Review Roundup - Hand of Fate


So here we are. Another superhero team up, another giant purple faced CGI villain. The odds are against this one working out with too many characters, too much universe scale destruction, and a long awaited conclusion to that Avengers post-credits tease in 2012 that could never be satisfying. This isn't even a real finale but part one of two, how could it ever really feel well constructed? A dark dramatic climax to a series about eclectic character banter and weird space monsters shouldn't really work at all. But here we are again, back with two directors from a sitcom background who keep making all this stuff come together. A film where more is actually more for once.

It has to be said that this does feel like the most inaccessible entry in the franchise yet. They hit the ground running with little time for character introductions or retreading of earlier plot threads. If this was a typical superhero plot it's all pure third act showdown. Maybe a plot about evil aliens collecting magic gems to gain power isn't that complex and some people will be fine with that, but it doesn't spend any time allowing for those who need a catch up. Those anticipating this in the first place will be the main audience of course, but I do wonder if there's anyone out there who went into this just to see a new blockbuster. It's a cosmic scale journey with very little time for respite, a three hour race to the finish with no brakes. 

Yet somehow this generally works as an entertaining popcorn movie with enough for everyone involved to do. Spider-Man, Iron Man and Doctor Strange all go on a mission into space, Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy meet, and most of the Avengers team still on Earth are left to defend it against a series of attacks involving drooling creatures and evil henchmen. These individual threads rarely clash, and it all builds to solid conclusion in Africa and on the planet Titan, the villain's home world. The only pair who feel short changed are Scarlet Witch and Vision who have a new dynamic that was never properly established after the events of Civil War. Their relationship to each other is rushed so they can get to all the magic space crystal stuff. But of all the team ups it's a minor blip.

Those fans excited to see new character interactions elsewhere will be pretty happy to see how things work out, as all these intertwining stories and tonal shifts allow for wry humour and silly remarks between old friends and new allies. Groot and Rocket Racoon coming face to face with the other heroes in particular is a lot of fun. A few quips don't really land that well which is to be expected, but in general there's just enough balance in terms of exposition, levity and real drama for everything to be satisfying. If Age of Ultron sometimes felt slapdash and underwhelming then somehow here each of the moving parts is well engineered and all the players are properly used. You'll forgive me for not citing every actor's name as I list all of these, but it doesn't mean the film isn't utilising them well. The main surprise in all of this is that the villain is both convincing as a motion capture creature and engaging just as a personality in the story.

Instead of yet another dull, monolithic, throwaway monster, Thanos (Josh Brolin) turns out to be an enjoyable presence. After his sneaky peek at us in Avengers and his brief throne room dialogue in Guardians of the Galaxy it was hard to imagine this really working, and his galaxy scouring plan to collect more and more abilities is incredibly bland on paper. But ultimately he's both an intimidating physical figure on the outside and a calm, collected psychopath inside. His loony intentions and his acquisition of reality bending powers might have been enough of a threat, but with bonus characterisation the results are much more interesting. It might have taken Marvel Studios a while to figure out the bad guy stuff, but after Michael Keaton and Kurt Russell this is another great addition to the roster. Maybe just casting the scariest father-figure available was the key to all this the whole time.

In terms of pure spectacle on the other hand the film also delivers in terms of action variety and set piece design as alien hordes are released and planetary bodies are dropped. There's certainly a sense that some of the hand to hand combat has been shot with too much shakiness after the earlier Captain America films nailing the feel of the fighting, and perhaps second unit duties have been given to a team suited to larger scale visual effects sequences rather than one on one fights. It's a minor issue but there are a lot of moments that are too quick and too close up. The movie's aesthetic is generally still pretty impressive. It's often richer and more vibrant than usual as we see alien ships and star powered forges as well as scenes in which the mundane streets of New York clash with both intergalactic weapons and teleporting sorcery.

It's a weird place to have such a dramatic "to be continued" ending like this, and there's a sense that despite all the daring moments and sudden shocks this is just another instalment in a long running series. With some of the actors involved having multiple appearances contracted the stakes are often less than they should be, but it's the nature of the series. However it still needs to be said that it's another good offering, with staple characters and new situations that manage to remain enjoyable after a decade of power armour punches and super human speed. Even some of the older Alan Silvestri themes are still satisfying after so many years, while gaining a more grandiose sound that results in a more memorable score than usual. Maybe it's a bit too long, and maybe all these individual pieces are things we've seen before on repeat. But it's a great blockbuster event nonetheless, and a story that feels well rounded while at the same time offering a climax that will leave most viewers wanting more.