Marvel’s latest mega -blockbuster is as bold as you’d expect from a franchise always willing to push at the restraints other blockbusters are hemmed in by. It takes what could easily be problems- an enormous cast from differently flavoured films and the need to invent an even more invincible all powerful enemy than the previous ones- and uses them to its advantage. It’s surprisingly lean when you consider the size of the cast and the two and a half hours running time. Yet there is still time for those smaller considerations and character beats that give the film a human touch.
Some spoilers beyond here…
The first thing to observe is that there’s really no point going to see it unless you have at least a working knowledge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Unlike Black Panther, Captain America Civil War or even Guardians of the Galaxy this is not an attempt to convert new followers but a reward for those who have watched the previous movies. Some critics have been harsh about the lack of introduction to anyone here – they turn up and the audience is supposed to know who they are. Really though, would anyone uncommitted to the MCU go and see this film anyway?
What is really impressive is the way writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have fashioned what is the most outer spacey fantastical Avengers movie into something we can relate to. Of course they do have the benefit of a decade’s careful work so that unlike a certain DC film they’re not playing catch up while also trying to move the story forward. All the pieces are already in place and the pay off is generous.
Each wing of the franchise is home to an increasingly different signature and the risk with this film was that it would homogenise them. Instead there is remarkable continuity with each of those styles yet somehow it never makes this movie episodic or bitty. The narrative also cleverly allows for some team ups so though there are always plenty of Avengers on screen at any one time there is no scene where we see every one of them all together. This only serves to underscore the power of their antagonist this time round.
If you’ve seen a photo of Thanos you might- as I did –think he looked a bit odd and very generic. How many super super villains with all kinds of powers have we seen about on movie screens lately? Yet it doesn’t take long to establish that while Thanos may be a brutal tyrant (in a flashback he has members of a subjugated race pick whether they will be loyal or not- the latter are mowed down) but his mission is not without its own logic. The character too is home to some surprisingly intimate moments and despite his look you will see him as just as well rounded a being as any of the others by movie’s end.
He’s quite a character to take in. There are two scenes during the film when he despatches well liked characters yet the tone between them is utterly different. In the first he is pure evil, getting his own way. In the second he has a choice that is about the only thing in the whole film that almost stops him in his tracks and it’s not a weapon. When your antagonist is as interesting as your heroes then you know you’re in for a good film.
Our heroes this go round are not having a good time. However they try to stop Thanos getting those Infinity stones they always fail. The somersaulting, rocket powered, static drenched, location shifting action delivers every time though. These are some of the best action sequences Marvel has yet done (and that’s saying something) because not only are they spectacular but they are varied, inventive, packed with jeopardy and there’s more of an emotional investment in them as well.
Usually a movie like this will have one stand-out but it’s hard to choose. The most different looking one takes place on the plains of Wakanda across which hordes of creatures breach that dome. And there’s a breathless sequence on the ruined planet of Titan which packs in more thrills than you’d get in a whole other film.
Though the tone is sombre and serious overall there are some delightful comedic moments of rivalry and jostling for position; here the introducing of the Guardians of the Galaxy adds a lot as you’d expect plus there’s also Spiderman who remains in awe of much of what he sees.
I suppose the biggest spoiler you can reveal about this film which – additional warning- I am now going to do is that by the end the Avengers have lost. Thanos gets his stones and then in a curiously surreal moment has a sit down and watches the sunset. And there’s an unnerving conclusion too as first some of the Avengers and then lots of ordinary people start to vanish. Yep- this film ends on a cliff-hanger and not just the usual end credits teaser but a proper one! It’s a bold move and even if you can sort of guess how they’ll extract themselves from it, the work that the remaining Avengers (no they don’t all make it to the end) have to do next time seems monumental.