From the release of Jon Favreau’s Iron Man in 2008, and through the seventeen standalone and team-up movies that followed, Avengers: Infinity War finally arrives, the culmination of producer Kevin Feige’s sprawling superhero narrative, as the much-teased galactic despot Thanos (Josh Brolin) enters the Marvel fray with terrible intentions. Bringing together all of the heroes we’ve come to know and love – from leading heroes like Captain America (Chris Evans) to supporting players such as Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) – Avengers: Infinity War might well be the biggest blockbuster yet conceived: expectedly, the hype was excessive, perhaps even unmatchable. But, for the most part, directors Anthony and Joe Russo have achieved the impossible: balancing all of these characters and plot threads, stitching them together in a larger-than-life space/superhero opera that will give you your money’s worth and then some.
With so many pieces on this elaborate narrative chess board, it’s hard to attribute the title of protagonist to any particular character bar, rather unexpectedly, Brolin’s Thanos. With his Black Order at his side, Thanos has one plan: to unite the Infinity Stones, powerful gems that have appeared throughout Marvel’s movies, in order to use their combined might to eliminate half of the galaxy’s population for the megalomaniacal purpose of restoring balance to the universe. The only thing standing in his way are the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy, broken but willing and able to combat Thanos as he searches far and wide for the stones.
However, what makes Avengers: Infinity War stand apart from Marvel’s other entries, is how uncertain our heroes’ success seems. Yes, they have a Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). They also have Thor, the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth). But what the Russo Brothers manage to accomplish, along with writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, is to immediately set the tone that this isn’t going to go the way you expect, maintaining this feeling across the film’s lengthy runtime. Hulk might not be able to smash so easily this time. Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) upgraded Iron Man armour might not be up to the task. Even the usually resolute Cap seems shaken, the American star stripped from his uniform. Despite the ever-present quips, this is Marvel’s darkest film yet and it’s so refreshing because of it.
First and foremost, this is down to the characterisation of Thanos. Marvel has had issues with its villains in previous entries: Black Panther’s beautifully fleshed out Killmonger aside, world-conquering entities such as Thor: The Dark World’s Malekith and Guardians of the Galaxy’s Ronan the Accuser fail to engage, their motives simplistic and their emotional range limited to a yearning to see everything burn. Thanos holds similar motivations, certainly. However, it’s clear that Marvel is learning from their mistakes, giving Thanos a sentimental edge that somehow gives credence to his terrible acts. Brolin does a wonderful job behind his character’s computer-generated face, communicating an insatiable desire to fulfil his lifetime goal, but with enough of a human edge, particularly with regards to his relationship with daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana), that he avoids the accusations of lifelessness that have been thrown at villains of his type before.
Admittedly, our heroes are a little short-changed in comparison. Knowing Marvel’s films prior to Infinity War is essential to sensitively engaging with the Avengers’/Guardians’ struggle, as it offers little to any time for character development. Arguably, Thor, Gamora, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) are given the heaviest material, either through their own emotional beats or intertwinement with Thanos’ character arc. But for the most part, the rest of the cast are merely given “moments” to shine. That’s not to say that these don’t stand out. It’s just a shame that such memorable characters are side-lined in favour of a spectacle-heavy event. Personal favourites Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and, perhaps unforgivably, Captain America, are given woefully little to do, for example. It’s not so much of an issue if you’re familiar with Marvel’s back catalogue. But for myself, Captain America: Civil War did a better job of complementing action with thoughtful character development.
Nevertheless, what spectacle it truly is. Avengers: Infinity War offers Lord of the Rings level delights in terms of visuals and action display. From the heavily-advertised Wakandan battle sequence that will leave your jaw dropped, to smaller conflicts between select groups of characters that deliver the comedic goods you’d hope would arise from such clashes (looking at you, Thor and Rocket (Bradley Cooper)), Infinity War has got you covered, with DOP Trent Opaloch committing full-heartedly to capturing all of it in IMAX glory. See it on the biggest screen you can find, to do justice to his ambitious yet clinical camerawork.
It’s a long film and one that requires focus as there’s no real respite: even in its quieter sequences, the film leans on a plot-heavy script, dealing out information that needs to be absorbed to get the full picture. Moreover, due to its swift nature, the film does find itself suffering from the occasional gap in storytelling logic.
But overall, Avengers: Infinity War is everything you’d expect from a Marvel picture, with a little extra to boot. The extensive battles are there. The humorous character dynamics deliver. With further viewings, Thanos looks set to become an iconic villain within the studio’s oft-disappointing rogue’s gallery. And, without spoiling anything, Infinity War concludes in a way that is surprising, shocking and unforgettable. Three words that could easily be expanded to describe the experience of the film as a whole.