Mild spoiler warning for Avengers: Infinity War because there’s no point dancing around the what’s contained within this film.

“There will be no resurrections,” says the villainous Thanos (Josh Brolin) in the opening skirmish of Avengers: Infinity War. There’s a saying in comics books and soap operas: no one ever stays dead. Unless you’re Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben (RIP forever), you’ve got the same number of lives as a cat. If only we could believe Thanos when he makes these threats in Infinity War.

Thanos shows up casually late to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to achieve in one film what couldn’t be done in the 18 films prior to Infinity War: a self-edit. Thanos is every writer’ greatest fear; I wondered how ruthless he would be using track changes in a word document. Marvel Studios have taken the longest route to arrive at the battle royale that is Infinity War. The McGuffins of a few previous Marvel films, the powerful infinity stones, are now part of Thanos’ genocidal do-it- yourself project to control the universe and purge half the population for the sake of balance.

The MCU has done a superb job of establishing an identity for each of their characters with solo adventures, team-ups and play fights (hello, Captain America: Civil War). Marvel have changed the nature of modern blockbusters with interconnecting films that set the stage for event films like Infinity War, but in the process they’ve established a monotonous aesthetic that rarely pushes their films beyond a passing grade. They’ve mastered the art of making 3-star films. There have been outliers along the way – we’re still in a honeymoon period with Black Panther – but there are strict limitations on the aspirations of these films despite how invested we’ve become with these characters.

Everything the MCU has done to-date has set the stage for Infinity War but it’s a film that’s haphazard with the emotional stakes they’ve worked to establish across multiple films. Infinity War is a sustained gut punch that’s admirable in commitment but an empty promise because of the franchise’s loose approach to mortality. The MCU’s rigid mentality gets cubed in Infinity War; everything is bigger but never better, it’s more of the same; a spectacular display of monotony.

The thrill of Infinity War isn’t in any of the gigantic action sequences leaden with stodgy digital carnage, but instead, it’s the meet and greets that shine. Establishing each character over 10 years has allowed Marvel to let them interact without lengthy introductions. Each character can breeze into scenes because we know who they are and it’s fun to see Thor (Chris Hemsworth) interact with The Guardians of the Galaxy (Chris Pratt, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautisa, Zoe Saldana and Vin Diesel) or Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) work on his father-figure role with Peter Parker/Spider- Man (Tom Holland).

Not every character gets breathing space, which may be a syndrome of Marvel failing to kill any of their darlings prior to Infinity War. Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) feel disconnected from their previous narrative arcs.

The absolute standout in the gigantic roster is Thor. Infinity War picks up right after the events of Thor: Ragnarok and moves toward setting up the stakes for Thor within Infinity War, which is tied personally to his arc that was established in Thor. Thor’s personal grievances with Thanos matter and his motivations extend beyond the blanket need to save the universe. There’s a monologue Thor gives mid-film where he talks about everything he has lost over the course of the MCU, and it allows Hemsworth a moment to give a heartfelt performance away from the muscles and the cape.

Thor began life in the MCU as a god stripped of his power learning about self-sacrifice on Earth in order to be worthy of his hammer. When we meet Thor in Infinity War he has nothing left to lose but still chooses to fight. Of all the superheroes swirling around in Infinity War, Thor is the one with a clear purpose that still manages to contain the weight of all his previous appearances.

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Co-writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely split the party into distinct groups and send them on side quests under the banner of ‘all hope is lost’. Markus and McFeely stretch what was once the grand finale of a standard blockbuster across 2 hours and 40 minutes. Infinity War exemplifies the serialised style of the MCU, it’s a stepping-stone film akin to The Matrix Reloaded, or Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

The tricky part is viewing the film as a self-contained whole because it’s detrimental to whatever follows. The MCU has always been a moving target when it comes to Avengers-themed films. We’ve been told everything has been leading up to Infinity War, but the film itself is like completing an IKEA bookshelf with 60 per cent of the pieces leftover.

Even the spectacle of the bombastic action sequences can’t sustain the unfinished nature of the film. Co-directors Anthony and Joe Russo pit the Avengers against pixelated foes with no sense of clarity when it comes to action; a lot of the battle set in Wakanda is reminiscent of a similar showdown in the disastrous Justice League with alien lemmings still the go-to army, once again.

Often it’s hard to tell if Infinity War has a human touch. None of Iron Man’s suit feels practical, mechanical or real anymore; it looks like the most expensive tracksuit ever made. There’s no sense of authorship from the Russos at all, which we know is possible within the Marvel machine thanks to the marks left by filmmakers like Shane Black (Iron Man 3), Ryan Coogler (Black Panther), James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok).

Even the set-up of each scene cycles between wide, mid and close-up shots of each character like clockwork, and the action sequences have no sense of place or collaboration. The Russos try to evoke the feeling of the team working together as Joss Whedon did when the camera circled around a team united in The Avengers – Alan Silvestri’s score from Whedon’s film works overtime in Infinity War to conjure the same reaction – but the film never reaches the same triumphant heights.

But as Infinity War nudges toward its cliffhanger it becomes clear that it’s a film with a false sense of pride. After a decade of revelling in the success The Avengers and their solo adventures, it becomes obvious that Infinity War, like most events in 2018, came to crush us. I won’t get into specifics but the final moments of this film reminded me most of the television series The Leftovers, and Marvel deserves credit to its commitment to kicking our butts.

Despite years of dodging mortality the MCU takes a moment to acknowledge that we’re all just dust in the wind. I heard Bill and Ted’s voice in my head explaining life to Socrates in Excellent Adventure: “Dust. Wind. Dude.” Infinity War could have the greatest fake-out ending since Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2, which feels a tad manipulative if Marvel decide to hit ‘ctrl+Z’ when the Avengers return, but if you live in the moment of the ending – disregard whatever 20-film plan Disney has for this franchise – it’s a feeling of profound loss that has been rare in these films to-date. If you want to daydream about the most apt song to play over the credits it would definitely be Leonard Cohen’s ‘Everybody Knows.’

But like James Bond, The Avengers will return, and there’s an overwhelming feeling of the never-ending churn of these Marvel movies at the conclusion of Infinity War. Marvel Studios are yet to make a film that’s a complete dud, but they’ve made a lot of same-same films and it’s starting to become apparent that as a body of work it may be just as bad.

Even at the height of their powers in Infinity War it feels claustrophobic within the walls of a Marvel movie. In one of Thanos many speeches he says: “In time, you will know what it’s like to lose. To feel so desperately that you’re right. Yet to fail all the same. Dread it. Run from it. Destiny still arrives.” Like destiny, more Marvel movies are coming.

Avengers: Infinity War is in cinemas now. For more film reviews, check out our thoughts on A Quiet Place.