"Avengers: Infinity War" is the culmination of a decade's worth of planning, representing the apotheosis of Marvel's Cinematic Universe. All of Marvel's superhero characters (well, almost all— Ant-Man and Hawkeye are absent, not that anyone misses them) have finally teamed up to duke it out with Thanos, the Big Bad who has been teased since the first "Avengers" in 2012. With all this hype behind the film, it is no surprise that it is currently smashing box office records left and right. But is "Infinity War" worth the ten-year buildup?
Picking up right after the events of "Thor: Ragnarok", we learn that Thanos is out to obtain the Infinity Stones, a series of magic rocks that will power his Infinity Gauntlet. With this weapon, he will be able to destroy half of the universe with the snap of his fingers. The Hulk is spirited away back to Earth to warn the other heroes of the impending danger, while Thor is cast into space, soon to be picked up the Guardians of the Galaxy. The film wisely splits the massive cast of superheroes into smaller groups, thus preventing the film from ever feeling too cluttered. Thor blasts off with Rocket Raccoon and Groot on a side-quest to get Thor a weapon capable of taking down Thanos. Meanwhile, the rest of the Guardians team up with Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Doctor Strange, the latter group now stranded in space after fending off Thanos's henchmen. Back on Earth, the remaining superheroes must help their robot pal The Vision remove and destroy the Infinity Stone conveniently residing in his forehead before Thanos can get to it.
With all these separate storylines going on, it seems like "Infinity War" would be a jumbled mess, but miraculously the story functions like a well-oiled machine. The script deftly balances the huge cast, cutting back and forth between each group of characters with ease. Each group gets their time to shine, although the earthbound heroes receive significantly less screen time than the space-faring groups. Amid all the superhero shenanigans, the movie still finds time give Thanos his own scenes. We learn that Thanos wants to destroy half of the universe because he believes it will solve overpopulation problems and provide balance to the cosmos. His unwavering conviction in this logic is unsettling, and it makes him the most compelling villain in the MCU's ten-year history.
However, despite the script's impressive balancing act, "Infinity War" is held back by the same problems that continually plague Marvel movies. Most egregiously is the lack of stakes in the film, which is more of problem with Marvel as a studio than the film itself. "Infinity War" promises to be the serious Marvel film, the one where things actually matter and have permanence this time. This is completely undermined when it is readily available knowledge that the major players in the film are still under years-long contracts with Marvel. It is hard to feel any emotional impact when characters die in "Infinity War" when Marvel is currently producing future films featuring the supposedly deceased characters.
The other big stumbling block for "Infinity War" is the incessant quipping. Marvel has branded itself on being the lighthearted and comedic superhero franchise, as opposed to DC's gritty, gloomy output. Unfortunately Marvel frequently confuses being lighthearted with nonstop jokes. There are numerous moments throughout the film that attempt to be serious or contemplative, only to be undercut by some witticism or round of banter. At one point, Thor is brought to tears while reflecting on the numerous deaths in his family. This moment is immediately followed up with jokey dialogue from Rocket Raccoon. It is possible for a film to maintain a lighthearted tone overall while still containing serious moments. "Infinity War", despite being marketed as a darker chapter in the MCU, cannot commit to its own moments of darkness, as if maintaining a constant jocular attitude will stave off comparisons to DC's films.
Ultimately, "Avengers: Infinity War" is like Frosted Flakes/Lucky Charms: a crossover that seems like a good idea on paper, but one that ultimately leaves you feeling empty. There are things to like about the film, particularly Josh Brolin's performance as Thanos. The problem is that "Infinity War" cannot break free from the same problems that hold back every other Marvel film.