Well, who would have thought that 2008's Iron Man would ultimately lead us here? Sure, it was a great superhero film, but that it would kick-off what has become, arguably, the greatest franchise ever and (partially) culminate in a record-breaking giant crossover? Seriously, no-one predicted that.
Because "giant" doesn't even begin to do Infinity War justice. Here we have a film which stars Robert Downey Jr, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christ Pratt, Scarlet Johannsen, Vin Diesel, Josh Brolin, Zoe Saldana, Chadwick Boseman, Peter Dinklage, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Paul Bettany and so, so many more that huge A-listers like Gwyneth Paltrow and Benicia Del Toro have roles that are practically uncredited! For sheer number of actors alone, it's crazy, but when you consider who they're playing, from Spider-Man to Nick Fury to Captain America to freaking Thanos... I mean, has there ever been a better time to be a comic book fan. Sure, Iron Man did well in cinemas, but to lead to big screen, beloved versions of Groot, Shuri or Ebony Maw? That's just awesome.
So with all that going on, Infinity War could, easily and understandably, have been a complete mess. Heck, even in the comics, events of this scale leave you feeling like plots are pushed forward at break-neck speed and favourite characters are left behind, and they're only restricted by page count. The fact that Infinity War avoids, pretty much across the board, those same kinds of criticism is nothing less than amazing. Yes, some characters get less screen time than others and, yes, there are even a couple of notable absences (on which, see below) and, final yes, you can argue that very few characters get real arcs or development, but the magic is that you don't notice. I notice it when I'm reading these types of events, but I didn't notice it at all here (again, see below for the couple of exceptions).
Somehow the Russo brothers have performed an almost perfect balancing act, bringing together a huge cast, each with their own desires, emotions and cinematic tones, and blended them together almost seamlessly. The teams that form largely feel organic, allowing plots to be broken apart and paced out naturally; the humour or emotions from one set playing off another, allowing them to remain distinct yet feel like part of a whole. Let's just say I'm extremely impressed and move on.
For the most part I feel like the character interactions make sense, picking up well from where we last saw each group in their own movies. I really liked that Wanda and Vision had been having a tryst and their conversation around it, whilst being a little forced for exposition in hindsight, did fill the viewers in nicely to the in-world timeline. Similarly, moments like Banner meeting Widow again after the events of Ragnarok and Civil War set them on such wildly different trails felt right and in keeping with their respective pasts. Others, where characters met for the first time, were largely well done, particularly Iron-Man's introduction to both Doctor Strange and the subset of Guardians on Titan. Seeing Stark have a battle of wits and intellect with Strange was brilliant, setting nice groundwork to build on in the future if required, whilst putting Tony right in the midst of friendly aliens (ignoring Thor for now) gives his own worries more nuance. Plus the humour in these sequences felt pretty spot-on; we still get the trademark Marvel punchlines, but they felt less intrusive than in previous Avengers instalments.
But what about those exceptions I mentioned above? Well, there are a couple. We have the absences of Hawkeye and Ant-Man, which I feel are explained well enough to be given a pass, but also individuals like Korg which I feel were just overlooked. At the end of Ragnarok we have Thanos arrive at the Asgardian arc; cut to the start of Infinity War and the battle is over, Heimdall and Loki are killed, Hulk cast back to Earth and Thor left for dead. So where are Korg and Valkyrie? They've just gone up against, and beaten, the living goddess of death, but they're completely absent here! Perhaps, as some have speculated, it was a deliberate decision and we'll see them in the fourth Avengers film, but it felt like a loose thread that was unnecessary. Even a shot of a departing escape pod would have been sufficient! Then there's the Hulk, who takes a brief beating before refusing to come back out. Sure, it leads to some memorable moments and great humour, plus it gives us more of slightly-manic Bruce Banner, which is fun, but it better have a pay-off in the next movie.
These are minor quibbles, however, and will hopefully be resolved in future films. Otherwise, there are a few lines of dialogue that miss the mark, a moment when Quill does the one thing that assures their destruction, which feels a little unfair, and a missed opportunity for Wakanda to unveil some more interesting weapons (at the very least some more battle rhinos!), but little that I disliked. The Vision feels a little under-powered for someone who is normally borderline omnipotent, but I'll forgive it because it makes the Black Order that extra bit menacing and it gives the final moments with Wanda and Thanos extra punch (plus Paul Bettany is a brilliant actor). I also really enjoyed the nod to fan theories that placed Red Skull back in the modern MCU, and to the general development of Thanos as a character with much more nuance than was strictly necessary (DC take note).
In fact, one of my few remaining niggles about the film was the ending. On the one hand, they killed off too many key characters for there not to be a mass-resurrection in the fourth film, which did reduce the sting of the loss somewhat, despite brilliant moments from the remaining cast. On the other, whilst I realise that I should be rooting for the good guys next summer, they almost did too good of a job showing Thanos' reasoning... to the point I almost agree. Sure, he's mad, and the film does a good job of creating a counter-point with the Vision and Cap's discussion about how any sacrifice of life is abhorrent, but he also has a fair point and a seemingly decent track record of testing his theories.
Still, am I psyched for film four and the true conclusion? Absolutely! Given which heroes remain (plus the couple extra ones that were skipped over and a special reveal at the end) it looks certain that we're getting ready for a big shake-up next time around. It will basically be the OG Avengers, plus Rocket, Nebula and War Machine (and Ant-Man, Wasp and Captain Marvel) working out how to revive the heroes from phase 2, 3 and 4... that seems like a perfect "passing of the torch" plotline to me. Whilst I believe all of the fallen heroes from Infinity War will be back (with the possible exception of two Asgardians) I think several of the remaining cast won't be making it to phase five, so it's still all to play for. Which is just yet another clever decision by the filmmakers.