Let’s be honest, it really wouldn’t matter what any reviewer said about Avengers Infinity War. Millions of people around the world will want to see it regardless. These are people who’ve invested in the first ten years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, who’ve followed a growing cast of characters through 18 films before this one, and who know that one long running plot thread – the threat of Thanos and the infinity stones – is to be tied together in this latest film. Essentially, if Thanos can collect all six stones, they’ll give him an almost incalculable power with which he’ll set out to wreak death and destruction across the universe.
You’d expect the great majority of those fans to be well pleased by Infinity War. It juggles its huge cast in bite size chunks, adds the Marvel mix of humour and action, and, also typically, spends plenty of time allowing dramatic tensions amongst its characters to flow through the story. We have romance, family drama, and above all, the notion of heroic sacrifice, all overlapping through a pacey and exciting two and a half hours of entertainment. One of the traps here might be that after so many films we’re well used to the Marvel approach to storytelling. So are there any genuine surprises here? Well yes, for those who’ve followed the whole series of movies, there are indeed. Some characters make unexpected returns, while others feature more prominently than I thought they would. We also have time for a new face, provided by actor Peter Dinklage.
The hype leading into the film focussed on it marking the beginning of the end of the Avengers as we’ve known them so far. Suggestions of some characters being killed off were thick on the ground. I won’t give anything away, but the spectre of death, of guessing which character will survive and which won’t, adds a Game of Thrones-like tension to proceedings. What we do know is that we’ll have to wait until next year, for part two of this story, before finding out. Mind you, the ending of this film offers obvious clues. And, as usual, stick around for a final scene after the credits for a glimpse of who might be included in a new generation of Avengers, if indeed that is what lies in store.
The Marvel film makers have maintained many of the trademark features of the comics, which, just to remind you, go back to the early 1960’s. One of those features was to add some flesh to the bones of the bad guys, to give them back story and some emotional depth. If you know why a villain is doing what he/she is doing, then your investment (sorry there’s that “invest”word again) is likely to be all the greater. We’re not talking Nobel prize winning literature here, but Marvel Comics’ first storyteller, Stan Lee, has often said that this was a key to the comics’ popularity over the decades. I mention this because here in Infinity War we see the same approach with our villain Thanos, played by Josh Brolin. We already knew from previous films about his desire for the infinity stones, and we knew that he had two step daughters, the feuding Gamora and Nebula. Here we are offered more glimpses into that back story, and, most importantly, an explanation of why the character wants to practise universe-wide genocide. Here’s where some long time Marvel fans might find issue with the film. In the comics, Thanos was a lover of and disciple of death. Perhaps the film makers thought that was just too black a concept for a cinema audience (and a potential turn off at the box office?) so they’ve tweaked that motivation somewhat. This gives Thanos a more human edge which may not find favour with the long time fans who know the comic book stories.
I mentioned the humour and for the most part it works very well. Given the overall tone of the story is deadly serious, a few laughs here and there are just what we need to provide some relief. I can report that at the viewing I attended the audience laughed often, laughed long, and laughed loud. Having said that, it didn’t always hit the mark, and that was a slight disappointment. Bringing the Guardians of the Galaxy into the fold was always going to be a challenge. Their hammy, pop and soul infused banter worked terrifically well in their own films, but how would it fare here? It’s a clever move to have their first interaction with Thor, who Taika Waititi took to great comic heights in Thor Ragnarok last year. But for me, the humour at times felt at times a little forced. A tender moment observed by Drax is, for me, a case in point.
Another niggle for me came near the end when various characters are involved in a big battle scene. Don’t worry I won’t spoil any surprises. Let’s just say if you follow the internal logic of the scene, and consider who is where, and how powerful they are and what they can do against the enemy, then something about the sequence irritated me. Someone should have been somewhere sooner than they were! (I think I’ll return to this in a few weeks when we’ve all had a chance to see this and we can discuss it more openly)
As with all these films, if you’re into it, you’re into it. Having been a reader of the comics way back when, I have enjoyed the films and continue to enjoy them. But if you don’t have an affinity with the infinity of the Marvel world, then this whole juggernaut of superheroics might be wearing more than a little thin. I suspect my colleague Mr McCabe might fall into this category and I look forward to chatting to him about this in our next podcast.