Thu, 10 May 2018
Avengers: Infinity War (U)
Running time 1hr 45 min
THE problem with the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that it just never ends. Sure, its sponsors, claiming mega-returns from even the most forgettable instalments (Ant Man anyone?) have little rational incentive to pull the plug on it right now (this critic honestly expects we’ll still be talking about this franchise 25 years down the line), but such is the irrepressible endurance of this saga that press releases now muse grandiloquently in terms of ‘eras’ and ‘phases’. Having stacked it with an associated mythos to rival that of the comics in its sheer depth and impenetrability (I’ll here resist the urge to lavish you with another rant on this persistent bugbear of mine), it’s become rather hard for me to just slip into a Marvel movie as I would … well, basically any other picture. There are Byzantine subplots to be accounted for, alliances are made and broken in the time it takes to get a pizza through your door, and you might as well be running a dead pool (tsk) vis-à-vis the on-screen losses the major films tend to rack up.
And this, ultimately, is why I was dreading Avengers: Infinity War.
This isn’t ‘just another’ Marvel movie – no more Iron Man goofing around with Ben Kingsley and his implausibly attractive girlfriends in a mansion, no more pimply-Peter-Parker’s-becoming-Spiderman-for-the-ten-thousandth-time, and forget Benedict Cumberbatch’s celestial antics in a suspiciously Inception-looking multiverse (though fear not, fans, we barely see the backside of Doctor Strange this time round). Nope, this is THE Marvel smash to rival all Marvel smashes, the end of ‘Phase Three’, bringing together all the narrative threads to date and throwing many a beloved (apparently) character to the lions. What this means is that the usual suspects will shed tears. What this means is that Charlie Masters won’t be able to make head-nor-tail of it.
So, putting aside the fact I left the multiplex strung out on aspartame more than a little muddled, what’s good here? The Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr, of course) and Doctor Strange (Cumberbatch) pair-up, of course – just as one might struggle to digest everything going on around them, their segment, peppered with smarm and passive-aggressive malevolence, makes for the best-scripted (and, indeed, funniest) stretch of a (very long) film. Thanos (Josh Brolin), the film’s colossal, much-touted Mr Big, offers a most intriguing inversion of modern Hollywood’s ecologist conscience – in brief, he’s Thomas Malthus in the mould of Hans Gruber, seeking an (ostensibly well-intentioned) reduction of the Earth’s population so as to facilitate his becoming its Evil Overlord. Admittedly, Marvel’s done the bad-guy stuff very well of late (Black Panther’s daring pan-African social critique made for a particularly fun watch), but the central quest here, involving an ‘epic’ (read: long) race to prevent Thanos hoarding the all-powerful ‘Infinity Stones’, has more than a whiff of corny ’70s kid-fantasy serial about it, terribly at odds with the galactic scale of the production.
Unfortunately, the film’s something of a study in desensitisation. The prior 18 (!) movies having numbed viewers to the magic of 21st century CGI, Infinity War ups the dramatic ante to the point of
meltdown. There’s a lot (and I mean A LOT) to take in here. Something indescribably crucial and awesome (apparently) is happening every quarter-hour; heads will roll, detritus will be thrown and we’ll even get bit-contributions from some relative newcomers to the cape-and-funny-hat business (a mid-film detour to the kingdom of Wakanda, of Black Panther fame, was enough to stir even this super-philistine from slumber). Fans will, of course, yield up their intellect and willpower like children to the Aztec priesthood; agnostics will find the whole experience more than a little overwhelming.
The action sequences, beautifully-rendered as they are, frequently overstay their welcome; elsewhere, little time is made to propel key arcs forward (the jumbo-hyped Stark-Spiderman relationship, for instance, is stillborn). It’s leagues better than the Justice League movie, sure, but I’m not sure if that’s much of an accomplishment.