Avengers: Infinity War (2018, Marvel Studios & Walt Disney Studios)
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, featuring Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch and Josh Brolin (and a heap of others).
Avengers: Infinity War is a Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) superhero film, and a sequel to two previous Avengers films. This is a long and tension-lacking film, but with enough good humour and a witty script to make it fun. To start, I have not seen either of the two earlier films and nor have I seen the majority of the MCU films. So, I have not the same level of investment or understanding as many other cinema goers who are fans of the Marvel Comics or who have seen several of the MCU films. Which probably explains why nearly every other person in the cinema enjoyed this film more than I did. Keep that in mind. Oh, and it also became the fastest film in history to reach a worldwide gross of $US1 billion (11 days).
There are lots (I mean LOTS) of superheroes here who come together to save the universe against the extraordinarily powerful villain Thanos (Josh Brolin), whose aim is to steal the Infinity Stones that will give him ultimate power over the universe. And he wants this power because, he says, he wants to kill one half of the population on every planet so that the other half can live without want. He’s very considerate in that regard. An endless number of multi-coloured superheroes are out to stop him. And that’s the plot folks! As terrible as it sounds, the script is very sharp and the various characters are woven into a single narrative with the generous use of humour. And it works. It’s a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously – hammed-up fun you could say. And it’s clear the actors had a hoot of a time making it. Of course it has all the clichés: the deep resinous and metallic voice of evil villains and the witty wise-cracks of the New York-like, street-wise superheroes. But that’s okay.
The problem I had with it – and I think the central weakness of the film overall – is that there is no emotional investment and almost no tension. With so many superheroes to be victorious or to be defeated, who really cares about them? There’s plenty more to go around. I was actually rooting for Thanos! And then there is a second big problem: the film basically plays out over a series of 4.5 minute sequences, which are broken down as follow: (1) LOUD battle scene for 3 minutes, (2) Quiet poignant moment for 1 minute, (3) 20-30 second comic moment (and repeat ad nauseum). It’s a long film and with the same thing happening over and over again, it really pushed my limits of attention. But I admit that the comic bits worked and these kept me in my seat til the end. And I noted that my friends, who know Marvel Comics more than I, were much more engaged with it. So, I concede I do not make the best reviewer in this instance. But I can comment that the musical score by Alan Silvestri, when not overly loud, is very atmospheric, and the set design is impressive too. I should also say that the audience had lots of families of different ages in it, and there was generally lots of applause.
Reviewed by Robin Stevens – Rated 2.5/5 (but if you are into Marvel, perhaps 3.5/5)
Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018, Walt Disney Studios & Lucasfilm Ltd.)
Directed by Ron Howard, featuring Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke and Paul Bettany
Solo: A Star Wars Story has to be one of the leading contenders for a ‘so so’ film this year (but Avengers: Infinity War is putting in stiff competition!). Is it dull or is it okay? I kept thinking that all the way through. I suppose it got me thinking about this at least! Finally, I have resolved to come down on the side of ‘well, I guess it’s okay’. The film is the back-story to the enigmatic Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich) – he of Star Wars fame thanks to Harrison Ford’s portayal. It’s part of the web of entangled story lines in the Star Wars universe. And for hard-core Star Wars fans, it might be quite entertaining, and it certainly ticks quite a few boxes in his personal history. We get to know how Han Solo meets Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and how they later break the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs (or do they?). And how Han Solo wins the Millennium Falcon in a card game. It’s like the script writers had a list of things they had to check off with the backstory. There are mini-scenarios to explain it all; like listening to a prologue before the feature film begins (the original Star Wars from 1977, that is).
The first two thirds of the film is set in dim light, with muted colours. But the last third is very different in terms of light and sharpness (it’s as if two different people made the film!). The visual effects are good but not surprising. Racing through dark space avoiding rocks and debris – that sort of thing. Although there is a good scene set in snow-capped mountains – a kind of train robbery and rival marauders cutting in on the act. A collection of muppets…I mean, alien beings from diverse backgrounds make token entries here and there. It’s all so ‘ho hum’. There’s a love story between Solo and Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), but it takes a back seat and there’s no real passion or sense of intense urgency – just a kind of ‘it’s so nice to see you again’ vibe. And we never know how in three years Qi’ra goes from deep oppression and poverty to become a powerful side-kick and confidante to the oppressive but powerful Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).
The acting is…okay. Paul Bettany (Dryden Vos) and Woody Harrelson (Tobias Beckett) are fine. Ehrenreich’s Han Solo is a kind of morph between Jack Black and Harrison Ford’s Han Solo. There’s an android (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) with an attitude (well, it is Star Wars). The rest of the cast is passable, and…you know, I am already bored talking about it. That might sound like it’s a bad film. No, it’s not that bad, it just lacks any real tension. There’s nothing remarkable about it. You can go see it with friends, and still have fun. Or you can read a book on botany or cook spaghetti. They are all fine activities for an evening. Just not remarkable. If you follow Star Wars you probably have to see this film. If you don’t follow Star Wars, you can give it a miss.
Reviewed by Robin Stevens – Rated 2/5