Does Avengers: Infinity War live up to the hype? Film Critic Todd Waugh Ambridge unpicks a blockbuster supposedly ten-years in the making.
Avengers: Infinity War is the most anticipated film of the year. It has promised, since its announcement in 2014, to be the culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the highest-grossing film franchise of all time. The Russo brothers replace Joss Whedon as director – coming off the success of their two Captain America hits – and have the unenviable task of bringing the nineteen films, tens of characters and countless plot threads to some form of climax. Against all doubters (myself included), they succeed to a very strong degree, with only minor issues keeping this back from being among the MCU’s best.
In Infinity War, the disassembled Avengers team up with the Guardians of the Galaxy to combat the threat of Thanos, a hulking titan hell-bent on bringing balance to the universe by harnessing the power of the Infinity Stones (i.e. those things that were in the other MCU movies). The twenty-something starring characters are split into wonderfully diverse groups that allows for some very fun combinations (Thor, Rocket and Groot) and some less fun ones (Vision and Scarlet Witch). The film bounces around between these disparate groups in a dizzying fashion, with Thanos actually serving as the central character who binds the individual stories together towards a questionably epic conclusion. The result is a mostly successful, if exhausting, two-and-a-half hour culmination of the MCU that holds together far better than many would have expected.
Right off the bat, the biggest win for this film is its cast of colourful characters that have already been developed and so the audience is already hugely invested in. Seeing many of these previously-disparate characters interact for the first time is the best part of Infinity War, and delivering many of the film’s biggest laughs and cheers. The Avengers, Guardians and the rest all interact with each other in funny, believable and interesting ways, and it’s a testament to the MCU’s craftsmanship that it can simply put these characters in a room (or spaceship) together and they instantly bounce off each other in such a manner. Given how much the audience loves these characters, though, it’s a shame that many get lost in the crowd of almost-too-many starring characters. While Captain America: Civil War was also a big team-up movie, the Russo brothers made the smart decision of fleshing out three or four key characters with coherent, interesting arcs, and allowing the others to serve as extended cameos. With Infinity War, however, there are far too many characters sharing the spotlight, and the result is a very mixed bag: Iron Man is as interesting as ever, while Captain America has about three lines of dialogue. The ambition of a team-up movie with every character on equal-footing is clearly there, but there is an unfortunate lack of focus in the execution.
That being said however, it is not the heroes of this movie who are (necessarily) the most important characters. Its villain Thanos – the name we’ve heard for years with hardly an appearance – is one of the best the MCU has to offer, continuing the upward trend of Spider-Man: Homecoming and Black Panther. Josh Brolin crushes his mo-cap performance, bringing equal parts menace, confidence and sympathy to the mad titan. He succeeds in humanising the giant purple space man and convincing the ten-years-in-waiting audience that he is truly a worthy threat. In many ways, it is Thanos who goes on the traditional heroes’ journey is this movie, attempting to gather the Infinity Stones for a righteous cause, while the Avengers stand in his way. It’s a unique perspective that allows the audience to empathise with Thanos while still understanding the characters we’ve grown to love are the true heroes. Robert Downey Jnr., Tom Holland and Benedict Cumberbatch also give their best performances to date in their own three-man group, and you’ll be smiling every time the film goes back to Iron Man, Spider-Man and Doctor Strange’s sub-plot.
It almost goes without saying that the artistic craftsmanship of Infinity War is spot-on. The musical score swells just when it needs to, and the Avengers theme is already going down as a lauded motif. The camera-work and fight-scene choreography is incredibly dynamic and meshes all the different tones and superpowers of the individual heroes together in some of the most visually interesting moments in MCU history. And despite the film’s huge proportion of computer-generated effects, they don’t feel at all distracting until the final act of the film. Without spoiling anything, there is a huge army-vs-army battle that isn’t at all necessary for the plot beyond allowing the large number of characters to do something. As the faceless, un-named, CG army crashes towards our CG heroes, it’s easy to sink into your seat and become completely detached from what’s going on. There’s nothing wrong with a climactic third act, of course, it’s just a shame that Infinity War’s substance was traded in for spectacle so late in the day.
This will go down as one of the most discussed blockbusters in recent times, and people will debate everything from the cold opening to the divisive ending. But, ultimately, the question to ask is: does Avengers: Infinity War payoff the MCU’s ten-year history? And the answer is yes. It’s the film Marvel fans have been waiting for for ten years. Watching these characters who we’ve grown to love interact and fight side-by-side is intoxicatingly entertaining. While the weight of this film does render it feeling a little weightless and, in areas, disappointing, Avengers: Infinity War is the definitive big-screen version of a huge comic-book event series. It has all the showmanship, fan-service, impossibly-high stakes and spectacle-over-substance attitude.
Verdict: The promise that Avengers: Infinity War would bring ten-years of world-building to a dazzling, exhilarating blockbuster of a climax has been cashed in. The movie has all the charm, wit and stylisation that the MCU always has, and a little disappointment notwithstanding is able to rise above its impossibly-high expectations and deliver an incredibly fun movie.