Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) donned his iron suit for the first time a whole decade ago, establishing the groundwork for a cinematic universe on a vast scale. After 18 entries that have introduced us to egotistical geniuses, Norse gods, and a group of dysfunctional space travellers, the heroes finally converge in the Russo Brothers’ dramatic showdown. As you might expect from a film that contains 76 characters, it isn’t easy to mention explicit details without giving away any spoilers. So I’ll stay away from the plot and try to asses the film as a whole.
Thanos (Josh Brolin), the movie’s main baddie, is a difficult villain to sell. The large-chinned alien has barely featured in the Marvel cinematic universe outside a few fleeting appearances in post-credits scenes. Nonetheless, the Russo Brothers manage to build up a considerable amount of characterisation within a short space of time, drawing on Thanos’ past history with Gamora (Zoe Saldana). And, unlike most of the Marvel villains that we have seen before, he’s more than a punchbag for the heroes. Thanos is able to overcome the heroes on several occasions and presents a genuine threat to humanity – his explicit aim is to wipe out half the universe.
Thankfully, Infinity War’s darker elements don’t come at the expense of the Marvel series’ characteristic humour. The egotistical exchanges between Tony Stark and Doctor Strange are a joy to behold, as is the usual jovial banter and social misunderstandings between the Guardians. Yet even though the film lasts two and a half hours, the longest running time in the Marvel cinematic universe so far, the sheer number of characters means that there’s still not enough space for sufficient character development. Sure, you could go with the Dunkirk argument that the whole film is based around a conflict so there isn’t any time to waste on such detail, yet Civil War managed to achieve this feat effectively, albeit with a smaller roster of characters.
Beyond the difficulties with establishing strong characterisation, the simple fact that the individual heroes have emerged from films written by other people sometimes presents problems. Many of the characters in Avengers: Infinity War already have well-developed personas – the necessity of bringing all these characters together often means that they do things that don’t quite fit with our general expectations. The narrative sometimes suffers as a result, but Brolin’s performance maintains a constant sense of dread and unease that holds the screenplay together. Though the first half is perhaps slightly over-long, the Russos nonetheless manage an outstanding feat in bringing all these eclectic characters onto the silver screen. As the culmination of a decade of filmmaking, witnessing some of our favourite superheroes finally interact is an unparalleled joy to behold.
In the film’s final minutes, it’s difficult not to think of Deadpool’s sardonic rhetorical observation in the recent sequel trailer. “You’re so dark, are you sure you’re not from the DC universe?” Will the Russos stick with this dark tone in Avengers 4 next year? We’ll have to wait and see. I, for one, think that they should.