“Mr Stark, you’ve become part of a bigger universe. You just…don’t…know it yet.” Neither did we.
Marvel introduced a lot we now take for granted in 2008’s Iron Man. Not least of which is the post-credit sequence. Nick Fury breaking in and offering the tease could never have prepared us for what was to come. Four years later, with the help of Joss Whedon, the culmination of Phase One gifted the now criminally overlooked Avengers. With all of 3 franchises rolled into one hero-palooza! At the time it seemed like quite the feat. Whether the Merry Marvel Marching Band had the route to Avengers: Infinity War planned out, back when Nick delivered the auspicious line, is irrelevant now. Taking the funny page out of their comic book counterpart, Marvel Studios coalesce three phases with as much gusto as they do class. There’s a proud, yet subtle touch in the studios sting before we fade to black and everything goes to hell in a gauntlet-basket. The “I” and “O” in “Studios” turns to “10”. It’s such a delicate touch, that it’s not until you get a chance to catch your breath, the point becomes clear: Avengers: Infinity War is just as much about looking back as it is bringing in the new.
Now the trusted curators of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Russo Brothers graduate from Captain America: Civil War to the MCU entire. If you thought catching up on all MCU instalments, before the release date of Infinity War, was tough, imagine weaving the galaxy-spanning storylines of 18 movies, keeping the title characters true to themselves and remain cohesive for the 149-minute running time. It’s a celestial order. However, the Russo’s are careful to honour the rich and colourful history and give as much importance to the newer entries.
It does seem that the ethos of Avengers: Infinity War is Game-Changing, and not just because of whatever the finale could hold. Whether it’s Guardians, Asgardians or Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, throwing them together for unlikely teams-ups is a real thrill. We’ve spent enough time with all the characters that we can see the how the sparks will fly. The dour master of the mystic arts is always going to struggle to connect with the over-confident futurist. But the man that’s put the First Avenger through his paces, writer Christopher Markus, manages to bring more surprises than you might expect in the exchanges.
After his toothy turn to camera in the original Avengers, and the odd end crediter, Thanos has been excitingly enigmatic. His introduction then both is as fulfilling as it is unsettling. The opener is as much a tone-setter as it is a stake-raiser. He may be the malevolent juggernaut we had hoped for, but there’s something entrancing about our villain. While the sympathetic motivations of the very human Killmonger are absent, Thanos is utterly fascinating. Josh Brolin imbues every evil monologue with a captivating single-mindedness. His exchanges with our heroes almost have a jaded fatigue, like he’s seen it all before and, more importantly, there’s moments that show a vulnerability bubbling under the malice. It all makes for a villain difficult to second guess, but easy to enjoy.
Due to the clam-chinned Thanos raising the stakes to such moon-shattering heights, everyone is put through the mill in the least obvious ways. The exhilaration of seeing the unfamiliar team-ups combine powers to take on Thanos and his Black Order is electrifying, but it soon gives way to a growing desperation. Infinity War offers some of the most inventive action set-pieces since our boys possed up to take on the chitauri in 2012, but it’s all the more devastating if things don’t work out – and the darker tone feels like it may not.
While the new villains and action is a true white-knuckle ride, the real delight is the echoes of this 18-episode series. There’s mention of previous victories, familiar exotic vistas and acquainted exchanges that nod to us as much as they do each other. However, there’s nothing bigger than the small gems the Russo’s leave scattered over the treasured beach. For example, Tony’s real turmoil is the thing that’s haunted him since Iron Man 3, Spider-Man’s still chasing the acceptance he’s sought since Civil War and Star Lord still cloaks his insecurity in dim-witted charm – and that’s just the tip of the gratifying iceberg. The true valiant triumph comes from smaller stones. There is one true, blue moment where an unexpected character reveals himself to save the day. The heroic fanfare of Avengers sounds and you’re there. On its own, it would mean nothing. Just another music queue to prescribe the emotion of the moment. Yet in that split second and more just like it throughout Avengers: Infinity War, every second leading up to this feels as poignant as it does electrifying.
5* – Thanos Strikes Back