Avengers: Infinity War. This generation’s Lord of the Rings. (Spoiler-free review)

Every once in a while, something epic appears on the big screens. Fifteen years ago, it was the Lord of the Rings. A movie (or movie trilogy, to be precise) which people said could never be made, due to how epic the books were. And yet Peter Jackson, with the help of Weta Digital, somehow managed to pull it off. It helped that the book was filled with strong writing and majestic settings; all that was needed (which was still a lot) was to translate that into a vision for the big screen.

And now, after eighteen movies and ten years, Marvel Studios has accomplished their version of this. Avengers:Infinity War is a sprawling, almost three-hour long epic, bringing together just about every character that has thus far appeared in the MCU. Just about. There are a couple of notable absentees, and a couple of surprising cameos.

poster

Let me start by saying, I loved it. It was spectacular, as expected. However, what I didn’t expect was to leave the cinema with a heavy heart. It felt strange. In hindsight, I suppose that is the mark of a good movie, one that really draws you in and gets you emotionally invested in the outcome. Still, it felt awful, slightly. Like the ending of Inception, where you wonder if Dom actually made it back to the real world to see his kids, or was he stuck in a dream version. It was satisfying, and yet not. Infinity War felt a little like that. I know it’s because this is just half-time, and there’s a whole other movie (Avengers 4) which will resolve everything. But you can’t help feeling a bit “what the heck” when you leave the cinema.

I’ve recently launched the first book of my young adult epic fantasy trilogy, and I’ve had friends tell me they can’t wait for the next book to see what happens. As in, they really can’t wait. They are a bit annoyed that the saga carries on only in six months’ time. One friend even said, when I passed her a copy, that she’ll only read it one month before the next book is due to come out, as she hates to be kept in suspense for a long time. Infinity War made me feel the same way – I know things will sort of turn out ok in the end, but the end is one year away. For now, the effect of the first movie left me with a bit of “arghhh”.

That’s not to say it’s a bad movie. Far from it. It’s great on many levels, but has lots of flaws too. Let’s get started with what I loved about it:

I loved that just about everybody was in it, and given reasonably equal screen time. Of course, the main drivers of the story, Iron Man and Thanos, had a lot more than the rest, but you don’t get the sense that “minor” characters like Winter Soldier and War Machine were completely sidelined. They had little bits where their stories were fleshed out more.

The fight scenes were by far the most epic in any MCU movie yet. When you’re facing a villain as overwhelmingly powerful like Thanos, it takes just about everybody working together to try to bring him down, and that made for a great spectacle. I could watch those scenes over and over again. And the Black Order, Thanos’ children, were shown to be very powerful, and more than a match for Earth’s heroes (and Asgard’s as well, come to think of it). Some fans were upset with what they assumed was the Black Order being “nerfed” in order to let “mere humans” defeat them (Black Widow, Cap, Falcon, from one of the final trailers). I can assure you, this wasn’t the case. You will enjoy watching the Black Order. They really do kick ass. So much so that Thanos was almost not needed for most of the movie (but rest assured, he does more than hold his own in several crazy scenes).

hulkbuster

I love the banter between Star-Lord and Tony Stark. Two oversized egos clashing head on, was hilarious. But even earlier, Star-Lord clashes with Thor, who is definitely wayy out of Peter’s league (now that he is no longer a half-Celestial, after the events of Guardians of the Galaxy 2). But in terms of snark and ego, I think Peter beats Tony and Thor, hands-down.

star lord

Seeing Dr. Strange fighting, with a lot more confidence in his powers and a lot more tricks up his sleeve. Can’t wait for his next movie, whenever that may be.

strange

Telling Thanos’ side of the story. He’s far and away the best villain in the MCU so far. Loki? Just an angry kid by comparison. Thanos is powerful, ruthless and ambitious, yet not one-note or one-dimensional. He is a being burdened with the weight of destiny, or so he believes, and is willing to pay as high a price as necessary to fulfill that. It is compelling to watch, and you almost feel sad for him at some points. Almost. Don’t forget he kills a lot of people along the way. That quickly reminds you, nope, he’s the baddie here.

thanos

Making time to show some emotional arcs, so that there is a proper payoff later in the movie. As shown in the trailers, there’s bits involving Thanos and Gamorra, bits involving Wanda and Vision, bits involving the Guardians. These are all important because choices made later in the movie would have felt shallow and contrived if the backstory and emotional depth had not been laid down earlier.

Really cool new tech. Mostly from Iron Man, who has such an insane new suit that it’s almost unbelievable. You start to think that he’s got a pocket dimension stored in his wallet, so that he can keep pulling out new things from seemingly nowhere. Fun to watch, nonetheless. And Thor going about his business, that was some great stuff too. And the character he meets out in space, awesome too. Can’t help shake off his performance from another major franchise, though. I keep seeing his Game of Thrones character instead of who he is playing in this movie.

iron man

Now here’s some things which I wasn’t too impressed with:

Wayyy too many characters. Yes, this sounds like I’m contradicting myself. I’m not. I think trying to cram so many characters into a single movie means that you’re gonna struggle to give enough screen time to all of them. I like seeing everybody in the movie, but I can’t help feel that the treatment of most of them was very cursory. Some characters have one or two lines in the entire movie, others, who have had several solo movies already, play bit parts here because they aren’t essential to driving the main plot forward. Still, there was no way around this problem, and I think in the end, the Russo brothers did a masterful job trying to balance all the competing interests.

The Battle for Wakanda felt a little contrived. Maybe I’m just a little jaded from seeing massive set-piece battles involving hundreds (thousands?) of faceless enemies (Chitauri from Avengers 1, Ultron-bots from Avengers 2, army of the dead from Thor: Ragnarok, Hydra soldiers, and so on). That’s why I loved Dr. Strange and Cap:Civil War so much. The enemies weren’t hordes of henchmen – they were compelling and interesting enemies. So, for me, ironically, the weakest part of Infinity War was the big battle on the plains of Wakanda. A lot of punching and kicking, but it just feels like more of the same. The fighting against Thanos personally, against the Black Order, now those really felt like something fresh and worth watching.

Not enough of Thanos’ side of the story. Yeah, I know I said that I was happy they told his story. I’m saying that I wish they went even deeper. Like his philosophy was mentioned, but it felt very rushed and in passing. Would have loved to see a bit more about how he came to his worldview and his assumptions about the right solution to the problems of the universe.

gauntlet

The ending. Yeah I know this is to set up the next movie, but still. And when you see two major characters either make seriously silly mistakes that lead to the final outcome, or  do nothing to prevent bad things from happening, you feel a bit like “eh? c’mon that’s rubbish!” But, ok, let’s just leave it as “it’s easy to know what’s the right thing to do when you’re sitting in a comfortable chair rather than fighting out on the battlefield.”

But, to be fair, these are small grievances. The movie is as good as I’d hoped, maybe even better in some ways. Some people won’t like parts of it, probably the fans who loved the comics and wanted to see certain things done a certain way. But for the rest of us, I think there’s enough here to enjoy. This is a watershed moment – this movie will go down in movie history along with some of the greatest out there, if anything simply for its ambition and boldness.

Oh, and do catch it on IMAX 3-D if you can. It’s worth the price for this kind of action.

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