This might be a bit of a spoiler, but Spike Milligan used to end the majority of his Q series sketches with the phrase “What are we going to do now?’ – a phrase that sums up the look on the faces of the remaining characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, at the conclusion of Avengers: Infinity War. Eighteen movies in, this latest instalment of franchise pulls few punches. There really is no going back from this one.
From the very beginning, the movie sets the universal and emotional scale of the threat facing Earth’s Mightiest Heroes very high indeed, with an excellent foe in the imposing shape of Thanos, a villain waiting in the wings for 10 years, along with his simple – if warped – plan to save half the universe, via the merciful genocide of the other half. Will he be stopped? If so, how?
What sets this above other superhero films is that where recent DC movies failed in both world-building and time spent with their heroes, here Marvel makes you care by giving the various epic battles to stop another big CGI baddie an emotional core. The simple premise of keeping the baddie from getting their hands of a collection of powerful objects could have been packed with padding to get us to the final reel – but instead, a surprising emotional depth of Thanos and his vision for the future of the universe adds a pathos, and also fear to fighting him. He is not a madman wanting to destroy the world; he wants to save the universe in his own way. You can hit him, zap him, show him what he has done, but it is clear even the sacrifice of someone he dearly loves will not deter him.
It’s also all the Avengers fault: due to Captain America and Iron Man falling out over independence versus being responsible for collateral damage, combined with a some hurtful unearthed secrets – see MCU movie #13, 2016’s Captain America: Civil War – our home planet is not ready for the full-scale attack that opens the film. Our heroes also make mistakes; Thanos’s capture of the all-important Infinity Stones is very nearly stopped in its tracks several times, only for an emotionally-compromised character to slip up. This is on-the-edge-of-your-seat stuff, and despite huge confrontations and amazing fight sequences, there are lots of slower character moments that are both funny, creepy and heartfelt.
The abundance of heroes might have overloaded the screen and diluted characters, but the separate-but-linked missions to save the day (and the universe) keep the film from being simply a multi-coloured fan service feature. New characters and old are given a chance to shine – for example, Mantis, though underused, proves to very useful in very nearly defeating Thanos. All the Avengers are given decent screen time, albeit with some plot points – such as Iron Man and Captain America’s major falling out – left for next time. Also with the similar team structure of The Guardians of the Galaxy and The Avengers – Hulk and Groot being low-speaking heavies, Black Window and Gamora being token feisty kick-ass females, and Iron Man and Star Lord being their verbose and smart-ass leaders – the opportunity of same-meeting-same is avoided, as the split narrative creates unexpected and inventive mixed teams. If you enjoy the thought of a Nordic God getting chummy with a wisecracking raccoon, this film is for you.
The visuals are stunning throughout, with down-to-earth destruction in New York hitting an uncomfortable realism, with the ruthless attacks from Thanos’s vanguard quite reminiscent of real life home-grown threats occurring in recent years. The various worlds visited are sparse, due to the central villain’s conquests and retaliations, but exploring the damage he has caused helps to create an uneasy atmosphere, as you wonder whether Earth will follow suit. Not to say this film isn’t without it’s humour. The recent blockbuster trend of inserting one-liners and postmodern quips throughout, which in my opinion lessens the drama of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, here works well.
Despite being the longest Marvel movie to date, it never overstays its welcome, scenes are paced well and cut away on just the right side of frustration, so you are never short of spectacle, or emotional engagement. However, despite the name change, this is very much still Part 1 of Infinity War – and what a cliffhanger ending it has! The final moments are both shocking and puzzling; only time will tell if this time next year, Marvel will either surprise or disappoint.
There is a skill to produce a funny romp with heart, scares and twists; Avengers: Infinity War shows yet again that’s it’s what Marvel does best.
Avengers: Infinity War is out now in cinemas nationwide.