MINOR SPOILERS FOLLOW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Do you remember where you were ten years ago? The pop culture landscape of 2008 was very different from it is in 2018. Whereas now we take for granted the release of a new superhero movie, it was still a very niche interest in 2008, which saw the release of two films that would forever change the landscape of major studio blockbusters: Iron Man, a film that directly lead to the birth of the Avengers franchise, and The Dark Knight.
The Dark Knight was one of the biggest films -ever- when released, and at first, it seemed as if it were going to be the real trendsetter in action cinema. Suddenly, everything was dark and moody; every ending aspired for The Empire Strikes Back yet ended up a little closer to 300. While this was happening, Marvel Studios was doing something truly game changing by setting up film after film in their massive shared universe. They managed to release eighteen films that didn’t just change the status quo, it obliterated it. And in an uncharacteristic move, they appear to be doing it all over again.
Film number nineteen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Avengers: Infinity War, a film as exhausting as it is ambitious. Characters from almost every single sub-franchise in the Marvel machine appears here. If you’ve ever wanted to see Thor banter with Rocket Raccoon and Groot, we’ve got you covered. Doctor Strange in a war of words with Iron Man? Here you are. Bruce Banner making a fool out of himself in Wakanda? This is the film for you, buddy. It wouldn’t be enough to simply have 26 (!!) primary characters from these franchises hang out together just for the sake of it, however. Every good hero needs a great villain, and Infinity War has that covered, too.
Josh Brolin has appeared throughout the franchises in very small doses as Thanos before, but there is nothing in these films that could have prepared audiences for what happens here: in a film peppered with Oscar winners and bonafide stars playing some of the most popular fictional characters on Earth, who would have guessed that the big purple guy who showed up a couple of times before would end up being the central figure of this film? Thanos is practically the main character, with more than double the amount of screen time of any of the heroes here. Brolin is given challenging material behind a wall of CGI, and he’s game for every bit of it. Thanos’ master plan in this film is to collect all of the Infinity Stones, the catch-all MacGuffins of the MCU, so that he can use them to effectively end half of the life in the universe. His claim that death fosters growth is a surprisingly thoughtful motivation compared to those of other Marvel villains, and Brolin nails the disposition of a man who truly fancies himself a revolutionary.
Credit must also be given to Zoe Saldana, returning here as Gamora of the Guardians of the Galaxy, adopted daughter of Thanos. Most of the characters apart from Thanos don’t get much resembling a dramatic arc, so it is most fitting that Gamora, not always fully utilized in her own franchise, is given some of the biggest character moments here. Her relationship with Thanos is complicated and infused with more pathos than most of the franchise; an early standout is a flashback to Thanos abducting Gamora as a child from her home world, a sequence Brolin plays out delicately and Saldana lives out in references made in future scenes.
Avengers: Infinity War is big, bold, exciting, frustrating, and exhausting. In the case of this particular Avengers outing, the crossover feels earned, the universe feels lived in, and it’s just so good to see all of these characters together. For as much fun as this film is, it still contains one of the bleakest, most apocalyptic endings ever committed to a billion dollar franchise. The landing may not stick for long, but be wary that if you’re taking your kids to see this one, you may end up having a far more difficult discussion than you intended to have about an Avengers movie.
Almost 700 words into this writing and you, the reader, still have no idea how so many of these characters even factor into the film. Ah, but in a spoiler-phobic world, the places many of these characters occupy might potentially ruin the experience for you. If you’re already a Marvel fan, you’ve probably already seen Infinity War multiple times, but if you haven’t even seen it once, this is an ideal film for you. It brings to mind the big corporate crossovers popular in comic books for decades now, making Infinity War feel more similar to an event like Maximum Carnage, Secret Wars, or, yes, The Infinity Gauntlet. Your mileage will vary immensely on if that’s a good thing; many crossovers are viewed (rightfully) by fans as huge empty cash grabs. But this particular outing, exhausting as it can be, is an immense blast for fans, even if it veers into inaccessible territory for Marvel newbies.