The war has been a long time coming, and suitable preparation has been made accordingly. The nineteenth film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Avengers: Infinity War is released less than a week before the tenth anniversary of the release of the first, 2008’s Iron Man, a fact which is celebrated in the latest amendment to the animated studio introduction, and through that decade the Marvel has become a premiere global entertainment brand with cinema takings of almost fifteen billion dollars as they have built towards this moment.
While offscreen business is thundering, onscreen the story could not be more different, Infinity War opening moments after the post-credits sequence of Thor: Ragnarok, as the God of Thunder and the survivors of that great battle encounter the overwhelming menace of Thanos and the Black Order, a devastating encounter which sets the tone for what is to follow.
A threat established as the power behind the attack on New York in Avengers Assemble six years previously, Thanos now steps from the shadows to personally continue his quest to gather the six Infinity Stones, the Mind Gem, the Space Gem, the Power Gem, the Time Gem, the Reality Gem and the missing Soul Gem, many of which have been located by the Avengers and their associates.
Some of them now held on Earth, that will be a target for Thanos but not his only one, and nor is the power he seeks limited to his location, the stones when united able to grant him mastery over limitless time and space to be bent and reshaped to his will, nowhere and no one safe. All that stands between him are the heroes who saved the Earth from the preliminary attack of the Chitauri which he orchestrated and the subsequent Ultron incident… many of whom are no longer on speaking terms.
After two hugely successful Avengers films written and directed by Joss Whedon it is brothers Anthony and Joe Russo who have launched Infinity War from a script written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, their third collaboration following The Winter Soldier and Civil War, Markus and McFeely also having written Captain America’s first cinematic outing, The First Avenger, and that is not an insignificant torch to pass.
With not a moment wasted before the first smackdown and the first takedown, Infinity War is the most complex, ambitious and expensive Marvel film yet with over forty principal characters, the overwhelming majority of whom have fortunately been established in at minimum one previous film, with most well known to the audiences whose trust they have earned.
This is both a blessing and a curse; as Tony “Iron Man” Stark, Steve “Captain America” Rogers, Thor, Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff and Bruce “Hulk” Banner, Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo have all played their characters over an extended period and can project their considerable rapport with each other and the audience without effort, but despite the two and a half hour running time there are simply too many players for all but the most prominent to do much beyond repeating their established characters and behaviours.
With even the more recent additions such as Chris Pratt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland and Chadwick Boseman having had adequate screen time to establish themselves as Peter “Star-Lord” Quill, Doctor Stephen Strange, Peter “Spider-Man” Parker and T’Challa, the “Black Panther” of Wakanda, the arrangements of the characters may have changed but they have not, and despite the Earth-shattering circumstances the routines are perhaps too familiar as the egos of those accustomed to unchallenged leadership bicker when their focus should be on Thanos.
Where Doctor Strange, Ragnarok and Black Panther felt fresh and exciting in that they explored the Marvel universe in new ways and places through new eyes, Infinity War feels too much like what has gone before, an understandably reassuring approach to what has previously been the studio’s biggest investment and return but one which does not reward in the same way as the creative risks the smaller films could justify.
While Game of Thrones‘ Peter Dinklage has what could be considered a big supporting role the sole significant addition to the ensemble is Thanos, previously only manipulating events from afar and now leading his colossal forces into direct confrontation, yet against expectation he is more complex than other Marvel protagonists, Men in Black 3‘s Josh Brolin both subdued and sympathetic despite the imposing physical presence of the unstoppable megalomaniac Titan.
Perhaps a result of the top-heavy requirement, the Russo brothers don’t balance the elements as seamlessly as their more experienced predecessor and as a result much of the humour feels forced and out of place as the film careers from one extended fight scene to another without the support of a sufficiently complex narrative to engage the viewer despite the often astonishing visual spectacle.
Through locations both familiar and new, New York, Wakanda and the rooftop of St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh to Knowhere, the burned deserts of Titan, the ash, rock and black sky of Vormir and the vast and marvellous construct of Nidavellir, where Avengers Assemble brought together the characters of the previous films, Infinity War’s blending of the earthly settings of the main sequence films and the cosmic of the Guardians of the Galaxy and Ragnarok creates a unified universe, albeit one on the verge of cosmic catastrophe.
In all this raging and overloaded event it is almost solely Zoe Saldana’s Gamora who carries the emotion; as in her pairing elsewhere with Zachary Quinto as the very human Uhura and the Vulcan Spock, she expresses not only what her character feels but reflects those around her who are unwilling or unable to do so, Star-Lord and her estranged adopted and abusive father Thanos, a more complicated relationship even than that she has with her sometimes homicidal sister, Karen Gillan’s Nebula.
Crucially, other scenes which would benefit from that depth do not carry their weight and it is in many ways unavoidable that Infinity War cannot be as satisfying and complete as the previous engagements with the Avengers, released after two particularly outstanding standalone films and the only Marvel film so far to be unresolved, shot back-to-back with its as-yet unnamed conclusion due for release in May 2019; in war it is not only preparation which is vital but the exit strategy, and until that time the final judgement of Thanos is suspended.
Avengers: Infinity War is currently on general release and also screening in 3D and IMAX