Rewarding the Faithful
A Film Review of Avengers: Infinity War
Bold. Bold is a word that so easily gets tossed into the promotion of so many products, concepts and movements in today’s western culture that society has developed a tendency to take such lofty promises with a healthy grain of salt thanks to several end games not meeting the hype. However, the superfluous, sarcastic and/or excessive use of the word “bold” has no place in describing the cinematic odyssey that is Avengers: Infinity War. It was the only word I could summon once the end credits began rolling. I was stunned. I was shocked. I was amazed. The Russo Brothers and Kevin Feige accomplish in two and a half hours what was seemingly impossible after 10 years and 18 blockbuster productions setting up this exact moment for the audience at large. Everything conventional and expected of a Marvel Studios project shines forth in this film, but the fact that it goes to places none could have predicted or dared elevates this production beyond its event film status. The rules of the comic book film have changed.
Avengers: Infinity War is a film that executes its narrative in an exceptional manner, but what is more impressive is that it simultaneously acts as an artistic response to the diatribes against it, its genre and the types of stories these films are capable of telling. Marvel films have a justified reputation for pitting their rounded out heroes against paper thin villains who are summarily dismissed by the film’s end because their one and only job was to be defeated. Killmonger and Loki aside, few can argue against such a criticism, that is until the audience finally sees Thanos do more than sit maniacally on his space throne in this film. Marvel productions, as PG-13 popcorn films, seldom stray from formulaic filmmaking because predictable stories yield predictable profits. Marvel films have been following a predictable pattern of hero exploration if for any other reason, the sheer volume of origin stories in their stable up until Infinity War where the most powerful individual in the MCU happens to be the antagonist and the main character despite a fantasy football roster of heroes surrounding him. To some extent, comic book adaptations retain a stigma of safety and lack of consequence, thus making their cinematic adventures incapable of risk with diminishing rewards. Infinity War throws caution to the wind as pain, suffering, retribution and loss are real, visceral and potentially everlasting consequences for this story and every subplot that supports it.
Infinity War is an overwhelming film with so many characters involved in a multitude of conflicts on several locations around the galaxy which may sound intimidating to anyone who hasn’t invested in the MCU to date. Being prepared by being familiar with the MCU isn’t an absolute necessity to enjoy Infinity War, but it sure does help in appreciating everything it has to offer regarding every character interaction and moment of drama. It also helps the viewer in being able to process vignettes of exposition as well as fully grasping the overall plot as quickly as possible. This is not a standalone film. With so much story, characters and situations to flesh out onscreen, this film has no time to waste on recaps and updates. Some may be critical of this film not taking a more open ended approach to the story the way previous Avenger films have, and that criticism may have validation if 4 hour run times are on the table for becoming the new norm. Films just under 3 hours is already pushing critical mass, and I am far more pleased as a fan of the franchise to get more action, drama and character moments than redundant exposition that sucks up precious screen time.
Epic scale warfare sequences present tons of angles to appreciate, close quarters combat is intense without sacrificing image clarity thanks to quick cutting, tech effects, laser fire and aerial combat round out an incredible amalgam of exciting imagery.
DP Trent Opaloch demonstrates an excellent ability to conceptualize dynamic CG framing with his live action shots which is no small task even with a top of the line CG team and great directors. It never seems as if any of the action gets lost due to poor angles or scaling.
This is Thanos’ story and while he is a CG character, voice over and facial expression were ripped from Josh Brolin and his performance does not disappoint by pulling off menacing without falling into a full blown psycho. RDJ may be showing his age, but he’s still Tony Stark in every sense of the word and his capacity to step back from ego maniac to vulnerable sincerity pays off big time. Zoe Saldana and Chris Pratt continue to showcase amazing chemistry together, but Saldana’s Gamora has a number of extra dramatic scenes due to her connection with Thanos and her performance anchors the emotional gravitas that reverberates throughout the entire film. The only real downtick is that there are simply too many characters and too little screen time for everyone to have as dramatic moments as these three.
That being said, every single character is given singular opportunities throughout the film to shine and surprisingly enough, to do so more than once or twice. Let me preface this by saying that a film populated with leads might look bad on paper, but the familiarity and camaraderie amongst the ensemble makes it easier for the viewer to accept their favorite characters taking more of a back seat in this conflict. Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany as Scarlet Witch and Vision produce a fine romantic chemistry angle which usually gets a larger window for development in other super hero films. Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner/Hulk is leaned upon much more in this film for comedic asides and lighter hearted sentiment with his own patented charm and innocence. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange assumes a leadership role in this film and his clashing with RDJ’s Tony Stark is right on point considering their characters’ personalities. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man/Peter Parker produces the best work of his career by fully embodying the inner kid in all of us who secretly desire to be a part of something remarkably greater us. His performance brings the feels in spades. Unfortunately, there are simply too many moments and performances of note to mention here which leaves anyone who desires a bit more from their favorites longing for more.
Alan Silvestri’s original score for this film continues to build on the ever growing status of the Avengers’ theme with several transpositions that reflect the emotional tone of every scene in appropriate ways. The base melodies of this film may not feel as epic or grandiose as iconic orchestrations of other franchises, but as the quality of Marvel’s films continue to grow; audiences will love its musical identity more and more.
The sound department absolutely outdoes itself in this film because there is constantly something amazing being done by super people on Earth, in space, on foreign planets and everywhere in between. I was impressed with the sounds composed for Infinity Gauntlet activations, but was even more impressed by how silence was incorporated to otherwise maximize the sound that followed or the dwindling sound remaining in each scene.
“Moving” = 30/33
Marvel Studios productions are the gold standard for CGI and visual effects. Did you honestly think they’d disappoint in this film?
A ton of practical effects were integrated seamlessly in several medium and close up shots. Wire work, rubble being strewn about, explosions small and large all aim to please.
Every single character brings their original concept art to the fight in Infinity War with the two significant costume redesigns for Spider-Man and Iron Man being fully CG renditions. Costumes are as impressive, diverse and unique as they were in their respective origin films, but it would have been nice to see something new introduced here.
Hair & Makeup
War is hell, even if it involves fictional super heroes fighting monsters that defy reality. Thus, every character gets torn up fairly well and the makeup department does a decent job at building and maintaining the continuity of damage accumulating through the course of battle. This did seem a bit inconsistent as everyone seems to be exposed to similar action and while Steve Rogers shows a ton of punishment, others like Black Widow max out with some dirt on the cheek.
Wakanda looks as beautiful as it did in Black Panther as does NYC from every previous Marvel film. I had a mixed reaction to remote locations on other planets which felt rather generic featuring one or two major colors in the backdrop and basic war torn rubble in the background.
Although most of the action is happening outside, there are several revisits to familiar interiors that are a bit more visually impressive than exterior shots.
“Picture” = 26/33
This film wastes no time immediately establishing Thanos as an Omega threat to everyone in the opening seconds of run time. It is almost impossible for the audience to avoid having its attention immediately grasped unless the viewer takes the hook as too much, too soon.
All external conflicts play out perfectly with adequate and appropriate setups and payoffs that make what we see actually matter. The internal conflicts of the heroes and Thanos in particular are explored with stunning efficiency in moments of stillness. Philosophical and thematic conflicts play out in incredible ways thanks to some superior editing of both action and dialogue sequences that constantly build off of every previous scene.
The manner in which the dust settles in Infinity War defines the concept of surprise. No one can have predicted and certainly, no one is prepared. That being said, some in the audience may grapple with the satisfaction of this particular resolution which may or may not be what we want, need or deserve, but it is definitive and impactful.
The screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely showcases a master class in multi functional, maximum efficiency, character dialogue without sacrificing individual identities. Banter amongst all our heroes comes off naturally, relaxed and agitated when necessary, but it constantly pushes the plot forward with few dips in pacing, building connections to larger themes without reserving specific scenes that accomplish only that. All this is accomplished while peppering in perfectly timed comedic moments to regularly alleviate tension.
As effective as the hook is at grabbing the audience’s attention, it is equally troublesome at flooding the viewer with a ton of information right off the bat. Those not immediately engaged could be playing confused catch up for the rest of the film. Thankfully the volume of exposition gets dissipated more evenly through organic dialogue and action, but the initial haymaker is worth being prepared and alert for.
I am so happy with how the Russo Bros. and Feige make Thanos the focal point of this film because it is his origin story without copying the classic structure of an origin film. Thus, Thanos is without question the most unique character (let alone villain) of the MCU because conscious efforts were made to humanize a character established in the comic books as a nihilistic madman. We may be reviled with his depravity, but his character development is too thorough to allow the viewer to be confused about his purpose and agenda. We are all heroes of our own journeys; even those who become murderers, racists, sadists and the worst of humanity. It is refreshingly unique to see an antagonist in this type of production from that point of view.
Infinity War is an emotional roller coaster because fans of the franchise have made varying degrees of emotional investment with characters introduced from the past. While the Avengers and Guardians have developed in and around their sequels and subsequent films, these characters continue to grow in Infinity War and it is satisfying to see their constantly evolving arcs revealing more of who they are, exposing more common ground the audience can relate with.
“Story” = 30/34
Overall MPS Rating: 86/100
Avengers: Infinity War is far more exceptional than your average steroid induced slugfest of gods and monsters. However, its one true weakness is that it demands fealty in the form of fandom with the cinematic universe Marvel Studios has built over the course of 10 years. Anyone can buy a ticket, but the entertainment value extracted from experiencing this film is objectively limited to the degree of familiarity one has with the MCU. Hollywood would always prefer every film in a multi part saga to be enough of a standalone to ensure maximum audience potential (ticket sales) with every release, but this film doesn’t have the luxury of reestablishing pleasantries to ensure everyone in the audience is on the same page.
Infinity War is also a film that can teach other franchises a thing or two regarding the subversion of expectations. If you want to surprise an audience, you have to take risks. If you want those risks to pay off, you must ensure those choices serve the story, the characters’ journeys and make sense in the end. Plot doesn’t unravel in this film randomly. Characters don’t behave a certain way just because. Every moment in this film has a purpose that moves in a dedicated direction and a story filled to the brim with so much content could not be made in any other way without sacrificing coherence upon the funeral pyre of absurdity.
Watch. This. Film. Do so preferably on an IMAX screen because it was shot with IMAX cameras. I’d even recommend seeing it in a crowded audience to bear witness to the inevitable ooo’s, aah’s, cheers and cries this film evokes (then I’d recommend seeing it a week or two later to actually hear the dialogue that the audience participation drowned out). Great filmmaking is not defined by strict adherence to technique, checking off agenda boxes or exploring only certain subject matters. Great film, like all great art causes an emotional response that hits you initially, but then makes you think the days, weeks and months after experiencing it. Avengers: Infinity War may not be the Mona Lisa of cinema, but it exemplifies the fact that the modern mythology of the contemporary superhero is equal to or greater than the adventures, life lessons and cautionary tales of all ancient mythologies.