‘Avengers: Infinity War’ delivers on the promise of a decade of world building while introducing Thanos, the best Marvel villain yet

In Arts & Entertainment, Lifestyle
The Avengers stand in front of Thanos on an "Avengers: Infinity War" poster.
(Courtesy of Marvel)

Pick your five favorite characters from across the decade-old Marvel Cinematic Universe, also known as MCU, and chances are Thanos will have killed at least half of them by the end of “Avengers: Infinity War.”

Everything from “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk” debuted in 2008, to the more recent critical and commercial success of “Black Panther,” has been building to this moment, and “Infinity War” delivers with the highest stakes and most consequences of any Marvel film to date.

Marvel’s “everything is connected” story approach has been criticized in some circles for the way each film — and a post-credits stinger or two — nudge stories forward just enough to get audiences excited for that next big movie release.

“Infinity War” is the endgame of that strategy, an achievement in worldbuilding that would only be possible with 18 movies building up the stakes and making audiences care so deeply about these characters coming together from multiple franchises to stare down the largest threat they’ve ever faced.

Thanos, who is brought to life through motion capture technology and a memorable performance from Josh Brolin, is easily the most well-crafted, threatening and yet somehow strangely sympathetic villain Marvel’s movies have ever offered filmgoers.

Thanos’ power level is instantly established by the almost-casual ease with which he dispatches some of the universe’s mightiest beings moments into the film and only grows from there as he seeks to assemble all six of the universe’s “Infinity Stones.”

Still, Brolin’s performance imbues Thanos with a level of pain and conviction, and even if it’s unlikely to sway the audience to his side, he’s at the very least far more fleshed out than the moustache twirling villains from Marvel’s previous films.

But a movie of this scale, so jam-packed with beloved characters that it’s two-hour-and-twenty-nine-minute run time that leaves only a few moments in the sun for most of the characters, doesn’t work without strong dialogue and acting from the heroes filmgoers have grown to cherish over the last decade, and “Infinity War” delivers on that front as well.

Part of the draw of Marvel movies has always been the promise of connectedness, that any of these characters could theoretically run into each other at any time, and “Infinity War” moves the standard for that ahead of already formerly unprecedented tie-ins like the original “The Avengers” and “Captain America: Civil War.”

The narrative, what little there is of it beyond “Thanos wants to wipe out half the universe so we should probably stop him,” mostly serves as a vehicle to pair up characters from all of these films in previously unseen groupings. The film only succeeds in spite of that criticism on the strength of those moments, with Captain America meeting teenage Groot, or the interactions between Thor and Rocket Raccoon — or according to Thor, “Rabbit” — serving as particular highlights.

These fun moments of banter between these quickly thrown together heroes, and the awe-factor of seeing them combine their powers, is made into something more than an orgy of special effects through the strength of the actors’ performances, the bonds audiences have built with these heroes and, most of all, the real, heart-wrenching consequences and doom they’re finally facing. No one is safe in this movie.

Most Marvel movies in the past have lacked a real sense of danger. Sure, side characters could be killed off, but real, life-or-death consequences for the hero seem out of the question. No one shows up to a “Captain America” movie to watch Cap die, after all.

But in “Infinity War,” the smorgasbord of characters allow for real stakes that leave all of these groups of characters seeing beloved teammates and friends die by the time the credits roll, and even after in a singular, must-watch post-credits scene.

Despite all of its humor, this is potentially the darkest MCU film to date, with the death count including some heroes audiences won’t see coming and a bleak ending that is on an “Empire Strikes Back” level of things never seeming more hopeless for our heroes.

Those looking for an achievement in narrative, or a film where every single character’s decisions make sense every single time should look elsewhere, but this isn’t a movie designed for Oscar snobs anyway.

Instead, “Infinity War” is an all you can eat buffet of banter, superhero team-ups and computer-generated images specticle tailor made for anyone who has enjoyed the Marvel films since 2008. Through the combination of Marvel’s best villain yet facing down the characters audiences have grown to love, the film satisfyingly delivers on all of the promise of one of the most ambitious franchise-building efforts ever undertaken in cinematic history, while simultaneously keeping up the Marvel trope of whetting audiences’ appetites for sequels and spin-offs to come.

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