AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

Magnificent and magnificently flawed, when judged against the standards set by its precursors Avengers: Infinity War joyously excels.

And it is only fair to judge this and all other entries against the now 19-strong behemoth of pop culture which has not only succeeded as a genre unto itself but redefined the staple blockbusters of a whole generation.

On its own, Infinity War, a 160-minute collage of action, quips, ruminations and oh so much CGI, makes little sense. As a penultimate culmination (yes there’s a Part II) of a 10 year-investment in this universe and its teeming cast, the film is a triumph of sensory impalement and whirlwind extravaganza that even throughout its lengthy run time doesn’t let up.

Big bad Thanos (a purple, special effects-heavy Josh Brolin), his sights finally set on earth, seeks out the remaining infinity stones and wreaks havoc in his wake. Assembling, yet again, Avengers newbie Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) reminds everyone, yet again, that the fate of the universe is literally at stake.

Yet for the first time, off the end of umpteenth villains entreating us to dread some wholly cataclysmic event, the stakes actually seem real. A superb opening sequence, one of the best of the film, introduces a whole new dynamic to the series that corrects its tiring insistence on these characters being invulnerable. Too exuding the action with a hitherto unseen tension, to be sure there are grandiose calls to action, though one such moment, shared between Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Bradley Cooper’s Rocket, in it’s muted execution is extraordinary for underlining, the massive action set pieces notwithstanding, just how emotive our blustering juggernauts can be. Only fleeting instances however interspersed between what you really came to see, the action, but for a frustratingly disposable computer-generated army, is very, very good.

One particular fight between Doctor Strange and Thanos, where elements of reality and time are deployed with even greater inventiveness than Cumberbatch’s first fantastical outing, is an outstanding and regretfully brief highlight, as is the surprise appearance of an especially loved Game of Thrones veteran. Jumping between worlds, slugfests and one or more characters hilariously discovering each other (even if due to time restraints these moments are not nearly as rip-roaring as 2012’s Avengers), it’s remarkable just how akin Infinity War is to The Lord of the Rings’ own middle chapter The Two Towers.

An adaptation that followed several strands and corresponding ensembles, each with more than enough material for a feature film, Infinity War similarly shirks a finite beginning or end, though the conclusion here is particularly affective. ‘Avengers 3′ is only interested in mashing as many of its myriad components together as possible which is fairly the film’s greatest strength that comes at the expense of any markedly significant interaction between any of this universe’s stalwarts. A very consequential reunion between two of the earliest Avengers is one of many significant interactions confined to seconds, while conversely quieter, reflective moments centred on the likes of Zoe Saldana’s Gamora, and for that matter Thanos, achieve a particular impact.

Too meriting acclaim is the extent to which evident Marvel acolytes and Civil War champions Joe and Anthony Russo have factored in the weight of fan anatomization without being too reflexive or, as is want to be in the case, ironic. Treating their subjects with a duly lighthearted reverence that never strays into self-seriousness nor farce, the clashes between our scrambling sides are imbued with an urgency as we come to appreciate their attempts to overcome individually established limitations, something that would not be possible if events were treated with dismissive fanfare. To that effect, a hugely significant retort from Thanos off the brunt of an especial blow, a seldom climax resounding from a clash of wits as much as brawn, underlies the mortal coils on which our players for greatest effect must shuffle, while accounting for inevitable fan rejoinders in a manner that does not dismissively detach us from the action.

Brolin’s Thanos, bar Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger, is the most intriguing, multifaceted villain of the whole series; even if his schemes are familiar and a step above threadbare, in making up for limited screen-time in previous entries Thanos’ motivations are here relatively well established. His particular conceit adds a moral dimension oft-seen in like fare, namely a clash between hero and villain as to what, if at all, is a necessary or acceptable sacrifice for a greater good. Infinity War however deserves credit for treating its righteous antipodes with consistency and, unlike much of the film’s contemporaries, dishing out consequences for our heroes when they stray from their moral planes.

Thanos’ thematic dimensions far surpassing aspects of the character’s execution, the particular manner of his appearance ala Grimace, as Chris Pratt’s Peter Quill astutely points out, is more of a distraction than an asset; Thanos here joining a close-knit group of computer-generated antagonists who may just as well have been starring in a cartoon. The range of emotion displayed by characters as significant and of which Brolin is evidently capable, including Marvel stalwarts Iron man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans), does not likewise translate when we are forced to reckon with the limited subtlety that can be evinced through the form as rendered here, as good as the effects happen to be.

Infinity War too errs in it’s treatment of The Guardians of the Galaxy crew, the segment of this universe our Directors have yet to deal with. With the exceptions of Gomora and Pratt’s earlier quip, the troupe are barely recognisable in parts, with the screenplay for the not infrequent purpose of moving things along calling on Pratt in particular to play a distinctly different rogue to that which we have roundly become accustomed.

Endearing moments shared between characters we have long since come to know resonant if few and far between, the humongous Infinity War for all its misgivings knows you came to see countless action figures smashed together in ways only limited by imagination and hundreds of millions of dollars. In this respect, for those who have been waiting the years the films have spanned or even longer for such a spectacle, or who otherwise enjoy the type of smorgasbord that stands heads and shoulders above today’s ever-recurring blockbusters, Infinity War is not one to miss.

Avengers: Infinity War is in cinemas now