Avengers: Infinity War Review - It's all about the end in Marvel's most ambitious and affecting film yet
Ten years. Eighteen films. Billions of dollars at the box office. And it’s all been leading to this – the megalithic Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – a.k.a. rumble in the jungle (universe style). My god were we unprepared. What started as an idea – a bid for global domination of superhero films – has finally come full circle, with Marvel Studios bringing together their best and brightest for one cataclysmic showdown. And whether you call it a gamble, an obsession, or just downright crazy, at the end of the day it’s a damn masterpiece. Something well, well worth the wait. Back for their third outing, the dynamic directing duo of Joe and Anthony Russo have, in the simplest terms, become the heroes they’ve put on screen – people pushed to their limits, heartbroken and ready to lose everything. And boy, in hindsight, how we wish we could go back to simpler times, when the problems were little more than a Chitauri invasion and homicidal robots.
It’s hard to provide an overview of Avengers: Infinity War (2018) that would do it justice, especially when so much of what makes it great is being able to go in it with as little information (and spoilers) as possible. But I’ll give it a shot. Picking up in the aftermath of Thanos vs. The Asgardians, just moments into the blockbuster we are finally given our first proper glimpse into the power and brutality of the MCU’s biggest baddie. The stakes have never been higher, the dread in full force. And once the ball starts rolling there’s barely a chance to breathe, as the Russo brothers toss us back and forth between multiple storylines and planets (Earth, Knowhere, Titan, to name just a few). On home turf, The Black Order (i.e. Thanos’ supervillain entourage, including Ebony Maw, Cull Obsidian, Corvus Glaive and Midnight Proxima) are on a mission to secure the time and mind stones, leading to the slow - but sure - reunion of our favourite outcast Avengers. Meanwhile, out in space the Guardians and their new-found refugee Thor, are tasked with tracking down the purple antagonist and forging a weapon to destroy him. When everything fails to go to plan though (as these things often do), we’re left with not just an all-out confrontation, but a biblical and unforgiving final act.
With approximately (I say that because it’s difficult to keep track) 38 characters to fit into one film, it’s tough to imagine a picture where no-one is overlooked. But despite the cramped roll-call, Avengers: Infinity War (2018) succeeds where few films have before – carefully crafting a chance for everyone to shine. And the actors jump at the chance, bringing A-game performances full of energy, charisma and laugh-out-loud one-liners. The key, perhaps, is splitting the group into smaller factions, with their stories maintaining the picture’s frenetic pace and drive. It’s such a steady crew though that stand-outs are few and far between. Some would point to Thor, who follows on from a rollicking third outing by stepping up to the plate with both muscle and might. While others may favour Iron Man, who has upgraded to some of the coolest tech since the Hulkbuster suit and shared it with his Spidey-protégé. Eager to match wits with Downey Junior, Doctor Strange is as sarcastic as ever too, while in a pleasant change of pace Bruce Banner finally gets a foot over his green alter ego, who hilariously spends most of the film refusing to come out and play.
But for all their efforts, this isn’t really our heroes’ film, instead playing like an origin tale to Thanos’ crusade. Part logically-driven dictator and part towering destructive force, the purple monster is driven by the desire to rid the universe of half its inhabitants. To him, it’s a simple equation of resources, like a parent choosing between having one child whose belly was always full, and two who were always half-hungry. Mad, undoubtedly, but a plan entrenched in warped humanitarian ideals and his own twisted sense of a saviour-complex. Big and brash, Thanos is the adversary we’ve been waiting for, providing the first real challenge the universe has come up against. It’s hard not to feel every swipe, blast and pummel from his gargantuan form, and behind the mask, Josh Brolin appears to relish the motion-capture role, bringing swagger and relentless authority every time a stone is acquired, or a hero ousted.
While the characters are fully fleshed out, answers seem to be something less nuanced in the MCU. And for those of you wondering about the film’s two biggest mysteries you may be left feeling a little deflated. See, it’s hard not to class them among the worst parts of the film. Number one is the absence of our favourite, quippy bird-man, Hawkeye, (as well as the lovable Ant-Man) whose MIA statuses are answered with little more than a throwaway line. It’s frustrating to say the least, especially given Clint’s loyalty, and even more so when you remember we will have to wait months for any true hints. Meanwhile, although the secret of the missing soul stone’s location is finally disclosed in the film’s bold two-and-a-half-hour run-time, it will likely leave few fans appeased. The big reveal feels lacklustre and rushed, relying heavily on emotion that hasn’t had the time to build.
But the greatest dilemma is in splitting such a movie in two, with the overhanging arc here feeling a lot like a guillotine over our heads. You’ve never seen a cliff-hanger like this, and probably never left a theatre in quite so dismal a mood. But while it’s a staggering blow to the gut (especially with a full year to wait until the next instalment), there’s an incredible power in how Marvel can take an unfinished story and still make it poignant and profound. In how they have crafted a cherished and adored universe over the course of more than a decade, to simply blow the hell out of it. The tag-line that no-one is safe is painfully accurate, and the studio has gone to great lengths to make sure we know it. So, what does this mean for the future of our intrepid caped crusaders? Well, maybe if you’ve been looking for hints like I have, it may lie in Doctor Strange’s words and the notion that time will tell.
Rating: 5 Infinity Stones out of 6
13 Reasons Why Review - A powerful, moving and tragic look at suicide and why in the end... everything matters
It seems wrong to begin a review by calling a series about suicide addictive. But it’s hard to find a better word to fit Netflix’s new show 13 Reasons Why (2017). One of the most binge-worthy instalments released by the streaming service in recent years, the series follows the critically acclaimed book of the same name by Jay Asher, and it pulls no punches in dealing with its main topic. Perhaps that’s why it’s hard to look away. Because rarely do we see a show brave enough to look beyond the romanticised notion of death and instead underline the grief of those left behind. Rarely are we delivered a production so honest, open and unpretentious that we’re left wondering how dark it must become for some that they believe life is no longer an option. So, I use the word addictive, not because you’ll become enraptured by how the story is presented, or because you’ll keep watching just to see whether it might end differently. But because you’ll be left wondering whether the phrase ‘it was her choice,’ really means quite what you think it does.
We begin with a community reeling in the wake of high-school student Hannah Baker’s death. One morning, Clay Jensen receives a mysterious box on his doorstep. Inside are 13 cassette tapes, detailing the reasons why his workmate, classmate and almost lover, chose to take her life. Delivered to each person who played a part in Hannah’s death, like a brutal chain mail letter, the tapes are designed not only to haunt those who hear them, but to ensure their secrets don’t die with her. From former friends and flames, to stalkers and rapists. The more Clay listens, the more he discovers the hurtful, unkind, and sometimes illegal actions his classmates have been involved in. The deeper he gets the more the others try to silence him, as Hannah’s truth starts to become his. But as he edges closer and closer to his own tape, and the final few weeks of her life, Clay comes to understand that every action has a consequence, and some things are just not destined to stay hidden.
Despite its modern setting, there are echoes of the classic teen ‘coming of age’ stereotypes hidden behind every door and lurking in every corner. From the jocks and cheerleaders right down to the school dances and hot-or-not lists. Like it’s predecessor Stranger Things (2016), there is also a heavy influence on everything old-fashioned. Cassette players, poetry readings, paper journals, Joy Division posters and pedal-powered bikes are just a few of the ways the nostalgia play out. Even the soundtrack is brimming with references to the past, with music from The Chromatics, The Cure and The Call. So heavy is it on eighties, nineties and noughties nods, just a few episodes in you’ll be left wondering whether we’ll see someone stand outside Hannah’s house with a boom box, or catch the main characters meeting up in detention. And while an homage to both those moments does arise, it’s doesn’t happen in quite the way you’d expect. This is, after all, a show about suicide.
At its core, the only other word that best arises to describe 13 Reasons Why, would be heartbreaking. Heartbreaking for Hannah that she believes she is alone. Heartbreaking for her mother who winds up nothing more than the shell of a woman looking for answers. Heartbreaking for Clay that he will always carry the weight of what happened with him. And heartbreaking for us as an audience. Because although we the know the ending already, we are always left wondering whether it could have been changed. And that’s the point. Heartbreak heals, but it never goes away. The theme is something that is backed up on a more intricate level too, in the care and craftsmanship that has been taken with the cinematography. Hannah and Clay’s world has been painted in a series of melancholic, metallic and sombre hues. And it’s done deliberately. Because it’s like watching their feelings be blown to life. Seeing, somewhat tangibly at times, the sadness of a soul hanging in the air. It’s not without it’s romantic, comedic or happy scenes too. A series about suicide alone could easily get so dark it turns the viewer off. Life is not just a series of depressing moments. But sadly, sometimes the best ones of all are what can tip a person over the edge.
A lot of critics have raved that 13 Reasons Why is not for the feint-hearted. But to me, that is inaccurate. It’s simply not a show for someone who isn’t ready to know how their actions impact others. Because even the best among us have done something we regret. What really concerns me though about such reviews are the calls for people not to watch. Their main reason is that the show details Hannah’s death in intricate, graphic detail. As a journalist, I work by a code of ethics that claims care must be taken when reporting on suicide. It means that while it is okay to mention it as the type of death, it is not okay to mention how it was the person died. The strange thing is though, this always seems to be the point most people are curious about. And in this instance, I think it was an entirely valid choice. Because as a journalist you are always directed by what in the public’s best interest. Hannah’s story is. Compare it to accounts about Anorexic people who have overcome their problems, or tales from those that have lost loved ones in horrific circumstances. Both go into graphic detail, and both have the potential for copycats to arise. But most of the time they help more than they hurt. It’s simply a risk we judge when putting pen to paper. So, do I think it’s ‘right’ that the show portrayed Hannah’s violent and horrific final moments? Probably not. Because I don’t think it was right that it happened at all. And I damn well think it’s important her voice was heard.
To me, the greatest lesson to learn from 13 Reasons Why is that everyone has a different truth, and everyone’s truth demands to be heard. That doesn’t make one better than the other. It simply makes us less lonely. And despite coming full circle, I like that there are so many stories left unresolved that a second season could be commissioned. Because people slip away in front of us all the time. Sometimes we see it happen, most of the time we don’t. And on rare occasions, we can all miss the calls for help. In Hannah’s case, it happened thirteen times. And in Hannah’s, there was no coming back. And although her story may be fictitious, deep down, the reason the show is so addictive is because we know it isn’t all that far from the truth. So, it is important to know that even if you’re friends, family, teachers, bosses, workmates, schoolmates, coaches or so on miss the signs, there are always people who will listen. Reach out to Lifeline on 13 11 14. Google a local suicide prevention website. Be there for a friend. Just listen. Before it’s too late.
Rating: 5 Cassette Tapes out of 5
Grace under pressure, courage under fire, call it what you will but the ability to keep a level head when bullets fly or hell rains down from the heavens is something that just can’t be taught. From Saving Private Ryan (1998) to American Sniper (2014), in the war genre bravery is almost always represented by a character that faces extreme loss and threatened principles, only to rise from the ashes in glorious fashion. While Hacksaw Ridge (2016) is no different in its determination, it takes the phrase to a whole new level, showing the steadfast resolve of a man who would not quit or compromise in his belief that raising a weapon was not the only way to win a war. When biology conditions us to freeze, fly or fight in the face of fear, one man proved that there is another option. An option we can only call faith.
A film more than 14 years in the making, Hacksaw Ridge tells the tale of Desmond T. Doss, a conscientious objector who after serving in World War II received the highest award that can be bestowed on a serviceman - the Congressional Medal of Honor – having singlehandedly saved approximately 75 men yet never raised a rifle in the process. A devout Seventh Day Adventist, when we first meet Doss he is a country kid from the Blue Ridge Mountains, already drawn to helping people after saving a young man crushed beneath a car. Wanting to do his part in the war and follow in the footsteps of his brother and father, he begins to read up on healing practices and enlists to become a medic. Refusing to carry a weapon based on his beliefs, when he is assigned to an infantry unit Doss is faced with overwhelming ridicule and persecution, not just from his company, but from the army itself. To them, it seems that he goes against the golden rule of American warfare; that of protecting your fellow soldier’s back, just as they protect yours. Steadfast in his stance, he is eventually sent to the battlefield at Okinawa, sans gun, where he is finally able to prove just what protection he can afford, going from believer to hero and ultimately, legend.
A lot has been said about the film’s director Mel Gibson in the last few years, but for all the anger and intolerance he has thrown around it cannot be denied that he does not bear at least some of the same courage and conviction of his lead character. His first film since 2006’s Apocalypto, it might be his best yet, if only for the fact he has dug through the proverbial dirt and grime of his own life to carry it to victory. The sentimentality is overwhelming at times, the score swelling with every emotional moment and slow motion camera shots lingering over our heroic angel-esque lead. But there is a distinct sincerity in the way Gibson handles this, crafting a slow burn build-up that helps us understand why Doss takes Pearl Harbour personally, but still wants to save lives instead of take them.
A scrawny Brit best known for his turn as The Amazing Spiderman, Andrew Garfield sinks his teeth into portraying a different kind of superhero here. Despite the sickeningly sweet nature of his character, one who sets his heart on marrying a nurse the first moment he meets her, Garfield is able to tread a miraculously fine line in proving that even the most pious among us can still have darkness within. For Doss, the real battle is rising above, ensuring his violence never bubbles to the surface like it did for his abusive and alcoholic father. Supporting him on that journey is an exemplary cast, each giving it their all to ensure our eyes never leave the screen. Vince Vaughn is reserved as Sergeant Howell, a man quiet in his ferocity yet instantly likeable in his devotion. Similarly, the bevy of Australian actors who round out the roles all manage solid performances, including Sam Worthington as Captain Glover and Luke Bracey as Smitty Ryker, elevating their angry and villainous stereotypes into well-rounded characters.
The visuals are incredible, roaring to life with a grim relentlessness that drums home the reality of war. It is bloody, it is violent and above all, it is not something to glorify as many directors often try to do. Instead, it is bodies lying broken in the mud, tourniquets that can’t save people and the rush of heat as flesh is set on fire. As an audience member it is such a spiritually draining experience we are left questioning just how the men were able to go through it themselves. Staged, choreographed and shot beyond precision, the camera never shies away from the nightmare, providing one of the most detailed and unflinching portrayals of war put to screen. Thankfully, buried beneath the bloodshed there is also an incredible humanity to the battle, with friendships forged in the bowels of the staggering violence and the ‘no man left behind’ mentality pushed to its extreme. Gibson’s propensity for gore in almost unrivalled in Hollywood, however here it never feels overdone or thrown in for the pure shock value. It would be a dishonour to those that fought in the Pacific theatre to depict it any other way.
Careful and calculated in its every move, Hacksaw Ridge is at its purest a look into the human soul. Even without the strong religious connotations it imbues, one can sense a power and poignancy to such sacrifice. It is, after all, an innately human thing to summon the courage to run back into the fray over and over, with only the mantra ‘help me get one more’ to keep you safe. This is perhaps best exemplified by video of the real Doss at the end of the film, recalling those same words in his American sprawl and looking like your average 87-year-old. For us audience members, we are just thankful he got there.
Rating: 5 Saved Lives out of 5
When a film debuts to rave reviews at The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) that is generally a reason to sit up and pay attention to it. The same as when a book begins with the compelling and humours line, “I’m pretty much f*%&ed. That’s my considered opinion.” Whilst you may not see what ties the two together, both examples have a certain gravitas which draws the audience in, and both relate to 20th Century Fox’s latest feature, The Martian (2015). The film, which is Ridley Scott’s third major foray into space, and quite arguably his best to date, delivers the most you could ever ask for in a movie. There’s action, suspense, heartbreak and tears, humour and jokes, and my favourite of all; sciencing the s%*t out of things. Put simply, The Martian might just be the movie of the year. Yes, there you go, I’m officially calling it.
Set in the not-too-distant future, The Martian begins with the disastrous outcome of the Ares III Mars mission. Just 18 sols (or Mars days) into their planned 31 sol exploration to the big red planet, the crew made up of Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain), Dr. Beck (Sebastian Stan), Tech geek Johannsen (Kate Mara), German chemist Vogel (Aksel Hennie), Flight Operator Martinez (Michael Pena), and of course Botanist, Engineer and all-round charmer Mark Watney (Matt Damon), encounter a sand storm the likes of which they’ve never seen before. Forced to abort the mission early, the crew make their way to the MAV (their rocket to get back to the Hermes ship), only for Watney, to be struck with a dislodged antenna in the process. As the stray communications device pierces his suit, taking his bio controls out with it and thus rendering him ‘lifeless’ to the crew, the Ares III team make the hard decision to leave him behind, presuming him dead. The only problem though is that… well… he isn’t. So after a short while when Watney wakes up, he finds himself not only faced with a piece of metal stuck in him, but the fact that he is alone on a planet 140 million miles away from help, with no communications, limited food, and a high possibility of dying for real. Bummer, eh.
It’s tense stuff however it is also beautifully executed, with the film jumping between two separate storylines to keep the suspense high. The main portion of the film focuses on the Cast Away (2000) style solo man saga, filled with quips, awful 70’s disco music, and danger around every bend. The second view instead brings the problem home to earth, covering the drama at NASA headquarters when they realise they’ve left someone behind on another planet. Just days after having a full military funeral for them. Well done NASA. In saying this though, the earth moments are anything but boring, nestled elegantly between the video logs of Watney discussing his Mars activities, and the longer, grander sequences of him exploring various parts of the red planet to find supplies to get home. These interweaving subplots bolster Watney’s story instead of distract from it, allowing the strong supporting actors the chance to have their moments. We see Chiwetel Ejiolfor show of his skills as Vincent Kapoor, the man in charge of the rescue operation, alongside a sarcastic and grumpy Jeff Daniels as NASA chief Teddy Sanders. There’s also a fantastic turn from Donald Glover as Rich Purnell, a tweaked-out coffee addicted scientist who comes up with the most realistic and efficient plan to bring Watney home. But leading the pack would be the Ares III team, with engaging and delightful performances from Chastain, Mara, Stan, Hennie, and Pena, who help to bring the humanity of the piece home.
The movie is based off the novel by Andy Weir, and for the most part it is largely faithful to it. However, as with any great filmic adaptation some liberty has of course been taken. I mean, who would want a film that gets too stuck in the details of how cramped a Mars rover can be for 19 days, or how you can evade a sandstorm using solar panels anyway? Artfully sacrificing the brunt of the science allows the film to instead focus on the lighter, layman descriptions which give way to the heavier heart-pounding sequences. This is not to say though that there is no science. There’s plenty of it. Just not as detailed and meticulous as the book makes it out to be. In fact, the science that does feature remains incredibly and exquisitely accurate, something which fans of the book will certainly feel rewarded by. The movie walks the perilous line that approaches too much science, without ever tipping, instead utilising the compelling humanity of Watney’s moments to continually remind us that saving one man actually is worth all the risks.
Ridley Scott works his magic once more with this film. With a strong novel to go off, and an equally strong screenplay from Drew Goddard, Scott masterfully helms the piece to its current critical acclaim. The cinematography is so breathtaking that at times the film can genuinely surprise you by making you forget that we haven’t quite sent people to Mars yet. But it’s the acting that makes the film what it is. Matt Damon is back at career best with his phenomenally powerful performance as Watney. His humour hits the mark time and time again, and his vulnerability as a man 140 million miles away from home breaks through just as the film reaches its boiling point. The rumours abounding for his name come award season, are well and truly justified, and his turn might certainly have the stamina to bring some gold statues home.
It’s hard to fault anything in The Martian. It has an outstanding cast, a strong script, beautiful cinematography, strangely perfect music choice, wise direction, and a hell of a lot of heart. So I may as well not even bother. I mean, it even teaches you that duct tape can fix pretty much anything. People will inevitably ask though whether the movie just boils down to one man walking around in a space suit talking to himself? Well, honestly, yes. The movie is that. But it’s so much more too. It’s a film about retaining humanity in the face of utter despair. It’s a film about holding on to your identity when there’s no one else around to help you form it. It’s a film about getting back up once you’ve been knocked down. Simply put, in Watney’s words himself, it’s the lesson that; “I can guarantee you that at some point, everything’s going to go south on you. You’re going to say; ‘This is it. This is how I end.’ Now you can either accept that. Or you can get to work. You just have to begin.” So begin with The Martian, cause man, it’s worth it.
Rating: 5 70’s Disco Hits out of 5
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