder. It would feature everyone’s favourite players, their entrances met with bleats and roars. In the form of beatdowns and snappy one-liners, they’d kick goal after goal, encouraging the kind of behaviour you’re more likely to see at the MCG than in a cinema.
While Infinity War has done terrific business, garnered positive reviews and delighted Marvel supporters, it kind of feels, strategically, like just another Marvel movie. Directed by the Russo brothers, it’s a thrilling instalment but, for all the hype, it does little more than promise payoff in the next instalment, while delivering a typically pleasing blend of humour and action sequences.
But as long as these instalments keep marketing themselves as movies, traditionally a standalone piece of entertainment that promises to tell a story, develop characters, explore themes and reach some sort of conclusion, that’s how they’re going to be assessed. Infinity War, for all its movie mashups, characters and plots, barely feels like a movie and falls short as a sporting event. It’s more like a highlights showreel.
Going into this one, it helps to know the superhero team The Avengers are broken up, following the events of the last Avengers movie and Captain America: Civil War, which drew a rift between the two leaders, Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Junior). It also helps to know that, for the last two years, Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) has been in Hulk form—it also helps to know that means it’s like he’s been on a 2-year rage bender and has no idea what everyone else has been up to.
It also helps to know that the villain, Thanos (Josh Brolin), has been searching for infinity stones that would enable him to ‘balance’ the universe, i.e. destroy half of it to reduce the overpopulation problem. But, mainly, it helps to know how you feel about each of these characters. Aside from the Guardians of the Galaxy (Zoe Saldana, Chris Pratt, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper and, since Vol. 2, Pom Klementieff, you’re simply expected to know what these characters are like.
Although my screening was quiet, mostly the audience-packed cinemas erupt in cheers and applause with each hero’s introduction. The Russo brothers expect this and so, like sitcom actors waiting for the laughs to finish, the introductory shots all include a turn toward the camera and a stern, smouldering stare while the audience applauds. There are also the group shots, for instance when the Avengers charge at their enemies in Wakanda, or when Thor notices he’s inside the ship piloted by Peter Quill and his motley gang. To be fair, this is more of a trend in modern franchise-filmmaking than a Marvel trait. It happened too many times to count in The Force Awakens (2015) and even in the arthouse mega-picture Bladerunner 2049 (2017), in which the haggard Harrison Ford emerges from the shadows to recite his line.
Still, none of this makes Infinity War a terrible movie. Thanos is a compelling villain, a rarity for Marvel movies, whose war-torn personal history gives his genocidal plan some emotional and philosophical weight. The Guardians are fun, with Dave Bautista as Drax continuing to prove himself a brilliant comic performer—he does a bit in which the gag is that he’s literally standing still, yet his deadpan delivery and blank expression sell it. Although the Russo brothers seem compelled to cut away from action scenes—here probably to balance the umpteen storylines occurring simultaneously—and to shoot in a most perfunctory way, alternating between shaky cam and overhead shots, there are some compelling fights. Black Widow (Scarlett Johannsson) teams up with Wakandans Okeye (Danai Gurira) and Shuri (Letitia Wright) for a fight that fuses martial arts and weaponry, while Chris Evans’s punches continue to feel weighty—commendable in a CGI-laden spectacle.
To anyone who hasn’t done their homework, is this even a movie? Calling it more sporting event than cinematic endeavour isn’t to disparage watching sport, it’s more a complement to the movie. A riveting live sporting event holds moments that transcend cinematic thrills, usually because your investment in the player or team infuses emotion into the victory. I imagine it’s a similar thing for fans here, but then, Infinity War seems to me more like a showreel highlight than an actual game. It ends ambiguously, but the danger and thrills and finality promised in the marketing are in the end merely that—marketing. You can’t miss Infinity War if you’ve already come this far, but it honestly feels nothing you haven’t seen before anyway.
Feature image via cbr.com