What the...? Like many Marvel fans, I was eager to see last night's long-awaited Avengers Infinity War. I had my concerns – like how do you cram that many superheroes into one story line without it seeming, as one review has it, “over-stuffed”? Will it make narrative sense? Or will it just come across as a beauty pageant for squabbling super-egoes?
The answer, to my relief, was that it worked and, mostly, worked well. OK. The strain showed in one or two places. But on the whole it is a thumbs up for an ensemble movie that many feared even experienced directors Joe and Anthony Russo could not prevent from descending to meaningless jumble. It did not.
OK. There was some trade-off between cast size and plot subtlety. Because there was nothing terribly subtle about the plot of Infinity War. The film opens with a MayDay from an interstellar craft that Marvel fans will quickly realise is the one last seen escaping the fall of Asgard in Thor: Ragnarok.
Cut to onboard, where psychotic murderer / benevolent philanthropist, Thanos (Josh Brolin) – it depends on your point of view – has just finished wiping the floor with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Loki, it seems certain, does not survive this encounter. And then we're off, with Thor escaping and Thanos on a galaxy-wide quest to locate the Infinity Stones, which, once assembled in one place on his gauntlet will give him immense unstoppable power.
Any similarity between the plot of this film and a game of Trivial Pursuit begins and ends with the colour of the stones (blue, red, yellow, purple, green, and orange) which almost exactly match the six colours of pie (blue, pink, yellow, purple, green and orange) that you need to collect to win the latter.
The difference? The worst consequence of Trivial Pursuit is that the winner can get a little big-headed and insufferably smug for a while: whereas the aim of Thanos, once he has collected all the pieces of pie – sorry, infinity stones – is that once he has them assembled he will be able to wipe out one half of all life in the universe.
So it is chase and jeopardy. Different sub-sets of the Avengers, including Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Spiderman (Tom Holland), Doc Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and many, many, many more coalesce in locations across the Galaxy, just in time to be beaten to the local infinity stone by Thanos.
There is a great side-arc in which Thor reforges his hammer – a sort of Mjollnir mark two with added rainbow powers. And there is more insight, back story to characters like Gamora. In the end, though, most return to Wakanda, the Kingdom of T'Challa / Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) for a grand finale confrontation with Thanos and his forces. Which is where the surprise and the spoiler and the thing I have promised on NO ACCOUNT to tell you about happens.
Along the way there is the usual banter and clashing of egos. In advance, I had misgivings as to whether the pace and style of, say, early Avengers could be matched to more played-for-comedy films like Guardians of the Galaxy. My fears were misplaced. For there has been a long-term convergence across the massive story arc to which the Infinity War represents culmination.
The ego-clash between Tony Stark and Doc Strange is to be expected and here handled with a masterful combination of serious and wise-cracking, as well as contemporary reference aplenty. In this case to the Ben and Jerry specials named for their respective characters! Ditto the first encounter between Thor and Star Lord in which Quill, feeling his masculinity affronted by the mere presence of the Asgardian, attempts to lower his voice to match Chris Hemsworth's delivery.
There is also loss and much sadness, too. A constant recurring theme is whether one individual should sacrifice him/herself for the sake of the many. It's a dilemma faced in different ways by two very different couples: Quill/Gamora, and Wanda/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany).
And in such a battle, it is inevitable that many will fall. Infinity War does not end with Avengers triumphant, save one lone casualty: there are many, and who will be resurrected again through future plot twists, we must wait and see. Infinity War is a clearing of the decks: opportunity for new characters and plots to emerge; opportunity too for some characters to move on.
Any failings? Yes: for despite running to over two and a half hours, there were plot threads and themes not explored as much as I would like. Both Thor and Doc Strange were, I felt, under-played, given that they represented the two most powerful pieces on the battlefield after Thanos. In the case of Thor, it was the plot that kept him away from the action. For Doc Strange, it was script weakness that turned all of his dark arts into hand signalling – and one cryptic prohpesy about how Thanos might be defeated.
I am now looking forward to the director's cut which, I would expect to run to well over four hours!
Also, once seen, it cannot be unseen. An analysis of Star Wars by someone who knows a thing or two about military tactics, highlighted the ridiculousness of modern armies, armed with advanced particle weapons, forming up like some ancient world phalanx...then abandoning their positions to charge across a battlefield and engage with the enemy. Like, no commander in their right mind would do that.
But it makes for good cinema. And so these were the tactics on display in Wakanda once more.
Despite all of that, a brilliant Marvel film
Four and a half stars.