Thanos, the villain first teased in 2012’s The Avengers, finally crashes through the ceiling for his moment in the limelight. In a plan that could have been concocted by an intergalactic Lorelei Lee, he attempts to gather the most precious stones in the universe together on his golden gauntlet. The aim? To wipe out half the universe. Thankfully Black Widow, a tree and a raccoon are there to stop him!
A lot has changed since the Avengers first assembled – not least the addition of a couple of dozen new characters. Those experiencing superhero fatigue will at least find the title appropriate, since the MCU’s 19th installment must be making them wonder if it will ever end. But I’m please to announce that Infinity War largely maintains the level of quality we’ve come to expect from the gravity-defying franchise.
At this point what we’re watching is not so much a piece of storytelling as a feat of cinematic engineering. And screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely are its Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Avengers: Age of Ultron strained under the pressure of its inflated roster of characters, and almost broke Joss Whedon in the process.
With that in mind, making Infinity War should have been impossible, incorporating Black Panther, Spider-Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy and Doctor Strange to name a few. In spite of this it does a far better job of doling out its limited screen time, and weaving a solid narrative in the process.
It’s remarkably egalitarian, leaving no-one without an important role – something even ensemble films of four or five characters often fail to manage. While the cast is too long to list, highlights are once again Tom Holland as Spidey, Mark Ruffalo as the world-weary Bruce Banner and Chris Pratt as Starlord. And Elizabeth Olsen finally seems to have given up whatever accent she was trying to do as Scarlet Witch.
The film assumes you’ve seen its predecessors, and in fact makes little sense without them. This means there’s limited scene-setting, allowing the three or four different plot threads to emerge and exist simultaneously, with weird character collisions proving to be one of its most enjoyable elements. There’s impressive tonal consistency between these threads, even if it becomes a struggle to remember what all the characters are doing at any given time.
The alien invasion plot is somewhat similar to The Avengers’ first outing, but the heavy tone and long build-up create a feeling of greater consequence than we’re used to with your average ‘villain of the week’. Fans of the more comedic Marvel films, including last year’s Thor: Ragnarok, may find it rather weighty. But there’s enough investment by this point that they can get away with it.
What results is a film teetering on the edge of imploding due to its own ambition. But thanks to the skilled direction of Captain America: Civil War‘s Anthony and Joe Russo, all the plates are remarkably kept spinning – which is a spectacle as impressive as anything that happens in the film itself.