Two critics go to Avengers: Infinity War – and draw very different conclusions

by Russell Baillie and James Robins / 08 May, 2018

Is Avengers: Infinity War a special edition bumper issue or just another cheap flick in a dictatorship of conformity?

James Robins – ★★

In 2008, Marvel released Iron Man, the starting gun for an extended franchise that has swarmed our screens with eighteen films at an unremitting pace. And that’s not counting innumerable off-shoots and DC’s glum pretenders.

Marvel’s desire is for a “cinematic universe”, but we really ought to call this business model a “regime”. Each instalment must obey strictly-defined boundaries of tone, style, and story: heroes unencumbered by failure, planet-destroying cataclysms, self-referential and self-reverential humour.

Avengers: Infinity War, the nineteenth entry in the series, is the apex of this rigidity, pooling together a decade of films that blend seamlessly together because none of them ­– none of them­ ­– have dared to be imaginative in any way. This is a dictatorship of conformity.

Only one aspect changed. Things got bigger, louder, more extravagant, more ludicrous. We’ve progressed from two rich men in metal suits of armour duking it out to a supreme, all-controlling existential threat in the form of Thanos (Josh Brolin), who is, as Thor (Chris Hemsworth) tenderly points out, “the latest in a long line of bastards.”

His quest: to find six cosmological gems that when placed in a kitsch gauntlet will grant the wearer limitless power. Rising to meet this galactic nuisance are various figures from earlier Avengers films, plus Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, still struggling with an American accent) and the Guardians of the Galaxy. The scattered narrative spans Earth and a variety of indistinguishable alien worlds.

Crucially, plucking these superheroes from their unique contexts robs them of them of their distinct identity. When you remove Captain America from his place as a WWII-era propaganda tool, for example, he becomes just another strongman with leather-bound biceps.

And the bigger things get, the less seems to matter. Fundamentally, Avengers: Infinity War suffers from an extreme lack of stakes. All action and all sacrifice is emotionally void if reality can be manipulated and time reversed.

And still, after two hours and forty minutes of relentless digital jackhammering, my favourite moment in the film is during a brief sojourn to Scotland when the real world unexpectedly intrudes on the fantastical. Lingering in the background of one shot is a sign in the window of chip shop: “We can deep fry your kebab!” After a decade of this carry-on, I’m beginning to feel a little battered, too. 

Russell Baillie – 

Just as the Twilight and Harry Potter movies did, the grand finale of the Avengers films – being the nineteenth movie in the decade-long Marvel Cinematic Universe – has been split in two. Yes, Infinity War, all 160 special effects-laden minutes of it, is just the beginning of the end. Or an end.

It’s quite a first curtain call. It stars, give or take a sidekick or two, around two dozen superheroes – most of them played by guys named Chris. Given that crowd, that its villain, a large mauve magic gem-collecting intergalactic Genghis Khan named Thanos, has made it his evil mission to reduce overpopulation across the universe kind of makes sense. It would be tempting to say here “but nothing else does”. Except Infinity War largely does, even when its battles are being fought on multiple fronts including Black Panther’s Wakanda and a planet where it appears prog-rock album covers go to die.

It outstrips the previous Avengers get-togethers for surprises, peril, humour (Thor still high on the laughing gas of last year’s Ragnarok), and outbreaks of acting (Zoe Saldana’s green gal Gamora gets the MVP). Thanos (a motion-captured Josh Brolin) makes this a rare Marvel flick in that it has a truly memorable villain.

Yes, it’s congested, exhausting and finishes up up bamboozling. But it also has the feel of a bumper issue comic book and the way it keeps those pages turning makes Infinity War a special edition.

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