It all has been leading up to this. Ever since we glimpsed at the galactic villain Thanos (Josh Brolin) in the post-credit scene of 2012's first mega-superhero-crossover, "The Avengers," we knew a threat bigger than all of the combined parts of the Marvel Comics Universe (MCU) was on its way. But even the all-powerful Watchers couldn't have predicted this: That this over-stuffed amalgam of capes, characters, planets and super-powers would all come together to deliver what is undeniably going to be known as the most emotionally-powerful, hard-hitting Marvel movie yet (Minor - yes minor - plot spoilers to follow, although we'll leave the biggest surprises and twists for you to find out about in the theater...and there are several).
To attempt to summarize, the titan Thanos is looking to gather together all of the universe's Infinity Stones - six in all - on his specially-designed Infinity Gauntlet, crafted especially in order for the wearer to harness the stone's cosmic powers. His end-game? To cut the universe's population in half with the snap of his fingers. As some of his soldiers have failed in the past, he looks to get involved personally to eliminate the chance of failure.
Putting their differences aside following the events of "Captain America: Civil War," the heroes assemble to try to stop Thanos on all fronts. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Vision (Paul Bettany) The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle), and even the Guardians of the Galaxy - with a now uninterested teenage Groot in tow, join the fight (missing but explained-away in the film are Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye and Paul Rudd's Ant-Man).
Miraculously (marvelously?) this ginormous ensemble is juggled quite deftly by co-directors Joe and Anthony Russo, who also brought us "Civil War" and "Captain America: Winter Soldier."). This is a long movie no doubt, but by the end you feel like you've spent a lot of time with all of the characters you wanted to (the only exception is maybe Black Panther, who isn't on-screen as much as his recent popularity demands). There are great interactions between characters we've come to know but whom have never actually met each other (the Starlord/Thor meeting is among my favs), battles we've been waiting for (The Hulk smash Thanos? Yes please) and more action than you could measure. These epic battles take place on land, in space, on distant planets and even internally for some characters. As much as this is a culmination of all of the Marvel movies that have come before, it also acts as a spring-board for more story to follow.
All of this works on a crowd-pleasing level, but what really works with "Infinity War" is that there are - FINALLY! - high stakes and consequences involved...at least for now (sure, there's a chance that the next Marvel film sweeps all of the events of this film under the rug, but until then...just, woah). For too long, the MCU movies have lacked weight...we know that our heroes are going to overcome all odds thrown at them, because we know that they will appear in future MCU films. From the very first scene, "Infinity War" sets a very different, dark tone. We know instantly that there will be loss, and that this is not another "Boom! Bam! Pow!" comic book movie. It doesn't go how you think it will, or might.
With all of the noise, the explosions and the distractions, this ends up being a film about Thanos. And that's a good thing. Any great super-hero movie requires an equally-interesting super-villain, and Thanos checks all of the boxes of a worthy antagonist, and surprisingly expands on the role as well...his is the most interesting character in a movie chock-full of them. His journey provides a sense of purpose and meaning to what he's trying to pull off, without ever trying to redeem him or make him "less bad." The fact that this story shines through all of the chaos is a testament to the Russo brothers' ability to stick the landing of what could have been a Zeppelin-sized disaster.
This may not go down in the history books as the "best" MCU film of all-time, but it is surely the most important one thus far, and in an odd way, it even makes what has come before even better. Maybe the Avengers needed to go through the silly, consequence-free battle at the air hangar in "Civil War," to really appreciate what they were up against with Thanos. Maybe holding a few key characters back from the melee opens up some hopeful story-lines to come. It hasn't been said from this critic since the early MCU movies, buy my sense of trust has been renewed with those in charge of guiding the MCU forward...all of the "comic book" nonsense is worth the wait if we're going to be given a film as daring as "The Avengers: Infinity War" every so often.
(For those wondering if you should stick around during the credits...yes. This time, there is only one post-credit scene, taking place at the very end of the credits, and it's definitely worth the wait).
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy. Run Time: 2 hours and 29 minutes.
Starring: Josh Brolin, Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pratt, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Carrie Coon, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Zoe Saldana, Benedict Cumberbatch, Anthony Mackie, Gwyneth Paltrow
Written and Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo ("Captain America: Civil War," "Captain America: Winter Soldier," "You, Me and Dupree").
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