Avengers Forever: Why Marvel’s latest blockbuster is their best film in ages
Will we be spoiling Infinity War in this article? You can bet your ass we are.
Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War has just been released in cinemas around the world, and it’s everything fans have dreamed of, and everything superhero cynics have dreaded. Since the monolithic studio have upped their game to three movies a year, it’s been tiring work being a movie fan. Rocking up to the cinema expecting a veritable feast of cinematic variety has become a gamble in recent years. Chances are, you’re more likely to arrive in time for the twentieth showing of Marvel’s latest superpowered brawl that day than Isle of Dogs, for example, which has already been pulled from several movie chains.
So, it’s with a heavy heart that many of us weary-cinema goers trudged into our local multiplexes this week, armed with enough popcorn to get you through two and a half hours of non-stop intergalactic, cosmic nonsense.
But the film caught a lot of us off guard. Avengers: Infinity War totally rules.
First of all, let’s talk about the first couple of Avengers movies, as attempting to run through the whole 18 film slate of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is frankly headache-inducing. The first was an undeniable cultural moment, sure, but going back for a re-watch a few years removed and it’s painfully obvious that the film only really worked because everyone was expecting it not to. The effects look like glossy plastic, the character dynamics are stretched thin in favor of crowd-pleasing quips and moments, and if the film had themes, they were lost somewhere within the non-existent folds of Captain America’s skin-tight lycra.
Avengers: Age of Ultron was divisive from the off. In a way it was exactly what the Marvel Universe needed to reach the point we’re at now. It crafts its world with far more lived-in detail than the first superhero crossover, and introduces pivotal new characters (Scarlet Witch, Vision), as well as pivoting the franchise towards the ramifications and consequences of comic book characters entering the real world, themes that had gone ignored in previous entries.
However, it was tonally at complete odds with itself. Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) tried to go really damn dark with this one, but these moments don’t really hold water when James Spader’s Ultron punctuated each horrific sequence by singing about Pinocchio.
Despite their shortcomings, the two Avengers team-ups are some of the most successful films of all time. Ultron ended Phase Two with $1.4 billion under its utility belt, a nice sum that allowed Kevin Feige and his team of execs to roll up their sleeves and finally introduce a little creativity and risk to the homogeneous superhero serial. Which is our first point towards why Avengers: Infinity War is not only their best effort for Phase Three, but possibly the pinnacle of the universe since the first Iron Man kicked things off.
After easily walking away with the rights to Spider-Man after a nifty deal with Sony, the studio started showing off in the last year by attaching an eccentric, idiosyncratic New Zealand director for a tendency to wing it on the day, Taika Waititi, to direct the third Thor film, as well as releasing perhaps the most culturally relevant movie of the year with Black Panther, all the way back in February. Infinity War not only pays off those risks, but it creates new ones too.
With the addition of The Guardians of the Galaxy to the superhero roster, Marvel can finally get weird, and this is the closest the series has ever been to the psychedelia of the cosmic comics. Forget Doctor Strange, whose surreal sequences merely feel like a sizzle reel for what Marvel could be doing. On a surface level, every hero gets a moment to shine that’s just as creatively bizarre as their powers have been in the past, but the superb special effects, choreography and color mean this is one of their most lusciously inventive action spectacles they’ve produced so far.
Josh Brolin’s Thanos imbues the film with a level of villainy this series hasn’t seen before. With perhaps the greatest amount of screentime in the film, at least the most that’s been granted to a Marvel villain for an awfully long time, Thanos not only feels like an impending, tangible threat, but, most vitally, the audience is invited to truly understand the antagonist, an entry point we’re not usually granted.
Reports of him being sympathetic are a little overblown – he does throw his adopted daughter into an abyss to gain access to a glowing rock after all – but he certainly has dimensions, motivations and personality. A soft-spoken sociopath with a god complex, he represents unflinching ideologies fuelled by confirmation bias and narcissistic ignorance. And we can’t ignore it; the motion-capture work is insane, every facial tick and expression feels like a real person and the detail on his facial structure is crazy.
Like, at the end of the film Thanos is shown in an extreme close up and you realise that little hairs of stubble on his chin and head have been growing ever so slightly longer throughout the film. Like, it’s that good.
Splitting the narrative up into a number of disparate stories that culminate in the third act was an extremely smart move that feels entirely satisfying during the closing action sequence. It’s a necessity after the events of Civil War have left the team in ruins on opposite sides of the world, but it still seems like a calculated decision to lessen the possibilities of the film feeling over-stuffed and crowded.
It also allows for some character dynamics you had no idea you wanted. Rather than a traditional crossover scenario of two groups of heroes meeting simultaneously, characters get the opportunities to live moments together. Stark gets to roll his eyes at Drax, Thor gets some boisterous competition from both Starlord and Rocket, and Steve Rogers introducing himself to Groot is everything you’ve dreamed it would be.
References and call-backs
It wouldn’t be a Marvel article if we didn’t mention the frankly obscene number of comic book references and pay offs to older films, but they sure are in there. From the Iron Spider to Stormbreaker, Bucky becoming the White Wolf and even the return of the Red Skull. There are enough tidbits and easter eggs to make Ready Player One jealous (and these ones actually mean something).
Somehow, Infinity War managed to be funnier than the Thor movie which was literally directed by a comedic filmmaker. It’s also more quick-witted than Shane Black’s script for Iron Man 3, removes the ponderous gloom hanging over the Russo Brother’s previous Marvel films and even writes the Guardians of the Galaxy better than James Gunn.
Despite the film’s lighter moments, Infinity War maintains its stakes incredibly well with some genuinely effected performances, especially from veteran Avengers. Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner, who’s going through a little identity crisis with his alter ego after Thanos beats the shit out of him is, for seemingly the first time, genuinely harrowed by the impending threat to Earth. And can we talk about the ending?
No, we don’t seriously think that the characters who disintegrated into dust with the snap of Thanos’ fingers will remain dead, but it’s emotional torture when you’re actually in the moment. Seeing Okoye staring at the empty space that used to be her Wakandan king, Rocket losing his best friend and lifelong partner Groot, and Peter Parker reaching for a hug from his father figure and mentor while he slowly, agonisingly fades away from the audience is emotional torture.
Not only is it comic book accurate, it’s a genius, ballsy move that immediately doubles the stakes for the next film, whilst slyly leaving the original team of Avengers to save the day for one last epic celebration. Chances are, most of them will die, leaving Spidey, Strange, T-Challa and Captain Marvel to pick up the pieces and lead the next iteration of the franchise.
The post-credit stinger
Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) is introduced for her upcoming film and pinnacle role in Avengers 4, and Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction) finally gets to say “motherfucker” in a Marvel movie, even if he does get interrupted by disintegration. ‘Nuff said.
Marvel loves and understands its audience
Fans felt short-changed by Age of Ultron by treating them like idiots. It’s a film that assumes the emotional attention span of an average moviegoer is next to naught, and that a dark or powerful moment can only last for as long as it takes for the writers to come up with the next quip.
For a film that, admittedly, still feels constructed by committee, it’s a smart, emotive and dedicated committee working on Infinity War that gives us what we want, as well as what we didn’t realise we wanted. In every theater playing the film, audiences are laughing and cheering with a combination of joy and frank bemusement that moments that didn’t even occur to them would happen are happening on the screen in front of them.
From simple things like the resurrection of the Avengers theme during the most appropriate sequences, to the handling of bleaker subject matter and its shocking, infuriating cliffhanger, Infinity War lets us feel things we want to feel, with the assurance that everything will turn out alright in the end.