Avengers: Infinity War review: A cast of hundreds compete frantically for attention in silly superhero mash-up
Cinemas will quake, ticket-takers tremble, popcorn vendors cower in fear as Avengers: Infinity War swaggers into the multiplexes to begin its months-long occupation.
With a budget of anything up to $400million it is, even when adjusted for inflation, among the most expensive films ever made: and with a 2hr, 40min running length, it gives Marvel nuts value for money. Whether it's any good or not is beside the point in a way as its success is built-in, guaranteed by a rabid fan base and the small army of interrelated superhero hits that have preceded it.
Iron Man, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Black Panther, two previous Avenger movies - the list is endless, and of one thing you can be certain: Infinity War will not be the end of it. There'll be a sequel to this noisy behemoth next year and though that should be the last Avengers film, at least five other Marvel films are in the works.
Infinity War, meanwhile, is not very good, if by good we mean a coherent, harmonious, well-balanced piece of cinematic entertainment. Joe and Anthony Russo's film is like an over-egged birthday cake, edible in patches but spoilt by too many competing ingredients. Who, I'd like to know, thought it would be a good idea to drag every unemployed Marvel character loitering on the Disney backlot into this bloated and frantic adventure? Would Drax and Hulk clash, they might have wondered, or how would Thor and Peter Quill get along? Surely two smug know-it-alls like Doctor Strange and Tony Stark would step on each other's toes?
The answer to that last question is a resounding yes, but we don't get much time to enjoy their clash of egos, because this is a busy, dizzy film that frantically tries to marry about 10 different sub-stories and fails. It is undeniably entertaining in patches, however, and boasts a half-decent villain in Thanos (Josh Brolin), a hulking, granite-chinned intergalactic marauder who thinks the universe is overpopulated.
His solution is radical and he leaps from world to world wiping out half the population and leaving the "grateful" rest behind. Thanos does this with the help of infinity stones, or 'soul gems', which give their possessor great power. If he finds all six, Thanos will achieve omnipotence, but two are on Earth: one in the care of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), the other lodged in the shiny blue forehead of Vision (Paul Bettany), a synthetic being created by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr).
After Thanos attacks Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and a party of Asgardians, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) escapes and returns to Earth to warn his fellow Avengers that trouble is coming. Stark and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) aren't on speaking terms, but must kiss and make up if they're to deal with Thanos and his forces.
Infinity War has memorable action set-pieces and some natty one-liners. When Thor meets the Guardians of the Galaxy and asks "What master do you serve?", Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) looks confused and replies "You mean - like Jesus?" Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, though hidden by prosthetics, is terrific as Ebony Maw, Thanos' reptilian henchman who talks and acts like an English public school bully.
Robert Downey Jr's wise-cracking Tony Stark routine has worn a bit thin at this stage, but Cumberbatch is fun as the condescending Doctor Strange, and Bradley Cooper steals some of the film's best lines while providing the voice of the sarcastic racoon bounty hunter Rocket.
But where the best of the recent Marvel films, like Doctor Strange and Thor: Ragnarok, have slimmed down their plots and ramped up the jokes, Infinity War is preposterously convoluted and wafer thin. The ending, I must admit, is pretty special, and while giving nothing away (critics have been warned they'll wind up in a shallow grave in the Dublin mountains if they let slip any spoilers), there are surprising fatalities. But for long periods, mostly, dear reader, I was bored out of my gourd.
Films coming soon...
I Feel Pretty (Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams, Lauren Hutton); Lean On Pete (Charlie Plummer, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Buscemi); The Young Karl Marx (August Diehl, Vicky Krieps, Olivier Gourmet); A Cambodian Spring