‘Avengers: Infinity War’ Hurtles the Marvel Universe Into a Thrilling Apocalypse

Avengers: Infinity War” takes everything grand and dear from the last decade of Marvel movies in order to deliver the ultimate super hero epic. Visually exhilarating, with moments of gasp-inducing turns, “Infinity War” is the great, almost operatic showdown fans have been anticipating with every new title. The challenge to pull off such a feat is quite daunting, considering the number of characters, storylines and subplots involved. But what has always set apart the Marvel films from their peers is their loving adherence to the source material. Watching this film is akin to that feeling one used to get as a kid, breathlessly flipping through the pages of some magnificently huge graphic novel.

As the Disney/Marvel film opens, the barbarous galactic warlord Thanos (Josh Brolin) raids a ship commanded by Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). After a bloody fight Thanos and his minions make their way to Earth, his goal being to attain all six Infinity Stones. Believing himself to be the force destined to set genocidal balance to the cosmos, Thanos needs all six stones to achieve unlimited power. In New York City, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) learns of the threat along with Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Peter Parker (Tom Holland) when Hulk, now back as Bruce Banner, crashes in and urgently details Thanos’s plans. Just then, Thanos’s ship arrives. One of the key stones belongs to Vision (Paul Bettany), who has disappeared from the rest of the group. The warlord will attain this stone at any cost. Realizing the scope of the danger, Stark and Parker don their respective Iron Man and Spider-Man personas to fight back along with Strange and Banner. But they also know they might have to reach out to the other Avengers, who have gone their separate ways following the events of “Captain America: Civil War.” But out in the farthest reaches of space, another tightly-knit team, the Guardians of the Galaxy, are also pulled into the fray when they rescue Thor. Now Gamora (Zoe Saldana), realizes this might be her last chance to stop her stepfather Thanos’s murderous plans.

“Infinity Wars” manages to weave the key strands of the Marvel cinematic universe into a massive canvas that accomplishes some impressive, groundbreaking feats when it comes to this genre. It is huge, but not complicated, action-packed but always with the story in the foreground. Directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo share a keen understanding of why fans are so devoted to these characters onscreen and before that in comic books. They love to follow their trials and tribulations just as much as watching them wage battle. The screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely uses very basic storytelling elements, but they work because like legends or myths, this sort of tale thrives on some very simple motivations and challenges. Thanos wants to conquer the galaxy and is willing to slaughter millions to do it. There’s well-written, villainous logic to his reasoning, as when he tells Gamora that after he slaughtered half her planet, the inhabitants now live free of hunger. Other characters are forced to make tremendous sacrifices for the greater good, with searing moments where friends must choose if they will sacrifice a comrade in order to save the world. Typical stuff, but it never gets old when it’s well done. There is romance, corny to be sure, but kind of endearing when you think about it, especially between Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and Gamora, who are treated with a new level of maturity. During one intense scene Thanos even takes on the role of the protective father, closely analyzing Quill before concluding, “I like him.” Other moments are handled with a quiet subtly, like when Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) sees Bruce Banner again after a long time apart. The gaze says everything for the devoted fans and audience. There is much unfinished business there.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the Marvel movies is their sense of humor. They relish in the fact that they’re a fantasy, and cheerfully poke fun at themselves. Here amid all the galactic drama there is much of that rousing banter these characters are known for. Stark still takes on a dad role when it comes to Peter Parker, warning him that, “the adults are talking” when he’s brainstorming with Dr. Strange. One of the best new added comedy angles is the relationship between the Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor. There’s a great scene where after being rescued he’s examined in their ship. The always direct and clueless Drax (Dave Bautista) observes, “It is as if a pirate had a baby with an angel.” Quill of course dies of jealousy towards Thor, especially when Gamora rubs his muscles. Thor himself keeps confusing the always grouchy Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) with a rabbit. The other characters are all full of small gags, hilarious side jokes and moments of comedy delivered with pitch-perfect timing. Humor is what adds zest to the massive action scenes as well. The battle sequences never feel worn out because they have a vivacious spirit. Pay particular attention to the first introduction between a now teenage, videogame-playing Groot (Vin Diesel) and Captain America (Chris Evans).

Visually this movie is a complete super hero banquet. The film moves from New York to deep space, then settles in Wakanda, where Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) unites with the Avengers to take on Thanos. There are moments of tremendous scope. Thanos’s minions unleash a mass army of vicious creatures towards Wakanda and instead of using fast cuts, the Russo brothers let madness fill the vast frame. Many shots look like great comic art brought blazingly to life, but beautifully framed instead of being reduced to looking like some dingy videogame. The music by Alan Silverstri gives everything a nice orchestral flourish.

Somehow nearly every character is given a decent moment or two. But Thanos is inevitably given many of the most memorable scenes. He goes from world to world, seeking the Infinity Stones, played by Brolin with a megalomaniacal presence. Some of his best scenes are not loud or savage, but when he’s walking above water in a red-tinged hallucination or confronted with a brutal decision that reveals a bit more, dare one say, humanity beneath his purple visage.

Walk into “Avengers: Infinity War” with plenty of snacks, you will need them as this is an exhausting, fun time. For Marvel fans the experience will be riveting. Be warned, the filmmakers have not copped out. There will be gasps and shocks. It is reportedly the first half of a two-part story after all. What about the ending? It is carried out in classic, worthy comic book tradition. It works in the way you turn the last page and desperately await the next issue, even as you are left processing everything that just happened.

Avengers: Infinity War” opens April 27 in theaters nationwide.