Marvel wins the double

Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey Jr., Benedict Wong and Mark Ruffalo star in a scene from the movie "Avengers: Infinity War." Catholic News Service classification, A-III -- adults. Motion Picture Association of America rating, PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Marvel Studios) See MOVIE-REVIEW-AVENGERS-(EMBARGOED) April 24, 2018.

Box office success can never be guaranteed, even for blockbusters, but a lot of hype helps.

As my April 22 issue column pointed out, no studio has come closer to a winning formula than the Walt Disney-Marvel combination.

At that time, Black Panther had become a surprise juggernaut and the odds of another doing just as well within a few weeks would normally be considered unlikely.

But Avengers: Infinity War, the 19th movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has already outstripped its expectations, which are high considering it has a reported budget of $US400-500 million.

That’s huge by any standards, so what do you get that brings in such certain returns?

As explained in the earlier column, Marvel has honed its comic-book franchise with dozens of superheroes, while Disney provides the finishing touches of giving audiences what they want.

This means turning out the largest lineup of stars and characters to date plus special effects that crowd even the biggest Imax screen.

Here’s a partial list: billionaire Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Oscar winners such as Gwyneth Paltrow, William Hurt and Benicio Del Toro, who have walkon roles. Vin Diesel, an action star in his own right, is a talking tree. Bradley Cooper, a onetime matinee idol, is a raccoon, also talking. Then come the Marvel superheroes: Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Chris Evans (Captain America), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr Strange), Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch), Don Cheadle (War Machine), Tom Holland (Spider-Man) and Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther).

About the only absentee is New Zealand’s Taika Waititi as Korg, the funky stone man from Thor: Ragnarok.

The audience apparently can’t get enough of them, so Infinity War is just the first of two parts, even though the first ends with literally half of the cast missing.

The new star is Josh Brolin as Thanos, a gigantic version of Korg, ruler of Titan and the main baddie from previous episodes.

In the simplistic plot, he needs to complete his collection of five infinity stones that will give him absolute power — and wipe out half of Earth’s population as he does so. There’s nothing more profound than this, unless you think shrinking the world’s population is one way to save it.

Thanos is not an attractive character, as most of the others are, but he does have some complexity. This is missing in the rest, who survive on little more than one-liners. The directing team of brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, who made Captain America: Civil War (2016), are mainly concerned with keeping the action fast.

At the start, the Avengers team aren’t in good shape: Thor has lost an eye and his hammer. Captain America wears civvies after giving up the stars and stripes. Stark, too, has lost his iron uniform, while the Hulk’s alter ego Banner can’t find his transformative powers.

None is a match for Thanos, while the post-credits teaser heralds the coming of Captain Marvel, played by Oscar winner Brie Larson.

Rating: Mature audiences. 149 minutes.

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Nevil Gibson

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