Avengers: Infinity War brings out the best in its heroes—and the worst in its villains.
Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, from a script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, Marvel Studios' blockbuster unites Drax (Dave Bautista) Vision (Paul Bettany), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), The Collector (Benicio del Toro), Groot (Vin Diesel), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), M'Baku (Winston Duke), Heimdall (Idris Elba), Captain America (Chris Evans), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Okoye (Danai Gurira), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Winter Soldier/White Wolf (Sebastian Stan), Wong (Benedict Wong) and Shuri (Letitia Wright) against their common enemy: Thanos (Josh Brolin).
Thanos is on a smash and grab to collect all six Infinity Stones, giving him unlimited power in his quest to "balance" the universe by wiping out half of its population. Aided by his "children"—The Black Order's Proxima Midnight (Carrie Coon), Cull Obsidian (Terry Notary), Corvus Glaive (Michael James Shaw) and Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor)—Thanos is almost unstoppable.
Avengers: Infinity War, in theaters now, is rated PG-13.
Here's what critics are saying about the 19th chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
• "Marvel has pulled off all sorts of cinematic flavors in its 10-year legacy, from heist films and political thrillers to space operas and fantasy epics. Now it boasts a full-fledged Shakespearean tragedy," USA Today's Brian Truitt writes. Due to the size of its cast, "It's kind of a miracle but every personality in this super-smorgasbord gets at least one meaningful character moment." And overall, "There are unexpected returns, true surprises, real sacrifices and a cliffhanger ending that's going to freak fans to their superhero-loving core, yet is, quite simply, marvelous."
• "The movie is a knowingly gargantuan Marvel mashup, so jam-packed with embattled uber saviors that you may feel, at times, like all that's missing is Dwayne Johnson, Jesus Christ and the cast of the last two Star Wars films," Variety's Owen Gleiberman writes. And yet, it's also "a sleekly witty action opera that's at once overstuffed and bedazzling." The movie "is a brashly entertaining jamboree, structured to show off each hero or heroine and give them just enough to do, and to update their mythologies without making it all feel like homework. At the same time, you may begin to lose hold of what made each of these characters, you know, special." Brimming with "tensely spectacular combat sequence, it's "sharp, fast-moving and elegantly staged." Like any superhero film worth its salt, there's a sense that there's something at stake."
• "More than in any other comics-derived superhero concoction one could mention, there's a whiff of something resembling tragedy in a franchise that, for millions of fans, seems to play a role similar to what mythology did for the Greeks," The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy writes. "This grand, bursting-at-the-seams wrap-up to one crowded realm of the Marvel superhero universe starts out as three parts jokes, two parts dramatic juggling act and one part deterministic action..." But as the superheroes meet up across the galaxy, "the danger Thanos represents, and the way it increases exponentially with each stone he acquires, becomes quite serious." In fact, he says, "What begins as a lark...[later] transforms into something genuinely threatening and grim"—an idea "that has to be taken seriously: the prospect that evil can win."
• "Whatever else it may be—a culmination, an obligation, a staggering feat of crowd control, a truly epic tease—Avengers: Infinity War is a brisk, propulsive, occasionally rousing and borderline-gutsy continuation of a saga that finally and sensibly seems to be drawing to a close," The Los Angeles Times' Justin Chang writes. "It is also a carefully engineered and ultimately unsuccessful bid for something that has rarely, if ever, rattled the Marvel cosmos: catharsis." And while some fans may wish their favorite characters had more screen time, they should leave the movie "feeling that the execution has been neatly scaled to the ambition of the enterprise, and that the characters' individual scenes have been reasonably apportioned."
• "There's no pacing in Avengers: Infinity War. It's all sensation and no pulse. Everything is big, all of the time. Tucked amid the story's numerous operatic sacrifices—barely a moment goes by when a character doesn't almost die, or actually die, or temporarily die—there are jokes folded in," TIME's Stephanie Zacharek writes. But there is at least "one" poignant idea in the movie: "Thanos' goal of destroying half the universe is much worse than pulverizing the whole thing, because those who remain will remember the world as it was—and they'll be left to mourn those who are gone," Zacharek writes. "The movie's climax scratches at something close to melancholic grandeur, featuring a visual effect that's Biblical in both its force and its delicacy."
• The Russo brothers "move their many playing pieces around with as much grace as possible, and they offer up jolts of pleasure throughout," The Wrap's Alonso Duralde writes. "The violence is ratcheted higher than usual—parents, please note we get both torture and genocide this time around—but the wisecracks still work; on this outing, the audience needs them more than usual, and the experienced cast knows how to throw them around as a way to keep their characters sane in the face of Armageddon." Coon and Holland are the "standouts," but the "one disappointment" is Thanos, who "is more fearsome by his actions...than in his dialogue."
• "Infinity War is a movie for the fans," Entertainment Weekly's Chris Nashawaty writes, comparing it to "the Marvel equivalent of watching the old 'We Are the World' video." By and large, "this super-sized mash-up works better than you'd expect." Some characters, like Black Widow and Falcon, "get so little to do, you wonder why they even bothered to show up." Due to the large cast, some of the actors "don't have much more to do than act as glorified extras." At times, the characters' separate missions can feel "too disjointed." But what saves the story, and "what will end up being the thing that blows fans' minds to dust—is the film's final stretch."
• "The final act...brings a chill, a darkness and a hush that represent something new in this universe. Infinity War is the first half of the final installment in the series, and it concludes with a premonition of finality. Its intimations of grief and terror feel shrewdly attuned to what is happening in the actual, un-marvelous world," The New York Times' A.O. Scott writes, careful not to share spoilers about the characters' fates. "But those emotions can also be folded back into the movies themselves. This universe is coming to an end. And then where will we be?"
• "Infinity War is all over the place, straining to give everyone a seat at the table. There are 30 lead roles, each actor getting his or her pass at the camera—clocking in at over two hours and 29 minutes, you'll have Avengers coming out of your ears," Rolling Stone's Peter Travers writes. The Avengers and their new allies "spend a lot of time getting their asses kicked. To say how, exactly, would qualify as spoilers. But the fight scenes that swing randomly from exciting to chaotic, are technical wonders." Best of all, Thanos "is a Marvel villain for the ages," as the Brolin so skillfully gives "this Mad Titan a tragic dimension" and "damn near steals the movie."
• "Avengers: Infinity War is an experience unlike anything fans have seen in Marvel Studios' 10-year superhero reign. It would be easy to think that's because of this historic gathering of not only the best, but also all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in one place. And make no mistake, that is a huge part of what makes this film special," The Washington Post's David Betancourt writes. But it's Brolin's "CGI performance as the ultimate Marvel villain" that "more than makes up for previous complaints of weak MCU bad guys." The "true shock value" is the high stakes the Russo brothers have created. The directing duo establish that "no one is safe" in this movie, and "the heroes feel that, too—really bad things are happening and they're helpless to stop it."
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