Avengers: Infinity War, the latest from Marvel, is the culmination of 18 films in their massive universe. It all began with Iron Man in 2008, and back then I don’t believe anyone could have imagined the MCU would become such a behemoth. But when you spend the last 6-7 years teasing a major villain like Thanos (Josh Brolin), fans would naturally expect big things. Infinity War is officially the third Avengers film and is part one of a two-part film series. Right now, though, let’s take a look at this massive undertaking which is epic, dark and stunning.

Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War), and written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, Infinity War is the biggest and most ambitious MCU film to date. Thanks to their lengthy and ever-expanding blueprint which added more and more characters from Marvel’s stable, this sequel has the luxury of skipping exposition and going straight into the overwhelming task of battling Thanos. For those who don’t know, Thanos is thus far the most powerful villain Earth’s mightiest heroes have had to confront. On top of that, the Avengers aren’t nearly as unified as they once were. So the time is right for a global – er, universal takeover, and all species and races are squarely nestled under the guillotine.

What I found most impressive is the film’s pace. With a running time of 149 minutes, it stands as Marvel’s longest film, but it also has the distinction of moving at a rapid pace. The Russo’s shifted between multiple storylines while also using a flashback or two. By my count, there 4-5 different subplots at multiple locations, and some of the subplots merge into singular stories. So by the final act the Avengers battle Thanos on two fronts – one on Wakanda which involves Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), Vision (Paul Bettany), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel), Okoye (Danai Gurira), Shuri (Letitia Wright), and M’Baku (Winston Duke) against the Thanos’s followers, the Black Order. The second battle, which takes place on Titan, involves Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Peter Parker (Tom Holland), Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) against Thanos. Of course, these massive battles focus on the Infinity Stones, six gems each with unspeakable power, and when combined gives its owner of the stones godlike abilites. Thanos intends to collect all and add the six stones to his Infinity Gauntlet, and with it he will bring a “balance” to the universe that he feels is desperately needed.

In the past, any film with an abundance of characters would normally have to sacrifice story and depth. But because Marvel took their time developing nearly all of their characters using multiple films, those backstories have already been established. More impressively, some of the MCU’s newer characters, despite having less backstory, still have enough foundation for fans to get behind. That groundwork is important because everything that unfolds in Infinity War wouldn’t have worked otherwise. Oddly, the Russo’s still did a great job of creating a standalone film which fundamentally works when trying to sell its shocking ending, but with 10 years worth of backstory attached to it there are events which occur that serve as daggers to the heart. In other words, this is an Empire Strikes Back for a new generation, and I’m actually at a loss as to how the Avengers (and the entire universe) will recover.

For action junkies, there is plenty of it – the Russo’s give audiences barely any time to catch their breath between set pieces. If there is a drawback, there is a lot to process, and it is almost imperative viewers be caught up on the previous 18 MCU features. But all of it allows Infinity War to shift to different locations and characters without having to take time out to explain each situation in depth.

Also, I think Marvel has caught on to addressing their villain problem. They seemed to catch on with Hela (Cate Blanchett) in Thor: Ragnarok, a worthy adversary to both Thor and Loki (since she’s their older sister), honed it with Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) in Black Panther, and have perfected it in Thanos. Thanos is a lunatic but ironically has some heart. It’s hard to believe until you see Infinity War. With Josh Brolin as the Mad Titan, he brings instant credibility and depth to the role and thus comes off as a hybrid of Adolf Hitler and Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) in Die Hard. His conviction is undeniable but you can sense pain and loss within him, even as he plays Grim Reaper to trillions of lives. And let’s not forget he’s a father – Gamora and Nebula are his children. His relationships with them are important and factor into much of Infinity War’s main story.

Regardless of critics’ opinions of Infinity War, this is the biggest film of 2018 and will remain so until its conclusion in the as-yet-titled follow-up in 2019. Luckily, both fans and critics should find plenty to like. Infinity War is action-packed, emotional and funny. It is everything one could want from a superhero sci-fi action film and will easily be watched multiple times by hardcore fans. With is being the 10th anniversary of Marvel Studios, Avengers: Infinity War is the perfect way to celebrate one of the most successful film franchises of all time.

4.5 stars out of 5

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