'Avengers: Infinity War' film review (SPOILERS)

'Avengers: Infinity War' film review (SPOILERS)

 'Avengers: Infinity War' (photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures)

'Avengers: Infinity War' (photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures)

THIS REVIEW INCLUDES SPOILERS

THE FOCUS OF THE REVIEW WILL REMAIN ON EVALUATING THE FILM - HOWEVER PLOT POINTS (INCLUDING CHARACTER DEATHS) WILL BE DISCUSSED.

REVIEW INTENDED FOR THOSE WHO HAVE SEEN 'INFINITY WAR.'

LAST WARNING. FOR REALS. 

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OK - "Infinity War" essentially boils down to two ambitious takeaways: 1) uniting all the MCU characters into one movie and 2) that incredibly dark and grim ending. Anyone familiar with the "Infinity War" comicbook storyline knew this film would have a disturbingly high body count. That was always the point of "Avengers: Infinity War" (currently in theaters) - to unite all the heroes to take on one impossibly strong villain. And even their combined efforts would fail - ending in the deaths of many MCU characters. Knowing that foregone conclusion and watching it unfold on screen are two different things.

A decade of films have laid the groundwork and built up the expectations. The very first Marvel superhero flick promised the Avengers - the very first 'Avengers' film promised Thanos - one of the most power villains in the Marvel Comics series. In the context of almost 20 MCU films that came before it, makes good the promised climactic battle. This battle royale lives up to the hype as the definitive turning point in the MCU, even if it doesn't quite work as a standalone film.

In short: Heroes across the Marvel Universe - including the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy - unite to stop the powerful alien despot Thanos (Josh Brolin) from completing his quest to acquire all six Infinity Stones and destroying life in the universe. Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and many more star.

"Infinity War" could not have opened with a better scene - aboard a refugee ship last seen in "Thor: Ragnarok" carrying Thor, Hulk and Loki. Thor and the Hulk are the two strongest members of the Avengers - one is the god of thunder, the other is a beast of limitless strength. Loki was himself such a worthy adversary that he alone took on, and nearly defeated, the Avengers. To have "Infinity War" open with Thanos standing over a badly beaten Thor and a resigned Loki is itself shocking - but watching Thanos kick the Hulk's ass so bad that the green goliath doesn't want to come out again clearly establishes the formidable threat Thanos represents. The fact that these three specific characters are brushed aside so easily by Thanos - even before wielding not only one but two Infinity Stones - clearly establishes the daunting threat the Avengers will face. 

Dissecting the totality of "Infinity War" is an overwhelming task. The only sensible place to begin is to figure out exactly who is the focus of the film. Although this is ostensibly an "Avengers" film, make no mistake - this is Thanos' story, with the rest of the well-established MCU protagonists filling out the supporting cast. While Thanos cannot be mistaken for a hero, he sees himself as the righteous hero of his own story - and he's indisputably the nontraditional protagonist of "Infinity War." The audience must root for the Avengers and Guardians, but it is Thanos' actions that dictate the direction and flow of the story. His actions propels "Infinity War" forward - his actions have incredibly important consequence upon the amassing of MCU character featured in the film.

To that end, the filmmakers accomplish the unthinkable: they somehow made the genocidal maniac a sympathetic, if terribly misguided, character. Audiences will discuss the many shocking plot points of "Infinity War," but perhaps the most surprising aspect of the film is Thanos not merely being a one-dimensional monster of utter destruction. He decisively moves with clear purpose - but Thanos takes little joy in his mission - he is a true believer devoted to a disastrous mission. The movie begins with him killing men, women and children - refugees from the destroyed Asgard - yet, the film also establishes his genuine and surprisingly tender parental relationship with his adopted daughter Gamora. He is a mass murdering monster, however, he also displays genuine affection for Gamora. His sacrifice of her to obtain the Soul Stone is a grotesque act that reveals his truly warped love for her. Thanos is the engine of destruction powering "Infinity War" and Brolin's performance makes the monster a complicated and rich character to watch in dread and abject horror.

Making Thanos the protagonist of the film comes at the cost of most of the headlining superheroes. "Infinity War" boasts a sprawling cast featuring dozens upon dozens of characters from most of their preceding MCU films - and just a handful of the established/familiar heroes get anything resembling a character arch. Most beloved MCU heroes are treated as little more than action figures smashing against bad guy action figures - they are included in the film more for the visual fun of throwing a hoard of superheroes into one movie. Captain America is a founding member of the Avengers - yet he has no significant character arch and what minimal dialogue he has is designed solely to nudge the story forward. Scarlet Witch has a more compelling arch then the Captain - even if her internal conflict is founded entirely on a hastily introduced romance between her and Vision.

The absurdly packed cast of characters means many/most heroes - some of whom have headlined their own films - are bit players in "Infinity War." Black Panther, Black Widow, War Machine, Drax, Bucky and Falcon are just warm bodies thrown into the fray. Some characters - like Mantis, the Hulk, Spider-Man and Star Lord - are afforded fleeting moments to actually have an impact on the story. But by and large, the only characters not named Thanos who have relatively important roles are Iron Man, Thor, Gamora, Scarlet Witch and Doctor Strange. No film boasting nearly 60 established characters from almost 20 films can reasonably make every single character matter - however, it is odd to see a well-fleshed out character like Black Panther be reduced to his cool fighting ability and awesome suit.

Speaking of Black Panther - the entire Vision-Mind Stone b-plot worked to create personal stakes for Scarlet Witch and Vision -- but using it as a means to take the Avengers to Wakanda is forced. Although Vision believes the only way to stop Thanos is to destroy the Mind Stone - which would also likely kill him in the process, Captain America firmly states he will not trade one life for another. So their plan is to take Vision to Wakanda, where they will trade the lives of hundreds of Wakandan warriors in exchange for the possibility of saving one android? It's a noble idea to try to save Vision, but even the film's internal logic contradicts itself. 

Aside from Thanos, the Avenger with the most engaging b-plot is surprisingly Thor - the overpowered hero who has headlined two of the lowest rated entries in the MCU. Hemsworth gets the most material to work with in "Infinity," as he retains the refreshing light-hearted tone lifted in "Thor: Ragnarok," even as he faces a nigh undefeatable foe and an impossible task. While every other character is actively engaging Thanos or his servants, Thor is once again off on side quest (not too unlike his dip in a cave pond in "Age of Ultron") - however at least this time he remains committed to his personal vendetta against Thanos. Thor spends almost all of his screentime on a b-plot that has him trying to forge a new weapon - which sounds cool, except when you realize that he's just undoing a major plot point from "Ragnarok." At least while he's unwinding the loss of his hammer he is dealing with the loss of everything he knows and loves. Its definitely one of the only superhero performances of any note in "Infinity" - and its arguably the most compelling.

To the credit of co-directors Anthony and Joe Russo ("Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and "Captain America: Civil War"), "Infinity War" is a nearly three-hour long film that briskly moves along and judiciously balances its army of characters. For a film that is essentially a series of battles - broken up by a smattering of exposition - across several locations throughout the galaxy, "Infinity War" easily allows the audiences to keep track of where all its characters are at any point.

And now, the moment that MCU fans will be talking about for the next year: the victory of Thanos. Watching Bucky (who has appeared in 4 other MCU films) dissolve into ash is a blow to the gut. Drax is a blood thirsty killer and terrifying warrior - but in his last moments, he sounds like a confused/scared child as he quietly looks to Star Lord for help. Spider-Man went toe-to-toe with the Mad Titan Thanos - yet, in his final moments, Peter reminded the audience once again that he is just a kid as he dissolves in his mentor's arms. Even the regal and benevolent King T'Challa and the mighty Sorcerer Supreme Dr. Strange are not spared from Thanos' destruction. Upon re-watching the film, it's impact still resonates - despite knowing the end that is the come.

"Infinity War" is a crowd-pleasing culmination of the many previous MCU films - but it is merely an OK standalone film that sorta works on its own merit. All films must be judged on their own merits - but "Infinity War" is unlike any film that has come before it. For better or worse, "Infinity" is the intersection of multiple film franchises. A fanboy would call it an unprecedented cinematic comic book event - a more cynical take would see "Infinity Wars" as a corporate-mandated synergistic end game. The question remains: is "Infinity Wars" a film to be critiqued on its own or as the culmination of a much larger MCU?

On the micro level, "Infinity Wars" is a patchwork of bombastic battles featuring a ton of heroes, stitched together with a framework that amounts to a murderous zealot on a treasure hunt. The connective tissue does a serviceable job to creating an overall story connecting all the disparate characters and giving them cause to travel to all corners of the Marvel Universe - but the structure is pretty rudimentary. While Thanos is a protagonist of surprising dimension, his adversaries (the many heroes of the MCU) are limited in focus: they just want to stop Thanos. The film is less than the sum of its parts - joyable battles that electrify the big screen, but tell a pretty simple and uncomplicated story. 

On a macro level, "Infinity Wars" lives up to the hype. Taken in the context of the previous MCU films, wherein individual films show just how destructive a single Infinity Stone can become, "Infinity War" lives up to the promise of Thanos' destructive quest and pays off all the McGuffins, post-credits scenes and MCU mythology. "Infinity War" doesn't necessarily requires the audience to watch all 18 previous films to understand what's going on - it certainly helps, if only to understand the full impact of watching Falcon or Groot dissolve into nothing.

And it's rather perfect that original Avengers lineup (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk and Black Widow) are among the few remaining survivors left. Nerd speculation had openly wondered how many of the original team would be killed in "Infinity War" - leaving them all alive opens a door to a thrilling send-off to the original roster. "Avengers 4" will hopefully include the reunion of former friends Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, the return of the Hulk, another (possibly last?) teaming of Hulk and Thor, and the return of Hawkeye.

If it is darkest before the dawn, then "Infinity War" represents the darkest hour in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The ending is a legit bummer - watching it doesn't get any easier. Knowing the original Avengers are still around to avenge their allies only increases the hype for "Avengers 4"! 

Final verdict: "Infinity War" is the film Marvel fans have waited a decade for - and it lives up to that almost impossible expectation. While the film itself isn't the strongest standalone MCU film, it wasn't designed to be a film experienced in a vacuum. 

Score: 3.5/5

"Avengers: Infinity War" opens in theaters nationwide April 27. The film has a running time of 160 minutes and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, language and some crude references. 

2018 Seattle International Film Festival preview

2018 Seattle International Film Festival preview

(NO SPOILERS) 'Avengers: Infinity War' film review: How to pay off a sprawling, massive franchise

(NO SPOILERS) 'Avengers: Infinity War' film review: How to pay off a sprawling, massive franchise