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After ten years and eighteen films, Marvel Studios has finally reached the conclusion of the saga they’ve set out to tell – – going all the way back to Iron Man back in 2008 – – with Avengers: Infinity War. The decade in the making film is an ambitious and bold superhero epic more in the vein of The Lord of the Rings than typical cape fare, but with everything you’ve come to expect – – and a whole lot that audience aren’t – – from Marvel Studios. Instead of being a straightforward Avengers film, we’re treated to a mythology heavy story that spans galaxies, pitting our heroes on a collision course with the Mad Titan known as Thanos. But unlike the thirteen month journey that the Fellowship faced in The Lord of the Rings saga, the danger is much more imminent, and it’s going to take heroes from across the Marvel Cinematic Universe to come together to try to save reality from Thanos’ dark end goal.

On paper, as great as this movie would sound, it shouldn’t work. To meld so many franchises, characters, and worlds together to tell one cohesive story in this way, it just sounds like a logistical nightmare. Yet, somehow, Marvel Studios has pulled it off, but it’s not without some minor bumps and bruises along the way. With a film like this, it’s easy for characters to get lost in the shuffle, and to be honest, as much as we love so many of these MCU mainstays, there’s a few who haven’t been given a ton to do through the film. However, while a few characters do fall a bit by the wayside, it works because the film decides to focus so much on the film’s villain, Thanos, played by Josh Brolin.In many ways, this is Thanos’ film more than it is an Avengers film, something the Russo Bros. have said they were aiming for, which may be one of the smartest plays they could have made with this film. That particular creative choice ends up giving us a layered, emotionally complex being who you understand…Even though he’s the film’s villain, and he’s laying waste to the heroes throughout the film. Not only that, it makes Thanos incredibly scary because you understand that there is nothing that will come between him and his mission, and if it does, he’ll just crush it and keep moving forward.

Because Thanos feels so fleshed out, it raises the stakes of the film considerably, to the point that you never really know what’s going to happen, making each moment feel dangerous and unpredictable for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Of course, Robert Downey, Jr., the man who started it all, is fantastic once again in the role of Tony Stark, with Tony finally facing the reality he feared would come in Avengers: Age of Ultron, with the world facing destruction at the hands of beings from other worlds. Stark, for a better part of his time in the MCU, has been partly its biggest hero, while also being its biggest villain, and now he’s faced with the ultimate choice to bring the fight to Thanos and end this once and for all. Downey, Jr. has always played the role with so much emotionally complexity, and this may be his best turn as the armored Avenger, because you can tell that both Downey, Jr. and Stark have grown considerably in the last decade together. At times, you may start to wonder where the character starts and the actor ends, however that’s not a bad thing as it works for the Stark character. But everyone else brings their best to their respective roles throughout, not just Downey, Jr. and Brolin. Chris Pratt, Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth, also known as the Three Chrisketeers, truly standout in the film, as well as Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlett Witch, who really fines time to shine bright.

The best thing about Avengers: Infinity War may also be the thing that audiences have the toughest time with, and that comes from its willingness to be as complex and dark as it gets. Many film sequels tout that they want to be the next The Empire Strikes Back, but for the first time, it feels like we may have a real runner-up to that position. Avengers: Infinity War pulls no punches, and it’s also not willing to hold the audiences hand for the sake of making fans feel happiness. This film deals with cataclysmic events, and instead of playing everything for jokes – – though, don’t be fooled, the film still has a lot of the trademark Marvel humor – – the film instead goes broke in dragging the audience through the dark reality that the characters are facing. For a movie series to be nineteen films deep, and leave the audience truly grappling with the ideas and consequences in the film the way that Infinity War feels like a bit of fresh air. We’re so used to blockbusters that are more like fast food meals, that leave you satisfied but little else, it’s nice to have a blockbuster that wants to be more of a steak dinner, that leaves you fulfilled and feeling good when you’re done.

This is also Marvel Studios’ longest film to date, clocking it at just over two and a half hours, but the Russo Bros. give the film such a breakneck pace from the opening on, it never feels as long as the film’s run time. The pace is almost so fast that those in the audience who lose step with the film for even a minute may find themselves a bit lost as the film charges along with its separate storylines, all leading to the film’s massive climax, one that fans are going to be over the moon for. Though many may also find it as emotionally draining as they find it exciting. The action is just non stop throughout the film, but the third act takes things that to new heights, as the Avengers face off with Thanos and his Black Order, leading to some of the most breathtaking and kick ass moments the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ever seen. It’s amazing just how well the Russo Bros. really understand action, and how to make it feel not only cool, but emotionally resonate as well. The action never feels like action for the sake of it, which again goes to show just how high the stakes feel through Infinity War‘s runtime. But most importantly, the twists and turns that the directing duo have up their sleeves are sure to leave even the most diehard of fan’s jaws on the ground, which is to say that the best way to watch the film is knowing as little as possible going in. No easy feat in this day of age with the internet, but it will leave you the most satisfied walking out of the theater.

Avengers: Infinity War is an action packed, emotionally complex, and tough as nails superhero film that is one for the ages. This is a cinematic achievement in so many ways, even if the film doesn’t quite perfectly balance all the characters throughout. But its breakneck pace and heavy action will leave audiences in awe, while also crying into their tissues. This is not only one of Marvel’s finest offerings, but this may be one of the best blockbuster films since The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, giving us an epic on the scale we don’t normally get, or that we’re likely to see again. Honestly, for the first time in the history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s hard to imagine what comes next. There’s no clear path forward as Avengers: Infinity War comes to a close, and that’s a truly fantastic feeling, though it’ll make the wait for next year’s currently untitled Avengers follow-up excruciating.