Friday, 4 May 2018

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR - Monday 30th April 2018.

'AVENGERS : INFINITY WAR' which I caught earlier in the week has arrived, finally, into our cinemas after much hype, eager anticipation, and huge expectations. This is the 19th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the sequel to 2013 'The Avengers' which grossed US$1.52B off the back of a US$200M Budget outlay, and 2015's 'Avengers : Age Of Ultron' which grossed US$1.4B off a Budget of US$267M. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo who also Directed 'Captain America : Winter Soldier', and 'Captain America : Civil War', as well as the post-credits sequence that rounded out 'Ant-Man' and featuring a huge A-List ensemble cast, the like of which has quite possibly never before been seen on the big screen to such an extent. The Russo Brothers are also Directing the as yet unnamed sequel to this film which is due for release in early May 2019 and which was shot back to back over a twelve month period from January 2017 through January 2018. The film cost somewhere northward of US$300M to make and is one of the most expensive films ever made, and Marvel's most costly to date. In its opening weekend the film took US$641M making it the highest grossing opening film of all time, with the tally standing at US$858M at the time of posting.

Here all The Avengers we have come to know, love and respect from the previous two instalments and their own stand alone films, plus a few ring-ins must unite two years following the events of 'Captain America : Civil War' and following on directly from the closing scene in 'Thor : Ragnarok'. Here we see the ship that Thor commandeered from The Grandmaster to take the survivors of a destroyed Asgard to the relative safe haven of Earth, all but destroyed by Thanos (Josh Brolin) and his 'children' Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), Cull Obsidian (Terry Notary), Proxima Midnight (Carrie Coon) and Corvus Glaive (Michael James Shaw). All around are dead Asgardians save for a captive Thor (Chris Hemsworth) held in a vice like head grip by Thanos, an injured Heimdall (Idris Elba), a right as rain Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).

Thanos is already in possession of the first of six all powerful Infinity Stones, having secured the Power Stone already. He knows that someone on board the stricken ship has the Tesseract, which holds the Space Stone, and he is determined to get his hands on it. Thanos kills Heimdall but not before the revered sentry of Asgard summons the Bifrost sending Hulk back to Earth.

At this Loki tries to bargain with Thanos giving up the Tesseract in exchange for sparing Thor's life, but ultimately the Titan crushes Loki's throat with a single hand, squeezing all life from him, watched on by a helpless Thor. Thanos now armed with two Infinity Stones departs the stricken ship with his children, destroying it in the process.

Back down on Earth, Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Wong (Benedict Wong) are going about their daily business in Strange's New York residence the Sanctum Sanctorum when crashing through the window and through the grand staircase of the household lands Hulk who has now reverted to Bruce Banner, via the Bifrost. Banner announces to an unsuspecting Strange and Wong that Thanos is coming and he's hellbent on destroying half the known universe. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr.) is contacted by Strange and their introductory encounter is a little strained, but distraction is provided by Maw and Obsidian who arrive via a giant rotating circular spaceship to take possession of Doctor Strange's Time Stone, which he ain't gonna give up for anyone!

A battle ensues in the streets of downtown New York which Peter Parker (Tom Holland) gets involved in too, swinging into action as our favourite web slinger, Spider-Man. With five Avengers against two Thanos thugs, the odds would be stacked in favour of the former, but not so. Maw takes Strange prisoner aboard his ship with the aim of removing the Time Stone, followed in hot pursuit by Iron Man and Spider-Man. Before doing so, Banner urges Tony Stark to contact Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) using the cell phone given to him after the pair fell out following the events of 'Captain America : Civil War'. Stark was reluctantly about to do so before the attack, and now he is gone heading into deep space somewhere. Banner retrieves the phone after the battle, and calls Rogers.

Meanwhile up in Scotland, seemingly away from the fray living their private lives Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson) and Vision (Paul Bettany) are ambushed by Midnight and Glaive seeking to retrieve the Mind Stone from Vision's forehead. Coming to the rescue just in the nick of time are Rogers, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), who jet off to the new Avengers facility to meet with James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle). Vision offers to sacrifice himself by having Wanda Maximoff summons her powers to destroy the Mind Stone rather than letting it fall into the hands of Thanos. Rogers however, suggests an alternative strategy. That they fly to Wakanda as the only place equipped with the technology to remove the Mind Stone safely so allowing Vision to live, and Rogers has some connections there too.

In the meantime, somewhere in deep space The Guardians of the Galaxy have responded to a distress call from the stricken Asgardian ship, and rescue Thor. Following rather protracted introductions with a few laugh out loud one-liners, Thor surmises that Thanos is in pursuit of the Reality Stone, which is in the possession of The Collector (Benicio del Toro) located on Knowhere. Rocket (the Racoon, voiced by Bradley Copper)  and Groot (an extraterrestrial tree like humanoid voiced by Vin Diesel) accompany Thor to Nidavellir to locate a weapon that is capable of killing Thanos. There they find the industrial planet shut down, the lights are off and nobody's at home. Except for Eltri (Peter Dinklage) a weapons forger who crafted Thor's hammer Mjolnir. To forge a new weapon for Thor means restarting the giant turbines now frozen that heat the furnace that melts the metal to create The Stormbreaker, a magical battle axe with similar properties to Mjolnir. Job done, Thor, Rocket and Groot get outta there.

In the intervening period Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) arrive on Knowhere, but after Thanos has arrived and has his giant foot resting menacingly on The Collectors chest, with the Reality Stone already embedded in his gauntlet with the others. Gamora confronts Thanos, for she is his adoptive daughter, and she reluctantly reveals the location of the Soul Stone to save her adoptive sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) from torture at the hands of Thanos. Thanos and Gamora travel to the planet Vormir where Red Skull (Ross Marquand replacing Hugo Weaving) is the keeper of the Stone, which can only be retrieved by sacrificing someone he loves. With a tear in his eye and a heavy heart, Thanos throws Gamora over a steep cliff where she falls to her death, so securing him the Soul Stone.

Nebula is able to effect her escape from the clutches of Thanos, and establish contact with the remaining Guardians asking them to rendezvous with her on the now destroyed home planet of Thanos, Titan. Meanwhile Stark and Strange are are able to over power Maw with the help of Spider-Man and eject him out of the ship floating to his death in infinite space. They crash land the now stricken ship on Titan where they meet Quill, Drax and Mantis. After the initial introductions are dispensed with, they hatch a plan to relieve Thanos of his Infinity Gauntlet.

Thanos duly arrives and during a momentary lapse of concentration, Mantis subdues him using her empathic powers. Nebula draws the conclusion that Thanos has killed Gamora which he admits to while under the spell of Mantis. Quill, however, becomes enraged at this revelation and lashes out at Thanos breaking the hold that Mantis had on him. Quickly, Thanos gains the upper hand and overpowers the entire group, including the three Avengers (Spider-Man was hastily inducted as an bona fide Avenger by Stark after the trio dispensed with Maw) and impaling Iron Man with a long blade. Strange gives up the Time Stone in exchange for him sparing the life of Stark. Thanos departs for Earth.

Back on Earth in Wakanda, Rogers in reunited with an exiled Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). The Avengers seek that Shuri (Letitia Wright) extracts the Mind Stone from Vision using their cutting edge technology to save his life in the process. But time is ticking away and the army of Thanos is anticipated imminently. The army invades trying to break through the Wakandan force field. The Avengers, together with T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) mount a defensive attack together with the might and strength of the Wakandan forces. Thor, Rocket and Groot arrive and join the fray. Midnight, Obsidian and Glaive leading the charge of the invading army are killed in battle and their army flees when they succumb to the wrath of Thor and his new Stormbreaker Axe.

Thanos arrives, and at Vision's insistence Maximoff destroys his Mind Stone shattering it into a thousand fragments, preventing Thanos from securing the final Infinity Stone to complete the full set of brightly coloured all powerful gems. With the Avengers scattered having failed in their attempts to overpower Thanos, the Titan shows empathy towards Maximoff before activating the Time Stone and reversing her most recent actions to the time just a few minutes before. Vision lives, with the Mind Stone in tact, which Thanos plucks from his forehead, killing Vision in the process once and for all. At that Thor appears and impales Thanos with his Stormbreaker Axe. Just when you thought you could breathe a sigh of relief Thanos activates the now complete Infinity Gauntlet and is teleported off this little blue planet.

Thanos plans for the universe are thrown into motion with a click of his fingers as life begins to disintegrate quickly. Those first to disappear like ash in the wind are the likes of Strange and Parker, and Drax, Quill and Mantis still on Titan, then T'Challa, Barnes, Groot, Maximoff and Wilson in Wakanda. Stark and Nebula remain intact on Titan, as do Banner, Rogers, Thor, Okoye (Danai Gurira), Rhodes, Rocket and Romanoff on the battlefield of Wakanda. Meanwhile, Thanos has arrived on his home planet, walks into his mountain top home from home and watches a sun setting on another day as he recovers from his injury.

In the post credit sequence, we see Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) driving through a busy street when a car in front spins randomly out of control and collides with theirs. Getting out to investigate Hill sees that the car is driverless, just as a helicopter flying overhead spins recklessly out of control smashing into an office tower. Looking on, Hill begins to disintegrate, and as Fury sends a distress signal so he too begins to disintegrate.

The 'Avengers : Infinity War' is a movie of epic proportions and it certainly helps if you have sat through the previous instalments of the MCU that feature those characters portrayed in this film. This is not intended to be a standalone instalment, but rather a continuation and a culmination of the previous ten years, eighteen films and several MCU tie-ins and cross-overs. Directors the Russo brothers under the watchful gaze of Marvel Studios Producer Kevin Feige, have crafted a film that delivers on many levels - the action set pieces, of which there are plenty, are delivered effectively and expertly on a grand scale, there are moments of emotion and there are laugh out loud one liners too. Never does the ego of one Superhero get in the way of another, and each character is given sufficient latitude and screen time to advance their story arc just a little further without it being repetitive. Josh Brolin as Thanos gives a convincing performance as a giant of a man whose universe crushing outwardly persona gives way on more than one occasion to inner emotion and a level of thinking that reveal more than a cardboard cut out of an intergalactic arch villain. As for the rest of the cast, they too can be hardly faulted - after all we know them all well and have seen them conquer Earth based enemies and otherworldly foe too, but this time, have they met their match - it sure looks like it! As the closing credits says 'Thanos will be back' - one year from now. This fact of course may disappoint some viewers expecting closure, as will the death of several of their favoured characters, the omission of some others (most notably Hawkeye, Ant-Man or Valkyrie), the fact that every otherworldly planet visited has a breathable atmosphere and appears to have a temperate climate, and the elongated running time may be too big an ask for some. My advice however, if you are a follower of the MCU, then watch this film on the biggest screen and be prepared to sit through two and a half hours of solid Marvel movie entertainment at its biggest, boldest and brashest - you won't be disappointed.
-Steve, at Odeon Online-

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