It’s neither fair nor helpful to compare Avengers: Infinity War to any other film, because there never has been one quite like it. That’s not to comment on whether you’ll find it worthwhile waiting for – although I don’t see how any fan of this material could fail to be totally satisfied –, it’s just a simple fact.
This is a film that is the culmination (to date!) of a series of movies which began a decade ago with the ground-breaking Iron Man and which have become similar to nineteen chapters in one great big epic novel.
The stories of Iron Man, Captain America, Scarlet Witch, Black Panther, Thor, Hulk and literally dozens of superpowered characters that are available from the massive roster of Marvel Comics have been lovingly and painstakingly put together. And now we are at the point where we see what it has all been leading up to: the ambitions of Thanos, a complex alien despot who desires the complete collection of the six Infinity Stones that were spat out during the Big Bang and which taken together will give the possessor of them total power over Life and Death and Time and Space – of Reality itself. Kind of makes a James Bond world-conqueror look like an amateur, in fact.
He’s a strange bugger, is Thanos. During the film’s dark opening scenes we see him attacking the Asgardians who fled their world at the end of Thor: Ragnarok and discover that this creature is far stronger than Thor, Loki and Hulk put together. He defeats them with an ease that we find startling, playing it straight all the way, no side-quips here, and with the beaten Loki’s taunt that he ‘will never be a God’ sounding desperately hollow. I mean, if this guy isn’t a God to rival any Asgardian, he’s doing a pretty damned good imitation of one.
And he is also a villain with a more interesting motive than most bad guys: he genuinely believes that in order for an overpopulated Universe to prosper it is necessary to wage genocide on a never-seen scale, wiping out half the population of every world he attacks. Unfortunately for us, that includes Earth. (Come to think of it, maybe there is a Bond villain who had roughly the same outlook: Hugo Drax in Moonraker. Thanos still makes him seem kind of small potatoes, though.)
If Infinity War belongs to any one character, then it is Thanos (Josh Brolin). In a film that could have remained two-dimensional due to the unavoidable amount of (truly excellent) CGI effects, he is resolutely three-dimensional, not least in his twisted and abusive relationships with adopted daughters Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan), two members of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Indeed, while his feelings towards Gamora are strangely loving – and vice versa – his treatment of Nebula is quite horrendous. I’m not going to get into the question of film ratings, but this one is PG13 for a reason.
Apart from Thanos, the film by its very nature has little time to let many of the other characters have much more than extended cameos. Yet the Russo Brothers, Anthony and James, keep a firm grip on the action, only letting it completely overwhelm character development when that’s unavoidable – as it often is. Yet in much the same way that Thanos wants to balance the Universe, they balance their film with a surprisingly delicate touch, as do screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. That’s no easy accomplishment in a film such as this. Then again, I’ve a lot of respect for them after the jobs they did with the Captain America duet, The Winter Soldier and Civil War.
The continuing, difficult and touching love affair between Scarlet Witch and Vision is beautiful played, even underplayed against the frenetic action, mainly due to the nicely judged, low-key approach taken by actors Elizabeth Olson and Paul Bettany. That is particularly impressive in a film where you don’t really expect low-key anything.
And for the laughs that this rather grim film needs we have, of course, the Guardians of the Galaxy. Star-Lord’s (Chris Pratt) jealousy of Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) good looks and his natural rivalry with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) are priceless; as is Thor’s oddly moving relationship with Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), who he amusingly refers to as ‘Rabbit’.
And Tom Holland continues to be pitch-perfect as Peter Parker, with his endless pop-culture references. (There’s a laugh-out-loud moment when he sees the lovely Mantis (Pom Klementieff) approaching him and scuttles off, squealing: “Please don’t put your alien eggs in me!”)
Peter Dinklage also turns up as Eitri the Dwarf King and is part of an extended visual joke that might have seemed cruel but is in fact as expertly pulled off as almost everything else in this blockbuster.
The writers and directors quite rightly feel no need to introduce the characters. They do of course simply assume that the audience for this one will have likely seen many if not all the other entries in the series. I would suggest, however, that if you haven’t yet seen Black Panther, then you brush up on your Wakanda. The African country, which opened itself up to the outside world at the end of that particular movie, is crucial here, as is its technology. And while I thought that film was distinctly overrated, Chadwick Boseman in the part of T’Challa continues to be utterly charismatic. As does Captain America (Chris Evans), my personal favourite. We’ll all have a character that we wish we could have seen more of, but the Captain is mine. He has come to fascinate me in his role as patriot rebel-outlaw and with a new look here (I didn’t recognise him at first) looks every inch the heroic leader.
The gang is pretty much all here, barring a few omissions, so no need to list all of the characters and actors; and it is a tribute to the filmmakers that they manage to spread the love around so ably. This is one that you will definitely need to see more than once, so much is there going on.
For me, Avengers: Infinity War is an enormous triumph on just about every level. And here I will drop my only spoiler, if you can call it that…
…I’m reasonably sure that by now everyone knows that this one ends on an incredible cliffhanger, with a sequel scheduled for next year. And it is so utterly apocalyptic that I can only imagine that the events of the upcoming Marvel films that are already announced, such as Ant-Man and the Wasp and Captain Marvel, will take place before this climax.
To be sure, I can’t see how any sequel will fail to disappoint in trying to balance what has happened here. I know that the audience I saw it with were as stunned as I was. But that’s a story for next year.
For the moment this film stands as an enormous success – of visuals, of balance of drama and humour, of characterization. Hell, of everything.
Sure, it’s a popcorn blockbuster; but if you take the trouble to look beneath the noisy surface it is a pretty deep one.
And do most definitely stay for the post-credits clip. You’re about to become very familiar with that symbol at the very end.