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Review: Avengers | Infinity War

Sarah Ward

Marvel's massive superhero mash-up proceeds with purpose and precision, and earns the 19-film investment of its audience.
Review: Avengers | Infinity War

'Have you ever seen that really old movie Aliens?' Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland, Spider-Man Homecoming) asks Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr., Captain America: Civil War) early in Avengers: Infinity War. It’s a question that serves multiple purposes – garnering laughs, nodding to the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s lengthy lifespan and countering corresponding criticisms about its sprawling status. The line offers a reminder that humour courses through the MCU’s veins, even when conflict is imminent. It recognises that Spider-Man’s latest iteration is geared towards a much younger target audience than Iron Man, who first debuted ten years ago, while poking fun at the fact that the Marvel film franchise’s longevity has made such a situation inevitable. And, it makes the point that this prolonged superhero series isn’t the only long-running property still regularly serving up new instalments. 

Parker’s query also speaks to popular culture’s inescapably intertwined nature in general: the MCU may have spent a decade carving out its domain, but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Name-checking another sci-fi saga still releasing new chapters speaks to the tangled web continually spun by screen-based entertainment, regardless of which series happens to be in the spotlight at a given moment. Now 19 features in, Marvel’s patch of celluloid turf shows no signs of shrinking, though neither does the broader realm it’s a part of, or other franchises. Ongoing properties that span multiple generations and plot out an endless future are the new reality – and, whether based on Ridley Scott’s chest-bursting extra-terrestrial effort, Stan Lee’s comic books or even George Lucas’ space opera, which the MCU is clearly taking cues from, they’re here to stay. 

Thankfully, Infinity War doesn’t just reiterate the status quo without convincingly illustrating how all of the above can prove effective. After fashioning some recent efforts as water-treading placeholders for the next instalments that always follow, and pointing all 18 previous titles towards this very feature, the film puts the MCU’s various pieces together in an engaging, smart and thrilling fashion. There’s no such thing as a final resolution in the Marvel world, with more features set to follow, including a sequel to Infinity War next year; however, the franchise’s television serial-like structure gets its strongest justification yet. If Thor: Raganarok showed how to add fun and personality to the template, and Black Panther how to explore a self-contained story unhampered by constantly looking forward, then the third Avengers flick demonstrates that threading a ten-year history together can be achieved successfully and satisfyingly. 

The plot, while connecting no fewer than 30 previously seen MCU characters, is slight: Thanos (Josh Brolin, Only the Brave), the giant purple villain previously seen in The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Age of Ultron, is still determined to collect all six Infinity Stones. If he succeeds in scouring the universe for the gems, each of which bestow specific powers, his destructive abilities will increase to catastrophic levels. With not only Earth but the entire galaxy facing devastation on a hitherto unseen scale, the motley crew of superheroes band together to face their greatest threat. 

Jumping from New York to Scotland to Wakanda on Earth, and from intergalactic locales Knowhere, Titan and Nidavellir too, Infinity War unfurls its action episodically, fittingly. It flits from Spider-Man, Iron Man and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Current War) grappling with Thanos’ flunkies, to Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans, Gifted) and his cohort of outcast ex-Avengers doing the same elsewhere; and from Thor’s fate in space (Chris Hemsworth, 12 Strong) to the involvement of Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt, Passengers) and his fellow Guardians. The film’s immense size is never in doubt through its tally of locations, figures and fights, but it doesn’t simply contend that bigger is better. Every character mightn’t get their full time to shine, or to grow or evolve, with some appearing in little more than cameos; however three-time MCU directors Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War) and seasoned franchise scribes Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, (Thor: The Dark World, the two Captain America sequels and TV’s Agent Carter) bring Infinity War’s filmic predecessors to a peak with keenly felt stakes, as well as precision and feeling.

And, with plenty of delights too – some small, others significant, and all appreciated. Pairing up cinema’s Sherlock Holmes with TV’s Sherlock and pitting the franchise’s three Chrises in comic battles for supremacy are pleasant, amusing touches; exploring Gamora’s (Zoe Saldana, I Kill Giants) backstory brings depth and weight, while also tying into Infinity War’s key asset: its villain. In fact, the jam-packed roster of heroes actually points the film’s focus towards Thanos, making him the true protagonist. Under CGI, he’s enlivened with gravitas by Brolin, but, more importantly, he’s given substance by the story – something Marvel hasn’t always managed, but has recently accomplished in Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther

Combine characters ascending to the grim apex of their current arc with a hefty nemesis that’s given flesh to match his threats, plus performances aptly conveying both, and Infinity War easily earns the investment of its audience. Throw in a suitably bleaker tone, well-handled suspense and well-staged (albeit frequent) frays that seethe with seriousness, and it arouses thrills well beyond its superhero juggling act. Of course, some of the audience’s excitement rumbles with the weight of history; viewers have spent a decade seeing this story unfold, delving into this world and getting to know its players, in a movie that’s not created for or aimed towards MCU first-timers. Crucially, that’s not all there is to Infinity War, even if that’s the pop culture reality we all now live in. Like any culmination of a long-running series, there’s purpose and emotion as this blockbuster intertwines its many strands, provides a gripping payoff and paves – as always – another path forward.

★★★☆

Avengers: Infinity War
Directors: Anthony and Joe Russo
USA, 2018, 149 mins

Release date: 25 April 2018
Distributor: Disney
Rated: M

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Sarah Ward is a freelance film critic, arts and culture writer, and film festival organiser. She is the Australia-based critic for Screen International, a film reviewer and writer for ArtsHub, the weekend editor and a senior writer for Concrete Playground, a writer for the Goethe-Institut Australien’s Kino in Oz, and a contributor to SBS, Metro Magazine and Screen Education. Her work has been published by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Junkee, FilmInk, Birth.Movies.Death, Lumina, Senses of Cinema, Broadsheet, Televised Revolution, and the World Film Locations book series. She is also the editor of Trespass Magazine, a film and TV critic for ABC radio Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, and has worked with the Brisbane International Film Festival, Queensland Film Festival, Sydney Underground Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival. Follow her on Twitter: @swardplay