Ten years deep into Marvel Studio's forever-expanding cinematic universe, you're either a fan or you're not, with little room in-between for casual indifference. Of course, some of Marvel's offerings are better than others (Thor: Ragnarok versus Thor: The Dark World), but for all intents and purposes, by now, you either drank the Kool-Aid or you haven't. I am a Marvel fan.
I say this because, when it comes to Avengers: Infinity War, the 19th film in the universe, what is intended to delight me, to awe me, to reward my faithful dedication to the franchise, mostly did. But also, I say it because I have a blind spot in gauging how Infinity War will play to anyone who doesn't know the canon. Do you remember Thanos? Can you explain the Infinity Stones? Have you stuck around through the credits?
It all comes to a head in Infinity War, which sees the Mad Titan, Thanos (played by Josh Brolin, grand and gravely via purple CGI), on a mission to eradicate half of all life in order to keep the universe in balance and prevent overpopulation. A merciful genocide, he proclaims. And so he must collect the six Infinity Stones scattered throughout the cosmos (and the previous movies), which will grant him deadly omnipotence with the snap of his fuschia fingers. A threat that potentially catastrophic calls for more than just Earth's mightiest heroes, as the Avengers team up with the Guardians of the Galaxy and other non-amalgamated heroes in a mad dash to stop Thanos.
The movie's real currency is the deep bench of colorful superheroes -- and the marquee actors who play them -- and finally getting the chance to see them rub elbows onscreen. Infinity War basks in that, making room for each new pairing to just spend time together, cracking wise and quibbling and falling in love. There are no weak links among the cast, though some get more to do than others. Tom Holland remains a delight as Spidey, a constant scene-stealer even among this many heavy hitters. Chris Hemsworth's retooled Thor and Chris Pratt's Peter Quill earn the biggest laughs, though Chris Evans, as Steve Rogers, delivers the best line reading of the movie. (It involves Groot.) Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) provide an aching gravitas, as well as some requisite badassery: There is a team-up of Scarlet Witch, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) that merits green lighting that all-female spinoff. In my showing, the audience not only broke into applause when certain characters appeared, but the faint sound of Wakandan drum beats alone elicited hoots and hollers.
That large an ensemble necessitates a big movie, and Infinity War is big on an almost inconceivable level. It's big and then some. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Civil War) are shrewd in not diluting the flavors of these franchises into one uniform tone, but bounce between storylines with an only occasionally jarring pace, which provides some fun juxtaposition in the end. That many disparate moving parts is a lot to juggle, though, as the movie zigs and zags around the globe and into deep space, and with a running time of two hours and 40 minutes, there are long stretches where characters fall out of focus in lieu of others.
And still, it's easy to overlook the flaws. Sure, there are some heavy exposition dumps to bring all the characters -- and, one assumes, some of the viewers -- up to speed, though it is done as cheekily as possible. ("The Avengers broke up." "Like a band? Like The Beatles?") Sure, this is overstuffed, perhaps to the point of bloat. I would argue knowingly so. This is a spectacle film, heavy on the spectacle. Infinity War begins, within the first minutes, with a huge, huge action set piece and relentlessly speeds forward to a final stretch that is guaranteed to blow minds, a darker and weightier and more finite conclusion that leaves us in a place no Marvel film has in recent years -- with genuinely no idea as to what comes next.
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