REVIEW DEUX Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Fair warning: considerable spoilers follow – read after watching.

A few more thoughts about Avengers: Infinity War after seeing it for the second time last night …

Okay, before we start, it was a lot of fun seeing it with a large audience. The first time I saw the film – last Wednesday – was in a much smaller theatre, with only around twenty people. Last night’s screening was a standard cinema, almost completely full with nearer to three hundred people. And it was really enjoyable to sit back and relax, and take in how much the people around me were enjoying the film – from the guy at the front who happily cried out “what the fuck” when Red Skull showed up on Vormir, to smatterings of applause when Thor arrives in Wakanda, to the audible gasp when Tony gets stabbed toward the end of the battle on Titan, the audience reactions added something to my own enjoyment of the film.

Though, I’ll be honest, I’m glad this was at my second screening, not my first.

My second watch through revealed something interesting about the structure and pace of the film. This was front of mind anyway: in their review on The Watch podcast, hosts Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald mentioned how the first two acts felt like a series of short stories in each of the various locations.

The film is definitely structured this way – we start with a lengthy scene aboard the Asgardian refugee ship, then head to New York for an extended sequence – Banner arrives, Strange recruits Stark, Obsidian and Maw arrive, Maw escapes with Strange pursued by Stark and Spidey – then we’re back out in space with the Guardians Of The Galaxy for another lengthy sequence in which they meet Thor, then we head to Scotland to catch up with Vision and Scarlet Witch, and on it goes.

The thing I noticed last night, though, is that while the early parts of the film take their time catching us up on each group of characters, on the story they have to tell, and setting up the rest of the film in each location, it felt like the amount of time spent in each place shortened over the second half of the film.

Or to put it another way, the pace of the film – the frequency of cuts from scene to scene – quickens as the stakes intensify. As the action builds and the story starts to take on real weight, and as the heroes start to fight back against Thanos and his forces, we start bouncing between scenes more and more quickly, until that final scene, which takes its sweet time repeatedly driving a dagger into our hearts.

It’s a clever way to keep the audience involved, keep us feeling like we can’t quite get a foothold in the story. And it is pulled off in near-perfect fashion: though the action is taking place in three locations – Wakanda, Titan and Nidavellir (as an aside, I thought Avengers: Infinity War was much more a spiritual sequel to Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2 and Thor: Ragnarok than it was to Captain America: Civil War, which was what I feel like the Russo Brothers implied) – you never feel lost and you always feel like you know what is happening.

Amazingly, considering it contains about a million characters, Avengers: Infinity War might be the most coherent film in Marvel Cinematic Universe to date, or at least in the last couple of years.

I was also struck by an element of the story that I hadn’t noticed the first time around. Well, I mean, I think I did notice it the first time around but – and this is why repeat viewings are great – I don’t know that I saw the connection.

So, follow me for a second here (and this part is extremely spoilery): during the course of the film, multiple characters are faced with a choice between sacrificing someone to achieve their goal, or simply not succeeding in their mission. And it feels like several characters whiff on this decision: Loki can’t stand by as Thanos destroys Thor, Quill refuses to shoot Gamora after she is grabbed by Thanos, Gamora can’t take the torture being inflicted on her adopted sister Nebula, Strange can’t sacrifice Stark to protect the time stone (more on that shortly), and even Scarlet Witch hesitates to take down Vision, only committing to it after Thanos himself arrives on the battlefield and presents and clear threat.

In fact, the only person with the will to sacrifice another is Thanos himself. Sure, Quill eventually took a shot at Gamora, Strange let Stark get almost-mortally stabbed, and Scarlet Witch destroys the mind stone. But they all hesitated. Thanos, on the other hand, is presented with a choice: kill Gamora in order to acquire the soul stone, or fail in his mission, and he doesn’t hesitate. As soon as he is presented with the choice, it is clear what is going to happen, even as Gamora laughs in his face.

Now, earlier in the film, our heroes use the phrase “we don’t trade lives” a couple of times; I believe Cap is the first character to mention it. And it reminded me of that beautiful Maori proverb: “He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tangata, he tangata, he tangata” – what is the most important thing in the world? It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.

And that is the difference between Thanos and our heroes: they care about people and he does not. Thanos presents his solution – wiping out half the population of the universe – as solving the problem of declining resources, but he really just doesn’t care about the people. He is trying to solve a real problem, but his solution is driven by a lack of compassion.

I know what you’re thinking: “yeah, we know”. But the thing is, this continues something that started in the Marvel Cinematic Universe after the release of The Avengers in 2012. Following that film, audiences began to turn against the idea of cities being destroyed, civilians being killed en masse, and the general population filling the ‘collateral damage’ role.

Since that point, the folks at Marvel Studios have made a point of having their heroes put the public first – whether that is evacuating the city of Sokovia in Avengers: Age Of Ultron, having Spider-Man steer a plane into an abandoned beach, or having Thor focus on getting the people of Asgard away from his battle with Hela. I just thought it was nice to see that consistency continue, even though you could argue the story has outgrown those kind of concerns.

Before I go, just a quick note on Doctor Strange handing over the time stone in exchange for Tony Stark’s life. Earlier in the film, Strange explicitly tells Stark that he will not hesitate to let Stark (or Spider-Man) die in order to protect the time stone, then at the end of the battle on Titan, he explicitly exchanges the stone for Stark’s life. A surface read of this would indicate that he, like Gamora and Quill and Loki, couldn’t sit by and watch somebody die when he could do something about it.

However, I subscribe to this theory: between the two exchanges I mentioned, Strange uses the time stone to look at potential future outcomes – a staggering 14,000,605 of them, in fact – and saw only one in which the heroes came out on top. And knowing what he knows, he hands over the time stone after saying he absolutely would not do so. So the theory is that Strange knows that the one positive outcome either required Thanos to collect all the stones and complete his plan, or required Tony Stark to be alive. I would suggest it is the latter, since the former doesn’t necessarily require Stark.

As I mentioned in my first review, I called the ending one of the boldest in superhero film history. Whatever happens in Avengers 4 (coming in May 2019), I would wager two things: the vanished heroes – Spider-Man, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Falcon, Bucky, etc – will be back by the final act, and it will be thanks to the work of one Mr Tony Stark.

And it is still going to be a long year.

Avengers: Infinity War is directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, from a script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and based on the comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; it stars (deep breath) 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, Peter Dinklage, Benedict Wong, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Pom Klementieff, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benicio del Toro, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana and Chris Pratt, and the voices of Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Carrie Coon and Josh Brolin. It is in cinemas now, clearly.

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