The Avengers go to infinity and beyond
Avengers: Infinity War sees the culmination of plots threaded throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s extensive catalogue of films. It’s a bold undertaking that attempts to showcase most of the leading characters from the MCU’s flagship films, while also laying out a cohesive narrative.
While the ambitious concept of a large crossover is something that many fans of both the MCU and their comic origins should be excited about, it’s also a daunting undertaking. One of the problems with the MCU is that the shared universe element introduces an increasingly convoluted story where story beats in one film only really make sense if you’ve seen another film. For the most part, the films do a good job at presenting a self-contained story. By the time Captain America: Civil War arrives (which is essentially an Avengers film in all but name) it starts to get very tricky in allowing the film’s plot to do the heavy lifting while scooting a casual audience past the continuity of several previous films.
In fact films such as Guardians Of The Galaxy manages to sidestep these issues by placing its cast out in the depths of space and away from interactions with the other main characters from the shared universe. Equally, Ant-Man presents a largely self-contained narrative whose small scale ambitions (to use a phrase) work in the film’s favour.
Avengers: Infinity War brings a storyline hinted at in a post-credits scene from 2012’s The Avengers up to speed. Thanos, a powerful alien villain, sets out to acquire all of the Infinity Stones (powerful god-like artefacts) in order to pursue what he sees as a merciful gesture: To eradicate half of the universe’s sentient life. This quest inevitably brings him to Earth and into conflict with The Avengers, the team effort that gathers together many of the super heroes that populate the world.
The film follows on from the events in Thor: Ragnarok in order to catch up with the Asgardian refugees, particularly Thor and Loki. Wasting little time in explaining proceedings, viewers are dropped into the action almost immediately. Things go badly and this set piece essentially foreshadows everything that follows.
Josh Brolin does sterling work in turning Thanos into a complex villain – and his Black Order henchmen deliver an effective series of back-up villainy that offers some cool cinematic moments.
Despite the complexity of dealing with such a large cast, Infinity War breaks the plot down into smaller stories in order to separate out the various characters and allow for a more manageable narrative. Along the way, it mixes things up so that we get the unusual chemistry of having various characters interacting together, such as Thor and the Guardians as well as Iron Man and Doctor Strange.
This isn’t to say that the film doesn’t have problems. Doctor Strange comes across as bafflingly under-powered in this film (a necessary conceit in order to facilitate the beat-downs whenever Thanos encounters our heroes). There are also some staggeringly dumb decisions made by some characters (we’re looking at you Thor and Peter Quill) that accelerate the plans of Thanos. There’s also a scene where the most obvious method of divesting Thanos of the Infinity Gauntlet (the device he uses to wield the Infinity Stones) is actually demonstrated on one of his henchmen, yet never acted upon when the battle goes back to Thanos.
These are minor quibbles overall as the film manages to keep the action moving across its large cast, while also keeping the focus on the main plot. It does seem as if the script could have benefitted from some tidying up at points however.
There are a number of battle sequences that, for the most part, deliver some satisfying moments. The arrival of Captain America, given a more stoic performance care of Chris Evans, comes later than expected but doesn’t disappoint.
The witty exchanges between Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Peter ‘Starlord’ Quill (Chris Pratt) hits just the right level of snark. Meanwhile, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) make the most unlikely heroic trio. Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther also mesmerises every time he’s on screen, leading to the film’s epic battle towards the end.
Between all this, there’s some compelling character moments with the likes of Vision (Paul Bettany) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Gamora (Zoe Saldana) gets to spend some quality time with Thanos, which provides some of the more philosophical moments of Infinity War – and also helps to make the villain a lot more interesting than the scenery-chewing foe that audiences might expect.
Arguably, Spider-Man is the one character who feels out of place here. His scenes often feel like they’ve been added on via YouTube to mash two separate films together.
Avengers: Infinity War ends in a surprisingly bleak place. Although a post-credits scene offers a glimmer of hope, it does feel like the film lacks a final rallying call for the remaining heroes (in much the same way that The Empire Strikes Back is grim, but at least bookends the film with optimism).
Phase Three of the MCU is coming to its conclusion and will likely end with the next, as yet untitled, Avengers outing. The first screen outing for Captain Marvel will also tie into this narrative, with Brie Larson taking on the role of Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (one of the more powerful characters to step onto the MCU stage).
Phase Four will inevitably see an entirely new chapter for the MCU, which at this point makes a lot of sense. A lot of the current cast are getting on in years. Meanwhile, the increasingly convoluted continuity also requires a reset so that the next phase has a clean sheet to write on.
Ultimately, Avengers: Infinity War will satisfy fans of the MCU in terms of action and also in raising the stakes that our heroes face. The success of the MCU in crafting super heroes for the big screen (previously a tough gig to pull off – as DC is currently experiencing!) has paid off with a climax that suggests large cast movies can work on screen.
Avengers: Infinity War is out now on Blu-Ray, DVD and digital outlets.