This Is The End – Avengers: Infinity War * spoiler free review

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The Marvel films have always struggled with villains, it’s a frequently heard complaint that few villains beyond Loki and, arguably, Erik Killmonger, have left too much of an impression. So let’s get this right out there – not only was Thanos worth waiting for, but he instantly ranks at the top of the hall of infamy.

There was concern that the Mad Titan would be a let down, that he couldn’t possibly live up to the almost ten-year build which has led us to this point. But the combination of a wonderfully layered performance from Josh Brolin and superlative animation effects work brings Jim Starlin’s deranged creation to full, terrifying life in Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War.

This feat is even more impressive in a film which (as I’m sure you know from the hype) brings together all the expected characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and perhaps even some unexpected ones).

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo (and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) do a splendid job of pulling together an increasingly active number of franchises, giving most characters a neat arc and/or several great moments, though there are exceptions, inevitable even with a two-hour forty minute running time, and a certain amount of shorthand is definitely at play. That they manage this without spending an hour on exposition is a minor miracle, and a testament to deft storytelling (and the good will engendered by eighteen previous films).

There’s an undeniable frisson of excitement (especially for a Marvel geek like me) to see new combinations of characters, having Spider-Man and Doctor Strange interact left me with the biggest grin on my face, but the filmmakers know they need more than just a Marvel Team-Up to make a satisfying film.

There are real stakes here, literally the fate of the universe (or half of it… you’ll see…) hangs in the balance, with a number of different strands occurring in different locations on different worlds, and the action feels all the more vital because Marvel have taken the time to build these worlds and make us care for the characters. And it’s no spoiler to say your emotions will really be put through the wringer – I wept a solitary, manly tear on more than one occasion.

But don’t think the threat of the universe coming to an end or talk of tears means it’s all doom and gloom: this is a thrill-a-minute adventure that hits the ground running and barely lets up on the action, but as usual it’s mixed in with some fabulous and funny character interplay – Thor with Peter Quill and Doctor Strange with Tony Stark bring unexpected delights.

There’s also a distinct feel here of the beginning of a changing of the guard – the first ten years of Marvel movies has seen a very definite roster of characters and Infinity War shows us that the company’s willingness to shake things up is part of what makes them so successful, and which lends even more weight to the story, of course. Even the obligatory post-credit scene nods in that direction (it’s a nod that literally made me whoop in the cinema).

Is there a downside to all this? I suspect that a casual filmgoer would be rather lost but y’know in that case, get with the Marvel game like the rest of the population, I guess.

Avengers: Infinity War is a huge, and hugely exciting, comic book, sci-fi epic that really sees the gutsy long-game approach taken by Marvel pay off, giving us the Empire Strikes Back of their bold, long form narrative, and finally giving the Marvel Cinematic Universe its own Darth Vader, a cosmic villain with a welcome emotional core.

And really, so as not to wander into the spoiler zone, that’s about all I can say, except that this is the huge Marvel adventure we’ve been waiting for.

This is the end*… but bring on May 3, 2019 and Avengers 4 as soon as possible please, I only have so many fingernails left to chew through.

*Speaking of the end, you KNOW to stay right through to the very end of the credits, right…!?

Here Comes Thanos! The Final Avengers: Infinity Wars Is Rather Exciting.

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There’s really not a heck of a lot I can say about this trailer. If you’re not down for Marvel’s All-Star Mash Up by now then there’s probably nothing more here to convince you. You are hopelessly wrong, of course.

For the rest of us, April 27th really can’t arrive quickly enough as Avengers: Infinity War is the beginning of the culmination of ten years of narrative and the chance to see all of Marvel’s flagship characters facing off against the big, bad and purple cosmic Trump, Thanos (as played by Josh Brolin). And seen here? Spider-Man and Dr.Strange, together on screen for the first time! Oh boy! Captain America going mano y mano with Thanos! Gosh!

Marvel have gotten particularly adept and not blowing their wads in trailers and this still feels mighty restrained to me. What do you think? Are Marvel still playing their cards close to their chests?

I’ll see you in the theater in just over a month. I’ll be the one hyper-ventilating.

Have You Heard The One About Thor: Ragnarok?

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Thor: Ragnarok has laughs. Plenty of them. Perhaps too many. Allow me to explain…

I’ll start by saying there is a huge amount to love about Marvel’s third solo outing for the God of Thunder. First of all it’s the most fully rounded vision of Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby’s four-colour hero to date, Kirby’s cosmic visuals are like a roadmap for Thor: Ragnarok. It’s also yet another step forward for both the Thor solo franchise and indeed the Marvel Cinematic Universe in embracing its comic book roots.

There’s little desire to coddle non-comic book fans with grounded scenes set on Earth (and the whistle-stop moments we do get on our home planet actually push things into even geekier comic books realms, particularly in one cameo sequence, teased at the end of a previous movie). Within the first twenty minutes or so we’ve been taken to Hell (or the Norse equivalent), Asgard (including another couple of genuinely jaw-dropping cameos), Earth and then into the vast reaches of outer space. It’s all colourful, exciting and breathtaking, and the pace doesn’t really let up, cutting between Thor’s adventures in space and events back on Asgard.

We’re also given the best version of the onscreen Hulk yet, realised by Mark Ruffalo along with state of the art mo-cap, animation and fine attention to detail with character so he now has full Hulk-speak dialogue scenes (and jokes) with other characters. Special mention to Tessa Thompson too, for giving us a delightful, kick ass version of a much-loved Marvel character. I really hope we see more of her in future movies. Idris Alba is given a little more screen time as Heimdall but still feels wasted. Director Waititi features as another comic character, alien stone man Korg, engaging and pretty much played for laughs.

The film also mostly succeeds in breaking the curse of the underwhelming Marvel villains by giving us several of them, all in various hues and shades of villainy. Cate Blanchett is obviously having a bad guy ball as Hela, Queen of the Underworld, Karl Urban crops up to reaffirm his geek cred as Skurge, The Executioner, there’s the ever mercurial Loki brilliantly essayed by Tom Hiddleston, of course, plus we have Jeff Goldblum doing his best Jeff Goldblum thing as The Grandmaster. They’re all layered, interesting and fun.

Ah yes, then we get to the laughs. Ragnarok might best be described as Marvel’s first comedy, so far do Waititi and his team push the humour of the film. I’m all about seeing Marvel broaden their canvas, playing with expectations and giving each film a fresh tone,  an approach that’s paid dividends with the likes of James Gunn and it mostly pays off here as this is most definitely a Taiki Waititi film. It’s an approach which should help the longevity of Marvel movies and keep audiences on their toes (and anyone who thinks of Marvel films as being cookie cutter affairs really needs to open their eyes to the palettes of movies as far apart as Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and now Thor: Ragnarok).

So far, so Marvel dandy. However, we’re also here for the drama, and occasionally the jokes are laid on so relentlessly in Thor: Ragnarok that they frequently end up severely undercutting the drama.

A major event, foreshadowed all the way through, actually comes to pass near the end of the movie. It should be quite the dramatic moment, as it affects most of the characters and shakes up some of the status quo of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So, a big deal. There’s a nice, humorous set up to the moment, then straight after it happens any drama arising from the scene is wiped out with a not particularly firing-on-all-cylinders quip. It’s unnecessary, and damaging to our empathy for the characters we’ve been following for six years since Kenneth Branagh’s first Thor movie. That’s quite an investment, and one that takes a hit for the sake of a throwaway gag.

I should reiterate, Waititi and Marvel have produced a top-notch film which will undoubtedly leave you with a smile on your face and the knowledge you’ve spent a good night out at the cinema. But finding that sweet spot between drama and humour takes a careful aim, and this time it feels like Thor’s hammer missed the target by a few inches.