The Avengers: Infinity War has plenty of surprises but emotional depth of a puddle

149 minutes, rated M


Acting marvels, from left, Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey jnr., Mark Ruffalo and Benedict Wong in Avengers: Infinity War.

Drama requires a sense of involvement and jeopardy, because it deals in the problems of life. Drama nourishes us and helps us live. Story is just its servant, or at least it used to be. In the MCU – and most of the other big franchises involving superheroes and spaceships – story is all you get. There is a wan semblance of drama – he or she will have to kill the king to save the world/capture the princess/lead the rebel army – but this is mere lip-service to convention. Drama has to be the point, not the byproduct.

Marvel producers can't wait around for characterisation and plot to weave their magic. They want fistfights and swordfights, worlds colliding and great big alien machines taking over cities. Here at least there is a connection to reality, because every superhero movie recreates on some level the horror of September 11, 2001, if only for empty spectacle.

Marvel movies betray even the richness of their own original sources in pursuit of the grails of the modern blockbuster movie: pace, noise, wanton destruction of property and the violent circus of war. The success of these Marvel movies suggests they're right – audiences don't want to think, or even to feel nowadays. They just want bedazzlement, something to drag them from their phones.

The first two Avengers movies were written and directed by Joss Whedon, who tried to keep some interest and investment in the emotions of the characters. This one is by the Russo brothers, who served their apprenticeship with two Captain America movies.

Plenty of war and destruction: Josh Brolin as Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War.

The Russos deliver a sleek, slick package with more humour than expected, but the emotional depth of a puddle. Emotion for them is the dull bit between the action.

The film is full of surprises and death, even to characters we never expect to die, and none of it amounts to a hill of beans because even death is not real in the Marvel silly-matic universe. Resurrection, as God knew, can only be used once in a story. Marvel thinks the Bible missed an opportunity.

The worse the script, the better the actors. Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk – brilliant, trying his heart out to make the guy real, with about 12 lines in the whole movie; Josh Brolin as Thanos, the evil dude, lost beneath more make-up than Frankenstein's monster, which he resembles; Zoey Saldana trying to emote behind a layer of green paint as Gamora, and blessed Benedict Cumberbatch in a cape, tossing spells as Dr Strange, so campy that Hammer Horror will want royalties. Robert Downey jnr, if he is the best actor of his generation, leaves the acting to his high-tech protective suit. When there are more stars than a Hollywood boulevard, it becomes hard for any of them to make a mark. They resort instead to fighting for scenes or the killer three-word line: "Let's finish this", "Time to die", that sort of thing.

The one saving grace is a lot of it is tongue-in-cheek. The raccoon and the tree-trunk man from Guardians of the Galaxy join the fray, along with Chris Pratt as Quill, their semi-human companion. Thor keeps calling the raccoon Rabbit and making wisecracks, winking at the audience. Clearly, Chris Hemsworth recognises the ridiculousness of what he's doing, and goes for laughs at every turn.

What else can you do when a talking raccoon is driving your spaceship?

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