“Lost, not gone. There’s a difference. If something’s lost, it can be found.”
The first feature from PlayStation Productions was the obvious choice and yet also perhaps the most misguided — Naughty Dog’s Uncharted videogame franchise was designed as a cinematic experience, drawing inspiration from the likes of Indiana Jones, but this also means there is little more for a live action production to offer. Practical effects might have provided more grounded, visceral action; instead the action is so obviously green-screened — with videogamey CGI (particularly in aerial sequences) and conspicuous cutting around stunt performers — that the non-interactive experience offers no discernible benefit. Time has also diminished the film’s relevance, as Drake’s videogame journey concluded six years ago. In fact, Uncharted was stuck in pre-production for so long that Mark Wahlberg aged out of consideration for Nathan Drake and into the role of his mentor. Casting a further shadow is how perfect Nathan Fillion would have been for the role of Drake (as demonstrated in a wonderful little fan film — over the intervening four years it became a running joke that I would bring it up as the “real” Uncharted film). Tom Holland provides the requisite charm but not quite enough swagger, and his young Drake feels ill-formed as a character, whilst the rest of the cast is a rogue’s gallery of predictable and shallow caricatures. The story of hunting for the lost gold of Magellan is serviceable with a few moments of intrigue, like Drake learning to test his companion’s trustworthiness, but there is no soul to this adventure. Perhaps it is only lost; I fear it is gone.
Where Avengers: Endgame was the result of a decade of carefully curated MCU crossovers, No Way Home uses a freak multiverse fracture to draw ad hoc from the past twenty years of Sony’s Spider-Man movies, delivering perhaps the ultimate in cinematic fan service for those who grew up during that period. Its strength is the resulting character interaction between characters who would never normally have met, drawing on the parallels and differences between the lives of the various Peter Parkers we have seen. The script uses this for emotional payoff and even to provide some unexpected closure years later. In-jokes abound based on the earlier films and even Internet memes that grew out of them. In all of this, the film can be joyfully playful in a similar way to Into The Spider-verse. No Way Home does place certain expectations on its audience’s knowledge, which leaves it unburdened by the need to explain its position in the MCU or to provide fresh introductions for its rogues’ gallery of villains, whose backstories instead become throwaway gags. The weak link is the action which continues the franchise’s trend for CG-heavy fights and wanton property destruction; even J. Jonah Jameson seems incredulous as he criticises the damage to yet another landmark. The most interesting choreography is a sequence combining Spider-Man’s acrobatics with Doctor Strange’s portals, which shows more creativity in a few minutes than the entire climactic battle.
“I think Nick Fury just hijacked our summer vacation.”
With Avengers: Endgame the obvious culmination of Marvel’s epic decade-spanning story arc, it seemed a little odd that Phase 3 would actually conclude with a Spider-Man film, but it actually makes a lot of sense to address the aftermath of those momentous events in a smaller interstitial that shows life in the MCU goes on. The breezy globe-trotting harkens back to the lighter entertainment of the early MCU, at its strongest in the more personal stories of Peter’s pursuit of MJ and his struggle with the loss of his mentor. This is not to detract from Jake Gyllenhaal’s wonderfully charismatic Mysterio, who makes it believable that Peter would latch onto him as a surrogate for Stark. The early fights benefit from a smaller scale, particularly in Venice where we stick with Spider-man as he works damage control while a battle rages between Mysterio and an elemental in the background; by the time we reach London, the drone-filled conclusion is CGI bombast over careful choreography. All of which goes to show that there is plenty of space for purely entertaining outings with characters old and new in the MCU. From where its future depth will come remains to be seen.
“This universe is finite, its resources, finite. If life is left unchecked, life will cease to exist. It needs correcting.”
With ten years spent building up characters, this is an event movie unlike any to date. Much like the first Avengers movie, I came away impressed firstly that it did not buckle under its own weight. In particular, the introduction of the Guardians of the Galaxy to the rest of the MCU cast works expertly, aided by James Gunn apparently writing their dialogue. Despite threadbare development to date, Thanos becomes a villain with whom one can sympathise, convinced his actions are necessary even as certain acts pain him. Although the number of fight sequences is exhausting, there is sufficient creativity and some memorable tag team moments. Infinity War stands up to a second viewing but whether its stature lasts will depend on how satisfactorily certain choices are explained by the final instalment next year. In assuming a working knowledge of the majority of the heroes, their backstories and their interpersonal relationships, Infinity War does not really work as a standalone film but it mounts a compelling argument that, for monolithic franchises, this may no longer be an appropriate test.