When it was first announced that Tony Stark would be making a cameo in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, minds were blown. Characters crossing over into each other’s movies was nothing new – Hello, House of Frankenstein! – but still, it led to many a fan and moviegoer speculating on the possibilities lying at Marvel’s feet.
In some ways, Avengers: Infinity War is exactly what many a fan conjured up their heads ten years ago. Sounding like Patton Oswalt’s improvised pitch from Parks and Recreation, the film is the equivalent of throwing all your action figures at each other. Galactic tyrant Thanos (Josh Brolin) is making good on his promise in Age of Ultron and finally setting about collecting the infinity stones that have long played a McGuffin in some way or another in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
After an opening that utterly decimates the happy ending of a recent release, Thanos’ destruction ripples through to our heroes both on earth and in space. And due to numerous reasons, everyone is brought together only to be syphoned off into various groups. Through a mix and very little match effect, these team-ups allow Infinity War to play around with established cannon, whilst building upon it. The highly scientific Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr) is immediately at odds with the philosophical and mystical Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), whilst Thor (Chris Hemsworth) continues to flex his comedic muscle when teamed up with Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Walsh) and a teenage Groot (Vin Diesel, sort of). Elsewhere look out for a bearded Captain America (Chris Evans), a hardened Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), a stoic Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and a shell-shocked Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) struggling to control his inner Hulk, but not in the way you’d imagine.
Unrestrained from having to explain who everyone is – you don’t need to have seen every film, but some cameos may make you scratch your head if you haven’t – directors Anthony and Joe Russo, as well as screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, are allowed to turn their attentions elsewhere. As our heroes bicker and/or make new alliances, Infinity War takes time to flesh out the destructive force/purple Homer Simpson that is Thanos. Whilst not as morally grey as Black Panther’s multi-layered Killmonger (Michel B. Jordan), the exploration of Thanos’ motives, and his connections to other characters in the franchise, show an attempt to mould him into something more than an unstoppable force of destruction. He’s contemplative, a man who craves peace through destroying others. He appears to show empathy to those he crushes under foot. In a series of flashbacks, we’re even presented with a more compassionate side that never feels trite or overplayed. Am I saying there’s a potential for tears when Thanos is asked to make the ultimate sacrifice? Yes, I am. Will I admit that I cried? No, I will not.
With all this stirring up of the back catalogue, a large part of Infinity War, to be fair, feels patchy. Even whilst pushing the 2hr 30 mark, the film feels rushed as it puts everybody in their place ready for a colossal showdown. When it finally settles down, it manages to be a joyful experience. A lot of this joy is found in the cosmos, as the film’s more earth-bound sub plots are little bit dull. Marvel’s Phase One characters are beginning to show their stagnation, and the threat of Thanos doesn’t appear to breathe any new life into them.
Maybe this will be resolved in Avengers 4, the film that will be basically Part 2 to Infinity War. Yes, kept hidden from most, and arguably rightly so, Infinity War goes the route of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay and The Deathly Hallows, ending with a cliff-hanger not to be resolved till 2019. Is this a bad thing? Well, hard to say at the moment. Part 2 of Mockingjay highlighted the pacing issues of its first part, whilst the only thing anyone really remembers of Deathly Hollows Part 1 when the dust settled was that insufferable dance scene set to Nick Cave.
Infinity War is one of the better superhero movies out there, and a perfect reminder of why Marvel’s long game approach outshines DC’s reactionary filmmaking – but it is really only half a film. Whatever occurs next year will show it up in new light.