The build-up to Avengers: Infinity War has been ridiculous, seeping through eighteen films over ten years in a mindboggingly successful run that not only stamped the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a colossal, cinema changing franchise, but also created a crazed hype for the film not seen in decades. It’s a near impossible situation to be in, guaranteed to destroy the box office but also a certainty to disappoint people, whether its fans desperately hoping that cherished characters get through unscathed, or others morbidly defiant in their thirst for deaths of some kind after all the teasing and near misses of previous instalments. Following two of the most acclaimed releases of the franchise in Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther and the movie’s own bleak outline, it’s also a virtual certainty to divide critics. Many will appreciate it as the culmination of a decade’s work, but those wearied by the trappings of the genre will be left exhausted by yet another explosion filled CGI-fest.
The story itself is no surprise to anyone who has had access to a screen in any capacity since 2008. First introduced in 2012’s The Avengers, intergalactic purple titan Thanos finally makes good on his promise to collect all six Infinity Stones – the logic defying MacGuffins with the power to destroy the entire universe that have appeared in various forms throughout different Marvel movies. Where the team assembled in the original comprised solely of Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, Chris Evans’ Captain America, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, the latest incarnation is a veritable cast of thousands scattered across and above the planet, uniting once again for almost three hours of non-stop battle scenes and extravagance. The film picks up immediately after the post credits scene from Thor: Ragnarok, with Thanos and his minions attacking the ship carrying Hemsworth’s now one-eyed God and his fellow Asgardians. It’s a brutal and blunt beginning that sets the tone for the rest of the movie, in all its good and bad aspects.
The biggest problem here is the same issue Marvel has had from the very beginning – vague definitions of powers, from the impossibly strong yet entirely confusing Infinity Stones themselves to a character like Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch, for all intents and purposes the most devastating member on the roster but strangely nudged to the side in any conflict faced. As Danai Gurira’s Okoye questions mid-fight, why is the one person with reality changing abilities always joining the climactic battle so late in proceedings? It’s a frustrating choice that is unfortunately mirrored in bad decision making throughout the movie by characters that should surely know better, bizarre turns that bypass years of development in favour of a cliffhanger or twist.
It’s almost too epic to truly succeed – in a valiant attempt to tie together an obscenely large cast of players there will always be casualties, and the list of underused characters runs deep. Unfortunately some of the very best are left with very little, from heavy hitter Captain America to fan favourites Bucky and Shuri all given only a few lines between them. After the triumph of his solo outing it’s a massive shame to see Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther relegated to the sidelines too. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo expertly introduced the character in their previous film Captain America: Civil War but here seem entirely unsure how best to use him, making what should be an integral part of the show appear strangely out of place. Too often pivotal moments in the film skip over beloved heroes without enough pause for thought, something that can’t help but feel like they’re short-changing some long-time fans and lessening the emotional impact they could have had.
This is all nit-picking though. A movie of this size and spectacle deserves to be dissected but for all its problems, this is still an undeniable success. The Russo brothers are clearly at their best in the lighter moments, and the smatterings of character beats are pitch perfect, particularly with the scene-stealing Guardians Of The Galaxy. They’re a breath of fresh air the moment they’re onscreen and their opening interaction with Thor makes for the best scene in the film. Hemsworth is brilliant again too, continuing his new take on the character after his hilarious performance in Ragnarok turned the least enjoyable hero of the group into the most indispensable. It took four full outings to get there, but this current version of the God Of Thunder is the one we’ve always wanted, embracing the ridiculousness of it all brilliantly.
The cast in general are excellent, led by Josh Brolin in all his CGI glory as Thanos. In the pantheon of Marvel villains he comes up short against only two, lacking the evil charm of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki or the righteous fury of Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger, but making up for it with an imposing presence and strangely logical purpose. The pick of the bunch has to be Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spiderman though, and his chemistry with Downey Jr. as Tony Stark is one of the biggest success stories of the MCU. The relationship between Parker and Stark feels earned and genuine, and as a result provides the movie with its main emotional thread. Holland’s ability to seamlessly slip from heroic to childlike at any given moment makes him the one hero in the ensemble able to give the spectacle the grounding point it so desperately needs. It’s the one connection that holds true right through the film’s shocking finale and prevents it from losing the poignancy it strains for.
In a way the film’s greatness can only truly be measured by what comes next. Is this the gamechanger the Russos promised it’d be? Or simply short term drama that’ll be completely retconned in later instalments? It’s a staggering achievement either way, somehow able to seamlessly weave together its sizeable cast without ever falling off its hinges. The sheer number of elaborately staged setpieces threaten to dull the edges here and there and the intensity never quite reaches the fever pitch levels the horrifically high stakes deserve, but the Russos rarely let a scene go by without a great moment or two. Avengers: Infinity War is a flawed, ambitious and unpredictable epic that manages to leave the franchise somewhere it’s never been before – for the first time in a full decade of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there is no telling what happens next. Where it goes from here is anybody’s guess.