You can breathe a sigh of relief. They pulled it off. Aside from a few notable dips (looking at you, Thor: The Dark World), the Marvel Cinematic Universe is engineered for success, or at least too big to fail. And for its big finale, the Russo Brothers balance the two dozen or so characters in this epic, planet-hopping showdown.
But in two-and-a-half hours, there's literally no time for anything else. That means it never gets bogged down, but the assumption that the work of all character development is done (aside from a character here and there), is a misstep. The emotional lynchpin of the biggest film in the franchise is between a witch and a robot. Paul Bettany (as Vision) and Elisabeth Olsen (as Scarlet Witch) act the hell out of their scenes, giving the best performances in the film. But for a series that has mostly shied away from all but the most cursory, chaste romances, it seems a little late in the game to get us this invested in characters that weren't even around three years ago.
While the film works, it restricts itself a bit. There's a ceiling on how good a movie that's 95 percent fighting can be. And since most of the combatants are CGI, that also limits how visually impressive the fights can be. Even though the Russo Brothers are at the helm, the brutal, kinetic action scenes of Captain America: The Winter Soldier have been replaced by one animated thing smashing into another animated thing. But damn if that already iconic shot of Cap holding back Thanos's gloved hand isn't stunning.
There is much earned cheering throughout, as beloved heroes make their grand entrances, new characters pop up and one truly surprising cameo takes place. And yes, as expected, some major characters die. Yet it's hard to know which, if any, of them will appear in the next Avengers movie or future Marvel projects. Remember, the Infinity Stones have the ability to alter reality and time, so some (or possibly even all) of these characters may have their resurrections.
That means I'm torn on the big finale. This is either the gutsiest ending of any modern blockbuster, or a prelude to an emotional cop-out. It's the first real cliffhanger the MCU has ever had, and it packs a wallop. But the very nature of this carefully plotted out series means that previously announced sequels would all but confirm this character and that character are coming back.
In interviews, the directing duo said they looked to '90s crime films like Out of Sight and 2 Days in the Valley. That's laughable since there's no heist or double-cross element to any of this. It's just fighting (and losing) against Thanos as he picks up another Infinity Stone. But I think the key to understanding the ending, whether definitive or not, is a later film: Memento. By no means does Infinity War have the twists and turns or narrative conceit of Christopher Nolan's breakthrough. What it does have though is characters who tell you exactly what's going to happen, and when it does, you're left in your seat in denial. "Surely that can't be what happened," you might think to yourself.
It's hard to properly review Infinity War, because until the follow-up drops next summer, we won't know if the film is as audacious as it seems. So for now, I'll split the difference and say I was sufficiently entertained. I'll know in a year if that gut punch left a bruise.