Avengers: Infinity War satisfies thanks to many good heroes — and one great villain

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chadwick Boseman, Tom Holland, Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo. Opens Thursday in GTA theatres. 149 minutes. PG

“Nothing can prepare you for the cinematic event of a lifetime!” Big Announcer Voice intones over a trailer for Avengers: Infinity War, and any serious Marvel Comics moviegoer would have to take issue with the ridiculous overselling.

After 10 years and 18 films into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), how could we not be prepared for this 19th instalment? The greater risk might be boredom with the ever-expanding cast or confusion over increasingly convoluted plotlines.

Wonder of wonders, Infinity War actually succeeds, even if it’s only telling half of an MCU-wrapping story that will conclude next year — and does so at a bladder-challenging running time exceeding two and a half hours (you’ll want to stay for the obligatory post-credits sequence).

If it’s not exactly the “cinematic event of a lifetime,” it’s still a deeply satisfying tale of pathos and wit that manages to credibly link dozens of characters, multiple narrative threads and innumerable arguments, stretching from the first Iron Man a decade ago to Black Panther mere weeks ago.

Infinity War gives us a genuinely hiss-worthy villain in Josh Brolin’s Thanos, a lavender-hued alien warlord who looks like Shrek’s meaner brother but who constitutes a cosmos-threatening menace, one worthy of congregating every commendably diverse Marvel hero and then some. (There is a high casualty rate in this movie, involving more than just anonymous thugs or soldiers, which is something to consider if you’re planning a family outing to the multiplex.)

No mere genocidal maniac, Thanos has complicated motivations that put him on a par with Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger from Black Panther, the previous Marvel high-water mark for bad guys. It’s one of the great ironies of Infinity War that a movie jam-packed with good guys and gals finds its true focus in a supremely interesting baddie.

Thanos is on a quest to collect all six of the Infinity Stones, one of the longest-running MacGuffins in movie history. Called various names in the other MCU movies, and located on multiple planets, Earth among them, they’re magical gems — each a different colour — that get infinitely more potent when linked together. Think of the “One Ring” from The Lord of the Rings, but even more so.

The search for these stones often seems peripheral in other MCU movies, even downright tedious. But co-directors Anthony and Joe Russo and primary screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely adroitly use Thanos’ hunt to yoke together stories and characters that range from the pompous gods of the Thor chronicles to the practical jokers of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise.

The film is set about two years after the mayhem of Captain America: Civil War, which left the Avengers divided and perhaps conquered. For starters, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans) are still feuding and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is having trouble being green.

Other Avengers, among them Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) soon make their own energetic appearances, as the story boldly goes around the world and across the universe, with all the visual amazement that implies.

Meanwhile, The Mighty Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is still missing an eye and could soon be missing much more than that. He’s among the first of the Avengers to tangle with Thanos, in a prologue encounter that picks up from the more serious of the two post-credit sequences from last year’s mirthful Thor: Ragnarok — and you did stick around to see those sequences, right?

No matter, really, because the beauty of Infinity War is that you don’t have to have viewed the other 18 MCU movies to get the gist of what’s happening here. Remember to just keep following Thanos and those pesky Infinity Stones.

Previous MCU knowledge does assist in understanding the many significant relationships in this movie, which by my count include three romantic couples, at least two platonic pairs and one estranged father/daughter relationship.

Some MCU background also helps with getting the many tension-easing jokes and asides of Infinity War, such as when several Avengers argue about their favourite ice-cream flavours, or when Iron Man keeps calling Spider-Man “kid,” or when Thor suddenly displays a hitherto unknown ability to “speak Groot.”

You’ll also understand why the Guardians are introduced to the hip-swaying strains of The Spinners’ “Rubberband Man.” It’s not really supposed to make literal sense, just like the rest of Infinity War, so just snap to it and roll with it and you’ll have a good time.

TORONTO STAR

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