It’s difficult not to feel a sense of relief now that Avengers: Infinity War is finally hitting theaters. In the 10 years that Marvel Studios has been cranking out films, there hasn’t been a moment as highly anticipated or as shrouded in mystery. Even the marketing campaign -- a nonstop bombardment of clips, interviews, trailers and teasers -- left the movie feeling dangerously unknown, an effect doubled down on by the #ThanosDemandsYourSilence anti-spoiler campaign launched on social media several weeks ago.
Marvel Studios and directors Joe and Anthony Russo very clearly wanted to keep people guessing for this one -- but, like Thanos himself ominously announced in the early promotion, “Dread it, run from it, destiny still arrives.” And, well. Here we are.
Let's start by being totally honest: With a movie that’s had this much build up and this much speculation for this long, there’s really no way to sit through the final product and not feel a little blindsided. In a way, the valiant hand-waving and secrecy of the promotional campaign almost serve to work in the movie’s detriment -- there’s just no way it can live up to the hype, especially when everyone’s had the last six or eight months to build up their own deeply personal hype unchecked.
Leaving the theater for Infinity War is probably going to make you feel a little bit dazed, a little bit “what just happened?” Maybe even a little heartsick -- though not necessarily in a bad way, but your mileage may vary. It’s probably best practice to check your own expectations at the door for this one.
That said, if your main concern was the movie’s ability to balance a truly massive and all-star cast of beloved characters evenly, you’re (mostly) in luck. The movie does an admirable job of trying to maintain a cohesive story as it’s spread across multiple planets, multiple teams and multiple heroes all meeting each other for the first time. There are clear winners in terms of screen time -- and clear focuses as far as narrative is concerned -- but, by and large, the balance could have been a lot worse than the finished product. (Thanos would be proud.)
The tone of the movie manages to keep up the pace as well, bouncing between the lighthearted humor of franchises like Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy with the gritty thriller feel of something more in line with Captain America: The Winter Soldier with surprising ease. There really aren’t any moments where the jokes feel out of place, and, even more surprising, the earnestness of the emotional moments feel hard-earned and sincere.
That being said, it’s a difficult movie to judge by conventional film standards. There are no real act breaks, the plots can be difficult to keep track of (even for a seasoned Marvel Cinematic Universe fan) and the end product feels ... well, very deliberately unfinished. This is very, very much a movie that is building toward its sequel, to the point that it feels like the end is actually the middle of a five-hour movie rather than the finale of a two-and-a-half-hour one.
That feeling -- the abruptness of the ending, the “left in the lurch” lack of satisfaction -- is certainly the most bold and brazen risk-taking the MCU has dared try in the last decade, at the very least. Infinity War feels simultaneously like the culmination of 18 previous movies and a complete reinvention of the formula. Risks aside, the sense that every actor on the screen knows their character deeply and intimately is palpable in a way that wouldn’t be possible had they all not been on their third, fourth, fifth outings in their respective roles.
That comfort and ease -- the confidence in the audience’s familiarity -- affords some space on the massively packed screen for Josh Brolin’s Thanos to really take the spotlight. And make no mistake, Infinity War is a movie about Thanos. Brolin’s performance anchors the stakes of the movie, keeping it from flying off the handle into comic-fueled nonsense with a shockingly resonant emotional core that feels absolutely worthy as a follow-up to Michael B. Jordan’s showstopping Killmonger in this year's Black Panther.
In fact, it might even be worth wagering that the MCU is finally starting to figure out the solution to its villain problem, if Jordan and Brolin are any indication.
With Thanos as the key “new” player in the mix, the other new players (of which there are several -- and no, I don’t just mean the Black Order) feel a bit hastily added at best, or like fat to be trimmed at worst. The movie isn’t necessarily clunky, and none of the new characters are specifically bad, but in a story with so much going on, it’s hard to find anything that isn’t immediately relevant and long lasting all that engaging.
At the end of the day, Infinity War is going to be a divisive piece of MCU history, and one that, come 2019, is probably only ever going to be shown back-to-back with its sister film with an as-yet unrevealed title, for now just known as Avengers 4. It’s satisfying and unsatisfying, a reward for 10 years of fandom and a painful tease about the future; a frustrating look at a story in progress and a welcome relief to the agony of waiting.
In some strange way, it actually feels unfair to judge it on its own merits when it so clearly wants to be slotted into a much, much larger picture -- but, without the rest of that picture to work with, we’ve got to use what we’ve got right now. And, well.
Here’s to destiny’s arrival. Here’s to 10 years of movies. Here’s to living in a world where these stories are allowed to be told in the way and on the scale that we see them. Infinity War might not be your favorite MCU movie but it’s a pretty cool piece of history.
Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, Avengers: Infinity War is in theaters on April 27.