Avengers: Infinity War (12A) ****
Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Josh Brolin
Early on in Avengers: Infinity War a couple of key (if hitherto peripheral) players in the Marvel Cinematic Universe find themselves watching news footage of an attack in New York while standing outside a fast-food joint in Edinburgh’s Cockburn Street. A sign in the background reads: “We will deep-fry your kebab” — a stereotypical way of signifying the film’s arrival in Scotland perhaps, but an oddly fitting one for this film. The 19th movie in the now-decade old MCU is, after all, high-calorie blockbuster filmmaking, stuffed to the gills with city-levelling chaos (St Giles’ Cathedral takes a bit of a battering) and so many above-the-title movie stars you could burn through the word count of a review just listing them.
But even with a running time of 158 minutes that only takes us to the half-way point of this two-part story, this isn’t some lumbering beast of a movie ready to keel from the weight of everything it’s trying to do. It’s surprisingly fleet-footed, with the Edinburgh sequence somewhat typical of the film’s early action set-pieces. Using the gothic architecture of the Old Town as a soon-to-be-blown-up hideout for Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch and Paul Bettany’s Vision — whose head contains one of the infinity stones being sought by the film’s villain Thanos (Josh Brolin) — directors Joe and Anthony Russo orchestrate a destruction-heavy fight across the rooftops of the Royal Mile before a rogue faction of the now disassembled Avengers — a bearded Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), a blonde Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), a wise-cracking Falcon (Anthony Mackie) — arrive in Waverley Station to save the day.
Elsewhere — be it New York, Wakanda or outer space — we’re reintroduced to various key players as the film sets up different tag-teams to tackle the impending threat from the snow-plough-faced Thanos. He’s on a deranged mission to bring balance to the universe by purging it of half its inhabitants and the film isn’t messing around in this respect. Picking up where Thor: Ragnarok left off, this film is to that as Alien 3 was to Aliens, with the Russos doing a good job of balancing the glib humour of all the previous films with high stakes action that actually has some emotional weight. Indeed for all the blockbuster spectacle on display, the film ends up in a place that’s unexpectedly poetic and poignant, proving that even a movie of this size still has the ability to surprise — and more to the point: tell a good story.