Avengers: Infinity War ★★★★

Take away all of the bells and whistles (and there are an incredible amount of bells and whistles) take away all of the movie stars, and superheroes that the people at Marvel have spent a decade establishing, and what Infinity War really, essentially is at its core is the story of a mad king, an insane despot, and less his war, more his quest (Infinity Quest may have been a better title) for absolute power.

That’s a hell of a dark road for a movie of this scale to take, a remarkable one, but what’s more remarkable still is the way in which the film manages to take that central concept, and bury it in the middle of so much mad adventuring that this dark tale of loss and woe emerges fully formed as a triumphant time at the movies.

Detractors of the MCU may find that to be a negative, the criticism of Marvel always being that they never take anything seriously enough, but to me that is their magic touch, the ability to blend the darkness and light to make stories of often unpleasant things into mass entertainment palatable enough to watch again and again and again, putting you in a position to burrow deeper into the heart of the thing rather than being put off by its bleakness at the first hurdle.

That’s not to say that the movie is without its drawbacks. *minor spoilers for rest of paragraph* Paramount for me is the fact that this movies finale does include death, a lot of it, much of it relating to characters whose individual sequels have already been announced. That doesn’t detract from the movie in isolation, Infinity War has a legitimate-ish beginning, and wrapped up with a bow finale, but when we watch this movie in the years ahead after the Marvel Universe has spawned countless more chapters in its ever more sprawling legend, I can’t help but feel that a lot of the power of this movies finale will be somewhat sapped. It’s the same reason the end of Batman vs. Superman didn’t really work, you knew what was coming. Business stands in the way of storytelling, because for whatever reason people can’t keep from announcing sequels years in advance even if it detracts from movies to be released in the interim.

That aside there isn’t much more I take issue with here, Infinity War is a definite return to form for Marvel’s central showpiece after the far more muddied Age of Ultron, a film that never quite got the balance of tone right that this one aces (in among the darkness this movie has moments of absolute hilarity, intimate enough that they don't take away from the weight of proceedings). If you haven’t watched all the previous movies in this extended universe then some of what the characters talk about may go a little over your head, but it is relatively admirable how they keep that to a minimum with 18 movies worth of backstory, most of it is essentially there for colour, for flavour, to give the sense of lives lived without relying too much on it to make the here and now work.

The Russo’s do a wonderful job balancing the innumerable characters too, and giving just about everyone a moment to shine, some obviously more than others, but it’s key to the success of the film that everybody has something different to do, and their spreading across the cosmos, and breadth of varying tasks they are required to undertake lends Infinity War that scale that makes it feel so worthy of a concluding chronicle to an epic saga. Whatever is to follow in a years time seems on the evidence of what we see here like it will be a new beginning as much as an end, less here (what seemed the case when the splitting of Infinity War was announced) the by now commonplace splitting of a final movie in a series to make some extra bucks.

Anyway, whatever you make of these kinds of movies, I feel like Infinity War (the title really does no justice to the subject) is a movie worth watching for the unique approach from which it comes at this kind of story. It gives its arch villain as much perspective, and as much sympathy as it does anybody else. You could say Black Panther did that too, and it did, but it took its time getting to that big reveal, and the key difference is the conclusion. It’s got to be both as simple and as memorable a final scene as a movie of this nature has ever produced. Our hero, sitting staring out across a picturesque landscape, his journey complete, in spite of the personal losses he has suffered, the slightest smile of satisfaction at the knowledge his epic goal is accomplished.