Stand down, Friends of ol’ Marvel. They did it; they pulled it off. The cinematic journey through the Marvel Comics Universe that began in 2008 with the first Iron Man movie thunders towards the shattering conclusion of its third ‘phase’ in this extraordinary, seamless, gut-punch movie that simultaneously manages to do what Marvel’s critics continually declared was impossible and then utterly confounds by spinning off into directions we could never have imagined. In the two-year build-up since 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, a dry run for directors the Russo Brothers to allow them to practice the arcane art of making an action movie which juggles a dozen or more superheroes and gives them all something to do and a decent wedge of screen time, expectations for Infinity War have hurtled into the stratosphere. This, after all, is the biggie, the film that ties together virtually everything and everyone we’ve seen across the last decade and wraps things up in a nice big bow ready for Phase 4 of the MCU. But how to do justice to nearly thirty costumed super-freaks and tell a gripping, thrilling, coherent and emotional story into the bargain? Piece of cake, as it turns out…
Thanos is coming. He’s been on his way quite a while, since his first brief appearance at the end of The Avengers (aka Avengers Assemble) in 2012, in fact. Infinity War picks up more or less directly where last year’s Thor: Ragnarok left off, with the survivors of Asgard adrift in space, desperate for sanctuary. Suffice to say it doesn’t come, but we learn significantly more about Thanos, his terrifying minions, and his quest to bring together the ‘Infinity Stones’ that, once slotted into his formidable Infinity gauntlet, will give him ultimate dominion over time, space and everything else in-between; all Creation, if you like. Thanos’ plan is terrifying and monstrous and suitably inhuman but, as Infinity War progresses, we’re actually able to sympathise with his line of thinking; if the end doesn’t completely justify the means we can relish the fact that Marvel have, at last, solved that difficult and recurring ‘boring black-hearted villain’ problem and given us a bad guy we can believe in and, to a degree perhaps, even empathise with.
Thanos and his thugs hurtle to Earth for the first of the film’s exhilarating action set pieces as they trade blows with a clutch of severely mismatched superstars. Iron Man and Doctor Strange, butting heads gloriously and quickly joined by Tom Holland’s boisterous new Spider-Man, are soon flung off into a Galaxy-spanning odyssey of their own. Elsewhere, out in deep space, Star-Lord and his Guardians of the Galaxy are rushing to respond to the Asgardian distress signal, which leads them to an encounter with a certain one-eyed God of Thunder who has a bit of a grudge to say the least. On the curiously deserted streets of Edinburgh, Vision (who has the Mind Stone Thanos covets imbedded into his forehead) and Scarlet Witch, trying to keep a low profile, are attacked by Thanos’ goons. Salvation comes in the shape of a handful of disenfranchised Avengers, who whisk him back to Avengers HQ before deciding what’s really needed is the removal of the Mind Stone. Steve Rogers has friends in the hidden kingdom of Wakanda who might just be able to step up to the mark…
So the battle lines are drawn and all the pieces are in place - albeit often millions of miles apart across Space and Time. Obviously, we can’t and won’t spoil the emotional and physical spectacle that unravels across the film’s generous near three-hour running time but suffice to say, Avengers: Infinity War not only exceeds what might have been expected of it on its own merits but it pretty much redefines what we can expect from modern action/superhero cinema. The Russo Brothers have got this nailed down. Everyone in the expansive cast gets plenty to do (with the Guardians, in particular, front and centre and on top comedic form); no-one turned up for an afternoon to film a quick cameo here. Each and every one of these beloved characters get their moment in the sun. Extraordinarily, most of them get to live and breathe as real people, too; dilemmas are stomach-churning, and resolutions have consequences right down the line. Anyone expecting a non-stop barrage of CGI super-heroics will be surprised (but never disappointed) that the film isn’t balls-to-the-wall action (although the battle for Wakanda towards the end of the film is stunningly visceral) and that there’s plenty of time for proper drama in amongst the apocalyptic destruction and universally sky-high stakes.
Infinity War is, in short, an astonishing and impossible achievement. It ticks every box in the Marvel book. It’s pulse-pounding, devastatingly funny (but not in a tiresome non-stop Thor: Ragnarok fashion), operatically dramatic, a little bit weird, emotionally devastating, full of surprises (look who’s back!) and it ticks and turns and rolls like a beautifully, well-oiled movie machine. It’s a Marvel miracle which will thrill you, chill you, amuse you and - yes, there are some fatalities (boy, are there some fatalities…) - emotionally devastate you. As the credits roll you will be tempted to scream at the screen (now that’s what we call a cliffhanger!) before rushing out to buy a ticket to see the whole mad, magnificent spectacle all over again. How lucky we are to live in such times where a film like this is possible. It’s a living, breathing cosmic comic strip in the purest, wildest, technicolour sense. The Avengers will return in 2019; to say that we can’t wait gives new meaning to the word understatement. Infinity War is utterly magnificent; we should really have expected nothing less.
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR / DIRECTOR: ANTHONY AND JOE RUSSO / SCREENPLAY: CHRISTOPHER MARKUS, STEPHEN MCFEELY / STARRING: ROBERT DOWNEY JNR, CHRIS HEMSWORTH, CHRIS EVANS, MARK RUFFALO, SCARLETT JOHANSSON, BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH, TOM HOLLAND, CHADWICK BOSEMAN, DON CHEADLE, PAUL BETTANY, CHRIS PRATT / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Expected Rating: 9 out of 10