The Best & Worst of 2018

Later than planned, here it is: my picks of the best (and worst) films I saw in 2018! Plus, as usual, a list of some major titles I missed, thus explaining why they’re not on my top list (i.e. because I haven’t seen them).

I’d hoped to have this up by Sunday morning, but life increasingly got in the way, not helped by it being a more mammoth task than usual. You’d think picking a top 26 would be easier than picking a top 10 (there are more slots!), but you end up with the same dilemmas, just further down the scale. And, of course, a longer list means there are more films to sort into order — I mean, how do you decide which is ‘better’ between a dystopian sci-fi parable, an excoriating relationship drama, and a groundbreaking action movie when you love them all? And that’s just one example…

Anyway, this is what I ended up with. And just a final reminder before we get going: these films are selected from all 261 movies I saw for the first time in 2018, not just new releases.



The Five Worst Films I Saw For the First Time in 2018

This year I watched some films so bad that The Snowman hasn’t made the cut. Perhaps The Snowman is worse than some of these films, and certainly everyone involved in it should’ve done better; but it seems something went wrong during its production (15% of the screenplay wasn’t even shot!), so I feel like those involved can’t be wholly to blame. However, the following five films are (to the best of my knowledge) just bad. So, in alphabetical order…

The Cloverfield Paradox
The third film in J.J. Abrams’ sci-fi anthology series was dumped on Netflix at short notice, presumably in the hope people would watch it before hearing how terrible it was. Its sci-fi concepts are internally inconsistent, while the Cloverfield connections were clearly retrofitted with reshoots. [Full review.]

Geostorm
Talking of nonsensical sci-fi, this is even worse — not only is the science stuff implausibly done, it can’t create plausible character logic either. Big dumb popcorn fun shouldn’t be this dumb, because it stops it being fun. [Full review.]

Lost in Space
I avoided this movie for two decades because I heard how bad it was, but then caved when the Netflix reboot came along. Sadly, its reputation is fully deserved — it’s bad in every way you’d care to consider. Even Gary Oldman’s no good in it. And, 20 years on, it also looks incredibly dated. [Full review.]

Phantasm
This is a cult favourite with some people (known as “Phans”, I believe), but I thought it was awful. None of it makes any sense, from the mythology to the way characters behave, and it’s not very well made, either. [Full review.]


Skyline
Another sci-fi movie! I clearly made some poor genre viewing choices in 2018. Anyway, even his is Cloverfield meets Independence Day filtered through the minds of the directorial brothers behind Aliens vs Predator: Requiem, and is every inch as terrible as that sounds. [Full review.]



The 26 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2018

Rather than end the year with a good ol’ top ten, since 2016 I’ve been doing a “top 10%”. This year’s record-obliterating tally was 261, so it’s my biggest top “ten” ever too, with 26 films. Think that’s too many? Feel free to scroll down and start wherever you like.

As I said at the start, all the movies I watched for the first time in 2018 are eligible for this ranking, not just new releases. However, I did watch 50 films that made their UK debut in 2018, and nine of them made it into my top 10%, so I’ve noted their ‘2018 rank’ too.

This French steampunk adventure features gorgeous animation to render a creative alternate history. A sharp turn into pulp sci-fi almost lost me, but it’s too wildly imaginative not to enjoy. [Full review.]

Probably the most iconic Bollywood movie of all time, Sholay’s 3½-hour running time has something for everyone: it’s an action adventure comedy romance musical thriller! [Full review.]

This German Cold War tale is tense and thrilling like a spy movie, but emotionally and politically loaded like an art house drama. [Full review.]

2018 #9 The year’s best fourth-wall-breaking superhero comedy. It’s a kid-friendly cartoon, but there are plenty of jokes aimed at adult superhero fans too. [Full review.]

A rounded portrait of life and combat beneath the waves, with one of the most effective surround sound mixes I’ve ever heard. [Full review.]

A newsroom satire so insightful and timelessly pertinent, you could remake it virtually word-for-word set today. [Full review.]

The blind masseur-cum-swordsman turns babysitter in this atypical but excellent instalment of the long-running series. [Full review.]

Rocky returns to train his dead friend’s son in this spin-off that honours the series’ legacy to emotive effect. [Full review.]

The kind of movie that makes me nostalgic for a time I never experienced (and, to be honest, wouldn’t necessarily actually enjoy). [Full review.]

Our felty friends take to the high seas for one of their best movies, packed with swashing buckles and superb musical numbers. [Full review.]

Dario Argento’s seminal shocker was remade this year, which led me to finally see the original. It’s a masterpiece of uneasy atmosphere, with striking colours and music. [Full review.]

2018 #8 Hilariously funny, with some of the best line deliveries of the year (or ever), and cleverer than it has any right to be, this is so good it makes up for the bait-and-switch of the cute dog being prominent on the poster but not in the film. [Full review.]

2018 #7 Fantastic performances colour in all the shades of grey for some complicated characters in this dark (but, at times, surprisingly funny) drama. [Full review.]

Once eyed by Tarantino for a remake, this instalment sees Ichi attempting to atone for all his killing… only to get drawn into protecting a village from a vicious gang boss. [Full review.]

2018 #6 The Marvel formula, now available in black. But there’s more than that to this film, which plays like an Afrofuturist Bond movie. [Full review.]

A gang must fight their way home across a city out to get them in Walter Hill’s actioner, which is thrilling thanks to an almost-mythological simplicity and directness. [Full review.]

2018 #5 Netflix attracted a lot of attention by suddenly announcing and releasing this “choose your own adventure” movie at the end of December. Unlike when they pulled that stunt in February (see my worst movies list, above), Bandersnatch merited the hype. It could’ve been a gimmick, but, in the hands of Charlie Brooker and the Black Mirror team, content mirrors form, and we’re treated to a paranoid sci-fi story that couldn’t’ve been told as well any other way. [Full review.]

2018 #4 Spider-Men other than Peter Parker have been a fixture of comic books for yonks now, but here they make it to the big screen, accompanied by a powerful message about who can be a hero. Realised with startlingly inventive animation, it’s destined to be a genre classic. [Full review.]

Stanley Kubrick’s Vietnam movie is best known for its bootcamp first half, with the abusive drill instructor played by R. Lee Ermey, who brought his experience of having done the job for real. Nonetheless, I was impressed to find the second half (set in Vietnam itself) was equally affecting. [Full review.]

2018 #3 I’d rather gone off the work of Paul Thomas Anderson in recent years, and a drama about a London fashion house in the ’50s didn’t particularly appeal either… but blow me down with a feather, the combination has produced this work of exquisite beauty. Maybe not “beauty” in the traditional sense, but as a character study of two very particular souls, with more than a touch of Gothic melodrama about its style and story, it’s my kind of beauty. [Full review.]

2018 #2 This year, the superhero movie went full comic book, with both Spider-Verse and this bringing the storytelling style of a team-up event series to the big screen. In the case of Infinity War, it was the (beginning of a) culmination of ten years’ work that has revolutionised the blockbuster movie business. But even leaving that aside, what Marvel produced here is a film with a scope, scale, and narrative style not quite like any other. [Full review.]

The darkness that’s barely concealed beneath the pleasant veneer of American high schools is exposed in this pitch-black comedy, which mixes violent teen wish fulfilment with a certain degree of societal satire to boundary-pushing effect. It’s not as transgressively shocking 30 years on as it might’ve been back in the ’80s, but it’s still so very.

Yes, I only got round to seeing La La Land this year. The Best Picture winner that wasn’t, you can certainly see why everyone thought the tradition-led Academy Awards would pick this as their winner — it is, in part, a love letter to classic Hollywood musicals. But the songs are better than just pastiches, there’s a realism to the storytelling and performances that’s more modern, and the whole film sings with the joy of moviemakers dedicated to producing something beautiful. [Full review.]

If La La Land is about beauty, Snowpiercer is about human ugliness. Its setup may stretch credulity (following an apocalyptic event, the remnants of humanity all live on one long train that constantly circles the globe), but just go with it and you’re treated to an insightful commentary/allegory about class divides and interdependence, wrapped up in a pulse-pounding action thriller with the relentless forward motion of… well, you know what. [Full review.]

The third film in Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy catches up with Celine and Jesse in middle age, after years of togetherness, with two kids (plus his kid from a previous relationship) and a host of problems bubbling under the surface. Midnight is notably different from the lovey-dovey-ness of Sunrise and Sunset, but it’s a powerful examination of the tension in a long-term relationship, and all the more so because we’ve connected with these characters on and off in real-time. The first two leave you feeling warm and fuzzy; this is more like being punched in the gut. And yet, together, they are one of the greatest trilogies ever made. (I really hope they do a fourth one, though.) [Full review.]

2018 #1 I have the whole history of cinema to choose from, but, once again, a new release tops my top ten. Sometimes, with hindsight, I wonder about my picks for #1; other times, I’m pleased to see I was right many years later, as my top film stands the test of time. I suspect this will be one of the latter, because the lengths to which writer-director Christopher McQuarrie and, especially, star Tom Cruise have gone to show us something we’ve never seen done before, and to entertain us with cleverly conceived and astoundingly executed action sequences, is really above and beyond the call of duty. It’s resulted in one of the best action movies ever made. As the first film I felt compelled to see twice on the big screen for nearly a decade, not to mention that I listened to over six hours of podcast interviews with McQuarrie as he dissected it every which way, there couldn’t really be any other pick for my film of the year. [Full review.]


As ever, there were lots of films I liked a lot that there simple wasn’t room for (my original long list, which I add to throughout the year, had 93 films on it). If I just listed a bunch more films I liked that would be kinda cheating (why not just do a longer list?), but, nonetheless, there are a few I’d like to highlight for specific reasons.

While compiling my top 10%, I hit on two kinds of movie that I felt should be eliminated from consideration but that I still really wanted to mention in some way. In other years, any or all of these films might’ve made the “best” list, but it was a tough year and something had to go! Well, that’s exactly what “honourable mentions” are for, right?

The first are movies that were not traditionally “good”, but I still got a lot of enjoyment out of them; what some people might call “guilty pleasures”, I guess. In particular I’m thinking about Gods of Egypt (my review explains all about that) and the 1975 Zorro, which was an entertainingly chaotic romp. Also Happy Death Day, which I really enjoyed as a tonal throwback to turn-of-the-millennium teen horror movies, and Benji, which is a young kids’ film through and through, but with a loveable doggy star to ‘aww’ over.

The latter crosses over somewhat into the second category: films that were only fairly good overall, but I bloody loved one element of them — so, Benji in Benji, for example. Also: Winnie the Pooh in Christopher Robin, the Live Aid sequence in Bohemian Rhapsody, and all the action sequences in The Villainess. If I did lists like characters or scenes of the year, they’re the kind of the thing that would be right near the top.

Now, let’s recap the 12 films that won Favourite Film of the Month at the Arbies, all of which have already been mentioned in this post, one way or another. In chronological order (with links to the relevant monthly update): La La Land, Black Panther, Happy Death Day, Avengers: Infinity War, The Warriors, Sanjuro, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Christopher Robin, Heathers, Suspiria, Creed, and Snowpiercer.

Finally, I never end this without mentioning all the films that earned 5-star ratings in the year. There were 39 in total during 2018, including 22 that made it into my top 26. Those were Avengers: Infinity War, Before Midnight, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, Black Panther, Das Boot: The Director’s Cut, Call Me by Your Name, Creed, Fight, Zatoichi, Fight, Full Metal Jacket, Heathers, La La Land, The Lives of Others, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Network, Phantom Thread, Sholay, Snowpiercer, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Suspiria, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, The Warriors, and Zatoichi’s Pilgrimage. The remaining 17 were The 400 Blows, Big Fish, Compulsion, The Director and the Jedi, The Elephant Man, The Hunt, Laura, Paper Moon, Princess Mononoke, Ran, Sanjuro, Scarface, The Shape of Water, Strangers on a Train, Terminator 2: Judgment Day 3D, They Shall Not Grow Old, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Plus I also gave full marks when I wrote about rewatches of Blade Runner 2049 (in 3D) and Superman: The Movie.


I watched 39 films from 2018 during 2018, which leaves a considerable number of notable releases that I’ve not yet seen. Therefore, as is my tradition, here’s an alphabetical list of 50 films that I’ve not seen which are listed as 2018 on IMDb. That means some of these ‘missed’ films are awards-y movies that aren’t actually out in the UK yet, but that’s the way this goes. (I have included one film that’s listed as 2017, because it only had a handful of festival screenings that year. But there was another that I was going to put here which was actually released in several countries at the end of 2017, so I decided it shouldn’t be allowed. That was, ironically, You Were Never Really Here. Oh how I laughed at the accidental pun. Now you can too, readers.)

As always, the films in this list have been selected for a variety of reasons, from box office success to critical acclaim via simple notoriety. There are many more I want to see that I could have included, but I always make some attempt to include a spread of styles, genres, successes, and failures.

Aquaman
Creed II
First Man
Mary Poppins Returns
Sicario 2: Soldado
Suspiria
BlacKkKlansman
Early Man
Isle of Dogs
The Predator
Skyscraper
Venom
Aquaman
Bad Times at the El Royale
Bird Box
BlacKkKlansman
Bumblebee
Cold War
Crazy Rich Asians
Creed II
Early Man
Eighth Grade
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
The Favourite
First Man
First Reformed
The Girl in the Spider’s Web
Green Book
The Grinch
Halloween
The Happytime Murders
Hereditary
Holmes & Watson
If Beale Street Could Talk
Isle of Dogs
Johnny English Strikes Again
Leave No Trace
Love, Simon
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
Mandy
Mary Poppins Returns
The Meg
Ocean’s 8
Pacific Rim: Uprising
Peter Rabbit
The Predator
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Rampage
Roma
Searching
Sicario 2: Soldado
A Simple Favour
Skyscraper
A Star is Born
Suspiria
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
Tomb Raider
Upgrade
Venom
Vice
Widows
A Wrinkle in Time


Whew! That’s that over for another year. (Well, aside from the insane number of reviews I still have left to post…)

My Top 5 Most-Read New Posts in 2018

Last year, my top five most-viewed new posts were dominated by TV reviews, with no film getting a look in until 10th place. This year, one film did crack the top five, in 5th place, with another making it into the top ten, in 7th.

Nonetheless, as this is supposedly a film blog, I’m still presenting the two separate top fives: first, which five sets of TV reviews attracted the most hits; then, which five film reviews were most visited. (You’d probably gathered that, but it’s always nice to be clear.)

The Top 5 Most-Read New TV-Related Posts in 2018

5) The Past Month on TV #32
including A Series of Unfortunate Events season 2, Westworld season 1, Archer season 5 episodes 1-5, Line of Duty series 4, Lucifer season 2 episodes 1-10, and Episodes season 5 episode 1.

4) The Past Month on TV #29
including Blue Planet II, Little Women, Death in Paradise series 7 episodes 1-2, The Great Christmas Bake Off, and the Not Going Out Christmas special.

3) The Past Month on TV #31
including Jessica Jones season 2, Strike series 2, Shetland series 4, Nailed It! season 1, Lucifer season 1, the 90th Academy Awards, Absentia season 1 episodes 7-10, The Great Stand Up to Cancer Bake Off series 1 episodes 1-3, and Not Going Out series 9 episodes 1-2.

2) The Past Month on TV #30
including Strike series 1, The Good Place season 2, Absentia season 1 episodes 1-6, The X Files season 11 episode 1, The Man from U.N.C.L.E. season 1 episodes 1-4, Murder on the Blackpool Express, The Brokenwood Mysteries series 3 episode 1, Castle season 8 episodes 16-22, Death in Paradise series 7 episodes 3-7, and Vera series 8 episodes 2-4.

1) The Past Month on TV #38
including Bodyguard series 1, Jack Ryan season 1, Iron Fist season 2, Upstart Crow series 3 episodes 1-3, Reported Missing series 2 episode 1, Daniel Sloss: Live Shows, Hang Ups series 1 episodes 4-6, The Imitation Game series 1 episodes 1-3, and Magic for Humans season 1 episodes 4-6.

#38’s victorious position is thanks to the Bodyguard review, which I published after the series ended in the UK but before it debuted on Netflix in the US. Clearly it attracted attention over there: that post received almost twice as many hits as the one in 2nd place, and more than four times as many as 5th place.

The Top 5 Most-Read New Film-Related Posts in 2018

5) Black Panther
A cultural phenomenon, the highest grossing film of the year in the US, and a contender this awards season — no wonder this was a popular post.

4) The Night Comes for Us
This is the first of two Netflix Originals in the top five. A small enough number that it could just be a coincidence, sure, but if I widened this list out to be a top 15, it’d include nine Netflix exclusives. I’m sure you could read many different things into that, but here’s one: I tend to watch and review new Netflix releases quicker than new cinema releases, so the demand for those reviews is higher at time of posting. Plus, the more niche something is, the fewer reviews there are, and so the more likely people are to find your review. Not that anyone would describe half this list as “niche”…

3) Black Mirror: Bandersnatch
In just 70 hours, this review managed enough page views to land itself as my 12th most-visited new post of the year, which is some going, really. Well, I did get it out lickety-split (within 24 hours of the film’s release), and it was a much-talked-about event. It’ll be interesting to see what its legs are like.

2) The Man from Earth: Holocene
My top two swing almost from one extreme to the other. First, this belated sequel to the cult favourite sci-fi drama, which was certainly an under-the-radar release. That made my review a relatively early one, and as it was published in mid January it’s had almost the whole year to top up its count.

1) Avengers: Infinity War
The highest-grossing film of 2018, and one of the highest of all time (only the fourth ever to take over $2 billion at the box office), it shouldn’t be a surprise that this was my most-read film review of the year — in fact, it’s already my fourth most-read film review ever. And yet it is a bit of a surprise, because people have plenty of choice when it comes to write-ups of mega-blockbusters, which is why much of this list is filled out with smaller or Netflix movies. I guess that’s the power of Marvel. Or something.

One final observation: Infinity War’s views were heavily front-loaded — it gained enough hits in April alone to land it in this top five — with just a trickle ever since. Holocene was also front-loaded (the vast majority of posts are), but at this point it’s actually getting more hits per month than Infinity War. It’s currently my fifth most-read film review ever, but maybe at some point in 2019 it’ll leapfrog the Avengers film. Funny how these things go.

The Record-Breaking Monthly Update for April 2018

While Infinity War sets about breaking box office records, I’m breaking some of my own…


#58 Paddington 2 (2017)
#59 The Director and the Jedi (2018)
#60 The Hurricane Heist (2018)
#61 The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017)
#62 Baywatch Extended Cut (2017)
#63 Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995)
#64 Knocked Up (2007)
#65 Logan Lucky (2017)
#66 American Psycho (2000)
#67 Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005)
#68 Shockproof (1949)
#69 Das Boot: The Director’s Cut (1981/1997)
#70 Geostorm 3D (2017)
#71 A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
#72 The Karate Kid (2010)
#73 Princess Mononoke (1997), aka Mononoke-hime
#74 Witness (1985)
#75 Muppets from Space (1999)
#76 Fight, Zatoichi, Fight (1964), aka Zatôichi kesshô-tabi
#77 When Harry Met Sally… (1989)
#78 Identity (2003)
#79 American Assassin (2017)
#80 Call Me by Your Name (2017)
#81 The Room (2003)
#82 The Disaster Artist (2017)
#83 Killing Gunther (2017)
#84 The Snowman (2017)
#85 The Death of Stalin (2017)
#86 Yes Man (2008)
#87 Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
#88 New York, New York (1977)
#89 Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle 3D (2017)
#90 Wild Strawberries (1957), aka Smultronstället
Logan Lucky

Princess Mononoke

The Room

Avengers: Infinity War

.


  • I watched 33 new films this month — more than one a day, on average (and that’s not counting my rewatches).
  • More importantly, that means it passes October 2015 as my Best. Month. Ever!
  • Obviously that means it affects a bunch of stats: it boosts the April average by more than two films, from 10.0 to 12.1; increases the rolling average of the last 12 months by over a film-and-a-half, from 15.2 to 16.8; and makes the 2018 average-to-date surge by three-and-a-half films, from 19 to 22.5. If I maintained that average all year, my final tally would be 270!
  • Building on a decent-to-strong first three months, #90 is also the furthest I’ve reached by the end of April (the previous best being #88 in 2016). I should definitely cross the #100 mark next month, therefore, likely on the earliest date I’ve ever reached it.
  • One record this month didn’t achieve: the earliest I’ve reached the three-quarters point. I watched #75 on April 16th this year, but in 2016 I was there on April 8th.
  • Over a third of this month’s viewing was films from 2017 — 12, to be precise. (Once upon a time, 12 total would’ve been a really good month.) And that’s even with going through a 13-film stretch in the middle where I only watched two films from the whole of the 2010s. It was a really big month, basically.
  • Downside to all this: I now have a backlog of 90 films waiting to be reviewed. Ninety! When I started that “coming soon” page it was because I’d reached the terribly high backlog of ten.
  • This month’s Blindspot film: the shortest film on this year’s lists, Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries.
  • This month’s WDYMYHS film: the longest film on this year’s lists, Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot: The Director’s Cut.



The 35th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
Maybe I’m still a bit caught up in the hype, but I reckon the film I most enjoyed this month was Avengers: Infinity War. After reading glowing reviews before seeing it, I went in with tempered expectations — at this point I’ve seen plenty of Marvel movies that I felt had been overrated by early buzz, starting with the very first, Iron Man (I wrote about that in my review, even. I also said “what it most resembles is a great TV pilot” — oh, little did I know how relevant that view would become!) But Infinity War, while not perfect, did put a smile on my face.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
You may’ve noticed in the above list that I watched The Room this month, the cult favourite “worst movie of all time” that has been described as “the Citizen Kane of bad movies”. But, as the fact it has a fanbase will attest, that film actually has considerable entertainment value, and so it didn’t even come close to making my five-strong shortlist for this Arbie. No, I’m going to give this (dis)honour to Geostorm, which is certainly trash but can’t even manage to be entertaining trash.

Longest Slog of the Month
The director’s cut of Das Boot may be three-and-a-half hours long and have bits I’d’ve cut back, but overall it’s a quality work. I wouldn’t say the same about New York, New York. It’s not often one cites a Martin Scorsese film as the worst of something, but, out of all 33 films I watched this month, perhaps the least enjoyable overall experience was slogging through those two-and-a-half-hours-plus-six-minutes-and-thirty-seconds-beyond-that. Sometimes watching on DVD has its advantages: without PAL speed-up it would’ve lasted another six-and-a-half minutes.

Best Storm of the Month
Storms were everywhere this month, be they of the world-threatening “geo” variety, or a hurricane so bad you could carry off a massive heist during it, or merely one that strands a bunch of strangers at a motel with a serial killer (in Identity). There may well have been some smaller ones I’ve forgotten, too. Anyway, for the sheer volume of wind and water being chucked around — and because it was the best part of the movie — this month’s best storm was definitely the one that enabled The Hurricane Heist.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
Sometimes reviews posted right near the end of the month don’t have the time to pick up much attention, even when they’re of new releases. Not so with this month’s victor, Avengers: Infinity War — in its first day it gained almost six times as many hits as the second-place post (The Hurricane Heist) had in three weeks. As of midnight on the 30th, it’s already my 8th most-read film review of all time.



Another slightly lighter month means I’ve now slipped back to being merely on-target with my Rewatchathon. Still, that’s not really anything to complain about.

#14 Shrek 2 (2004)
#15 Mission: Impossible II (2000)
#16 Liar Liar (1997)

Despite my predictions last month, I didn’t rewatch any Marvel films before Infinity War in the end. I did get back on both my Shrek and Mission: Impossible rewatches, though. Indeed, my rewatch of Shrek is now complete, because the first two were the only ones I’d previously seen.

M:i-2 was part of my 100 Favourites series the year before last, but I hadn’t actually watched it for a decade or more. Consequently, after this rewatch I spotted a couple of errors in my 100 Favourites post… which I’ve now fixed. Anyhow, I stand by my assertion that its qualities are undervalued — I wrote a bit about them on Letterboxd.


Don’t call it a comeback — I’ve been here for years. I’m rocking my peers, puttin’ suckers in fear, makin’ the tears rain down like a monsoon. Listen to the bass go boom!

Deadpool 2, ft. badblokebob the duck

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

2018 #87
Anthony & Joe Russo | 149 mins | cinema | 2.39:1 | USA / English | 12A / PG-13

Avengers: Infinity War

People are incredibly wary of Infinity Wars spoilers right now — understandably — so here’s the deal: this review starts off completely spoiler-free, until a clearly-marked move into spoiler territory. Then the last paragraph (after the picture of Thanos and right above my star rating) is everyone-friendly again. Get it? Got it? Good.

Ironically, it’s actually quite easy to give a fair summary of the plot without spoiling anything that’s not already been teased in previous films: alien warlord Thanos (mocapped and voiced by Josh Brolin) is out to collect the six Infinity Stones, crystals from the birth of the universe with unique powers, which when amassed together will grant him ultimate power. Out to stop him is pretty much every hero introduced in the previous 18 MCU films.

I confess, I was all prepared for Infinity War to fail to live up to the hype and hyperbole of the reviews that have swarmed over the internet in the past few days, just like happened for me with Avengers Assemble six years ago. In this case, there’s so much going on, the experience is such a huge rush, that it’s almost hard to get your head around what to think of it. I don’t believe there’s ever been another movie quite like it — so many disparate primary heroes, all needing time, and facing a single huge villain, who also gets plenty of focus… Setting aside any of the usual quantifiable elements, reviewing the film comes down (as it really always should) to one simple question: did I enjoy it? Yes, I did.

Avengers (partially) assembled

Like the first Avengers, it’s certainly a great event of a movie — but more so, natch. It trades off that event status too: the stakes are huge, the pace and size relentless. It could’ve been like a Transformers movie — “a beginning, then AHHHHH! for another two hours or so”, as someone once described them — but thankfully it’s not so one note: as well as big action, there’s room for humour (plenty of that, it being a Marvel movie, but never ill-placed) and emotion (some affecting dramatic scenes, most of them too spoilersome to mention here).

It’s impressive to join together so many different sub-franchises and manage to create a consistent tone. In some respects it does feel like they’ve chopped up bits from the characters’ individual movies and spliced them together. The most striking for this is the entrance of the Guardians of the Galaxy, when the Russos cut so abruptly into those films’ style that it initially feels misjudged… though I guess a lot of people won’t mind because, hey, everyone loves the Guardians (my audience practically cheered with recognition — not at seeing the characters on screen, but at the very obvious stylistic shift just before they appear). But, across the movie as a whole, it gels well. I suppose some would counter this with “all Marvel films have the same formula and tone so obviously it works”, but that’s not wholly fair — The Winter Soldier and Thor: Ragnarok are hardly the same, are they?

Science meets magic

Whatever the cause, the big plus is that none of the characters ever feel inconsistent — you’ve not got funny people suddenly being serious, or serious people suddenly cracking one-liners, just to make it all fit together. On one level that’s just good character writing, but it’s also good story structure: which characters get teamed up together, because each group has a good mix to butt against each other in the right ways. That doesn’t mean every set has one Funny One, one Serious One, etc, because sometimes the film needs to be able to cut from The Serious Group to The Funny Group. Several reviews I’ve read talked about the film’s “surprising team-ups”. Well, maybe… if you haven’t watched any trailers or seen any posters. Whatever, they mostly work very well. Some characters are better served than others, which is inevitable in a film of this scope, but pretty much everyone gets at least a line or a moment. Who your personal favourites are might dictate whether you think the screen time was fairly allocated or not.

(Spoilers follow.)

Talking of other reviews, I read one that said that, while the film may be entertaining, it’s ultimately hollow because it has no major thematic throughline to explore. I disagree. It leans quite heavily into the question of “at what cost?” What is everyone prepared to sacrifice to achieve their end goal? Both the heroes and Thanos are presented with this question, again and again. Heck, it’s not only a major test for Thanos, it’s part of his origin story too! Now, you can argue about how well the film expounds on this theme, as you can with any work of art (In this case: several of our heroes make that ultimate sacrifice, only for it to be undone by plot necessity), but to say the theme isn’t there feels disingenuous.

Thor and Rabbit, off on a whirlwind adventure

With all of that accounted for, I don’t know what more could be asked of the movie, in some respects. That said, two fairly specific things bothered me. The bigger one was that we only witness Thanos collecting five of the six stones. Why not show us the lot? How he acquires his second stone makes for an effective opening scene — immediately killing off two well-liked characters, as well as defeating two of the MCU’s main heroes, quickly establishes Thanos’ power — but then how he got the first stone is just revealed in some exposition dialogue later on? C’mon, you can do better than that! The other was the random reappearance of the Red Skull, not seen since Phase One. I guess they felt in need of some kind of reveal at that point, but I’m not sure why. Does him being there even make sense? I don’t see how, but then I’ve not watched The First Avenger in the last six years so maybe I’ve just forgotten. They even had to get a sound-alike to do the voice, so clearly they felt it was vitally important!

Something I’ve previously written about being bothered by in movie franchises are two-part films. As a rule I prefer that, even when a pair of films are connected, they should function as finite units — think Back to the Future Part II and Part III, for example, or the link between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Avengers 3 and 4 have an interesting history in this regard: originally announced as Parts 1 and 2, this was later changed to them having individual titles, to indicate they were two separate stories… but still connected, because the two films were shot back to back, and Avengers 4’s final title hasn’t been announced presumably because it’s an Infinity War spoiler. Nonetheless, some people seemed to interpret all this as meaning the two films would be completely standalone from each other, and are now annoyed at Marvel because, surprise surprise, there’s a cliffhanger.

Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a high-tech Iron Man-esque suit can

(I know I already gave a spoiler warning, but just in case you read on regardless: the paragraphs between now and the next photo give away, like, everything.)

So, here’s my take: obviously Infinity War is not entirely isolated from Avengers 4, but I don’t think this is a Kill Bill one-film-split-in-two situation either. Fans who now think the original Part 1 and 2 titles would’ve been apt are maybe taking too simplistic a view of story structure. I mean, look at it this way: it’s only half a movie to us because we know the Avengers are going to come back and win somehow; but if you’re Thanos — the film’s real protagonist, remember — then the story’s over: he did what he set out to do, the end. Maybe this is an academic distinction, but I do think it’s fair enough to have ditched the subtitles that implied it was one movie in two halves. This film tells a whole story (of Thanos trying to wipe out half the universe) and the next film will tell a new story set after it (presumably, how the Avengers try to undo that).

Either way, the film ends on a cliffhanger — a bloody huge one! But I have to wonder: is it actually too much? By that I mean: it has to be undone. Yes, obviously we know the heroes will win in the end, but none of those final deaths can stick. Even if you took Benedict Cumberbatch at his word that Doctor Strange 2 isn’t confirmed, and James Gunn at his that Guardians Vol.3 might feature a changed line-up, we know they need Peter back for Homecoming 2, T’Challa back for Black Panther 2, and so on. So if it has to be undone — if there have to be resurrections — well, why not also resurrect Loki, and Heimdall, and Gamora, and Vision, and anyone else who genuinely died earlier in the story? In fairness, in this I may be getting too far ahead — how the resurrections occur is absolutely a question for next time, after all. But it’ll have to be a very specific solution — one that undoes Thanos’ final act, but doesn’t undo all the ones that led up to it — to not just seem like a stereotypical death-doesn’t-matter superhero cop-out.

A final point on these deaths. I’m not sure I can actually remember everyone who lived and died during the wipe-out-half-the-universe finale (there were so many!), but I’m fairly certain they were mostly Phase Two and Three characters. I remember that Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, and Cap all definitely made it, anyway. My point is this: things are now set for Avengers 4 to really cap off the first 11 years and 22 films of the MCU by placing at its core the heroes who started it all. That’s quite neat, isn’t it? You’ve got to assume that’s deliberate.

Thanos

Avengers: Infinity War is like a massive comic book crossover rendered in live-action. You might think “of course it is”, but it’s not that long ago that this wouldn’t even have been possible (the CGI required is phenomenal), and even less time since it would’ve been considered profitable (remember when all superhero movies had to be “grounded”?) As much as it’s a familiar epic sci-fi action blockbuster, it’s also a new kind of thing to the big screen. There are pros and cons to turning that kind of narrative into a movie, but Infinity War is heavy on the former and relatively light on the latter. When it comes down to it, it’s just marvellous entertainment.

5 out of 5

Avengers: Infinity War is in cinemas everywhere (except Russia and China) now.
The fourth Avengers movie will be released this time next year.

Avengers: Infinity War placed 6th on my list of The 26 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2018.