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Avengers: Infinity War

(2018) *** 1/2 Pg-13
149 min. Walt Disney Pictures. Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo. Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Pratt, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Holland, Chris Hemsworth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chadwick Boseman, Don Cheadle, James Brolin, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Zoe Saldana, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Dave Bautista, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright.

/content/films/5108/1.jpgAs Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Infinity Wardraws to a close, one can’t help but picture the folks at DC Entertainment getting angry in anticipation of getting even. After all, the big DC team-up movie Justice League was not good, and the new Avengers shows it up in every respect: it’s a truly epic adventure, spectacular and wildly entertaining, with impressive CG characters, and a cast stocked with not six beloved superheroes but twenty. Marvel’s superhero movies may not run the risk of being called “elegant,” but they’re sure as hell sturdy, well-built popcorn flicks that send audiences out unequivocally satisfied.

As part one of a two-part culmination to Marvel’s decade of movie hits, Avengers: Infinity War doesn’t quite reach the summit of the house producer Kevin Feige has built on the foundation of comics legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. No spoilers here, but the movie does end on a big ol’ cliffhanger, to be resolved one year from now (and by now, the latest Avengers film feels like the season finale of the best superhero show ever). Still, Infinity War is a high-water mark for lovers of the hugely popular superhero genre, a fangasm comic-book war movie that blows past the thrills of Captain America: Civil War by crazy-quilting nearly every Marvel sub-franchise into one movie, with the astonishing star power that promises. Been wondering if the Guardians of the Galaxy’s Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) would ever tango with Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), and Spider-Man (Tom Holland)? Your time has come.

Inspired by the 1991 six-issue limited series The Infinity Gauntlet—written by Jim Starlin and pencilled by George Pérez and Ron Lim—Infinity War blooms from seeds planted six years ago in The Avengers. Thanos (Josh Brolin), a powerful being from Saturn’s moon Titan, now wears the Infinity Gauntlet on his left hand, and it’s got settings for six Infinity Stones: the Mind Gem, the Soul Gem, the Space Gem, the Power Gem, the Time Gem and the Reality Gem. Those stones are scattered through the universe, under the protection of our heroes, but if Thanos has his way, he’ll collect every stone and wield unthinkable power.

Unlike Justice League’s exasperatingly generic Steppenwolf, Thanos actually manages to be interesting: he’s power-mad about population control, seeking to sustain the universe through halving its denizens one planetary culling at a time. Add the fact that he’s the foster father to one of the heroes, and you have to admit the guy’s got some shading. Certainly, his determination sets off mayhem of the highest order. A representative eye-popping action sequence finds some A-list heroes battered around Manhattan as they try to protect one of the stones from Thanos’ offspring. Even at 149 minutes, Infinity War is more or less paced like a runaway freight train, and it does a fair job of balancing the dire and the comic (okay, you may have to suspend your disbelief a bit when the heroes get quippy under imminent mortal danger).

This much pure heroes-and-villains sensation is a lot to take in, no question, crammed too much to bear the kind of singularly resonant emotional throughline we tend to expect from a film. But that’s also part and parcel of the way Marvel has been obliterating assumptions about what action cinema—and especially action sequels—can be. It’s a trade-off most viewers will gladly make. If you’ve never given a hoot about superhero nonsense, Avengers: Infinity War will only further entrench your view that these things are a waste of time, but a lot of children and inner children will be wondering if their eyes can possibly grow any wider.

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