10 years. 19 films. One of the biggest ensemble casts ever assembled for a Hollywood blockbuster. To say that Avengers: Infinity War is a big deal would be the understatement of the year.
The stakes are painfully high. Not only for The Avengers, who must stop the Mad Titan, Thanos, from getting his hands on the fabled Infinity Stones and achieving his goal of wiping out half of creation, but also for Marvel Studios itself. This is a film that has been anticipated quite literally for a decade, ever since Robert Downey Jr. kicked the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) off to thunderous applause with 2008’s Iron Man. Each one of the 18 Marvel Studios films to have preceded it have built to this moment and there’s an excruciating amount of pressure to live up to.
Going into Infinity War, one of my biggest worries was Thanos himself. While Marvel has given us some of the best superheroes the genre has ever seen, its track record for villains isn’t quite as straight-laced. Obvious exceptions include Thor’s anti-hero brother, Loki, and Black Panther’s murderous antagonist, Killmonger. But the likes of Thor: The Dark World’s Malekith the Accursed and Guardians of the Galaxy’s Ronan the Accuser have left a lot to be desired.
My fear was that we were going to get another two dimensional villain, hell-bent on destroying the universe for no better reason than to give the Avengers a nasty villain to square up to. The Thanos we were given though, shattered my expectations entirely.
The Mad Titan is a surprisingly complex character, brought to life brilliantly by Josh Brolin. He’s not just intelligent, powerful and ruthless; there’s a genuine method to his madness and a sickening logic to his cruelty. I shudder to think that there are moments in which I almost agree with his motives for universal destruction.
I was also apprehensive as to how so many characters would be brought together in a story that’s cohesive and well-paced, but isn’t reduced to wedging in half of the cast with little more than glorified cameos.
There were moments when the Avengers’ second group outing, Age of Ultron, felt cluttered and confusing with just the Avengers’ core members. Infinity War, however, has to cram in twice as many characters, with the Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, the Winter Soldier and Black Panther having since arrived on the scene and become firm fan favourites.
I needn’t have worried though. Under the careful direction of the Russo brothers, who previously delivered Captain America: Civil War, arguably the MCU’s strongest offering to date, Infinity War is ridiculously well-executed.
Every single character has a role to play, and the balance between eye-watering action and smaller, more poignant subplots is perfectly judged.
To have balanced elements such as a love story between Vision and Scarlet Witch, Thanos and Gamora’s venomous father-daughter relationship, an epic battle to save the African nation of Wakanda and the downright weirdness of a mythical intergalactic weapons forge, and still deliver a story that doesn’t fall to pieces, is nothing short of masterful.
As good as the story is however, one of the most enjoyable parts of Infinity War is simply watching the characters, who we have watched and come to love in their own rights over years, meet and bounce off each other for the first time. Doctor Strange calling Iron Man a douchebag and Star Lord squaring up to Thor were some of my particular particular highlights.
The total absence of Hawkeye and Antman was unusual, but considering that Antman and The Wasp hits cinemas this July and that Jeremy Renner has been photographed on set, I struggle to believe that there isn’t a greater plan going on here.
My favourite thing about Infinity War though, is that it surprised me. Despite the abundance of trailers, posters and cast interviews over the last several months, I went in with an idea of who would end up where, who might die and how it was all going to end, and every one of my expectations was tipped on its head.
It’s a bold film, taking surprising risks for a story that could have very easily been clean-cut and simple – and mostly likely would still have been a box office success. The result is a film that pays off in glorious style, pleasing fans and critics alike, and is potentially the MCU’s strongest instalment to date.
With the fate of the universe hanging over a cliff-edge, all that’s left to do now is settle in for the long wait until part two, in May 2019.
Verdict: The culmination of a decade of universe-building, Avengers: Infinity War surpasses all expectations.