Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson. Directed by the Russo brothers.
Here it is, an entire universe, once and for all, the end is near. After ten years of tie-ins, crossovers, and movie beatdowns, the film of films is upon us. Avengers: Infinity War.
It may be a little silly to do a plot roundup, but for those who are unaware: Thanos, the mad Titan, along with four of his children nicknamed The Black order are making their way across space to unite six magic stones that give the user unlimited cosmic power, but a couple of scrappy heroes are not going to let that happen without one hell of a fight.
Anthony and Joe Russo, who created the best Marvel film in The Winter Soldier and the best action sequence in Civil War are not scared men; not only do they have pretty much everyone from every film in their movie, but they also have the gonads to introduce five new characters. Not only this but for all the world ending action, they’ve managed to retain the wit and humour we’ve come to expect from a Marvel film.
From the off, they lay their table out before us. This will not end without bloodshed. A dramatic opening tells us all is not well in the world – it sees Thanos already knee deep in dead bodies and showing no signs of stopping. From there, the Russos decide it’s time to quickly ramp up the action, pitting as many different people against each other in as many different situations as they can think of. They stumble when it comes to certain people with vital info meeting other people with vital info, and banter which can at times be like ‘we don’t need to see them explain the concept to Tony Stark, we already know this guy’.
Even so, the elements are all there and despite doing the standard Avengers thing – getting all the characters and splitting them into different groups – it never feels like a film where we have lost track of who is who and what they are doing. The lines of engagement are made very clear. Perhaps this comes down to the very smart idea of making the main character of the film Thanos. Instead of trying to find one hero on which to project the story, The Russos have opted instead to make the main character the villain, thus undermining one of the major criticisms of the series – the villains are weak, one-dimensional characters.
Naturally, we’ve seen villains hoping to hold the stones and use them for evil before, but it is Thanos who actually does so rather well; he doesn’t hang about talking about death, he causes it. He is, in many ways, the answer to the Marvel problem. This film is also brilliantly witty in how it shows Marvel is not afraid. Each big showdown is crazier than the next, no fight not worth putting a joke into, no action sequence not worth putting a cameo in. For ten years of the Marvel Comics Universe, president of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige has been a kid emptying his toy box and playing smash ‘em up with every character he can get.
But it’s not just non-stop action, there’s heart to the film as well. Even though certain characters are sidelined somewhat in that anyone who isn’t Thanos isn’t the main character, there is the same level of emotional heft. Peripheral characters like The Vision and Scarlett Witch are given the emotional core of the film, and their relationship becomes the one that we cling to by the climax of the film. Olsen and Bettany are such talented actors that it doesn’t take hours of scenes to make you buy into them, it takes one look between them.
In Thanos, Josh Brolin delivers a performance of Shakespearean depth. For all his posturing and fan appeal Loki never had much menace – he was bad, but he swapped sides far too much, and was too untrustworthy to fear. Even as a giant cosmic baddie Thanos has pathos, he has depth. The scenes of him menacing people, torturing them for information, is classic bad guy stuff, but in moments when he offers insight into his motivations we see that he is more than just an alien with a hard-on for death. His villainy comes from frustration. No one sees things the way he does.
That’s not to say that there aren’t missteps – little things irk somewhat, like the exclusion of certain characters, as well as the nagging worry that the ending is not satisfying in it’s entirety. As well as the possible confusion of why Olsen opts not to do an Eastern European for the first half hour of the film and then does.
The climax of the film, while filled with humour, threat and air punching moments, lacks a personal bent. Yes the fate of the world hangs in the balance, but there’s little emotional pull save for Vision and Scarlett Witch. Also while they are menacing to watch, and the CGI is done very well The Black Order lack any sort of motivation or character. The most intriguing – Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) is still brutally wasted, even with his sinister gaunt look and his high, unsettling voice.
But, taking all of this into consideration and knowing that a bigger feat will have to be covered in Avengers 4, this is a film that delivers on what it said it would. Smackdowns, laughs, and the emotional culmination of ten years of films. How did Marvel do it? No one knows, but the film will have audience screaming in joy, terror and sorrow. Next year is a long long wait away.