AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo. 149 minutes. Rated M (Fantasy themes and violence).
If, like me, you have enjoyed watching the ongoing, interconnected adventures of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and other Marvel heroes, then odds are that you’re already planning to see this epic culmination event at some point. If so, then please read no further. Better yet, protect yourself from spoilers of any kind and avoid all reviews and trailers of the film altogether. ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ is an experience quite unlike any other, and the less you know about this endlessly surprising and impressive blockbuster when you walk into the cinema, the better.
After their rousing victory in 2012’s ‘The Avengers’, relationships amongst the Earth’s mightiest heroes have been heading downhill. They and heroic newcomers have enjoyed their individual successes, of course, but their team dynamics have splintered, in no small part thanks to the rifts opened in ‘Captain America: Civil War’. What better threat to reunite them, then, than the hulking purple supervillain teased in a post-credits scene all the way back in 2012: Thanos (Josh Brolin). Thanos’ quest to unite the Infinity Stones – six elemental gems, each with their own dazzling powers – presents a terrifying threat to the universe, great enough to reconcile even those heroes with the most fractured relationships.
The screenplay, written by Marvel veterans Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, picks up with all our key characters still roughly where we last left them, before their various groups are taken apart and reassembled in fun new configurations. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the Hulk, still floating in space after ‘Thor: Ragnarok’, are split up after being attacked by Thanos and his goon squad, called the Children of Thanos. Hulk is transported to Earth, where his human form, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), warns Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), about the impending threat – we know that two Infinity Stones reside on Earth, so Thanos can’t be far off. Strange and Banner alerts industrialist Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and his protégé Peter Parker a.k.a. Spider-Man (Tom Holland) of the coming attack.
After Banner gets word to super soldier Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) too, Rogers leads fellow fugitive heroes Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) to rescue Vision (Paul Bettany), an android whose powers are given to him by the Mind Stone. With Vision’s partner, Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Banner and Colonel Rhodes a.k.a. War Machine (Don Cheadle) in tow, the team head to the mysterious African nation of Wakanda, where they hope King T’Challa a.k.a. Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and his legions of fierce, technologically advanced warriors might offer them refuge.
Meanwhile, Thor, after a chance meeting with the Guardians of the Galaxy, heads to a mythical forge on Nidavellir with Rocket and Groot (voiced by Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel respectively), fixed on securing a weapon capable of defeating Thanos. The other Guardians, namely Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff), make for Knowhere, an outlaw planet where Thor last left the Reality Stone for safekeeping.
As a piece of narrative filmmaking, there really is nothing to which one can compare ‘Infinity War’. Ten years in the making, this eighteenth instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe deals with a staggering amount of pressure, both from within and without. Its cast boasts dozens of stars, with fan-favourite characters and actors bursting from the seams, and it must live up to the immense weight of expectations created by Marvel’s unprecedented string of critical and commercial hits. Not many tentpoles can claim that they have confronted the anticipation brewed by a decade-long wait. That directors Anthony and Joe Russo pull this off at all (and one cannot ignore the input of producer Kevin Feige) is without question a superheroic feat.
What sets the film apart, even within the MCU, is its string of unexpected but entirely satisfying and often hilarious character groupings. Doctor Strange has always come across like an inferior copy of arrogant genius Tony Stark (down to the eccentric beard grooming), but he gains a renewed purpose when he goes toe to toe with his doppelganger. Hemsworth’s Thor, maintaining his more relaxed, comedic edge from ‘Ragnarok’, is an excellent foil for Pratt’s Star Lord, whose insecurity around the Norse god is played up by his fellow Guardians. Opening the world of Wakanda to the Avengers is another winning strategy, making for some epic battle sequences (which, at their best, evoke the brilliantly choreographed airport fight from ‘Civil War’) alongside plenty of ‘fish out of water’ humour. Thought splitting the narrative and heroes into discrete strands does occasionally jar the story’s brisk momentum, it derives so many pleasures and surprising developments that this seems a small sacrifice.
Notwithstanding, none of this would matter if their foe didn’t stack up, but boy, does Thanos stack up. The first scene establishes that even our favourite heroes are mortal in this instalment, and this threat doesn’t let up until the film’s astonishingly bold climax. Even his Children, whom Thanos sends ahead to do his bidding, hold their own against the Avengers – an excellent early sequence highlights the horror of this alien invasion from the ground level, as Stark and Strange slowly picks their way through fleeing crowds. Thanos’ grand purpose, to restore balance to the universe by wiping out half of all life, is made far more sympathetic than it sounds, perhaps due to his lack of personal gain – he desires destruction alone, because he sees it needs to be done. Brolin creates a rounded portrayal of the villain through the excellent motion capture effects, humanised effectively through flashbacks that flesh out his motive and his history with other characters.
Sprawling, epic, hilarious, surprising, and emotional, ‘Infinity War’ is popcorn cinema worthy of its painstaking build-up and excellent cast. Long live the Avengers, and long live Marvel Studios.
Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out April 25.
Walt Disney Studios.