The culmination of all those comic book movies over the past ten years, Avengers: Infinity War is tantalizing for two reasons: One, all the superheroes come together and, two, heads are gonna roll, babyyy! We've been waiting for this payoff, and the results are mercifully in — Infinity War is instantly one of the best comic book movies ever made.
Directors Joe and Anthony Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War) know and understand what Marvel fans want to see. Avengers: Infinity War is not for the critics. It's a non-stop action film with interludes of pathos, not the other way around. As expected, major characters face tragic loss, and it usually comes at the end of a spectacular brawl. It doesn't have the wit of Deadpool, or the authenticity of Logan. It doesn't recreate the galaxy the way Star Wars does. What Infinity War has instead, what Marvel does better than anyone else, is serious charisma.
One of the few advantages of sequel moviemaking is knowing the audience understands the characters. That means more time can be spent on new additions. Picking up where Thor: Ragnarok left off, Infinity War begins with the "Great Titan" Thanos lording over some very powerful prisoners. The villain is introduced like André the Giant except... bigger. Thanos (voiced brilliantly by Josh Brolin) thinks "the universe is in need of a correction." He seeks the power to wipe out half the universe.
Non-fans will yawn at the usual doomsday scenario here and scoff at the elementary narrative, but writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely do a lot with a little. It's actually impressive how they spin an effective yarn while including about 40 different important Marvel characters while giving them each at least one moment to shine.
Thanos needs six Infinity Stones to crush the universe, and he has one. The film is woven around the other five: Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Heimdall (Idris Elba), and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) have one — the Tesseract from 2009's original Avengers. Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) wears one around his neck to protect it. Vision (Paul Bettany) uses another as his lifeforce. The Collector (Benicio Del Toro) has one, and the other is hidden away, but Gamora (Zoe Saldana) knows where it is.
The Infinity Stones are the common element that unites The Avengers, The Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Doctor Strange, Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), and more in the fight against Thanos. The movie speeds along from gargantuan moment to gargantuan moment with death hovering above each spectacular sequence.
It may be the specter of dread that separates Infinity War from the pack of Marvel movies, but it's not what defines it. The film, like most in the franchise, is about generating heroic moments. It's what rouses the masses most of all. People can't fight amongst themselves or save the world so they need superheroes to do it for them. Let's just say Infinity War is aware of this fact, and it delivers uproarious moments en masse.
Like in an all-star game, certain superheroes separate themselves from the crowd as the movie goes on. Each scene is full of star power for casual fans, from Scarlett Johansson to Chris Pratt, and the filmmakers are smart about who shares scenes with whom. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Star-Lord (Pratt), the wittiest Avenger and the wittiest Guardian, are teamed up. Spider-Man meets Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Strongmen Thor and Drax (Dave Bautista) compare muscles. And Thanos comes face to face with his daughters, Gamora and Nebula (Karen Gillan), once again. The performances are a huge strength of the film — Hemsworth and Brolin are my MVPs.
Brolin casts a large shadow as Thanos, and it's a good thing because this movie deserves an epic villainous performance. Along with Caesar of Planet of the Apes fame, Thanos is the most authentic CGI character in movie history. The tech is flawless, but Brolin deserves the most credit. Thanos is a killer, yes, but he's also complicated and flawed. For a megalomaniac, he's surprisingly reserved, as a true god might be. There's no real grandstanding here — a shocking development. Brolin gives Thanos an air of elite confidence that's nerve-wracking. He views Earth's mightiest heroes as ants to be crushed. If past Marvel movies didn't work for you because no one ever seemed to be in peril, Infinity War is the true exception. Thanos exudes danger.
Where do we go from here? Marvel has been significantly more cagey about Infinity War than any other movie they've released. The original plan was to make Infinity War Part I and Part II, and that still may happen, but fans don't know what to expect going into this one. Are they seeing a Part I, or a stand-alone movie? I won't ruin things by revealing the answer to that question, but not knowing is half the fun.