Avengers: Infinity War, 2018.
Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo.
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Don Cheadle, Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira, Karen Gillan, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie and Josh Brolin.
All of the Marvel heroes must band together in an attempt to stop the mad titan Thanos, who is looking to collect all six of the Infinity Stones and unleash destruction upon the universe.
“There’s an Ant-Man and a Spider-Man?” sighs an exasperated Bruce Banner early in Avengers: Infinity War. Like everyone’s favourite big, green rage creature, anyone without a masters degree in Marvel-ology would be forgiven for losing their way a little in the labyrinth of a shared universe finally coming to a head after a decade of meticulous foundation-laying.
This is what it has all been building to, with Josh Brolin’s lavender-hued megalomaniac Thanos mounting an ambitious plot to bump off half of the beings in the universe. To do so, he merely has to locate and collect half a dozen immensely powerful objects – the Infinity Stones that have periodically appeared throughout the MCU over the years. In order to fill his big, gold single glove – he’s a genocidal Michael Jackson – Thanos has to journey the universe, mercilessly wiping out anyone who threatens his rise to power. Think of it as a Game of Stones.
To say any more of the plot would be to spoil the elegant alchemy showcased by returning directors the Russo Brothers (Captain America: Civil War) and long-time Marvel scribes Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. There are times when Infinity War feels more like a patchwork quilt of moments to tickle the nerd bone than it does a coherent feature, particularly in a first half that is a muddled selection of vignettes and episodes, barely connected by narrative sinews that are doing an awful lot of heavy lifting and often crack under the exertion.
But the ace in the hole is the fact that this movie features the biggest ever ensemble of beloved superhero characters, with Avengers new and old rubbing shoulders with the Guardians of the Galaxy and just about anybody who has ever shown even the slightest hint of super-ability. As if pre-empting fan critique, the few absentees are explained away with brief exchanges of rapid-fire dialogue.
And conoisseurs of Marvel’s pithy putdowns will not be disappointed, with Infinity War‘s enhanced stakes and universe-threatening subject matter doing nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the quippiest superheroes ever created. Whether it’s an arrogant douche-off between Doctor Strange and Tony Stark, or the macho, member-measuring act that accompanies every threat to the dominance of Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord, many of the gags land hard. The Russos are keen to spend plenty of time with all of the Avengers, as if relishing the chance to finally bring a decade of storytelling together in a symphony of noise, bluster and some of the most mind-blowing effects work in recent blockbuster memory. Fans of mad titans throwing moons at stuff will be very pleased indeed.
It’s Thanos who is the star of the movie, without question. Brolin brings a surprising degree of depth to a character who, after years of teases since his first appearance after the credits of 2012’s The Avengers, could easily have been played with one, snarling note. The film takes time to outline and explain Thanos’ bleak worldview, as well as giving him moments of emotional depth involving daughters Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan). If Brolin has an equal here, it’s Saldana, enjoying far more room to manoeuvre as a Gamora unencumbered by the shackles of a movie that requires a charismatic man named Chris to be the star.
There’s certainly plenty of noise and bluster to get through in Infinity War, which keeps the tale moving at a breakneck pace that constantly threatens to send all of the characters – and the audience – tumbling off the tracks. There are nice, little notes throughout that reward the most faithful of Marvel fans, including pleasing tinkles of the theme music for all of the main characters. The introduction of Wakanda, in particular, benefits from the immediately memorable Black Panther score. This is almost a film with a safety net as, whenever it needs a moment of escalation, it can crank up the score, deliver a big hero money shot and then just allow a decade of storytelling to do the leg-work.
For as much as the first half of the movie meanders and ebbs, the final 45 minutes is an example of the wildly ambitious action that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has always delivered, turned completely up to 11 and then shot out into the stratosphere. A mammoth ground battle in the lush fields of Wakanda is juxtaposed with a group of Avengers squaring off with Thanos on a distant world, only for the two skirmishes to collide for a gut-punch finale that… well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it? Needless to say, the movie that came to mind most during this one was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 – constant stakes and a sense of devastating finality.
It’s inevitable than anything other than perfection makes Avengers: Infinity War – almost certainly the biggest movie ever made – something of a disappointment for those expecting a generation-defining cinema event. And this movie isn’t perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. However, with all of its bloated imperfection, it’s kind of beautiful in its own way.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★★ / Movie: ★★★★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.