Awe and sadness.
Euphoria and despair.
After 10 years and 18 previous films, it’s come down to this — all-out war with Thanos, the Mad Titan, the despicable yet relatable galactic tyrant who considers himself benevolent in his quest to instantly wipe out half of all life in the entire cosmos so the remaining half can prosper and thrive.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has never known such stakes, and it’s fair to say that longtime fans and newbies alike are not going to know how to process the events that unfold in Avengers: Infinity War, the 19th and (ahem) best movie yet from Marvel Studios.
Even now, more than 24 hours after sitting in stunned silence as the credits rolled (don’t even ask my reaction to the post-credits scene — which felt like a dick punch on top of the gut punch that preceded it), I’m still numb.
This I can say with confidence: You will not be disappointed.
Infinity War is like Christmas and your birthday arriving on the same day you win the lottery. It’s two-and-a-half-hours of pure entertainment that never grows old, never feels derivative and never pumps the brakes. Every hero that you love, whether Scarlet Witch, Gamora or Captain America, Black Widow, Groot or Black Panther, is represented well. Every single one gets a moment to shine. Some, like Thor, deftly hoist the weight of the film on their shoulders and carry it across galaxies.
Here’s the gist, and trust me, it’s all you want to know going in: The Avengers have splintered following the events in Captain America: Civil War. Some individual heroes are still doing their part to protect Earth. Others, like Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, are considering retirement (there’s a brief mention that Stark and longtime love Pepper Potts are soon to be married). But, light years away, Thanos is now full-swing into his endeavor to collect the six Infinity Stones (Mind, Power, Space, Time, Reality and Soul) that, when combined together, will gift him the ability to simply snap his fingers and instantly kill billions of sentient beings, regardless of what planet they call home.
Geek note: Up until now, the MCU has introduced all but the Soul stone. Two of the stones are on Earth — one in The Vision’s forehead and one in the Eye of Agamotto, which hangs around Doctor Strange’s neck.
Infinity War opens right where Thor: Ragnarok ended, with Thor, Loki and Hulk on a spaceship that’s sitting in the shadow of Thanos’ more-massive ship. There’s a devastating battle (the first of many) and one hero gets beamed back to Earth to warn of Thanos’ impending arrival.
It cannot be overstated how significant Josh Brolin is as Thanos. His character redefines what is technologically possible in the arena of motion-capture performances. You will hate Thanos, but Brolin makes you almost empathize with his misguided approach to pruning the cosmic garden. Following on the heels of Black Panther’s wonderful villain, Killmonger, the arc and heft of Thanos’s quest is nothing short of remarkable and proves that Marvel does understand how to create a legendary foe.
Another one of the delights of Infinity War is how screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely separate the 20-plus superheroes into wonderfully unique pairings and groupings. If you’ve ever wondered what the Guardians of the Galaxy might be like with Spider-Man added into the mix, you’re in luck.
How these big personalities work together and interact is simply a joy to behold. There are big laughs and even bigger surprises to be had.
Whether it’s learning that Thor learned to speak Groot while growing up in Asgard or watching Peter Parker devise a plan inspired by “that really old movie Aliens,” such humor provides a welcome relief, at least early on, from the sobering developments in the beautifully rendered, yet coldly callous third act.
Markus and McFeely have now scripted five MCU films, including two of the best (Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War) for Infinity War directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, who manage to transform what could have been an overstuffed Justice League-sized disaster into one of the most visually-astounding and emotionally-fraught movies, comic book or otherwise, ever made.
Infinity War is a full-on science-fiction extravaganza mashed together with a brutal military campaign. Imagine Saving Private Ryan if Tom Hanks was Peter Quill.
War indeed is hell, and Infinity War pulls no punches. There are many fan favorites who do not survive. That’s right, I said “many,” as in, holy fuck.
Sitting in a theater populated solely by skeptical, jaded critics, you could have heard a fly fart during the final 20 minutes. No one spoke. No one coughed. I could barely breathe.
The MCU marketing machine has not shied away from calling Infinity War a game-changer, and it rightfully is so, but not necessarily how you might expect. I have no idea where Marvel goes from here, or how it resolves the conclusion of Infinity War. We’ll have to wait a full year until May 2019 to find out when the untitled Avengers 4 debuts.
But this much is certain: Every decision, every character introduced, every risk taken since 2008 has been deliberate in building toward this moment.
It’s impossible to properly gauge the significance of the Marvel film franchise because it represents something that has never been done before in Hollywood. The skill and patience alone that it took to craft this series of inter-locking stories is remarkable. That the path led to such a righteous payoff is proof that good things really do come to those who wait.
Normally, I would end with something light, like "prepare to be amazed," but not this time. You will be amazed, but nothing can prepare you for the ache that immediately follows.
The game has officially been changed.
John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films that often get overlooked and interviews with cult cinema favorites like George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell and Dee Wallace. Contact him at his website, on Facebook or on Twitter.