It’s been an entire decade since the Marvel Cinematic Universe kicked off with the truly excellent Iron Man. Eighteen movies later and I think it’s safe to say the world of cinema has never seen anything like it in terms of scale, frequency and consistent quality for a cinematic franchise. How, really, could Avengers: Infinity War live up to the expectations established by that?

The answer is: Impressively.

If you’re going to bring together the stories of Iron Man, Thor, Loki, The Hulk, Captain America, Bucky, Spider-Man, Ant-Man (who doesn’t appear here), Black Widow, Hawkeye (he skipped this one), Black Panther, Scarlet Witch, Doctor Strange, Wong, Falcon, Nick Fury, Vision, Quill, Gamora, Nebula, Rocket Raccoon, Groot, Drax, Mantis and the spiralling cast of likeable supporting characters, you’re going to need a strong point of narrative focus or the whole thing is going to be a mess of epic proportions.

As you probably know, Thanos (who wants to bring peace, prosperity and balance to the universe by destroying half of all life in it) has been hunting down the Infinity Stones to achieve the godlike status achieving his goals will require. It’s going to take everything the Avengers can do to stop him and save literally half the universe. Does this all sound a little silly when you say it out loud? Of course it does, but as we know, it’s really all in how the story is told.

Luckily, Avengers: Infinity War has a genuinely threatening, compelling villain in Thanos. Even though he’s only appeared in snippets before this film, he’s no gurning madman, and he makes his case for his actions and exhibits genuine pathos. This is partly due to a great performance by Josh Brolin, but also due to some excellent animation that elevates a purple, Z’Dar-esque facial design that could have made the whole thing seem a bit silly if the execution was off.

We have so many characters, all clearly established in their preceding movies and putting on a great performance here that, before release, the movie was always threatening to devolve into chaotic nonsense but, to the Russo brothers’ credit, it never does. It remains clear and dramatically plausible throughout, with loads of the trademark Marvel humour to keep things fun. It’s great to see the Guardians of the Galaxy finally meet up with the rest of the Marvel crowd, and Rocket and Groot’s instant, easygoing friendship with Thor is a source of joy all the way through the movie.

It’s even visually rewarding. The Marvel movies have always had a certain flatly-lit, fairly bland look, but that ultimately gives them a greater feel of continuity despite the changes in directors. The series’ visual highlghts, the fractal psychedelia of Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Doctor Strange, isn’t topped here, but it’s dark, colourful and handsome within the confines of the Marvel house style. There are lots of eye-popping space vistas, costumes, battles and explosions for everyone to gawk at.

One of the things I tried to imagine was how the movie would feel if you’d seen none of the films leading up to it, and I confess I have absolutely no idea. I don’t think it would be that confusing as the plot is about as basic as it gets, but the sheer sensory assault of the thing would likely be draining, as well as the number of characters. Some of the words you could probably use here are “overstuffed”, “overblown”, “overkill”, “overlong”, “overwhelming”, “elephantine”, “ludicrous”, “slog”, “behemoth” and so on, but this film is the climax of a series that’s really earned its vastness and anything less would be a letdown.

I’m almost positive anyone reading this has seen most (or all) of the Marvel films, so I’m going to recommend this unreservedly. It’s a two-and-a-half-hour superhero epic with lots of punching and shooting, and if you enjoyed what came before, you’ll love this one. There are heaps of callbacks to reward the faithful, and everyone gets a little time to shine in the massive ensemble cast.

As always, stick around ’til the end of the credits.

Avengers: Infinity War – In cinemas now!

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