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Monday, 30 April 2018

Avengers: Infinity War

(M) ★★★½

Director: Anthony and Joe Russo.

Cast: Josh Brolin, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel.

The new judges of The Block were unimpressed with the feature staircase.
Look at all those names up there. That's almost every hero in the MCU, all Hulk-smashed together into one movie. Having already done the ultimate crossover with The Avengers (six superheroes!), and then upping the game with Avengers: Age Of Ultron (11 superheroes!), and then hitting it out of the park with Captain America: Civil War (12 superheroes!), Marvel have decided all the superheroes is the only place left to go.

After all, this is the moment Marvel has been waiting for (or, rather, one of the many moments). Ten years on since they rolled the dice with Iron Man, and six years on since they planted the first Thanos seed, the Marvel Cinematic Universe reaps what it has sown. And what a bumper crop it is.

The plot centres on big bad Thanos, who is hellbent on reducing the over-population problem he feels is crippling the universe. To do this, he requires the infinity stones - a series of MacGuffins that have been popping up throughout the MCU since Captain America: The First Avenger way back in 2011.

It's up to the heroes of Earth and space to stop Thanos from collecting all the infinity stones and wiping out half the universe. But are they up to the challenge?

If you don't know your Vision from your Falcon, than you may struggle to make head or tail of this. Avengers: Infinity War is that kind of mega-franchise movie that requires some prior learning (a la the latter Harry Potter films or recent Star Wars movies) to fully grasp what's going on. It's assumed you've seen at least some of the previous MCU films, but preferably all of them and that you know who and what Iron Man is, and who knows who and who doesn’t know who. Don’t expect to find out why there’s a wizard guy with a flying coat or a tree playing video games - this movie doesn't have those answers.

As such, Infinity War isn't big on character development or arcs, with one notable exception - Thanos. The Russo Brothers had said in pre-release interviews that this is Thanos' film, and they weren't kidding. The big purple titan, played by a mo-capped Brolin, is one of the most intriguing villains to grace the screen since Heath Ledger dyed his hair green and slapped on the grease paint.

Thanos' ambitions and motives are far from one-dimensional, and there are moments when you can almost empathise with him, which makes for a fascinating superhero movie. Marvel's villains have been regularly criticised for their one-note natures (except for Loki) but there is no such criticism here. Thanos is a great character and the film is his.

The rest of the characters - ie. the dozens of superheroes on display - don't get as much in the way of arcs or development, but we do get to see them placed under extreme pressure, which is fascinating to watch. The way they react and interact is the key here - after 18 films of the MCU, this is the place where many of our ultimate team-up fantasies come home to roost. Some of the best highlights come from seeing these characters talk to each other for the first time, not to mention fight side by side. That sounds super-nerdy, I know, but that's what has made these films work. It made The Avengers a giddy thrill, and Thor: Ragnarok such a blast.

But what's so special about this film aside from the fact it's got a busload of heroes and a decent villain? To answer this question fully would require spoilers, but the spoiler-free answer is that Infinity War makes some bold choices that render it not only surprising, but also devastating. It goes to the darkest places yet in the MCU, and while still brimming with the franchise's typical humour, this is no sunny walk in the park.

There is an utter confidence and comfortableness to Infinity War that comes with the MCU having rarely delivered a bad film over the past 10 years (I'd say only two are genuinely bad). The script is remarkably efficient, partly because it expects us to know who these characters are, but also because it knows how to use them. Add to that a cast who seem very much at home pulling on their supersuits and you've got a blockbuster that seems utterly effortless.

For fans, this is the pay-off you've been waiting for, which is saying something. The stakes are so high and the expectations are off the charts, yet somehow, they've pulled it off. What did most people want out of Infinity War? They wanted all their favourite heroes together on screen, taking on the ultimate big bad, cracking wise while cracking skulls. This is that film. It’s the most epic MCU film to date.

What's that you say? You want all the MCU films ranked from best to worst?

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