While I’m a film fan, delving into the Marvel Cinematic Universe has never particularly appealed to me. I can see the interest in a fantastical, multi-faceted world with energy and heroism in abundance, but Nordic Noir, dark British indie dramas and mumblecore are more my things. It’s not as if everything I like has to be grounded in reality: Gremlins, for example, thankfully wasn’t a documentary. But given the MCU’s huge commercial success and positive reviews, I’m clearly the one in the wrong. How to rectify that? By throwing myself in at the deep end and making ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ my first MCU film.
There’s one problem with that otherwise simple solution. Without seeing any of the previous MCU films in the franchise, I’m missing any semblance of context.
What I Think is Happening…
The battle between forces of good and evil is self-explanatory. On first impression, Thanos is an oversized malevolent d–head out to do galactic-scale harm purely for anti-hero bantz. But everyone knows that such linear bad guys are outdated, so clearly there’s more to it than that. Eventually, his vulnerability and motivation is revealed: a fear of over-population that reduced his home planet of to a wasteland.
The motivation behind the actions of the Avengers and their associates is therefore simple. If Thanos obtains all six stones, he acquires God-like powers which he’ll use for mass genocide.
The Avengers’ cultural presence is such that I recognise the vast majority of the characters, even if their backstories and specific skills aren’t always immediately apparent. Spider-Man and Iron Man? Yeah, makes sense. Wong’s cross-dimensional portal? Not so much but I get the basics. That said, Benedict Cumberbatch dressed as an aristocratic hybrid of British TV stalwart Noel Edmonds and flamboyant TV interior designer Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen takes me by surprise. And Loki has the appearance of a Tory festooned in a rock star’s haircut. As for Bruce Banner’s inability to go full Hulk? I’m not certain, but it could be a euphemism for erectile dysfunction.
The characters constantly refer to past dramas: a labyrinthine back-plot of death, destruction, rivalry and family drama that feels like a pan-galactic, amphetamine-fuelled Eastenders omnibus. Given that I have no idea what the hell anyone is on about, I establish a quick way to compartmentalise my lack of understanding – let’s put it down to a long-running beef about how much everyone gets paid by Marvel.
The battle scenes are similarly baffling. An inner logic as to who emerges victorious must exist, but without a basic grounding in each character’s powers and next to no knowledge of how that might be applied strategically, I’m as good as lost.
The same goes for the different planets. I get Edinburgh (and the “We will deep fry your kebab” sign ignites my appetite) but how the others came to be eludes me. The advanced tech of Wakanda is cool as, though, even if the offensive tactics of what my notes describe as “those Predator/dog/dinosaur things” have a Lemmings-esque naivety which means most of them get wiped out in moments.
No Resurrections This Time?
Doctor Strange’s decision to sacrifice a vital stone to Thanos in order to save Tony Stark seems like a bizarre choice until I remember Strange’s ability to foresee every outcome from the conflict. There was one possible positive outcome from millions of scenarios. They’re odds that would immediately kill the entire betting industry stone dead. Ol’ Tone, therefore, must be key to finally finishing off Thanos in the future.
The big question is the fate of those killed off. I suspect those slain in regular combat are dead forever – no-one appears to have the power to reanimate a corpse, and conveniently not all of those characters are big box office draws. But there’s surely some way for those whose matter was disintegrated by Thanos to return.
I have just enough Marvel education to expect some post-credits action. We’re in New York. Looks like Thanos is getting on with the busy work of eliminating most of mankind. Samuel L. Jackson is here with thingy from How I Met Your Mother. They too disintegrate but not before Jackson hits a panic button. He’s trying to send a message to someone who can get the world out of this most sticky of predicaments. But who?
Is there a key hero I don’t know about who can undo these deaths? I haven’t seen Ant-Man, but my uninformed perception is that he’s the Tottenham of the MCU: entertaining but unlikely to win much. Or maybe we’ll see a new Guardians of the Galaxy-style team who might be able to succeed where Groot and Mr Raccoon failed? And “Thanos will be back”? Isn’t he the one behind this mess? Or is he now going to take his obliteration to Wakanda and beyond?
It’s a brave decision to end on a massive downer like The Empire Strikes Back while setting up the sequel without entirely selling out the fact that this is part of a greater whole. The MCU might not be a world I understand, but it’s clear why millions of people keep coming back.
The Avengers will return in the as-yet-untitled concluding part of Infinity War in 2019. The latest instalment in the MCU, Ant-Man and the Wasp, is currently in US and Australian cinemas and hits UK screens on August 3.