Starring: Robert Downey Jr (Sherlock Holmes), Chris Hemsworth (Rush), Mark Ruffalo (Begin Again), Chris Evans (Gifted), Scarlett Johansson (Ghost in the Shell), Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game), Tom Holland (The Impossible), Chadwick Boseman (42), Chris Pratt (Jurassic World), Josh Brolin (Sicario)
Directors: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo (Captain America: Civil War)
Writers: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (Captain America: Civil War)
Runtime: 2 hours 32 minutes
Release Date: 26 April (UK), 27 April (US)
So…it’s all been leading to this. Ten years after Samuel L. Jackson turned up in an after-credits sequence and mentioned “The Avengers Initiative” to the confusion of anyone who has never picked up a comic book, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has now transcended nerd culture and become more essential to pop culture than some of its longest-running franchises. Avengers: Infinity War is testament to how expansive yet accessible these films have become, bringing together nearly all characters and plot threads developed through eighteen preceding films and expecting you’re all reasonably kept up. However, as much as some of the marketing makes it out to be, the story is far from being over. What Infinity War represents more accurately is the beginning of the end of this current incarnation of the MCU, and it does so in ways no other movie could even dare to attempt without the immense build up it has had.
Though you don’t have to have memorised a Marvel encyclopaedia to make sense of this film, being reasonably familiar with all the major events of the previous MCU movies is pretty much required to get the desired experience. Rather than being just one big mash-up of all the characters thrown into one place, Infinity War follows a more fragmented narrative, with different teams of heroes off on their own quests to solve the larger problem; plenty of characters weave in and out of these various plotlines, but there are definitely distinct delineations. As a result, the film truly feels like it spans the whole scope of the MCU rather than consolidating everything on Earth, better matching the stakes and scale of The Empire Strikes Back than Age of Ultron previously tried to do. Speaking of, Infinity War captures a similar sense of hopelessness and defeat as that landmark Star Wars entry but on a phenomenally larger scale. It’s hard to say much without spoiling everything, and the film is best experienced going in as dark as possible, so I will surmise as follows: the pacing is tireless, the banter as sharp as ever, there are too many standout scenes to count, and your expectations are probably far off what truly unfolds.
Infinity War has such a gargantuan cast that listing them all in the starring section would probably take up half the review. With the exception of a few smaller characters, every cast member here has already had ample time to shine in the previous films and all deliver performances at least on par with their previous efforts. Whilst that means not every character gets the focus you might hope for, the film still does an impressive job of balancing everything just right enough that the story remains cohesive and the characters engaging. Again, it’s hard to pick standouts without potentially giving away the game, but what I will say is that I really appreciate how the film actually gives more focus to some of the smaller characters. We’ve seen time and again these stories from the point of view of major figures like Captain America and Iron Man, and as such following them too much might have felt redundant; we already understand them well enough and they don’t have anywhere else to go at this point. To instead bring a little more focus to the likes of Gamora or Scarlet Witch not only allows them much-needed development, it makes the story feel less consolidated to the same three main characters yet again. And hey, that’s not to say that characters served less by this film won’t be fairly compensated in the imminent sequel.
But what ultimately makes the bloated character list and delicate smattering of character development work is that the film, when you look at the bigger picture, isn’t about the heroes at all. They are on the morally righteous side and our sympathies clearly lie with them, but all they can really do is delay and be obstacles to the inevitable. The film’s genius ploy is that our protagonist, the one who has the clearest motivations and personal journey, is actually the tyrannical Thanos himself. Whilst perhaps not as charming as Loki or as relatable as Erik Killmonger, Thanos proves himself as more than just another big bad and brings depth to a character archetype that never moves past those world-ending clichés; he truly put similar figures in the genre recently like Apocalypse and Steppenwolf to shame. A lot of this is thanks to Josh Brolin’s magnetic performance, bringing an effortless menace and convincing internal logic to the galactic madman. It’s very easy to hate him, but there’s an undeniable sense of tragedy to what he has to do, why he thinks he has to do it, and what he completely misunderstands as a result. Even in his most despicable moments, it’s hard not to understand his motives and even sympathise with his emotional turmoil. On reflection, it’s really the heroes who serve as his obstacles, in turn bringing a unique perspective twist to the traditional superhero story.
Audiences have seen these characters clash on screen multiple times before, but the metahuman melee is still just as fun to watch. After the phenomenal airport sequence in Captain America: Civil War set the bar for large scale superhero battles, Infinity War does its utmost to live up to those expectations and succeeds far more often than not. With the film itself feeling like a gigantic third act in and of itself, the action is constant from the get go and every skirmish feels appropriately epic. They are fast-paced, packed with fantastic stunt work and visual effects magic, and the choreography that makes these characters’ fisticuffs bounce off each other as beautifully as their quips keeps things constantly entertaining. The film does an excellent job of combining all the radically different design corners of the MCU together whilst keeping everything aesthetically consistent, and after some patchy effects work in the last few films the VFX here is pretty exemplary; the performance capture work on Thanos is especially fantastic. Wrapping up the entire package is a bravura yet haunting score by Alan Silvestri that summarises the film all on its own: heroic and dynamic, but with a constant reminder of dread and collapse.
It’s best not to think of Avengers: Infinity War as only half of a movie. Instead, think of it more like the penultimate episode of a season of television; everything has been building to this point, all bets are off, and now all we can do is wait for the finale. Much like Star Wars: The Last Jedi, it’s a film that doesn’t seem to hold up when viewed through a traditional lens. However, when seen from a deconstructive perspective and viewed on its terms rather than those of a more traditional movie, it’s a unique and entertaining emotional rollercoaster. It is a monument to everything Marvel Studios has accomplished to this point whilst also eschewing many of the expectations and clichés it helped build about the genre. It is not only a reflection of what has passed, but also a glimpse through the keyhole of what is to come for the universe, and I personally cannot wait to see how everything pans out from here. Unfortunately, we have a whole year of waiting now ahead of us…
FINAL VERDICT: 10/10!