Avengers: Infinity War is demanding, heartbreaking, exhilarating, massive, and dense. More than seemingly any movie so far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it requires its viewer to be intimately acquainted with all the films that come before it—and, if you are, it’s rewarding and audacious in ways the franchise has never been before and isn’t likely to be again. It’s a movie that is not screwing around.
Directed by the Russo Brothers, Infinity War is driven by an evil villain named Thanos (Josh Brolin), glimpsed during several previous films, who decides to traverse the universe hoping to acquire the six Infinity Stones he believes will allow him to rule the galaxy. Standing in his way are almost all the heroes of the last 18 Marvel movies, including Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), the Guardians of the Galaxy, and much of their supporting casts.
The whole story hinges on not just knowing what happened in those previous movies, but feeling emotionally connected to all these previously introduced characters going into the theater. Because once things get going, they get going. Infinity War has no time for a recap. From frame one, the movie dives immediately into its story and basically doesn’t stop for the next two and a half hours. Characters, relationships, and narrative get hurled at the audience just as aggressively as the film’s many action sequences, and you’re either engaged with the characters and stakes or you’re not.
If you are, and after 10 years of movies that’s a lot of people, Infinity War gives the audience all we can want and more. Characters we never imagined coming together do. Relationships we’ve longed to see develop actually do develop. And very, very quickly, those characters and relationships are put to the ultimate test. They’re put up against the most sinister and formidable villain, maybe ever, and massive shifts must occur to have a chance at victory.
With several dozen Marvel characters to juggle, Infinity War’s main narrative drive comes from Thanos. He’s big and bad, sure, but also humanized in a way that few villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have been before. Thanks to Josh Brolin’s surprisingly nuanced performance, it’s very easy to understand why he’s bent on killing off half the universe. At times, he genuinely seems sympathetic, mainly because we spend more time with him than most other characters in the film.
His prominence may disappoint some fans hoping for more from their favorite heroes, because with so many heroes to juggle, none of them really get to stand out. Vision (Paul Bettany) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) get a small, but surprisingly interesting arc. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) is used sparingly, but effectively. Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) work together well. Beyond that, though, everyone is given one or two great moments and, eventually, those begin to pile up into something bigger. And ultimately, the greater focus on Thanos raises the stakes for the moments the heroes do appear.
But this isn’t two and a half hours of Thanos. All of the Marvel characters are jumbled up and sent on various missions, resulting in roughly five or six narrative threads that weave throughout the movie. That’s a lot of story to tell and Infinity War does so by structuring itself almost like a book, with sections that start but then don’t continue for sometimes an hour or more. That means a few pieces are more exciting than the others and many times, lots of information is delivered in short periods of time. The result is that the film drags some in the middle, but as those threads slowly come together, so too does the film’s pacing, leading to a jaw-dropping final act that takes up roughly a third of the movie. It’s enormous, filled with big action and bigger emotion, and its conclusion can only be described as staggering.
By the end of Avengers: Infinity War, it’s almost hard to get your mind around everything you’ve seen—to the point where you may start planning your next screening as you walk out of the theater. Marvel’s Phase Three isn’t over—it won’t be until Avengers 4 next year—but to say every movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been leading up to Infinity War is absolutely true. And it’s a chapter fans will never forget.
Avengers: Infinity War opens April 27.