Aspiring to draw a decisive line under an entire decade of Marvel big-screen shenanigans, Avengers: Infinity War might be the most convoluted crowd-pleaser in blockbuster history. Its premise was first teased back in 2011’s Thor, it features around 40 major characters, and in order to fully appreciate its intricacies, there’s 18 preceding films you should probably watch beforehand. But while newcomers won’t have the faintest idea what the hell’s going on here, series stalwarts Anthony and Joe Russo brothers have crafted an impressively coherent intergalactic odyssey, which is at the very least significantly more satisfying than 2015’s meandering Avengers: Age of Ultron.
Despite the complexity of the surrounding lore, the story is pretty straightforward when boiled down to its essence. Purple-hued megalomaniac Thanos (Josh Brolin) has for years been combing outer space in search of the Infinity Stones, six cosmic MacGuffins that, when brought together, may unleash an ancient force capable of destroying the universe. As the genocidal fiend inches perilously close to completing his set, the galaxy’s foremost superheroes must unite to foil his plan. Cue almost three hours of increasingly elaborate action set pieces, stitched together with heartstring-tugging plot twists and reams of peppy banter.
The opening act is positively exhilarating, with our plucky protagonists forced to work in unexpected new formations – the grouping of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) proves particularly delightful. From the off, the stakes feel sky high, ensuring that each bombastic battle sequence packs a real punch. But eventually, the relentless pace begins to grow a tad exhausting. With so many disparate narrative threads to tie together, there’s no space for the slick social commentary that made the recent Black Panther such a franchise standout. Compounding the sense of superficiality is the fact that much of its emotional heft hinges on attachments you’ve (hopefully) formed to characters over the course of previous installments. It’s also worth stressing that this is very much the first half of a bigger story, to be concluded in a sequel due for release this time next year. As such, its wild cliffhanger ending is destined to frustrate some. But, without giving anything away, said cliffhanger offers tantalising hope that this increasingly bloated and formulaic cinematic universe is being steered in a fresh, mind-bending new direction. Ultimately, Infinity War is unlikely to convert Marvel naysayers, but fans will find its overwrought theatrics impossible to resist.
Avengers: Infinity War | Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo (US 2018) with Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth. Starts April 26.
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