Two critics go to Avengers: Infinity War – and draw very different conclusionsby Russell Baillie and James Robins
James Robins – ★★
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 – ★★★★
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.
A new TV series stars two women in repressed, male-chauvinist Naples and is filmed in Neapolitan.Read more
Many people find themselves using one or other of these subjunctive forms without really knowing why.Read more
Unless we get serious about recycling, there’ll be a tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish in the ocean by 2025.Read more
Todd Pitock's travels through Israel reveal the true differences between American and Israeli Jews.Read more
Far from being Trump’s near-“complete victory”, the midterms mean opportunities for rigging electoral boundaries have swung back towards the Dems.Read more
Normal People is sharply observed portrait of an on-off romance and a book you need to read.Read more
Doubling down on food during pregnancy is out, unless it’s diet quality we’re talking about.Read more