Not infinity perhaps, but a really, really big finity war. Colossal, cataclysmic, delirious, preposterous – and always surreally entertaining in the now well-established Marvel movie tradition. It’s a gigantic showdown between a force of cosmic wickedness and a chaotically assembled super-team of Marvel superheroes made more complicated by Doctor Strange’s tendency to multiclone himself in moments of battle stress.
There are some very unexpected family relationships that we had no idea about – potentially compromising unity in the face of encroaching evil. There are also some very surprising deaths – of which, of course, the less said the better. There are, moreover, some surprising omissions in the cast list. Or are there?
Avengers: Infinity War is a giant battle for which directors Anthony and Joe Russo have given us touches of JRR Tolkien’s Return of the King and JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The film delivers the sugar-rush of spectacle and some very amusing one-liners.
Whatever else it does, this Marvel movie shows its brand identity in the adroit management of tone. One moment it’s tragic, the next, it’s cracking wise. It’s absurd and yet persuades you of its overwhelming seriousness. And there are some amazing Saturday-morning-kids-show moments when you feel like cheering.
Earth is being threatened by a massive malign hunk with a huge ridgey chin called Thanos, played by Josh Brolin. If he can gain ownership of all the talismanic infinity stones and place them in the holes in his custom-built gauntlet then he will have the ultimate power to destroy anything he wishes in the universe. And he has a chilling wish for mass slaughter of half the sentient beings in existence, ostensibly so that the other half will have enough food to eat – but really so they will bow down to him as the tyrant lord.
Ranged against him, of course, are the good guys who come together not in a single phalanx but a constellation of improvised groupings, in which the alpha males have a tendency to bicker. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is nettled by Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his supercilious air of intellectual superiority – and vice versa. Spider-Man (Tom Holland) shows up and annoys the hell out of them both with his milliennial’s flair for pop culture references.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) finds himself having to do a ride-along with the Guardians of the Galaxy and Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is intimidated by Thor’s godlike machismo and finds himself trying to do the basso profundo voice.
Vision (Paul Bettany) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) are tormented by the glowing stone in Vision’s blue head, and they’re agonised by the thought that self-destruction is the only way to keep it out of Thanos’s huge mitts. Their own situation brings them into contact with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) – who prefers his non-super name now, not Captain America, and also the always frowning Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), together with the frankly traumatised Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo).
Scenes and situations whoosh by like a bizarre and bizarrely exciting dream. A sudden trip to Wakanda, with its secret world of remedial hi-tech surgery, seems entirely plausible. T’Challa, or Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) greets the visitors with his habitual Shakespearean bearing and princely calm.
Inevitably, there is a little confusion. Groups of superheroes clash and each thinks the other is on Thanos’s side. “What master do you serve?” shouts one, awkwardly. “You mean – like Jesus?” comes the exasperated reply. No. Thor is the only god around here and even he isn’t guaranteed a result. It’s all in the cosmic balance.
In theory, all these superheroes crammed into one movie should trigger the law of diminishing returns and the Traveling Wilbury effect. And yet somehow in its pure uproariousness, it works. It’s just a supremely watchable film, utterly confident in its self-created malleable mythology. And confident also in the note of apocalyptic darkness.
I know it’s silly. And yet I can’t help looking forward to the next supersized episode of mayhem.