Film Review: ‘Avengers: Infinity War’

Marvel Studios unleash an entire universe on audiences in the highly anticipated Avengers: Infinity War…

Spoiler-free review

 

Infinity War

The Avengers unite with the Guardians of the Galaxy to take on Thanos in Marvel Studios release ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ (image belongs: Disney/Marvel Studios, used for illustrative purposes only).

Starring:  Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Hiddleston, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Josh Brolin

Directed by:  Anthony Russo and Joe Russo / Written by:  Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely / 149 minutes

What’s it about?

Earth’s mightiest heroes – with the aid of some new cosmic friends – unite to prevent the galactic titan, Thanos from harnessing the devastating abilities of the all-powerful Infinity Stones…

In review

Perhaps the most anticipated cinematic event since the return of Star Wars, Avengers: Infinity War begins the culmination of ten years of the highly successful, box office conquering Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The biggest, most ambitious Marvel film to date (until next year’s as yet untitled Avengers 4 that is), Avengers: Infinity War is a rousing rollercoaster ride packed with emotion, action and laughs in a dazzling, heartfelt and often spectacular comic book blockbuster.

Having already helmed two of the strongest MCU entries, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War, directors Anthony and Joe Russo once again prove, with ease, that they are adept at balancing epic scale and a large cast of characters ensuring that high stakes are maintained without sacrificing focus on the people.  The narrative is relatively simple and splitting it into three ‘sections’ (with separate strands of the story taking place around the world and in space) prevents the expansive set of players from becoming muddled into one gigantic crowd which would only disservice the individual heroes audiences the world over have grown to love.  It’s a bit of a genius stroke that helps to break the film down neatly and isolate smaller groups of characters – the only downside being the inevitable disappointment that certain Marvel heroes don’t get to team up this time.  There is also a sense that, whilst everyone is given their moment to shine, some are perhaps not given as much prominence as might be expected.  To say this film is big (both in terms of its visuals and its cast) is an understatement and it’s commendable that, in the grand scheme of things the Russo brothers have managed to hold together all the disparate elements of Infinity War as well as they have.

Tonally, Infinity War follows a slightly darker path which is to be expected given the stakes that naturally come with the end of all things but like Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War there’s still a good dose of levity where it’s needed and a lot of fun to be had, whether it be the verbal sparring between Iron Man and Doctor Strange, Spider-Man’s over-eagerness or Thor’s interactions with the Guardians of the Galaxy, together with numerous instances of fist pumping heroics – whilst it may seem all hope is lot at times, there’s often an undercurrent of hope running beneath the surface.

Whilst this is an Avengers film and we get to see all our old – and new – favourites with key moments for Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man and Black Panther (and many more, including the Guardians of the Galaxy – Star Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket Raccoon and a stroppy teenage Groot), Infinity War is very much the story of its central villain, Thanos.  First teased in the post-credits sting for Avengers Assemble, Thanos, thanks to the efforts of screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and the motion capture performance of Josh Brolin (realised with some good CGI) is a powerful antagonist for sure and one with a lot of depth – there’s strong emphasis on character and a real sense of what his motivations are.  They say the best villains never see themselves as being truly evil and although Thanos is responsible for atrocious acts, Infinity War takes the opportunity to explore what makes the mad titan tick.

Infinity War isn’t total perfection though, at this point in the MCU there’s a certain – perhaps unavoidable – element of predictability that springs from a tried and tested formula and the pacing of its earlier acts can feel a little erratic and inconsistent.  Also, whilst much of the humour is well placed (and actually funny) there’s still the odd moment of forced slapstick that doesn’t quite hit the mark but it’s much more effective than some of Marvel’s other releases and never lapses into the outright absurdity of Thor: Ragnarok.  Some of the action can also be a little too frantic in its execution, although the Russo’s seem to have dialled back a little on some of the more overzealous ‘shaky-cam’ usage seen in their Captain America outings.

So, is Infinty War the best comic book film ever?  No, it’s certainly not The Dark Knight but nor does it try to be anything other than what it is.  Is it the best Marvel film?  Time will tell, but for now there’s no hesitation in declaring it as one of the greatest.

The bottom line:  Avengers: Infinity War was always a seemingly impossible task but directors Anthony and Joe Russo have pulled together an epic, exciting and at times moving comic book adventure that’s sure to be yet another hit for Marvel Studios.

Avengers: Infinity War is in cinemas now.

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TV Review: ‘Lost in Space’ – Series Premiere

Netflix unveil their update of an old sci-fi classic…

Spoiler-free review

 

Lost in Space 1-01

Danger for Will Robinson? Netflix deliver an exciting update of Irwin Allen’s ‘Lost in Space’

Starring:  Molly Parker, Toby Stephens, Taylor Russell, Mina Sundwall, Maxwell Jenkins, Parker Posey

Series developed by:  Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (Lost in Space created by Irwin Allen)

Written by:  Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless / Episode directed by:  Neil Marshall

What’s it about?

Stranded on an alien world, the Robinson family are thrust into a desperate struggle for survival and discover that they may not be alone…

Episode review

Netflix hit the mark again with another lavishly produced and compulsively watchable original series as the streaming giant launches their update of the cult classic television series, Lost in Space.  Originally running for three seasons between 1965 and 1968, Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space was of its time presenting family-friendly comic book sci-fi adventure stories on a far lighter and more simplistic level than Gene Rodenberry’s Star Trek.  That’s not to say that the original Lost in Space isn’t without its charm and can still be viewed as a nostalgic guilty pleasure but in the age of sophisticated drama and blockbuster spectacle television viewers have become accustomed to, any new version of the series would need to be representative of modern times.

Developed by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (Gods of Egypt) and sticking to Irwin Allen’s basic premise of the ‘Space Family Robinson’, the Netflix reboot of Lost in Space sees the Robinson family – Dad John (Toby Stephens – Die Another Day), Mum Maureen (Molly Parker – House of Cards) and children Judy (Taylor Russell), Penny (Mina Sundwall) and Will (Maxwell Jenkins) – crash land on an unknown alien planet following the destruction of their mother ship, carrying human colonists in search of a new home.  Forced to think on their feet in a desperate attempt to survive, the events of this first episode (aptly titled “Impact”) are filled with drama, crisis and fantastic visuals that’s sure to keep viewers hooked throughout the ten episodes comprising season 1.

What’s immediately evident is that the tone of the series is more mature and a little bit darker than the 1960s Lost in Space and indeed the 1998 feature film.  It’s certainly not bleak to the point of ‘grim’ but there’s a palpable sense of danger and a fairly realistic approach to how the Robinson family face their unexpected predicament.  It’s also of benefit to the characters that, here, the Robinson unit is more grounded and dysfunctional than the picture-perfect family of the original series, there are disagreements between parents John and Maureen, Judy and Penny bicker at times and Will, though a genius, has doubts and insecurities just like any real world 11 year old.  Despite some interpersonal tension, there is an underlying current of hope – and heart – as the Robinsons find a way to work things out together.  It certainly helps that the casting is solid (bolstered by good writing), Stephens and Parker are the typically strong leads but there’s much to be said of the talents of Taylor Russell, Mina Sundwall and in particular, Maxwell Jenkins whose believable portrayal of Will is a highlight.

Another masterstroke is the use of flashbacks that gently fill in the back story, from the catastrophic event that decimates the habitability of Earth and the subsequent initiation of the colony mission to the complications in the lives of John, Maureen and their children.  Just enough information is provided in episode 1 to offer a decent enough grasp on the essentials but it seems likely that the flashbacks will continue during the course of the season.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Lost in Space without the iconic robot and the 2018 version is a great twist on the original and a nifty element of ambiguity that comes with young Will’s companion (check out the episode to find out more).  Whilst there’s only a fleeting introduction of Dr. Smith (as well as Ignacio Serricchio’s Don West), Parker Posey (Superman Returns) makes an instant impression of a potentially more complex iteration of the character first played by Jonathan Harris (and Gary Oldman in the 1998 film).  It all adds up to a positive start for a promising series.

The bottom line:  With Lost in Space, Netflix deliver another binge-worthy original series with an epic reboot of an old favourite.

All ten episodes of Lost in Space season 1 are available to stream now on Netflix.

Comic Review: ‘The Invincible Iron Man’ #598

Brian Michael Bendis nears the end of his final Iron Man story…

Inv Iron Man #598

Alex Maleev’s cover for Marvel’s ‘The Invincible Iron Man’ #598 (image belongs: Marvel Comics, used for illustrative purposes only).

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis / art by:  Stefano Caselli and Alex Maleev / colours by:  Marte Garcia and Alex Maleev

What’s it about?

“The Search for Tony Stark” Part Six : as the Avengers try to locate Tony Stark and Victor Von Doom finds himself in a tight corner, Riri Williams heads to M.I.T. to continue her own search for the former Iron Man…

 In review

Brian Michael Bendis delivers touches of intrigue, drama and action in the latest instalment of his final Iron Man story before departing for rival publisher DC.  Commencing his tenure during Marvel’s ‘All-New, All-Different’ relaunch back in 2015, Brian Michael Bendis has given readers a decent run on The Invincible Iron Man (as well as enjoyable limited-run spin-offs International Iron Man and Infamous Iron Man).  It’s fair to say that the title has been slow at times but never short of an entertaining read, whether it has concerned the adventures of Tony Stark or his post-Civil War II successor, Riri Williams – a.k.a. ‘Ironheart’.

“The Search for Tony Stark” steps towards its impending conclusion (in issue #600) and whilst there’s isn’t a great deal of progression in actual plot and the ‘search’ itself not quite as engrossing as one would hope (the story will likely read better once collected), Bendis takes time to focus on his main players, Riri Williams/Ironheart and Victor Von Doom/’Infamous’ Iron Man with a couple of brief appearances from the likes of Captain America (literally for one page) and Blade.  It’s good to see Blade pop up and his instant rapport with Riri helps restore her drive after having the Ironheart armour confiscated.  It remains to be seen if Bendis has more use for Blade but as is, it’s a neat little cameo that has some narrative importance.

Meanwhile, Victor Von Doom continues to have a rough time of it – now faced with the Hood and his rag tag crew of villians, out to strip the former ruler of Latveria of all that’s left of his worth.  It’s hard to imagine that Marvel will want to maintain Von Doom’s hero/anti-hero status for much longer but Brian Michael Bendis has added numerous layers to the character and in the process made Victor Von Doom all the more interesting which, in turn, will make him all the more compelling as a villain should Marvel choose to take that path.

Whilst it’s a hefty dose of gloom for Victor, Riri is back to her bright and optimistic self as she is reunited with her armour and along with fellow Iron compatriots Arno Stark, Tony Ho and Madison Jeffries press forward in the quest to locate Stark…and run into some familiar foes along the way (with a twist).  It’s fun and enjoyable stuff that’s a perfect contrast with the bleaker proceedings that Von Doom faces.

Art is once again divided between Stefano Caselli, handling Riri Williams’ sections of the story and Alex Maleev presenting the Von Doom portions.  As with previous issues it works extremely well, Caselli bringing an energetic, slightly cartoonish style to Riri’s world (punched up with the help of Marte Garcia’s colours) and Alex Maleev delivering moody and gritty visuals that befit the darker tone of the ‘Iron Doom’ segments.

The bottom line:  “The Search for Tony Stark” continues slowly but Brian Michael Bendis still delivers strong character work and together with the beautiful art, The Invincible Iron Man remains a solid read.

The Invincible Iron Man #598 is published by Marvel Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.