Ten years worth of character-building, complex narrative arcs and billions and billions of dollars pumped into producing 18 films leads the Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe to here: Avengers: Infinity War is a culmination of everything the MCU has been working towards, unparalleled in its scale and ambition. It's the beginning of the end of Hollywood's most lucrative, blockbusting empire and not everyone will come out alive. For those concerned, this review is relatively spoiler-free but I'd maybe suggest watching the film first for the best possible experience.
The Avengers and The Guardians join forces to help stop Thanos from amassing the all-powerful Infinity Stones, whose combined power would signal the end of life as we know it. Featuring the flashiest, most expensive ensemble cinema has seen, Infinity War assembles the might of Robert Downey Jr, Chirs Evan, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Chris Pratt, Don Cheadle, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston and Josh Brolin for the ultimate superhero showdown to end all showdowns.
It's pretty darn miraculous how well Infinity War juggles so many plot strands, characters and narrative arcs simultaneously, and for that reason alone, the Russo Brothers should give themselves a pat on the back. The sheer volume of content Infinity War was required to cover could have swallowed the entire thing; sent everything grinding to an absolute halt. Yet the 159-minute spectacle employs familiar tonal, thematic and narrative beats beefed up on steroids, upping the stakes considerably - resulting in an appropriately dizzying, roaring and entertaining experience that is largely well-balanced for its duration.
No one is safe: you fear for almost every character here, demonstrating a real change in pace and level of consequence for the MCU (who are typically renown for not being too trigger happy when it comes to sending major characters to their grave). While I've long found Marvel's decision to announce some of their post-Phase Three scheduling to be detrimental to the weight of their characters, there are so many combinations here that anyone could be next. One death is particularly emotional and played absolutely fantastically, providing one of the most hard-hitting gut punches the MCU has ever delivered.
While the screenplay (written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) is as scattershot as expected, it's a well-oiled machine that zips between set-ups effectively. Character dynamics are explored wonderfully and lead to some terrific dialogue that fires from all cylinders, especially comedically in the opening act. It's crowded for sure but relentlessly entertaining, managing action, humour and character development (even at this late stage in the game) for one epic filmmaking sugar rush where Marvel can boast the empire they have so meticulously crafted over the decade.
It does everything exuding major confidence too. While Civil War remains the crowning jewel of the franchise, Infinity War isn't all too far behind; the action set pieces are executed with skill, energy and grandeur; the emotion is palpable and weighty; and it's darker than any MCU film has been before, with an edginess and almost poetic quality making it the epic it will be touted as for quite some time. The intimacy of a handful of moments is astounding, especially considering the scale and scope piling around it and the apocalyptic, haunting finale raises the bar for what's to come. We get some beautiful visuals along the way to ensure it remains engaging and exciting aesthetically.
It's not only the Russos on their A-Game: the entire ensemble gives it their all as well. There's conviction to every performance and a genuine pride from each actor's involvement in the barn-burning project which translates into some impressive on-screen turns. Downey Jr brings a gravitas to Tony Stark, bringing his demons to the forefront throughout: he shares an extraordinary moment with Tom Holland that may well be the finest moment of the entire piece, one they both play faultlessly. Zoe Saldana is another MVP, exploring the father-daughter relationship of Gamora with her villainous father outstandingly, while the three Chrises (Hemsworth, Pratt and Evans) are all used to great effect - the former pair even sharing a particular brilliant set of moments in the first half. Elizabeth Olsen is wonderfully emotive and while I'd call Scarlett Johansson generally underused, the pair gets an incredible, slamdunk moment alongside Danai Gurira. There's honestly no weak link and it's immensely satisfying to see this extended line-up come together as they do, without strain or force.
But it is the care put into the film's central antagonist that makes Infinity War a cut above the rest. It takes the time and attention to detail to build Thanos, exploring his reasoning and beliefs in order for him to become something stronger than a one-dimensional, cookie cutter villain - which would have really sent the film plummeting to its death. Josh Brolin does exceedingly well humanising a monster like Thanos; despite his inclination for mass genocide, it's refreshing to see the film paint him not wholly, completely evil. He's layered and it ups the anti considerably. His minions are a little more serviceable but help the threat become more wide-reaching with the Avengers peppered across the universe as they are.
Avengers: Infinity War is a minor Marvel miracle, achieving the impossible: a film with upwards of 30 characters, answering questions and ironing out plot lines ten years and eighteen films in the making. One that feels perfectly satisfying and immensely enjoyable, utterly thrilling. It's not perfect, far from it, in fact, cluttered to within an inch of its life and missing something from the finale that will be determined when the Avengers 4 rolls up next year. But Infinity War was always about Marvel having its cake and eating it too, illustrating the glass-ceiling-shattering effort they've put in to grow and sustain this franchise that deserves to reap the rewards. It has been a gargantuan undertaking but Infinity War is every bit as epic, moving, intense, exhausting, overwhelming, over-indulgent scattershot and foundation-shaking as I expected - and that's part of its brilliance, always shifting and superbly so. It's definitely Part 1, but Part 2 cannot come soon enough.
Summary: Avengers: Infinity War shakes and destructs the Marvel Cinematic Universe as we know it, creating a roaring spectacle that shatters the blockbuster glass ceiling with an event movie every bit as epic, enjoyable, scattershot, overstuffed, exhausting and thrilling as you expect. Marvel, you guys did well.