If you've ever been watching TV but the person with the remote keeps changing the channel just as you get engaged in each program, you'll probably already have some idea of what it's like watching Marvels latest offering Avengers: Infinity War (2018), only here every show has a million-dollar mega-budget and features all of your favourite characters. Yes, this dazzling new team-up has upwards of thirty new and existing superheroes from the expansive Marvel universe, and attempting to juggle all of that in one movie is certainly no mean feat.
This is an especially difficult task given that the film comes loaded with ridiculously high expectations from fans across the world too, as it's promised as the culmination of all of the previous films that Marvel have made over the last ten years and pits the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Man, The Hulk, Black Panther, Thor, Doctor Strange and so many more against their most dangerous foe yet - Thanos. Of course, if you've been following along you'll know that this giant mauve alien has been quietly vowing to destroy half of the universe for a while, but now he's upped his game and is hunting for some Infinity stones that could get him the destruction he craves with just one snap of his podgy purple fingers.
Unsurprisingly this is a rather vexing problem for Earth's mightiest heroes who are doing their damnedest to protect the planets, but for the audience it may well begin to seem a more appealing proposal, as - arguably for the first time - this film makes its universe feel as though it really could do with some serious trimming down. It is after all an absolutely ridiculous undertaking bringing it all together as this thing not only packs all of those characters but it also has to tie together countless open threads from previous ventures, and in many ways, it seems a virtually impossible movie to get right.
To directors Joe Russo and Anthony Russo's credit though, they do at least manage to build a legible story from all of this, as their balanced juggling act does mean you understand what's going on at all times and the motives of everyone present is always clear.
But just because you understand the story doesn't mean the film succeeds, and unfortunately the crux of the issue is that Avengers: Infinity War (2018), has just got too much stuff for even a two-and-a-half-hour movie to handle. It constantly flits from one simultaneous event to another as different groups of heroes are scattered across the world and the cosmos, and as a result there's no major narrative through-line and every time you find yourself engaged in what's happening, you're whisked off somewhere else.
But perhaps the biggest issue its overall scope brings aside from that is the fact that there's no real room for character arcs as there's just so many of them to deal with. Not one hero is given a proper journey of their own, and that means the overall experience is miles less gratifying than the previous two Avengers films and not one member of this star-studded cast gets a deserved chance to shine.
It is a film then that relies solely on your investment in these characters from the previous movies, and in many ways, it’s only made for those devotees as its massive choppy approach often comes off as a mere series of fan-service moments intricately placed together to serve a wider ongoing story.
Within that there are definitely some great scenes where characters interact for the first time and remind us of similar joys felt in the first film (it's particularly great to see the Guardians of the Galaxy thrown into the mix) and these are many of the best parts of the movie. There's also many an emotional beat, some genuine humour as well as the odd fleeting call-back that will likely have nerd-tears flowing from some, and all in all it's rather like a really expensive Marvel greatest hits album in that regard.
But with every track being skipped so often, you're more likely to leave thinking about how great those other movies were rather than appreciating this one. Even the action sequences lack some of the impact and panache of other MCU efforts not least because there's no time to build emotional development for them, but because there's rarely a sense of pace or scale either. There are some beautifully epic visuals, but the battles are mostly made up of giant VFX punching-matches without all that much grit, fun or focus.
In many ways though it was impossible to make a genuinely great and coherent film from all of this, so it is arguably a triumph that it works to any extent, and there the one binding ingredient is probably the villain as Thanos is a brilliant force to be reckoned with- interestingly bringing a layered utilitarian point of view against the Avengers' totalitarian methods.
And whilst it is extremely over-stuffed for its majority, the very ending wonderfully brings everything to a head in a heart-breaking clash of these two ideals. Utilitarianism arguably wins this time around, but there is a strange, poetic, unspoken cliff-hanger that resonates a hopeful message in a way that only this kind of repetitive universe-level storytelling could ever bring.
All in all then, Avengers: Infinity War (2018), does indeed represent a culmination of its impressive universe, and with that comes a different kind of storytelling that attempts to work with a wider reach than ever before. That makes for many shortfalls, but it also makes for an ending that speaks beyond the boundaries of the movie itself and builds on ten years’ worth of work to hit you and tease the second part of this huge adventure in a way that it could never have done without all of Marvel's groundwork.
So, it may not really work like a proper movie, and it may be ridiculously overstuffed and choppy, but Avengers: Infinity War (2018), is a hugely ambitious accumulation of Marvel's greatest hits that represents a whole new level of cinematic universe storytelling. It's too much, but it's exceedingly ambitious and I'm sure you'll go and see regardless. Roll on part two, it may well be even bigger than this one.
Avengers: Infinity War • In Theaters Now • Runtime 2:29 • Rating PG-13 - Intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, language and some crude references