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Infinity War makes it easier to appreciate how clean that first Avengers movie was. Another dozen plus Marvel outings on, there’s such a deluge of arcs and storylines collecting into Infinity War, that even an overlong 150-minute runtime isn’t enough.

It’s about Thanos now, a big-chinned purple villain with an affinity for jewelry. Infinity War becomes his movie, despite the intertwined narrative elsewhere. Thanos arguably needed better build-up than a handful of credit cookies in prior films, but he’s here and a dominating titan. In the opening frames, he wrecks Hulk and smashes Thor, establishment needed considering how many superheroes Thanos is battling in the third act.

To get anywhere in this story requires a dizzying array of drop-in, drop-out action scenes, snaking around one other and bleeding excitement. The myriad of cool imagery that spills forth – one hero has an entire moon thrown at them – eventually floods the screen past capacity. Script-writers and editors earn the title of “cinematic magicians” for keeping this in some semblance of order.

a predictable, repetitive cavalcade of last-second saves – and always on cue

What’s meant to be a celebration worthy of a decade-long build-up feebly collapses under the weight of computer generated spectacle. Forget boundaries. The looseness with which heroes and heroines sling beams, form magical realms, launch missiles, shoot bullets, spew fire, and toss spears loses itself. Any tension splits from a predictable, repetitive cavalcade of last-second saves – and always on cue. When a character pointedly asks why another didn’t use their powers previously, it’s a valid observation. Doctor Strange can’t suck Thanos into a netherealm for reasons. Go with it.

It’s a mass of punchy, comic book violence, a cross-over special edition that reads better than it plays and with little greater context. There’s minimal thematic thrust. This is the pay-off to a series of stories concerned with equality, government surveillance, capitalist fears, and government overreach. In this semi-climax, all of that disappears. There’s no time. Instead, clutter impedes flow, noting the need for fan service rather than purpose. Big villain, good heroes; it’s traditionalist and empty. That’s a loss for a series willing to subtly mix in humor to make weightier stories attractive to the mainstream.

Seeing a mass of humanity charge on Thanos is memorable for more than its superstar trailer spotlight; Marvel built to that moment through a successful series, unlike anything prior (also, with profitability unlike anything prior). Expect cheer sections in theaters, assuming the crowd isn’t already exhausted from the excess before.

Also, expect a shed tear or two, more so if anyone walks into Infinity War expecting a clean finish. It’s not. This is the dour, Empire Strikes Back of the franchise. Although, believing any mainline Marvel charcter is lost is equal to assuming someone killed Jason Vorhees. They’ll all be back eventually; movie heroes never truly die. They shoot more laser beams and trade sarcastic barbs again. Box office receipts demand it. And hopefully, when they do return, it’s in something less erratic than this.

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Avengers: Infinity War features countless moments destined for trailers, but it’s also routine and stuffed with filler, exhausting itself before the finish.

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