"Avengers: Infinity War" is everything Marvel fans could have hoped for. It's also a crushing disappointment.
Like a seven-course gourmet meal that ends with the waiter pouring coffee on your head, the scarring way it ends taints the entire event. And "Infinity War," which stretches to nearly three hours if you count trailers and end credits, is more event than movie. It's a chunk of your day spent on mesmerizing thrills, an impossibly stacked cast and an infuriating finale.
Without spoilers, I can tell you that the finish wreaks of cynicism and feels cheap in a manner that severely undermines not only the films that came before, but those to come. What seemed to have been intended as a thoughtful and bitingly resonant finish comes off as a hollow betrayal of trust in the overall artistic vision of the franchise.
The ending feels like the punchline of an elaborate and cruel, 10-year, 19-movie long joke on fans.
If you can somehow manage to separate the bulk of the film from its finish, you can step back and appreciate the sheer majesty of the ambitious project.
The sibling director team of Joe and Anthony Russo tell a captivating tale of Earth's Mightiest Hero's banding together for the cataclysmic battle with the marauding demigod Thanos (Josh Brolin) that the entire series of films had been building toward. The likes of Captain America (Chris Evans), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Starlord (Chris Pratt) working in concert to fight off an all-consuming threat reaches beyond the hyperactive daydreams of the hardest-core Marvel fanboys.
Crammed with relentless and brutal action, the film speeds along at Quicksilver pace, leavened with moments of trademark humor that has paced the franchise since the early "Iron Man" days.
The overall tone of "Infinity War," though, is somber and heavy-hearted. The stakes are impossibly high, the battles are punishing and impactful and the sacrifices and notes of heroism ring true and justified. This is superhero comic book mythology at its deepest and most intense, wiped away of all the Saturday morning cartoon breeziness that has paced the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
At least the Russo brothers deserve credit for keeping the film wily and unpredictable. The final product reveals that the script was a state secret-level guarded document with orchestrated red herrings, rendering years of message board chatter and fan theories obsolete.
The filmmakers also handled previous plot developments with respect and care. The Avengers were permanently divided during "Captain America: Civil War," with permanent wounds that are not easily patched up. Far from Superfriends, these egotistical world-protectors are not on speaking terms, and remain seriously hampered by factions, egotism and personal interests. As a team, this loose confederation of heroes are a fatally flawed, dysfunctional family, which makes their interactions captivating rather than rote.
All of the movie's strengths make the ending all the more harrowing, and although the finale can be defended as a daring artistic choice that is bold enough to fly in the face of convention, the tears and anguish it fans are every bit as justified as the praise.
A movie to watch multiple times, dissect and debate, "Avengers: Infinity War" is a challenging and utterly exhausting specimen of fever-pitch pop culture. It lifts, inspires and stings in a raw way that studio blockbusters rarely manage. And it proves in a heartbreaking manner that the world sometimes needs rescuing from its own heroes.
RATING: 3 stars out of 4.