“Avengers: Infinity War” (2018)

Action

images

Running Time: 149 minutes

Written by: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely

Directed by: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

Featuring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Josh Brolin, and Chris Pratt

Nick Fury: “There was an idea…

Tony Stark: “To bring together, a group of remarkable people…”

Vision: “To see if we could become something more…”

Thor: “So when they needed us, we could fight the battles…”

Natasha Romanoff: “That they never could.”

Critical Commentary:

Well the wait is over, so after eighteen previous MCU movies we can now see where the entire franchise has been heading to, this movie, “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018) where the villain Thanos as well as his minions take center stage to assemble the often-mentioned infinity stones so that he can have total power over the Universe. What is puzzling has been what will the mad Titan (he is a Titan as that is the world he comes from) do once he actually gets the stones in his vaunted Infinity Gauntlet. The good news is that we find out, not only that we also get a primer on what those stones are, where they come from and why use a glove to assemble them anyway?

This movie deserves accolades for just getting to the screen as it is an exercise in not only logistics but in getting the right tone for a movie with this huge scope as well as so many characters from the previous movies over the past ten years. It is the second MCU movie this year, it should have been the crowning achievement of ten years, as well as possibly the biggest event movie of the current blockbuster climate, or at least this year, but some of its thunder has been stolen, one could say even cannibalized by the release this year of “Black Panther” (2018), which has generated over US$1.3 billion globally becoming the biggest grossing MCU in the US alone. It now appears that this new movie is set to possibly be anti-climactic, in fact if it turns out not to be great or could affect “Black Panther’s” chances come awards time it may be seen as a disappointment. I can say that is not the case it actually reminds us how great Wakanda as well as that entire movie was, so great to see it again in all its glory.

Fresh of the double success that was “Captain America: Winter Soldier” (2014) and “Captain America: Civil War” (2016) directors Anthony Russo & Joe Russo, not forgetting  screenwriters Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely had the task of corralling over thirty main characters as well as bringing to a kind of conclusion the past ten years. However, with two of the best MCU films under their belts all four seem to be the obvious choices to bring “Avengers: Infinity War” (as well as its sequel next year) to the screen with its disparate locations, very different characters, high drama and of course comedy that has become the staple of not only their other work but the MCU in general. Of course, there is one other player, the constant force behind every single MCU movie from the first “Iron Man” (2008) through to this one, that is producer Kevin Feige. Feige is the real mastermind behind all the ups, downs, accidents, mistakes as well as the successes of all the MCU movies, the question is will this new Avengers movie be a “Black Panther” or an “Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015)? The good news is that as far as I am concerned this is an unmitigated success on most fronts, it brings together a promise of what was started all those years ago while if not actually delivering makes a promise of more epic stories to come as well as leaving the entire MCU on a razor’s edge.

Two years after the Avengers were torn apart during the events of “Captain America: Civil War”, Thanos arrives on Earth to collect the Infinity Stones for a gauntlet that will allow him to bend reality to his will. The Avengers must join forces with the Guardians of the Galaxy to stop him before his onslaught of destruction puts an end to half the universe

Much has been made of the amount of characters within this movie, there are plenty, so much of the actual story as well as the character beats are presented with looks or shorthanded dialogue, this is a movie that expects viewers to know the histories as well as previous plot points before going in, it is one of the ways the movie has been streamlined – if you could say a running time over two and half hours is streamlined. That and the fact that the majority of this movie is spent on the run, literally, from the opening to the very end (when yes there is a cliffhanger of sorts), this is most definitely the first part of a six hour epic. Unlike previous MCU movies this is not a comic book movie presented within the framewprk of other genres, like a heist movie, a spy movie or even a comedy – “Avengers: Infinity War” is exactly what it is presented as, a 100% comic book movie, with a villain trying to get something, with hench men and heroes attempting to stop him in a variety of ways, at various locations and of course the ultimate comic maguffin, the Infinity Gauntlet, more precisely the power behind said gauntlet. It is goal focused, one of the easiest stories to tell as well as plot so that audiences can keep up, staying focused until the very ending which for some will most definitely be a shock.

There is so much to unpack with this movie, but the central character who has been threatening to arrive since the first Avengers movie is finally here, all CGI but voiced by the malevolent Josh Brolin, who plays him as well as you would expect. In fact Thanos is really the only new main character to appear (in full that is) so it is up to the movie to convince the audience of not only his power and credentials but his purpose as well. What I found refreshing was that this is partly accomplished by concentrating on the relationships between Gamora, Nebula and to a lessor extent Peter Quill. Some of the best scenes are in the middle of the movie with the search for the Soul stone, as well as the exploration as well as origins of Gamora and Thanos, these were carried out extremely well, giving new depths to the characters of Gamora, Nebula as well as Thanos. Similarly this was something that was explored in last years “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017) with the short scenes between Odin, Thor and Loki which were far too brief – this relationship to is again briefly explored at the beginning of the movie. In saying that they are the only real personal moments in a movie packed with action, spectacle and awe.

The use of CGI is stretched to its limits here with the (over?) use of artificial sets, artificial people as well as artificial lifeforms, the good news is that they are juxtaposed by the real sets of New York and Wakanda which at times were welcome relief after so many digital backgrounds and extensive makeup, as well as of course the completely CGI characters of Rocket, Groot and Thanos himself – not counting multiple CGI iron people, spider-man, henchmen and various others. In saying that I loved returning to Wakanda, surely one of the location highlights especially after the success that was “Black Panther”, not only that but the various cast member of that movie are all still excellent as well as impactful, my personal favorite M’buku was a treat, he did not disappoint, in fact the last third of the movie is set there, and I am sure it will play an important part in the next installment.

“Avengers: Infinity War” is such an assuredly as well as competently directed movie by the Russo’s that it is easy to forget the challenge that was placed before them, they have made all the right moves, covering each location with just enough to give the audiences a taste of what is to come in the final shocking act, we are given enough to foresee the conclusion if you know your lore. This is based on a comic book storyline, one of the best ever constructed, so fans of that will know what is to come as well as the power behind the character of Thanos as well as his madness. This is an alien that asks for no quarter, none is given; he dispatches characters with ease as well as no remorse as we see in the opening of the movie. What is shocking is that Thanos knows all of the people he is going to face, which is proven by interactions with Loki and Tony Start, something that covers a few bases in case you think there is room for trickery – there is not. Of course the writers Markus & Stephen McFeely have alerted many of the aspects of the original story to fit within previous movies, some may complain but I find the possibility of surprise refreshing – even though I would love to see Starlin’s story played out as on the page. It is not enough to just transfer the story, any good adaptation has to retain the feeling of the original but make it something more than a copy, it has to be original which I am happy to say this is.

The MCU is still dominated by Robert Downey Jnr as Iron Man, more so with his new armor as well as his ability to stand up to anyone, but it was with glee that I thought Chris Hemsworth as Thor take his well earned success from last years movie, running with it and proving that like Downey he now owns his character, I hope to see more of him in the future. However, it is Chris Evans as Steve Rogers who is the real heart of these movies, he was born to play Captain America, someone who is the least powerful among his peers, but time and again proves that the bigger they are the harder they fall. As he moves away from the role tough I can easily see Chadwick Boseman taking his place as the born leader who will make decisions many are unable to, as will Sebastian Stan as Bucky who more and more proves he too owns his character. The surprise other than Brolin for me was the skill and ownership Zoe Saldana had as Gamora, that and the fact that in many ways this movie is all about her character, the growth she has as well as the influence she has over the people who are and have been in her life. To be fair the rest of the cast add their own skill to the screen but it for others to do the real heavy lifting which may change when next years sequel arrives.

This is by no means a perfect movie, the fact that all the character development is given to Thanos means that his top tier villains are no more than carborard cut outs with no real explanation of their powers or weaponry, they come and go at whim with little rhyme or reason. I would have liked to know the limits of their powers or at least some kind of back story, I completely understand why we didn’t but it does not help when you want to know more, especially when the MCU has always given backstories to most of their characters. Also there is an overreliance on knowing these people through different stories, mostly their own movies, so there seemed a clumsiness to prove that while they are appearing in a different movie they are still the same people – Drax for me became a little annoying and one dimensional which I thought was a bit of a disservice to him and the rest of the Guardians, Quill was the same – this may be an example of what happens when Downey dominates your section of the movie. Of course after a while there also seemed like a vacuum of ideas of how Thanos and his cronies could interact without violence especially since in most cases there was no or not much of a resolution until the last part of the movie, in fact there felt like an overreliance on the last scenes to make the previous two hours worthwhile. I will say that as character creations go as well as how they interact within crowded fight choreography the MCU are the best without doubt which shows in all of the action scenes in “Avengers: Infinity War”.

In saying that I still loved this movie, has there ever been a bigger event movie in terms of not only anticipation but also a possible payoff after ten years as well as the weight of eighteen movies? The answer is no, this has been the most successful franchise globally ever, it has had ups and downs, but it has persisted with more good parts than bad, which is proven by the fact that next year we will be seeing the conclusion to this movie as well as some of the characters that this franchise has been built on. In terms of comic book films as spectacle and jeopardy this has to be one the best of all time, it has such an emotional ending that I was surprised by how I felt in thinking about what the ramifications were going to be as well as how some of the characters will not only move forward but how this story will resove – my only problem is I have to wait a entire year.

Technical Commentary:

4K Ultra HD Blu-ray:

Disney brings “Avengers: Infinity War” to Ultra HD Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack.

Video

The Avengers 4K arrives on Ultra HD with a beautiful and generally satisfying HEVC H.265 encode that offers several nice enhancements over the Blu-ray.

Shot on the Arri Alexa 65, capable of 6.5K resolution, and later mastered to a 4K Digital Intermediate, the 4K presentation delivers an uptick in overall definition and clarity. However, the improvements are not all that dramatic with several moments of softness sprinkled throughout. There is negligible aliasing or wobbly lines along the sharpest edges of some objects, and from time to time, especially in the long shots, the picture can appear somewhat noisy.

The better upgrade is definitely the brighter, more vibrant contrast delivering a sparky more brighter presentation, particularly in the daylight exteriors, such as the battle for Wakanda. The freshly-minted transfer comes with crisper, more radiant whites. Specular highlights don’t really improve much, but the brightest areas are nonetheless noticeably tighter, allowing for better visibility of the finest details. Black levels are a tad richer and inkier with great gradational differences between the various shades so that we can see the tiniest feature of everyone’s costumes.

Audio Review

Unlike its Blu-ray counterpart, the Ultra HD has a highly enjoyable Dolby Atmos soundtrack, offering a few noteworthy improvements over the DTS-HD MA 7.1 version. It may not compare to some of the best tracks currently available, which could make it somewhat disappointing, but it delivers a better aural experience that’s more engaging.

For one thing, the overall volume can be adjusted to normal listening levels although the design remains a very front-heavy presentation. The explosive action is largely confined and restrained to the three fronts, leaving the surrounds and ceiling speakers pretty much in silence for a majority of the runtime. On the plus side, the random effects discretely pan between the channels more fluidly and convincingly. Other scenes come with good atmospherics in the overheads. Such moments don’t really create a hemispheric soundfield that ideally matches the exciting, fiery visuals, but it manages to deliver a satisfying soundscape.

Like the lossless mix on the BD, the object-based track, however, delivers a highly-engaging and satisfying soundstage, displaying excellent channel balance and separation from beginning to end. The movie is littered with lots of background activity and off-screen movement, generating a broad and expansive soundscape. The mid-range exhibits outstanding clarity and definition with plenty of warmth and fidelity during the loudest, most bombastic segments.

Special Features

Blu-ray Disc

  • Audio Commentary — Directors Joe & Anthony Russo sit down with writers Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely for a detailed discussion about the film’s development and production. Terrific commentary.
  • Beyond the Battle: Wakanda (HD, 11 min) — “Go behind the scenes to find out how the filmmakers pulled off the most massive and challenging battle Marvel had ever attempted.”
  • Beyond the Battle: Titan (HD, 10 min) — “Dive into the climactic struggle on Thanos’ ruined world, including the epic stunts and VFX, to uncover the source of its power.”
  • The Mad Titan (HD, 7 min) — “Explore the MCU’s biggest, baddest villain, his trail of influence through the stories, and the existential threat he represents.”
  • Strange Alchemy (HD, 5 min) — Marvel filmmakers talk about the power of crossovers following separate or individual superhero movies.
  • Deleted & Extended Scenes (HD, 10 min) — Four scenes rescued from the cutting room floor.
    • Happy Knows Best
    • Hunt for the Mind Stone
    • The Guardians Get Their Groove Back
    • A Father’s Choice
  • Gag Reel (HD, 2 min) — Showing the lighter side of the production.

 

 

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