Avengers: Infinity War (Marvel Studios, PG-13)

N early ten years ago, to the date, I sat in a dimly lit theater with my girlfriend (now wife) and jittered uncontrollably. I had (read: have) always been a fan of super heroes. From the gritty darkness of Batman to the sarcastic swagger of Spider-Man, I loved it all. But something felt different that Friday night. Marvel heroes had experienced a mixed bag of cinematic success. Some shined, many stumbled, but most importantly, most remained locked behind a sort of invisible barrier. There was something intangible that separated super hero action flicks and “regular” action flicks. That night Iron-Man blasted a sizable hole in that barrier.

Ten years later, in 2018, Marvel Studios has redefined the Summer blockbuster, commanding large box office sums with each of its movies. But this year, eighteen films into their own Cinematic Universe, all of their efforts come to a head.

Avengers: Infinity Waris a monolith of filmmaking achievement for logistical reasons before anything else. Sporting more than thirty actors with star power to helm their own films, the fact that Marvel (and Disney by proxy) was able to pull such an astounding cast together is no small miracle. The resulting dramatic accomplishment of Infinity Waris rivaled by absolutely none.

That accomplishment is guided along by brother directors Joe and Anthony Russo and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. The quartet well established their tact for direction and storytelling with Captain America: Winter Soldier, and Captain America: Civil War,two of Marvel’s best films to date. In their hands, Infinity Warsews together the myriad strands of the expansive MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) into a shockingly coherent and effortlessly moving tapestry of comedy, drama, action, and thrill. Infinity War starts with the gas pedal to the floor and does not relent.

There is a lot to be answered with this film. With eighteen prior films to draw from, the number of directions this conflict could have gone are nearly countless, yet within minutes it is unavoidably clear that our many heroes will be challenged in ways they could not ever have been prepared for.

Thanos, Infinity War’s big bad, has been stalking the Avengers since the first Avengers film. A member of a race called the Eternals, from the planet Titan, he is by far the most deadly threat that the Avengers have had to face. He and his Black Order are ruthless, an other-words simplistic denomination that, between the credits of Infinity War,is given strong and multifaceted context.

The Infinity Gauntlet and the Infinity Stones, featured in so many movies prior to this film, find themselves in the crosshairs of Thanos. Assembling the Stones into the Gauntlet granting its wearing infinite power, appropriately. Perhaps one of the film’s most important accolades; one I hope becomes more frequent after the release of both Black Panther and now Infinity War, comes from the creation of a super villain with not only understandable motives, but with large bits of humanity stitched into the fabric of their character. So, while Thanos is inarguably the antagonist of the film, you are left watching his scenes, pondering the insane possibility that he is right.

The first concern with almost every person I know, when debating the future success of this film, is derived from the sheer number of actors present and the difficulty of portraying them all correctly and with respect. Infinity Wardances through that potential graveyard and delivers a movie that genuinely doesn’t feel like it is overrun by actors. Rather than focus solely on one thread packed with heroes, the narrative ventures into several directions without losing its coherence. As those threads come back together, bit by bit, the results are dumbfounding.

Avengers: Infinity Waris dark. Trading the normal “save the world with a group of misfit heroes” hijinks in for a “If we don’t win this all ends,” realization, lends a stressful, nearly existential dread, that sticks with you. Thanos is here to destroy all that we hold dear here in the MCU. This film tackles its innate darkness with impressive aplomb, drawing human stories from a superhuman conflict, shattering expectations along the way.

Ten years ago Marvel began down this journey, littering their movies with hints that this day would come. That one day Thanos would come to Earth with destruction on his mind and nothing else. That one day, everything that they have made would come down to this. One last fight for the sake of humanity/the universe. Avengers: Infinity War makes the prophecy reality, beautifully shot, expertly written, and with visual effects that will make your jaw drop.

There is magic in this culmination of work. From the first scene to the last, every glimpse into  the future that has been teased becomes a startling, moving reality. A reflection of its characters, its creators, and its fans. The breathless silence in the theater as credits began to roll was telling. Avengers: Infinity War will leave you in a place you did not know the MCU would. “Were in the end game now.” And we have a year to wait until the next Avengers film. The time will pass painfully slow, of that I am sure. | Caleb Sawyer

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