Ten years is a long time. If you had told me ten years ago that I’d be seeing a movie like Avengers: Infinity War, where all the heroes of the Marvel Universe (including the Guardians of the Galaxy!) would be fighting against an Infinity Gauntlet wielding Thanos, I absolutely would not have believed you. Back in 2008, I was deep into comic books, but especially Marvel cosmic comic books ranging from the first Annihilation through everything Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning were writing. Thanos was my favorite villain this side of Galactus, and I was a huge fan of the Infinity Gauntlet storyline. And now? A big budget Marvel movie that’s destined to be the biggest release of the summer with two and a half hours of runtime-y goodness?
“Pinch me!” 2008 me would have said. “Clearly, I am in some fantasy dreamland.”
Now, in 2018, walking into the theater for my press screening of Avengers: Infinity War, my demeanor was a lot more cautious. Not just because it’s usually a good idea for any film critic to leave their expectations at the door going into a screening, but because the Marvel Cinematic Universe has slowly evolved into something more akin to the cursed wish granted by a djinn, asking for unlimited riches only to be buried in it. After eighteen movies, many of which could be best described as of questionable quality, focused far more on leading into the next movie instead of focusing on the one at hand, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has turned into the sort of crossover event these same comic book fans used to (and assuredly still) complain about. You may not give a hoot about Ant-Man, but you better watch his movie if you don’t want to miss anything.
But all of those eighteen films and ten years have built to now. Ever since showing up in the post-credits stinger of Marvel's The Avengers, the Mad Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) has skulked on the margins, attempting to corral the six ultra powerful infinity stones that exist throughout the universe to become all-powerful. And that means everyone (well, just about everyone) is on deck to bring his menace to heel. That means Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.). It means Captain America (Chris Evans). It means Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his gaggle of Asgardian buddies. It means the Guardians of the Galaxy (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, et al). It means Vision (Paul Bettany) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). And it means the return of 2018’s hottest box office star, Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman). And that barely scratches the surface of this giant-sized cast, all united to fight a common enemy. Surely nothing will go wrong and the heroes will succeed in the end, right?
It should be noted that while this is the first time directors Joe and Anthony Russo have helmed an Avengers movie, they aren’t exactly strangers to a massive cast. Their last effort, Captain America: Civil War, was basically Avengers 2.5, boasting the largest cast of the MCU prior to this one. And indeed, a movie like this is almost entirely predicated on the ability of the directors and writers (Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) to juggle a billion plates in the air and make it look like the most natural thing in the world. As you probably expected, Avengers: Infinity War moves at a breakneck pace, zipping from planet to planet and setting to setting as it lines up it's chess pieces. It can be incredibly easy to lose the plot here, as we cut away from one group of heroes to a completely different part of the universe to check in on another, all while Thanos and his minions hunt down the Infinity Stones. It's a lot to take in and a lot to follow, especially if there are any gaps in your MCU knowledge.
And throughout pretty much all of it, it is very much a Marvel movie. Everything you expect to be there is there. The tension-cutting jokes, the chiseled actors named Chris, the world-threatening baddie who brings them all together, the thinly sketched villains. It’s all there. The Russos fit the Marvel style like it’s a second layer of skin; it’s easy to see them making these movies until they’re octogenarians huddled over monitors while an entirely new generation of impossibly famous people flail away in front of green screens. Honestly, things benefit more than a little from the diffuse nature of the cast, allowing some of the characters who were in danger of becoming overexposed in their own features to stick and move. A character like Spider-Man just works better surrounded by other heroes to play off without the spotlight squarely on him. The same can be said about Doctor Strange. Sure, we're still not getting a lot from Black Widow or Falcon or some of the other second tier folks, but there's only so much time in the world to devote to such things.