There's just too much of this thing. Avengers: Infinity War is way overloaded with super-characters (I count at least 20 weighty names, plus plenty of subsidiary ones), and chaotically edited battles (some of which devolve into boring fistfights), and much leaping and hurling and just plain running around. There are too many fireballs and explosions and all-devouring CGI. And it all goes on for two and a half hours.
This is unfortunate, because the story here, in all of its several facets, is unusually appealing. And the movie has more heart-and-soul than you might expect, too, even in a Marvel production. It's possible to love this picture and occasionally grow tired of it, as well. There are worse things.
Most of the Avengers are on hand (Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Spider-Man, and so forth), as are the more comedically inclined Guardians of the Galaxy (Star Lord, Gamora, Groot, Rocket, those guys), and, repping for the latest Marvel blockbuster, Black Panther and his sparky sister Shuri and a couple of other familiar Wakandans). Also deserving of mention is the formidable Doctor Strange, who's unaffiliated, I think, although maybe he's an Avenger now, too, I'm really not sure. (Please do bomb the comments section with expressions of contempt.)
The motor of the main plot this time is the galactic destroyer Thanos, of whom we've heard whispers over the course of the last 18 Marvel movies. I must admit having been a little worried about Thanos after seeing him in the trailer for this film. He's about 10 feet tall, with a puzzlingly striated chin (ported over from the Marvel comics), and he looked to me at first like a big stupid cartoon. However, Thanos is built upon an extraordinary mo-cap performance by the always excellent Josh Brolin, who manages to project the conflicted nature of this character in ways that both solicit and repel our sympathy.
Thanos is on a mission to complete his collection of powerful Infinity Stones, which have been endlessly babbled about for the last 10 years. He already has two of these gems slotted into a cool gauntlet, and he knows that the Avengers and Guardians have access to the other four. Once he has all six, Thanos will be able to shape reality to his desires, and what he desires is to wipe out half of the universe. Why does he want to do this? Because natural resources are finite, and they're being over-consumed, and if he can just radically cull the cosmic population things will be better for everybody who's left and they can get back to nature and start inventing Birkenstocks or whatever. Thanos's economic education obviously never progressed beyond Malthus, but he insists he wants to impose his master plan for people's "own good." Don't they all.
But Thanos has a softer side, too, of which we become aware in his scenes with the green-faced Guardian Gamora (Zoe Saldana, at her best). Many years earlier, Thanos adopted Gamora as his daughter (right after murdering her parents), and she has always hated him. This situation makes Thanos sad (note the tear running down his cheek), but it also makes him angry, which as you can imagine is a very bad thing.
Meanwhile, Thanos's hordes of evil demons, led by the repulsively noseless Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), are becoming a worldwide annoyance. Word of their depredations reaches the cyber-brainiac Vision (Paul Bettany) and his honey, the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), who've been snuggled up in Scotland for the last two years and now realize they must rally to the assistance of their fellow Avengers.
Given the movie's overcrowded nature, not all of the Avengers get a lot of face time, if any at all. Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye never turns up, and Paul Rudd's Ant-Man gets only a passing mention. Anthony Mackie's Falcon and Don Cheadle's War Machine fly around a bit, but not much more, and even Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow seems under-underemployed.
This leaves a lot of the story to be carried—and carried very well—by the other super-beings. Doc Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) derides the tight relationship between Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and the puppylike young Spider-Man (Tom Holland): "What is he, your ward?" Strange snaps. And Chris Hemsworth's Thor—now a full-fledged funny guy—has drawn the jealous ire of Peter Quill/Star Lord (Chris Pratt) and is working up a two-hander comedy routine with the wisecracking raccoon Rocket (voiced again by Bradley Cooper).
Not all of the Avengers are in a laughing mood. Chris Evans's Captain America—reluctantly returned from a self-imposed exile from the team—is definitely looking glum, as is Mark Ruffalo's Hulk, who's been having trouble triggering his inner beast lately. (A metaphor for whatever it was that cooled down his relationship with Black Widow?) Also short on smiles at the moment is Chadwick Boseman's T'Challa/Black Panther, whose country is under brutal attack by the Thanos hordes. (Sad to say, the over-extended Wakanda battle scenes are among the picture's more patience-trying problems—they go on for what seems like ever).
The movie concludes with a most surprising scene – a narrative sucker punch that wings in out of nowhere. (The fully grown adult sitting next to me at the screening I attended broke out in a cry of "Noooo…") But after the mile-long credits roll, an even more startling scene unfolds. Next up, next year: Part 2.