Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Screenplay: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt
Runtime: 149 Minutes
It’s difficult to decide where to begin talking about Avengers: Infinity War, considering that it represents a great many number of different things from a production angle and from a perspective of cultural significance. This is the third instalment of the Avengers series, but the 19th feature film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A major crossover event celebrating the first 10 years of Marvel Studios and the existence of the MCU as a whole, and a proposed end game for the original cast line-up.
But the other thing that makes discussion regarding the film hard to have is that the nature of its storytelling across different films and genres, with different characters and storylines crossing over one another, is so organically tied to its being that the uninitiated coming into the film might be completely lost by the standards of ordinary cinema-going audiences. It’s a behemoth of a picture that really does feel like something made for the fans, and for their devotion and connections to the series as a generation have grown up in the landscape it has left behind.
Infinity War uses this narrative expectation to its favour as a means of fuelling its desired impact over the audience, taking to places unexpected but working entirely under a structural foundation laid by the films and elements before it. It’s a massive, epic, unabashedly silly piece of genre fiction that comes with its own built-in fan base and an exceptional sense of confidence and purpose to its being – and, for the most part, it’s a rousingly successful triumph of film as spectacle.
At last making good on the promises of former movies, the perceived villain of the piece is Thanos (Josh Brolin); a universally feared warlord who is finally following through on his plans of universal destruction by gathering the all-powerful Infinity Stones seen in prior movies. This ingenious manner of structure allows the film to effortlessly tie in many of the now established characters from across the MCU into a single whole, as earthbound heroes meet cosmic renegades in order to defeat him.
As is to be expected of the Avengers series – and the franchise as a whole – the performances and chemistry between the cast are the main attraction. In-between the set pieces we get dramatic conflicts as new characters clash and old friends and enemies turn over old ground, and the comedy is just as satisfying to watch play out in the fallout.
The established cast are phenomenal across the board, and to see well-established characters converging is as satisfying as the series has ever been, and the ways in which relationships manifest, such as Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) meeting the likes of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) or Thor (Chris Hemsworth) meeting the Guardians of the Galaxy, are all fantastically entertaining to see unfold.
The other attraction is the action, and directors Anthony and Joe Russo deliver spectacularly on a much larger canvas than the films have ever been afforded. From street level brawls to sweeping clashes of armies across the fields of Wakanda or a destroyed alien world, its executed with a great level of gravity and imagination afforded to it by having the mystical, superhuman and science-based abilities of the cast work into one another. Playing out over Alan Silvestri’s excellent score, it’s a great amount of fun, with the final act of the film approaching bonkers levels of fantastically silly comic book splash pages come to life.
But the exhibition is all for nothing unless you have characters to root for or stakes to risk, and besides that first base being covered by spending a decade with well-established and beloved characters, for the first time ever the MCU feels like it’s under a genuine state of threat. From the opening scenes the danger is palpable and real as death seeps its way into this world we have grown so comfortable with, secure in the knowledge that all will be well by the end – but then again, we never had Thanos to worry about before.
Despite the fears and the build-up regarding his characters final introduction into the storyline, Captain America writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and made Thanos the Mad Titan worth the wait.
The character they have crafted is a layered, complicated and deeply frightening antagonist, whose dark philosophy has him under the belief that he is the hero of this story. His motivations, relationships and understandings are carefully unpacked, and Josh Brolin delivers a surprisingly nuanced and understated performance even under the layers of motion capture used to bring this brutish figure to life. He delivers on the action through intense levels of physicality and the use of the assembled Infinity Gauntlet is very well executed in a visual sense.
He feels like the main character of the entire enterprise, which isn’t just rare in itself, but offers the opportunity to see our heroes trapped in wholly reactionary roles as they race to locations in an effort to stop him, aided by an amusing group of nasty mercenaries known as the Black Order, who feel as dangerous and characterised as he does. Although, not all of them look quite as good in motion as others due to their status as purely digital creations.
But for a film with a lot to tackle over its extended runtime, it’s sadly far from perfect. At points in what can only be assumed to be the second act, there’s almost too much going on between different locations as the narrative seeks to bring them together (an entire subplot with Thor feels like it could be cut down). Also, as would be the inevitable casualty of any film housing a cast of characters this large, not everyone is fully utilised. They’re all given reasons to be there and things to do, but Captain America and Black Panther amongst others get lost in the mix as the film races toward its climax.
If there’s anything to redeem the film of these faults in some form, it is the final half hour; a barnstorming, surprisingly intense and emotional rollercoaster of turns and developments tumbling out of the conflicts. That’s all that should really be said regarding how the film chooses to end, because as a Part 1 of 2 it ends on a cliffhanger that many will be talking about for the next year. Suffice it to say that you have to have a tremendous amount of faith in your brand and your audience to allow your film to close on the breathless final note that this does.
As dour and devastating as Infinity War can be at points, for every moment of horror there’s a joke to elevate it, and seeing where this takes the characters is an emotionally gratifying experience that plays by its own rules as much as it wants to shatter them into pieces. As much as can be undone in time, or as much as it wants you to feel, the MCU has earned to right to take such risks with its material, and paint them on a canvas as bright, loud and exuberant as this.