It goes without saying that Avengers: Infinity War is as majestic and insufferable as you could have hoped and predicted. Exciting but overstuffed, emotional but exhausting, funny but draining, this one has it all.
Once upon a time, Fred Niblo’s 1925 silent epic Ben-Hur was proclaimed the most expensive film ever made, thanks to a $4m production cost. Nowadays, even adjusted for inflation, that’s pittance. In fact, it’s roughly one hundred times less than the budget for Avengers: Infinity War, the nineteenth instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and, possibly, the most blockbustering blockbuster of all time.
For those not up to speed…this ain’t for you.
The film picks up shortly after the events of Ragnarok and some years in the wake of Civil War. Thor and company are questing through space after the destruction of Asgard, whilst the Avengers have broken up – ‘like the Beatles’. As expected, the recent succession of lightweight entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe were a deliberate calm before the storm. Cometh the giant purple Titan, cometh the pervading sense of doom. From the bleak, corpse-strewn opening to the devastating cliffhanger at the close, Infinity War means business. Or, rather, Thanos does.
For years now, Josh Brolin’s ultimate baddie has skulled in the background of the MCU. It was he who triggered the events of Avengers Assemble and Guardians of the Galaxy – in both cases leading to the formation of alliances that may be his downfall – and he who has stirred continuous interest in the ever present infinity stones. There are six stones – termed here: ‘elemental crystals’ – with each controlling a central aspect of existence: time, mind, space, power, soul and reality. Motivated by surprisingly empathetic goals, Thanos seeks to possess them all, in return for omnipotence and omniscience.
Surprising empathy for Thanos is among the greater successes of Joe and Anthony Russo work on Infinity War. Despite a handful of bland earlier appearances, Brolin here brings a level of vulnerability that is all too lacking in computer generated villains. Thanos might have a design aesthetic that screams tedium but he is a character with genuine emotions, passions, humour and fallibilities. Note, for instance, how many of his victories in the film rely not on brute strength but the fatal errors of others.
There are, of course, plenty of ‘others’ on hand here. Indeed, the only ensemble larger than the cast in the credits are the digital artists. If no one hero particularly stands out above the field, equally none feel superfluous to the plot, which is quite something. From the old timers – Robert Downey Jr., Chrises Evans and Hemsworth… – to the more recent additions – Boseman, Holland, Wright… – all are likeable and wholly worth rooting for. Marvel’s trademark warmth and wit are less effervescent this time around, but the dialogical pitter pattering continues to appeal.
Much has been made of the free reign granted to the Russo brothers in choosing who lives and dies in the film – and its sequel next year – yet it is oddly hard to care. Perhaps years of false deaths and implausible against-all-odds survivals has rendered meaningful loss beyond the MCU. Maybe there’s just too much going on here for any of it to hit home. There’s still heaps of fun to be had in seeing your favourite supers unite but it’s far from unheard of these days.
Ultimately, Avengers: Infinity War is likely the best iteration of itself that anyone could have expected. It’s a long and draining ride, highly commercial and unlikely to draw casual viewers back for a second go. On the other hand, gosh it’s entertaining.