NOTE: I am writing this review under the assumption readers have seen at least the majority of the Marvel films and have a working knowledge of their connective tissue. No spoilers, but not a lot of explanation of the events of previous films, either.
This is what we've been waiting for. Avengers: Infinity War is epic, to say the least. Normally, my movie reviews include a cast list, but I'm opting out of that practice for this one. This is the It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World of superhero movies. Most of it works, some of it doesn't. Mostly, it's a reminder of just how impressive a feat the Marvel Cinematic Universe is in terms of scope of storytelling and the way it has distinguished the individual characters from one another. The third act is exhilarating, funny, moving, and, ultimately, a big fat setup for the next installment. Once it's done, you'll find yourself telling the filmmakers they've got some 'splainin' to do.
If you've been with this from the first Iron Man, then you know the grand arc of the MCU has been building toward this. As a result, the movie dives right into a scene involving Thor, Loki, Hulk, and the big baddie himself, Thanos, duking it out over those damn Infinity Stones and an all-powerful glove called the Infinity Gauntlet. Thanos needs all the stones (six of them) to power the Gauntlet and control the universe. His plan is to commit genocide of an unimaginable scale to cleanse life of its weaknesses. This is a recurring theme throughout the movie: making the tough call. Thanos believes his cause is noble despite its monstrous outcome. Ends justifies the means and all that. It is a credit to Josh Brolin's performance that Thanos comes across as logical. Sure, I hate the bastard because of what he does, but there is denying he presents his case eloquently.
The plot is simple, really. All the Avengers and a few new faces (Dr. Strange, Black Panther, and the Guardians of the Galaxy) must join forces to stop Thanos from getting two of the stones and completing the Gauntlet. Dr. Strange protects the Time Stone and Vision protects the Mind Stone. I'm not going to explain the stone. That's why we have Google. What is not so simple, yet is the very thread the entire film hangs on, is bringing together all these characters in a way that makes sense and allows enough screen time for each so we get to watch them interact. This is both the movie's greatest strength and most glaring weakness. The superhero characters alone number 25. Once you add in Thanos and his cronies and a couple of cameos from Peter Dinklage and Ross Marquand (a character I did not see coming), the character lists extends into the lows 40s.
A natural casualty of this setup is some character development and relationships get short-changed for the sake of the larger narrative. This is really Thanos' movie, which is fine, and the goal here is to stop him. This doesn't leave much time for Tony Stark and Steve Rogers to mend their friendship or understand why Bruce Banner can't hulk out at will anymore. He and Natalia (the Black Widow, Scarlett Johannsen) had such wonderful chemistry in Avengers: Age of Ulton, but only get one fleeting exchange in this one.
Some interplay between the characters worked, others didn't. The stuff with Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy was the stuff of perfection and seeing Peter Parker/Spider-man working so earnestly to impress Tony, an obvious father figure. Gamora's scenes with Thanos elevate the movie and give it some welcome emotional depth. Thor and Rocket are a nice comedy team. What doesn't quite work is all the dick measuring between the guys. I get it. They all want to be the alpha. They all want to be in charge. It's a guy thing. When Tony, Peter Quill, and Dr. Strange take on Thanos on the planet Titan, they all come across as more than a little insufferable. I know Tony is wildly arrogant and narcissistic and he literally as the weight of the world on his shoulders and Peter is a braggart with a fragile ego, but their scenes didn't gel as much for me. Maybe that was part of the point, but I dunno. I found myself at one point thinking, okay, we get it. Move on, please. By contrast, the gamesmanship between Thor and Peter was hilarious. It felt organic to the moment and the chemistry between Chris Hemsworth and Chris Pratt was palpable.
Look, a lot of stuff happens in this movie's 149-minute running time. Big stuff I wouldn't dream of spoiling. Much of the film's final 20 minutes contain jaw-dropping action sequences and cheer-worthy moments, but the final 10 minutes are pretty heartbreaking and the ending is wide open because we have the fourth Avengers installment coming next May. Our audience sat in stunned silence at the end. It wasn't what I was expecting, personally. That said, we have Ant-Man and The Wasp coming this summer and the highly anticipated Captain Marvel with Brie Larson next March. If we know the MCU at all, we know this means certain elements of those two movies will figure prominently in whatever transpires in the next Avengers installment.
That this movie works at all is something of a miracle. Yeah, it's mostly CG and filmed in front of green screens and whatnot and sometimes that pulls me from the moment and I wish more of the original Avengers had been given some more screen time. When the individual heroes get their own movies, we are treated to excursions into genre mashups. Captain America: The Winter Soldier was inspired by '70s era conspiracy thrillers. Ant-Man is a heist picture. Guardians of the Galaxy is a pulpy space opera. Black Panther is all about politics and colonialism. Movies like those and others have personality and style all their own. The Avengers pictures, while entertaining, tend to feel a little too homogenized. Perhaps that's to be expected. What can't be denied though is when Infinity War works, it reminds us why we fans have invested the last 10 years with these characters.
On a side note, last year in a review of Wonder Woman, I wrote that I left the theater wishing she was real. After watching Infinity War, I felt the same way about Steve Rogers. In truth, as much I love Peter Quill and the Guardians and as much I long for a Black Widow stand-alone movie and as much as I admire Tony Stark's drive, Steve Rogers/Captain America is the anchor. Watching him push back on Thanos' fist in the climactic fight scene was inspiring. Captain America, please exist.