It’s all been leading to this. 18 entries over the course of a decade have tightened the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s grip on mainstream cinema with each mind-bending episode of gargantuan, heroic escapism. The MCU has transported its audience from continent to continent, back in time, into the vastness of space, and for some, into the smallest of spaces. But with Avengers: Infinity War, Marvel hopes to deliver an audacious landmark moment that will drag it all together intricately, superseding every popcorn flick with tsunamic effect.
Initially, there is one massive hurdle that could slowly derail that vision as it unfolds onscreen: balance. With Infinity War, all corners of the MCU are pulled together to prevent the villain of all villains, Thanos, from completing his atrocious, apocalyptic quest. In collecting all six of the infinity stones, he will gain the power necessary to destroy anything and everything in the universe with the click of his fingers. Portrayed by Josh Brolin with resonant brood and an unerring tunnel-visioned philosophy, Thanos’ ruthlessness and drive are immediately marked out in the film’s opening sequence.
But it is the balance that directors Anthony and Joe Russo manage to pull off without plot sagging or confusion that allows Infinity War and all of its many cogs to interlock so perfectly. This aspect establishes itself most obviously in the litany of cross-franchise and improvised groupings. The respective tussles between Iron Man and Doctor Strange and Thor and Peter Quill provide some truly dreamy displays of fragile masculinity, whilst Thor’s sub-quest with Rocket and Groot Jr provides a brilliantly chalk-and-cheese pairing. And of course, we can always count on Spiderman for some wonderful pop culture references – much to the disdain of the pompous Iron Man and Doctor Strange. It’s these interactions, the stuff of fan fiction hysteria, that are the most enjoyable moments of the film. Team-ups that we didn’t think were possible are brought to reality with gleeful effect.
“It never feels lax or mundane, constantly painting from an infinite palate of emotions. Marvel are ambitious here even for Marvel. One second we’re laughing, the next we’re reeling”
Elsewhere, Vision and Scarlet Witch fret over the possibility of destroying the infinity stone embedded in Vision’s forehead, which would destroy Vision in the process. They are assisted by Black Widow, Bruce Banner (and a very reluctant Hulk), Falcon and Steve Rogers aka Captain America, who now sports a trimmed beard and a slick back following his Civil War falling out with Iron Man. Their own mission eventually brings them into contact with Black Panther and Bucky Barnes in the glistening hidden metropolis of Wakanda.
The various scenarios and subplots fade in and out as we whizz towards the inevitable showdown with Thanos. It never feels lax or mundane, constantly painting from an infinite palate of emotions. Marvel are ambitious here even for Marvel. One second we’re laughing, the next we’re reeling. We’re met with the physically preposterous before being reminded of the sobering seriousness of Thanos’ devastating master plan. Again, it is all about balance.
As well as Thanos’ quest for universal superiority, the audience is forced to juggle three Avenger plot lines before they inevitably mesh together at the film’s dizzying climax. With the sheer amount of characters, individual feuds and story lines it should’t work. But somehow it does. It’s incredibly unmissable, and if it wasn’t before, it’s now definitely in the same realm as Star Wars and Harry Potter especially with the addition of a supremely dangerous villain. It’s confident in the way that it pieces all of these headline acts together into one seamlessly-created puzzle but also confident in its ability to worry audiences with the threat of actual apocalypse.
It all feels very televisual which again plays into the power of the latest episode in the Marvel melodrama. Over the last ten years, Marvel has piled layer upon layer of context onto the shoulders of its heroes, evolving our relationships with these characters further with each chapter in the series. As a standalone film, Infinity War is a blast. Add ten years of emotional context and everything that unravels across this two and a half hour blitzkrieg becomes weightier, more heart rendering and more awe-inspiring.