Yeah, there’s some spoilers.
“We’re in the end game,” announces Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr. Strange in Avengers: Infinity War. Sure we are Steve, but it’s a long game. For ten years the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been in the group stages. Infinity War is the qualifying round. There’s still the semis to look forward to.
The basic narrative logic of Marvel Studios’ unprecedented and profitable experiment in serialised story-telling is that of deferred gratification. Maybe you liked this specific film, maybe you didn’t. But hey, check out what’s coming up next. Here’s Spider-Man. Here’s the Guardians of the Galaxy. Here’s the big bad Thanos himself. One infinity stone down, five more to go! It’s an approach well-suited to modern movie hype culture and its anticipation economy, fuelled by trailers, teasers and post-credit cameos. “I’d like to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative.”
Infinity War is the culmination, and victim, of this deferred payoff. In production it was originally billed as ‘part 1’ of the Avengers finale and they’ve dropped the numbering, but it sure does feel like the first half of something. The clearing ground before a TV show’s season finale. ‘Graduation Day: Part 1’. Which is grand, except Part 2 isn’t next week, it’s a year, and another admission price, away.
After all the teasing, big purple Josh Brolin and his space chair have finally arrived. He’s on a mission to grab all six infinity stones (be prepared to hear that phrase several times), elemental gems born in the big bang which, wielded together, will give him power over the entire universe. He’s desperate to bring balance to an over-populated existence by magicking half of all life out of existence.
Watching Infinity War, it’s easy to sympathise with Thanos’ Malthusian agenda. This is one crowded film.
The movie has the parallel criss-crossing story comic readers will recognise from big company crossovers. On Earth, Thanos and his sub-bosses are coming for the stones guarded by Vision and Dr. Strange, forcing Captain America, Scarlet Witch et al to mount a defence. They end up in Wakanda, pairing with Black Panther and his vibranium cavalry. In space, Iron Man, Dr. Strange and Spider-Man plan an attack on Thanos, with the help of Peter Quill and the rest of the Guardians. Also in space, Odin’s monofocal son helps giant Peter Dinklage make a super special space axe.
All the cross-pollination is fun in a fanboy fantasy sort of way. It’s like when you have a birthday party and your work mates meet your gym mates. ‘You know Thor too?’
The biggest problem with Infinity War is that its most interesting story event occurs two minutes before the end. Everything else is basically buildup. Which means lots of fights with CGI beasties. Basically, if you liked the airport scene in Civil War, you’ll love this. Along the way it’s default Marvel: banter, some good jokes, a couple of nice character moments and the odd touch of goofy visual weirdness (which show up how monotone most of Marvel’s photography is).
And that’s sort of it. There’s not much else to say, at least without provoking the wrath of the Internet Spoiler Corps. Infinity War does end on a hell of hook though.
April 2019. Avengers 4. Now that’s really going to be something. Conor Smyth