Ten years, nineteen films and the most audacious experiment in franchise filmmaking ever: the conclusion to Marvel’s grand project has finally arrived. The biggest entry in the studio’s series to date, Avengers: Infinity War is at once exhausting, exhilarating and triumphant.
Thanos is coming. Ever since the Mad Titan (Josh Brolin) was teased at the end of Avengers Assemble, the threat of his arrival has lurked in the shadows of every entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But with the most frequent complaints levelled against the mega series being the lack of long-lasting consequences and underwritten baddies, it wasn’t enough that Thanos merely showed up to the party: he had to play for keeps. And boy, does he, both in terms of Brolin’s operatic performance, his truly cosmic quest, and writing with enough depth to make his genocidal vision almost understandable. X-Men take note – this is how you write the Apocalypse.
Beginning in media res, Thanos has decimated the Asgardian refugees last seen at the end of Thor: Ragnarok and has already acquired the power stone – one of six gems with the power to end the universe – from the planet Xandar. The film’s first act has a lot of narrative ground to cover, but its sheer sense of urgency balances out any expositional overload. Nevertheless, Infinity War asks a lot of its audience and expects as a bare minimum a working knowledge of the series timeline to date. Moreover, that aforementioned urgency means any breathing room for meaningful characterisation is dispensed with, the expectation being that we all know by now the main players.
Infinity War’s unwieldiness does beg the question of whether it works as a film in its own right. It’s an exhausting barrel roll of a narrative, functioning less as a complete story and more as a frenetic series finale, the last act of a lengthy space opera. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo spin a universe-spanning array of plates to include almost every major character in Marvel’s playhouse, each with brief but well-drawn motivations – an impressive feat in itself. The effect can be dizzying, but there’s no denying the consummate skill in cross cutting between three disparate sets of heroes, multiple set pieces in parallel and the star villain in the centre. Indeed, rather than a sequential narrative, Infinity War more resembles an enormous comic splash panel on the screen.
The rousing Avengers theme – the most memorable of Marvel’s otherwise underwhelming scores – is used frequently and with brio by veteran composer Alan Silvestri. Visually, it’s no exaggeration to say this is the studio’s most cinematic film to date. Trent Opaloch’s cinematography balances cosmic scope and spectacle with performance-privileging close-ups, while Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt’s editing miraculously maintains the dramatic impetus crucial to keeping the whole enterprise afloat.
Easily the best of the three Avengers films, Infinity War is not quite up there with the human-centred drama of Black Panther or indeed the Russos’ Captain America entries. And despite the film’s operatic grandeur, it simply can’t hold a candle to the emotional and thematic heft of a Dark Knight or a Logan. Additionally, though there are heavy consequences galore here, one suspects that many of them will be undone in next year’s Avengers follow-up – an unfortunate case of commercial prerogative triumphing over dramatic integrity. Nevertheless, as an unfathomably huge, wildly entertaining blockbuster and the culmination of a grandiose experiment, Avengers: Infinity War is a titanic achievement.
Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell