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A Marvel 'Infinity'

The umpteenth installment of the Avengers.

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ALL THE SUPERHEROES: Star in "Avengers: Infinity War."
  • ALL THE SUPERHEROES: Star in "Avengers: Infinity War."

The week that "Avengers: Infinity War" dropped was clearly a race to see the movie before the internet ruined it for you. The movie cleared almost a quarter-billion dollars its first weekend, a record, because spoilers were everywhere — on Facebook (even as memes), in conversations, in the air itself, settling on the world like fine volcanic ash. Someone I know literally ran from two dads he heard chatting about the movie at a train station. Another friend mourned when he came across TMI online. "Look, I get it, being online more than 48 hours after an enormous movie opening that's right in my wheelhouse is like skipping blindfolded through a minefield," he tweeted. "Still, it kinda sucks that it happened."

The 19th (or is it 100th?) installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, America's favorite telenovela, is so damn big and so damn dramatic in its stakes that you're going to hear about it eventually, somewhere, from someone. I'm not going to tip anything further here, except to say that while "Black Panther" was the better film, "Infinity War" wins for the most shocking Marvel outing yet. This will be a movie kids talk about in 20 or 30 years the way a certain earlier generation remembers when Optimus Prime died in "Transformers: The Movie." (Ah, heck, 1986 spoiler alert.)

Since 18 other movies and literally dozens of characters have been spiraling toward this moment, it may take a sec to catch up, but here's the big open. Thanos, the supervillanous space titan who's been lurking in these films since "The Avengers" in 2012 (gaaaaah, we're all old) has finally sprung his plan to collect a half-dozen of these macguffins called infinity stones and use them to wield nigh-godlike powers. Josh Brolin plays the giant purple thug; first thing he does out of the gate is out-wrestle the Hulk and whip Thor and Loki, establishing firmly that everyone is screwed.

From there, it's a jumble of plots and pair-offs, in a nearly "Game of Thrones" style: Iron Man, Dr. Strange and Spider-Man go to space together! Vision (and the stone in his forehead) and Scarlet Witch have a big relationship talk in Scotland, then get ambushed by Thanos' goons, only to get bailed out by Captain America! Thor goes in search of a massive space forge with Rocket and Groot, while Drax and Gamora and Mantis chase after the Collector and run into Thanos! Bucky's in Wakanda! If any of that sentence didn't make sense, don't worry, you've got only 10 years of comic book movies to catch up on and Amazon streaming is now a thing.

The usual hosannas apply to "Infinity War," which like its predecessors sets the outer boundary of what you can see on a screen and convince your brain is really happening. The humor keeps things light, despite an incredibly heavy plot that has, at stake, half the beings in the entire universe. The performances are ... hell, who can even tell, really? Brolin likely gets more lines than anyone else — more than any other MCU film, this is a villain's film. He offers a surprising amount of depth and heart (perverse though it is) and becomes, in a sense, the only character who seems to be driving, rather than flinching at, the events in motion. You're not going to understand his mission (as a plot device it's amazing; as a character-driven story, it's a head-scratcher) but there are absolutely stakes, and if this bastard wins, well ... .

Eventually these films are going to have to slim down. There's simply too much noise, too many moving parts, for this to be sustainable as a structure for filmmaking. The good news: The outcome of "Infinity War" ensures that Marvel will be able to focus more on characters, which, ultimately, is why people keep shelling out to see these flicks. Chances are we'll look back at "Infinity War" as a high-water mark of a certain kind of moviemaking, admire it, and count ourselves glad that nothing else since quite matched its scale and ambition. There will be more Marvel movies; with any luck, there will never be another "Infinity War."

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