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Avengers: Infinity War (2018) starring Robert Downey Jr.

Quest for the Infinity Stones

Avengers: Infinity War picks up where Thor: Ragnarok left off as Thanos (Josh Brolin) catches up with the space vessel carrying the survivors of Asgard’s destruction. He’s has arrived to seek one of the six Infinity Stones, ownership of which will give him absolute power over the Universe and allow him to commit unspeakable acts of genocide. He overcomes Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston), killing the last of the three in the process. He seizes the Space Stone from their clutches and then sends his lieutenants out to find the remaining ones - two of which are on Earth.

Hulk escapes and manages to reach New York City in order to warn Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) about Thanos’s quest. Sure enough, a huge ring-shaped spacecraft suddenly makes its arrival above the metropolis. Peter Parker/Spiderman (Tom Holland) spots it from his school bus and swings in on the scene. They are also joined by Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) who happens to have one of the stones (the Time Stone) in his possession. After a pitched battle, Strange gets captured and is taken up in the spacecraft so that Thanos’s loyal servant Ebony Maw can torture him into giving it up. Before the ship leaves, however, Stark and Parker manage to board it and mount a rescue operation.

Meanwhile, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and the rest of the Guardians of the Galaxy are making their own journey through space when, suddenly, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) crashes down on their vessel’s windshield. When they bring him in and revive him, he insists on taking one of their space pods in order to pursue Thanos and avenge the death of his brother Loki. Despite Quill’s protests, the Guardians agree to loan him the craft and for Rocket and Groot to accompany him on his journey.

Back on Earth - in Edinburgh, Scotland - another of the stones (the Mind Stone) is embedded in the forehead of Vision (Paul Bettany). Sure enough, some more of Thanos’s followers arrive on the scene in order to forcibly take it from him. As both Vision and his partner Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) fend off their attackers, help quickly arrives in the form of Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie). They rescue him and take him to Wakanda, the home of Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), where the technology exists to safely extract the stone.

Can the combined superpowers of this extended team of Avengers prevent Thanos from eradicating half of the life in the Universe?

Watch a trailer:

The most hyped of Marvel movies

Avengers: Infinity War is, without a doubt, the most eagerly-awaited of the recent clutch of MCU movies. It’s a hugely ambitious project which combines practically the entire roster of Marvel movie superheroes in one huge ensemble adventure. The budgetary figure has been estimated as landing somewhere between $300-400 million, which puts it amongst the top five most expensive movies of all time. There’s certainly a hell of a lot for the viewer to get their teeth into here: multiple groups of characters are focussed on in various (real-world and fantastical) locations amid an almost endless welter of sparkly special effects.

Now, call me a heretic if you wish, but I have decidedly mixed feelings towards the MCU in general. Don’t get me wrong: I loved some of the individual films (in particular, the first Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok) but, despite the undeniable care and attention that Marvel Studios (not to mention hugely extravagant production values) lavishes on its franchise, it’s hard not to get the feeling of diminishing returns to scale. More often than not, the studio just piles on the excess in the manner of an all-you-can-eat buffet plate - more special effects, more characters, more action sequences. Frankly, someone should be telling them: “hey guys, you know, sometimes less is more”.

Too much, yet too little

Chris Evans in Avengers: Infinity War

This was an issue with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and, to some extent, the climactic scenes of Black Panther. On the other hand,Thor: Ragnarok managed to temper the exuberance effectively via Taika Waititi’s distinctive brand of matey New Zealand humour, whereas Doctor Strange had a certain inherent psychedelic mysticism that made all of the brain-frazzling trickery work in context. Unfortunately, Avengers: Infinity War falls right at the worst end of the scale. Far, far too much of the runtime is taken up with acres of CGI real estate, characters flying through the air and various brightly-glowing mysterious powers being flashed left. right and centre. Another hefty chunk of the film is devoted to the particulars of plot development, courtesy of establishing shots of one planet after another and mutterings of how Thanos is after stone X, Y or Z. It all feels like a vast, unfolding multiplayer online game rather than a satisfying movie where the various protagonists are allowed to live, breathe and develop.

In fact, the only truly revelatory piece of character development is given to the main villain, Thanos. The writers and directors do well to imbue him with a modicum of empathy (via his relationship to Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana) while ensuring that he remains a truly ominous threat throughout. At times, it’s also enjoyable watching the various superheroes spark off each other. This is particularly true of the trio of Strange (Cumberbatch), Stark (Downey Jr.) and Parker (Holland) - the first two of which have distinctive rivalries over who is in charge, whereas the latter is a lot of fun as a cocky show-off who is keen to prove his mettle. There’s a nice moment when Stark and Parker bond during a confrontation with one particular bad guy. When the hench-villain tells them “Your powers are inconsequential compared to mine”, Stark retorts (in reference to his young accomplice): “Yeah, but the kid's seen more movies” before he is creatively done away with in self-conscious film reference style.

The Guardians are, as ever, an enjoyably motley bunch. However, it’s a pity that a potentially amusing subplot revolving around Peter Quill’s macho jealousy of Thor never goes far beyond their brief initial meeting - after all, with the two Chrises (Pratt and Hemsworth) bringing enjoyably self-effacing masculine turns in their respective individual films there’s a fair amount of mileage as to where their on-screen relationship could have travelled. Mark Ruffalo is another highlight as Bruce Banner who, in a neat twist, has difficulties in invoking his all-important Hulk persona. However, the sheer volume of characters involved also means that a number get short shift: while Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther and Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow may not have been the most memorable of the onscreen Marvel characters in the first place, they barely register amongst the sheer weight of mayhem.

In the end, however, it all flashes by in a massive blur towards a dark ending that’s never fully explained. Never mind; it doubtless will be in the follow-up (due out in 2019) but, nonetheless, there’s something so overwhelmingly devastating in this film’s conclusion that it (yet again) shows that Marvel Studios have turned the dial up far too high.

Part of me really wanted to love Avengers: Infinity War. For one thing, the fact that one section was filmed in my hometown of Edinburgh brings a certain sense of amusement by familiarity; if only a superhero ruckus were delaying the Edinburgh-Glasgow train rather than the usual signalling failures! I wanted to just sit back and enjoy the possibilities of these various gifted characters hitting it off and/or butting heads while colourfully kicking the asses of sundry villains. However, while it did have its moments, Avengers: Infinity War ultimately offered both too much and yet, paradoxically, too little.

Runtime: 149 mins

Dir: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Script: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, based on various Marvel Comics characters by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Idris Elba, Chris Pratt, Sebastian Stan, Josh Brolin

Rating: ☆☆☆

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