The comic-book medium – the superhero sub-genre in particular – has often been accused of exaggeration. But come on, at least it’s been honest enough to slap a signboard on it.
How could it ever claim to not lend itself to hyperbole, with adjectives like Fantastic, Mighty, Invincible, Incredible, Amazing and Uncanny tacked on to so many comic titles? Or others that promise a Journey Into Mystery, and Tales To Astonish?
Though very often, these exaggerations are merely astute insights of the human condition, writ large and in spandex.
And now we have Avengers: Infinity War, a culmination of 10 years’ worth of generally fine and occasionally great entries in superhero cinema, ones that form a larger narrative arc that has been consistently cohesive. And by golly, does it deserve every single one of those epithets.
First, a warning: it is not what you may expect. OK, not in the way that The Last Jedi wasn’t what fans were expecting (though I … thoroughly enjoyed TLJ).
The opening Marvel Studios intro sets the tone, accompanied by the same iconic imagery used since 2016 but without the triumphant Michael Giacchino fanfare. Instead, it is backed by sombre, minimal music that conjures up a sense of foreboding.
The feeling of dread is justified, since my second point is the villainy on show here.
Bad guys have long been a major point of criticism against the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With few exceptions, most of the MCU’s villains have been either just bad (as in evil, not crap) versions of the heroes or … well, just crap.
This film not only rectifies all that, it even makes the story almost all about its villain. Infinity War’s Big Bad, Thanos (a performance-captured Josh Brolin), first teased at the end of 2012’s The Avengers and glimpsed only briefly since then, is a fitting bad guy for this 10th anniversary milestone.
More the true central figure of the film than any of the heroes (only Chris Hemsworth’s Thor comes close), Thanos is a magnetic, complex but strangely conflicted individual with a simple vision/mission statement that overrides everything else.
And Brolin, with a gravelly voice that is able to suddenly take on honeyed textures when the occasion requires it, plays Thanos pitch-perfect as a driven but never maniacal character, even sympathetic at some points. Which is really necessary, too, considering what happens in the film’s final quarter.
I’ve not experienced a hush descend that suddenly upon an audience which had been cheering and clapping mere moments ago in quite a while.
After their warm-ups with Captain America: Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War, directors Joe and Anthony Russo have raised their game well beyond the “A” level here, with a script (by their collaborators on those movies, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) that gives everyone at least something to do to get noticed amidst all the chaos and destruction.
No easy feat, considering that this huge “cinematic comic” crossover involves the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Wakandans, Dr Strange and Wong (the Benedicts, Cumberbatch and Wong), Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Asgardians – among others.
Yet this skilful orchestration is just one of the many achievements of note.
The huge stakes in Thanos’ game are made quite apparent and never disappear beneath the constant swirl of CGI and super-powered smackdowns. The heroes get their share of stand-up-and-cheer-worthy moments, the humour is on point but not overwhelming, and the emotional impact is keenly felt at many points in the film.
As a Tale To Astonish, Infinity War certainly delivers. But its shining achievement is in preparing the viewer for a Journey Into Mystery. Because, after 10 years of getting to know the characters and thinking we’ve got it all figured out, we seriously do not know what the hell is going to happen next.
Superhero fatigue? Nay, not for some time yet.
Avengers: Infinity War
Directors: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Brolin, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Dave Bautista, Sebastian Stan, Tom Hiddleston, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Peter Dinklage, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Letitia Wright, Idris Elba, Danai Gurira, Anthony Mackie, Benedict Wong, Winston Duke