Cutting right to the chase, Avengers: Infinity War is pretty damn good and may even be unpredictable for the Easter egg-hunting, online theory crowd —but how the hell do you even begin to describe a movie like this? Installment to installment, the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies work more or less as individual stories with just enough narrative crossover for each title to stand on its own. It’s helpful to know what happens in Civil War before seeing Black Panther, but if not, you’ll still get on board pretty quickly. Spider-Man: Homecoming ties into the aftermath of the first Avengers team-up but its story is appropriately self-contained. You may want to look up Loki and Odin before seeing Thor: Ragnarok, but let’s face it, the third Thor movie eliminates any reason to rewatch the first two.
Avengers: Infinity War
PG-13, 156 minutes
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema
So here we are with perhaps the most ambitious blockbuster in history featuring not only some of today’s most expensive talent but the weight of 10 years of story building. Going on the assumption that you know who Dr. Strange, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Vision and Scarlet Witch are, and how they got here, Infinity War still works as a standalone story of a true believer dedicated to the mission at all costs. The villain, Thanos (Josh Brolin), holds it all together, and even with all of the twists and turns, is the biggest revelation of all.
Explaining how we got here would be like watching the series finale of “Lost” while answering the questions of someone who’s never seen it before, but the simmering background plot of the entire MCU has been the location of the Infinity Stones. Possession of one means mastery of one of the fundamental truths of all existence: space, time, power, reality, mind and soul. Thanos, the Titan responsible for the alien attack on New York, has been pursuing them in order to achieve what he believes will be ultimate order in the universe. The disparate corners of the MCU, including those who have not met, team up to try to slow his efforts by either taking him on directly or battling his powerful minions.
MCU vets the Russo brothers, directors of Winter Soldier, Civil War and now Infinity War, show skill in combining established lore with new story elements and creating intrigue in situations that ought to have been predictable. Their understanding of the characters on a deep level means no one is wasted, even in a cast this large. And most refreshing of all, the action sequences, though frenetic, have clear stakes and make complete visual sense.
But no amount of technical wizardry could have brought this together as effectively as the character at its core, Thanos. Underneath all of the motion capture and special effects, Brolin brings a real physicality and tragedy to him and his mission. Watching him explain his methods to those who stand in his way is gripping, and his integrity is never cheapened by some revelation or crucial plot point that was simply hidden until an opportune moment. He is a monster, but he is not a hypocrite, which makes him that much more dangerous and compelling to watch. Viewers will feel different levels of attachment to the various characters, but Thanos is the reason to see this as quickly as possible.
There will come a day when it is no longer a given that a Marvel movie will be good, but the success of Infinity War means all bets are off as to when, why or how.
Playing this week
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056
A Quiet Place, I Feel Pretty, Super Troopers 2
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213
A Quiet Place, Black Panther, Chappaquiddick, I Feel Pretty, Isle of Dogs, Labyrinth, Rampage, Ready Player One, Super Troopers 2, Traffik, Truth or Dare
Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000
A Quiet Place, Bungo Stray Dogs: Dead Apple, The Death of Stalin, I Feel Pretty, Isle of Dogs, Lean on Pete