After 10 years, 18 films, and 10 television series – with more still to come – it’s unlikely you’ve never heard of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is quite a turnaround from Marvel’s last foray into filmmaking in the 80s and 90s, the output of which, including 1986’s infamous Howard the Duck, were not as critically acclaimed or financially lucrative as their current iteration. Under the leadership of Kevin Feige, the studio has gone from strength to strength, pioneering the modern concept of the cinematic universe and crossing the $1 billion-gross mark 5 separate times. Does Avengers: Infinity War deserve to be the sixth, or should it be relegated to the bottom of Marvel canon?
Having previously teamed up in The Avengers (2012) and Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), the eponymous superhero team reunites once more to combat Thanos and his Black Order, who seek to unite the Infinity Stones which grant the holder ultimate power over the universe. In addition to the regular members, including Iron Man, Black Widow and Thor among others, this film adds even more characters into the melting pot, from the Guardians of the Galaxy to Black Panther. The sheer weight of characters brings the risk of some being side-lined, but each character generally gets their moment, with a few exceptions. There is even time to bring a few new actors into the MCU fold, including Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage and The Walking Dead’s Ross Marquand. A side effect of this is that the resulting film is less of a character-driven piece than the previous Avengers films, with no real room for character arcs or relationship dramas. By now, the filmmakers assume that you’ve been keeping abreast of the MCU, diving straight in after the last few moments of Thor: Ragnarok, and keeping the references coming throughout.
…Thanos himself gains a free pass into the upper echelons of villainous Marvel society, as Josh Brolin brings a depth to the character…
Behind the scenes, this is the first Avengers film not directed by Joss Whedon. Fortunately, the Russo Brothers’ experience more than makes up for this, with their work on Captain America: Civil War (or Avengers 2.5, according to Honest Trailers) allowing them to weave what seems like multiple films together. It also helps that the screenwriters, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, have writing experience from across the MCU, including all three Captain America films, Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: The Dark World. This enables them to bring their previous knowledge of the characters to bear, smoothening the narrative and tonal gaps between the various superheroes. From a production perspective, the film embraces the look and feel of comics past with a heavy dose of CGI. While this is broadly successful, there are a few moments where a bit more fine-tuning wouldn’t have gone amiss.
A Marvel film is also often judged on the strength of its villains, who have developed something of a reputation for being underdeveloped. For every Loki or Killmonger, there’s a Whiplash or Malekith. Stepping up to the bat this time is Thanos and his Black Order. In terms of ranking, Thanos himself gains a free pass into the upper echelons of villainous Marvel society, as Josh Brolin brings a depth to the character unseen in his previous cameos. Despite his motion-captured performance being hidden under the layers of CGI to produce the purple Titan, Brolin manages to portray the struggles within the character through minute facial and vocal expressions, as he continues his quest to bring balance to the universe by wiping out half its population. Coupled with the writing, Infinity War allows you to somewhat empathise with the topical musing on overpopulation at the heart of Thanos’ ambition, even as you disagree with his methods.
…while I wouldn’t say it’s a stone-cold classic, it still represents the pinnacle of what Marvel has achieved with the MCU…
His Black Order, however, somewhat suffer by association. While appreciably a fanatical organisation devoted to serving Thanos, they have no particular characterisation beyond this. Despite their comics’ incarnations having fantastic names such as Cull Obsidian and Proxima Midnight, I can’t remember them being mentioned, or if they were I quickly forgot. Unfortunately, this means you end up identifying them as ‘the one with the axe’ and ‘that one with the spear’. Perhaps some cameos in other films could have helped to alleviate this, but here they are all the same.
In all, Infinity War is a film that has its cake and eats it. You can’t fault the ambition that has gone into creating this film, and while I wouldn’t say it’s a stone-cold classic, it still represents the pinnacle of what Marvel has achieved with the MCU. It may be 149 minutes long, but it’s still a lot of fun, and shows that Marvel still has the ability to surprise and entertain. After this, I can’t wait for the sequel in 2019.