In The History of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, ScreenCrush editor-in-chief Matt Singer looks back at every film in the MCU to date, leading up to the premiere of Avengers: Infinity War Endgame on April 26. Previous chapters can be found here.

Chapter 19: Avengers: Infinity War

Directors: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Release Date: April 27, 2018
U.S. box office: $678.8 million
Worldwide box office: $2.04 billion
Rotten Tomatoes rating: 85 percent
Metacritic score: 68
Letterboxd average grade: 4.0
CinemaScore: A

My Original Review

Marvel

“The story of Avengers: Infinity War is inspired by one of the first true comic book crossovers, the 1991 miniseries The Infinity Gauntlet by Jim Starlin, George Perez, and Ron Lim. A lot of the specifics of the book have been changed, but Infinity War’s spirit is very faithful to the comic. It feels just like a crossover come to life, for better or worse.” - Read more here.

What Holds Up

Marvel

Avengers: Infinity War is a movie that should not work. It has too many characters — all of the Avengers plus all of the Guardians of the Galaxy plus Thanos plus his henchmen, the Black Order, plus a few extra cameos — and too much plot. In under three hours, Thanos and his goons have to hopscotch the universe collecting six Infinity Stones, while the heroes have to mix and match and try to stop him. From the very first scene, the stakes are enormous. The pace rarely lets up. It’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer juggling act of it all.

What Doesn’t Hold Up

Marvel

Although they are nominally action films, the best parts of Marvel movies are rarely the action sequences. The stuff that tends to shine the brightest are the little moments, like the Avengers taking turns trying to lift Thor’s hammer in Age of Ultron. Infinity War is so busy servicing its massive plot it has almost no time for those little moments. The quieter scenes — Wanda and Vision falling in love, Drax showing off his (not real) invisibility powers — are as good as ever. But they’re few and far between in a story that is absolutely packed to the gills.

There are worse things in the world than leaving an audience wanting more — particularly when you have a second movie on the way a year later — but the screen time is spread awfully thin across a lot of characters. As the Russos brothers themselves noted in interviews, the protagonist of the story is really Thanos. He starts the action, he drives the plot, he gets all the flashbacks, and he is the one with the most scenes. A lot of the Marvel heroes become secondary or even tertiary to his machinations; a couple of guys — Hawkeye and Ant-Man most notably — don’t even show up at all. Depending on who your favorite character is, I can see you being a little disappointed by the movie.

Best Marvel Easter Egg

Marvel

My favorite Easter egg in Avengers: Infinity War is the shocking revelation of the keeper of the Soul Stone: the Red Skull, who hasn’t been seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since the time he tried to palm the Tesseract (AKA the Space Stone) at the end of Captain America: The First Avenger and got zapped into the great beyond. It turns out Skull’s punishment for trying to control the Stone is eternal banishment on Vormir, a desolate wasteland of a planet, where he must guide people to the “treasure” he can’t have.

The Red Skull’s return was classic Marvel storytelling: Both a total surprise and a completely organic extension of his character. While the Russos didn’t get Hugo Weaving to return to play Werner Herzog Red Skull, a soundalike (Ross Marquand) did a pretty good job approximating his speaking voice. If you want more Marvel Easter eggs from Avengers: Infinity War, watch this video:

Final Verdict

Marvel

This is an interesting moment to look back at Avengers: Infinity War. In a week, Endgame opens in theaters, and Infinity War officially becomes one half of a larger whole. This is really the only time anyone will ever look at Infinity War this way, divorced from the crush of hype from its initial release and divorced from whatever meaning it will be given in retrospect by Endgame.

One thing that will almost certainly change about it is the impact of that audacious ending, where the Avengers do the unthinkable: They lose. Thanos finally gets all six Infinity Stones, snaps his fingers — an act repeatedly foreshadowed in dialogue by multiple characters in Infinity War — and wipes out half the universe. Many beloved Marvel heroes, including Star-Lord, Black Panther, and Spider-Man, vanish before our eyes. The survivors are too shellshocked to mount a retaliation. The final line of dialogue comes from the formerly indominable Captain America, kneeling before the lifeless husk of cyborg parts that used to be Vision, muttering “Oh God.” Thanos retires to his farm in space and watches the sun rise. Cut to black!

Even with Endgame coming a year later, this is about as bold a finale as any Hollywood blockbuster — superhero or otherwise — made this century. The bad guy wins! The good guys blow it! More than half of them turn to dust and float away on the wind like ash from a cigar! Viewers only got the faintest glimmer of hope if they sat through the entire closing credits (which is no small feat on a movie like Infinity Warand endured the death of super-spies Nick Fury and Maria Hill, at which point a mysterious pager flashes the logo of Captain Marvel, a hero who had yet to make her big-screen debut. And that was the silver lining!

Taken entirely on its own merits, Avengers: Infinity War is both a skillful achievement and an occasionally confounding one. Knowing they had a second movie to play with, the Russo brothers could do stuff like end things on that whopper of a cliffhanger. But they also got saddled by comics mythology with maybe the most unwieldy MacGuffin in movie history.

Despite ten years of Marvel Cinematic Universe entries that could have conceivably advanced the plot a bit, Thanos begins Infinity War with the sum total of zero (0) Infinity Stones. So he has to find all of them over the course of two and a half hours. Even with a script that takes several shortcuts (Thanos gets the first Stone offscreen before the movie even begins), that’s a lot of rigmarole. It sometimes feels more like you’re watching a game of chess than a movie. Or maybe half a chess game. But I’m still looking forward to seeing who wins next week.

Gallery — How Every Avenger’s Costume Evolved, Movie By Movie: