Avengers: Infinity War is mostly about fighting, punching and zooming from one thing to another

Marvel's assemblage of nearly every hero from its superhero universe feels like a step backwards

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (Anthony Russo, Joe Russo). 149 minutes. Opens Friday (April 27). See listing. Rating: NNN

So, true believers: is Avengers: Infinity War the Marvel movie to end all Marvel movies?

No, of course not. Ant-Man And The Wasp comes out in two months, and there are like another dozen films lined up after that. Ten years on, the Marvel machine will not be stopped, even if this is presumably the event to which it’s all been building.

Infinity War does deliver what Marvel’s been promising for the last few years, though. It’s an assemblage of nearly every hero from this ongoing cinematic project – except for Hawkeye and Ant-Man, who are under house arrest or something – to face the universe’s grandest challenge yet. An alien invasion of New York City? Small potatoes. A rampaging AI out to exterminate all life on Earth? Meh.

No, this time it’s cosmic. Infinity War brings together Earth’s mightiest heroes (and the Guardians of the Galaxy, too!) to battle the alien brute Thanos (Josh Brolin), a megalomaniac who seeks to wipe out precisely half of all life in the galaxy and thus bring balance to the cosmos. Nice enough guy. Gamora’s dad. You’ve met him.

To achieve his goal, Thanos needs the six Infinity Stones scattered across the universe, some of which we’ve glimpsed in previous movies. Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and the Vision (Paul Bettany) each have one, which puts Earth’s mightiest heroes on a collision course with the angry purple villain. And Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans) still aren’t talking to each other after their bust-up in Civil War two years ago.

Joe and Anthony Russo, who grounded the complex storylines of The Winter Soldier and Civil War in friendships and moral clarity, try to balance the CG mayhem by playing up the personalities where they can. Pairing Downey with Tom Holland’s Spider-Man still delights, and Brolin finds some interesting notes to play in his CG character – and has the weirdest reunion ever with his Sicario co-star Benicio del Toro – but there’s so much going on that the film risks drowning itself out in noise.

With its galactic scale, unimaginable stakes and everything-bagel casting, Infinity War sets up a state of breathless emergency and keeps heaping crisis upon crisis – and while individual sequences are solid, the whole thing borders on exhausting.

Sure, it’s great to be back in Wakanda just a few months after Black Panther, but by the time we get there we’ve already been back and forth across the universe so the Guardians can meet Thor. And the sense of deep, important relationships forged over the years is reduced to a few moments between Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch and Bettany’s Vision – who feel like they just showed up a couple of movies back – and a single dialogue exchange between Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner.

Mostly, this one’s about fighting and punching and zooming from this thing to that thing, sometimes in space and sometimes on Earth. If that’s all you ask from a superhero movie, Infinity War gives it to you by the bucketload.

But over the last decade, the Marvel movies have shown us they can be more – weirder, funnier, more eccentric, even more politically loaded than simple adventure stories. This one feels like a step backward.

And it’s hard to take the Shocking Cliffhanger Finale too seriously when we know there’s no way the powers that be will let it stand.

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