Marvel has set the hype bar high even by its standards with "Avengers: Infinity War," a massive assembly of practically every hero in its cinematic portfolio, representing the culmination of a decade's worth of groundwork. As sheer spectacle the movie amply delivers, hitting the ground running (and punching and leaping), in a gigantic enterprise that colorfully unfolds simultaneously on multiple fronts.
Directing brothers Anthony and Joe Russo mounted what amounts to a trial run for this assignment on "Captain America: Civil War," which also juggled a double-digit assortment of characters. In hindsight, though, that movie -- thus far one of Marvel's best -- feels relatively modest compared to an event-like showcase filled with Avengers old and new, along with the Guardians of the Galaxy, as the battle spreads across the universe.
It obviously requires a sizable threat to justify all that man, woman and more exotic power (android, raccoon, tree), and the movie tapped the right one in Thanos (Josh Brolin), a brutish figure bent on acquiring the infinity stones, magical objects that will enable him to perpetrate galactic genocide.
In a dazzling opening sequence, the directors and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely serve notice as to just how formidable Thanos is, as well as how high the stakes are. (It's probably worth pausing here to say those tempted to take young children to the movie would be advised to see it first, not only because of differing thresholds toward mayhem but also due to the length, which exceeds 2 - hours.)
Perhaps in part because of those aforementioned stones and their ability to bend time, space and reality, the master sorcerer Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) plays a significant role, augmented by his interactions with Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland).
Then again, the filmmakers derive much of the fun from creatively pairing characters in unexpected ways, yielding a good deal of comedy to lighten the operatic highs, which range from noble sacrifice to the lingering peril of wanton death and destruction.
What "Infinity War" accomplishes, with surprising ease, is complete immersion in this elaborate world, reflecting how deft Marvel has been in assembling it. Where Superman promised "You will believe a man can fly" 40 years ago, the Marvel universe has made talking raccoons and villains that instantly travel across the galaxy seem wholly organic.
Without giving anything away, the ending could be polarizing, but it's built in part on the trust Marvel enjoys with its fan base, established through the long game the company plays with its interlocking series of movies.
Besides, if everyone leaves the theater in complete agreement, from a storytelling perspective, you're probably not trying hard enough. And it's worth remembering the next Avengers sequel has already been announced for a little over a year from now.
Marvel and Disney's accountants likely still haven't shed their euphoria over "Black Panther" receipts, and whatever the quibbles, this won't do anything to quell anticipation for what comes next.
With another record-breaking haul in sight, hese 2018 titles merely underscore the laps that parent Disney's movie arm appears to be running around the rest of the industry, not just with Marvel, but the acquisition of Lucasfilm and its own library. (Disclosure: My wife works for a division of Disney.)
Granted, nitpicking and grousing can go with trying to satisfy such an ardent fan base, but the benefit lies in having movies in which people feel heavily invested and are clamoring to see. In today's theatrical environment, that's the definition of a high-class problem.
"Avengers: Infinity War" opens April 27. It's rated PG-13.
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