Looking back after watching Avengers: Infinity War, it’s almost quaint how big the original Avengers film seemed when it assembled onscreen in 2012.
FOUR different superhero franchises united in one film, as well as extra characters like Nick Fury, Black Widow and Hawkeye? PLUS a whole army of villainous aliens? At the time, superhero (or frankly, any blockbuster filmmaking) didn’t get bigger or better.
How naive we were. Nowadays a mere four-film crossover could be cracked out before breakfast by Marvel studios, and newly-released sequel Avengers: Infinity War features more clashing superhero franchises in the first 10 minutes than the original film managed in its entire runtime.
There’s Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, Black Panther, Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America, Iron Man and Thor – and despite all its epic battles, tender moments and shocking twists (as well as a few surprise cameos and a frankly INCREDIBLE post-credits scene), the way Infinity War manages to juggle this mammoth cast is probably its most impressive achievement, and fascinating to watch.
The superhero surplus is managed by splitting various characters off into mini-teams while others are benched from the action prematurely or entirely (there’s no sign of Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye and Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man, but a plausible reason is given) and in general more or less every character is given something significant to do.
Mixing up the teams brings some pleasant surprises – a Thor/Rocket Raccoon team-up is a must for any future Thor sequel, while Dave Bautista’s Drax the Destroyer steals every scene he’s in – and gives the story a sense of scale lacking in the previous two Avengers films, following our heroes around the universe as they battle Thanos (Josh Brolin) on multiple fronts to prevent him getting his hands on the powerful Infinity stones.
This multi-perspective approach also highlights the MCU’s strongest elements, reminding audiences easily why they fell in love with the world of Wakanda back in February and making my heart yearn for the next Guardians of the Galaxy film with a passion I wasn’t aware I had.
Trust me – if you’ve enjoyed any aspect of the last 10 years in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Infinity War will have something for you, and a lot of that is down to how it manages its stable of superheroes.
But nothing’s perfect, and of course the cast-juggling isn’t always entirely successful. A few characters, most notably figures like Sebastian Stan’s Bucky, Anthony Mackie’s Falcon and Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, don’t get very much to do, while the weighty task of including pretty much everyone means that Infinity War also abandons parts of its story for long stretches of the runtime.
There’s also a sense that, with so many characters to visit, the story slightly rushes towards its conclusion, though given that Infinity War has a sequel released next May there was always going to be a slight lack of conclusion when the end credits rolled.
And in general, perhaps this imperfection is to be expected. Nobody has attempted anything close to the scale of Infinity War in cinematic history, drawing on a decade of movie background and dozens of main characters, all of whom need to see their stories develop and change while remaining true to the core identity established in their own franchises.
Prestige shows like Game of Thrones manage a huge cast, but have around 7- 10 hours a year to tell their stories in. Infinity War has to do something similar, with a greater sense of spectacle, in a (comparatively) mere 2 hours and 40 minutes, and it’s to the credit of directors Joe and Anthony Russo that it works as well as it does.
In other words, it would be completely impossible to make a film that could perfectly balance 20-plus superheroes – Justice League struggled with six – so it’s incredibly impressive just how good Infinity War manages to be.
Without giving anything away, as Avengers: Infinity War draws to a close the stage is set for a truly thrilling finale next year, establishing the stakes of the threat the Avengers face while also providing a hint of exciting new team dynamics sure to have fans on the edge of their seats in the future.
After seeing how well they balanced things this time, I’ll be back again without question – even if I do still need a cheat sheet for who exactly all the different people in sparkly costumes are.
Avengers: Infinity War is released in UK cinemas on the 26th April