Disney’s latest Marvel Studios’ superhero blockbuster “Avengers: Infinity War” (**** OUT OF ****) finally gives us a villain that we not only can love but also loath with equal passion because he considers himself the epitome of mercy.  Few supervillains share Thanos’ warped point of view as well as his staggering supremacy.  After several cameos in earlier Marvel epics, the long-awaited Thanos devastates everybody and everything in his path like an apocalypse.  Just about every Marvel superhero shows up to hinder this doomsday juggernaut from looting the universe of those six ultra-powerful Infinity Stones that auger ill for the future.  “Captain America: Winter Soldier” and “Captain America: Civil War” co-directors Joe and Anthony Russo with “Captain America” co-writers Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus have delivered a sequel that indisputably surpasses its predecessors, but it is debatable that Marvel can hoist the stakes much higher in later sequels for a villain as formidable as Thanos.  Moreover, the greatest criticism many may raise is that their favorite Marvel superhero may have been short-changed in this epic owing to a shortage of time to accommodate everybody in this ambitious opus.

Actually, most of the superheroes have more than enough time, while the peripheral entities, like Loki, perish in the first scene and those that ensue.  Clocking in at a marathon two hours and 36 minutes, “Avengers: Infinity War” will challenge anybody’s bladder.  Unless you’re a dialysis patient, you’ll have to schedule your departures, so you’ll miss neither the least amount of high-octane action nor expository dialogue.  Back in the good ole days, Hollywood provided audiences with intermissions to purge their urges.  Problem is the brothers Russo and their scenarists never squander a second in their narrative. Perhaps somebody will create an app that will enable us via Wi-Fi to watch on our smart phones what we would normally miss during flights to and from the lavatory.  Meantime, the Russo Brothers maintain a straightforward, serious tone throughout this superhero mash-up, sprinkling the action with amusing quips, especially about Wakanda possibly getting a Starbucks Coffee Shop since Black Panther wants to open his homeland up to the world.  No, “Avengers Infinity War” isn’t a parody like “Thor: Ragnarok.”  Despite its abundant length, the filmmakers take enough time to update certain characters, such as Thor, and give us glimpses into the past about how Thanos saved a young Gamora. What may dishearten some Marvel fans is Thanos doesn’t take a licking.  Instead, he delivers the licking, taking down virtually every Marvel champion as irrevocably as a bowling ball smashing ten-pins during a strike.

“Avengers’ Infinity War” picks up where “Thor: Ragnarok” left off.  Thanos (Josh Brolin) boards the Asgardian spaceship with the Ragnarok survivors.  Incidentally, he wears a helmet and uniform in a nod to Jim Starlin’s graphic novel “The Infinity Gauntlet” (1991). He wears a massive gauntlet on his left fist that he will array with six stones.  Thanos sheds the helmet.  He vanquishes both Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in brief but brutal combat.  He tortures Thor for the whereabouts of the Tesseract, and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) reluctantly surrenders it.  Not only does Thanos dispatch Loki but also Heimdall.  Before Heimdall (Idris Elba) dies, he summons the Bifrost and transports Hulk back to Earth.  Once he has the Space stone, Thanos destroys the ship.  Meantime, Hulk plunges into New York City. He has reverted to his alter-ego Bruce Banner.  Unhappily, he cannot conjure up the Hulk.  Thanos’ cronies terrorize New York.  They hover above the Big Apple in a colossal ring-shaped spacecraft.  Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is riding in a school bus, driven by Marvel honcho Stan Lee in another inevitable cameo when this monstrosity appears over Manhattan.  Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Spider-man, and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) tangle with these sinister extraterrestrials that want Strange’s Time stone.  Eventually, our superheroes stow away onboard the departing alien ship, and Spider-man discovers his new outfit helps him survive.  More of Thanos’ toadies rampage into Scotland to bring back the Mind stone embedded in Vision’s forehead.  Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) fights alongside Vision (Paul Bettany) to repulse these wicked adversaries.

The Guardians of the Galaxy receive a distress call, like the crew of the Nostromo did in “Alien.”  When they reach the scene of destruction, they can only save Thor.  The Guardians divide themselves into two groups.  Rocket Raccoon and Groot accompany Thor to the planet Nidavellir, where Eitri (Peter Dinklage) forges a replacement battle-axe christened Stormbreaker, so the son of Odin can intervene in the life and death fracas back on Earth in Wakanda.  Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) confront more of Thanos’ subhuman armies out to get ‘the Mind Stone.’  The creation of Thor’s new hammer is exhilarating.  No matter what this army of superheroes tries, Thanos manages to conquer them at every turn.  Eventually, once he has acquired all six stones, the Titan snaps his fingers, and half of the universe vanishes like dust in the wind.  Barnes, Black Panther, Groot, Scarlet Witch, Mantis, Drax, Star Lord, Dr. Strange, and Spider-man dissolve into smoke.  At one point, our heroes nearly relieve Thanos of the Infinity gauntlet, until Star Lord infuriates the purple giant. Ultimately, Iron Man, Thor, Banner, Rocket Raccoon, Captain America, and Black Widow survive this frightening Armageddon.

Anybody familiar with Jim Starlin’s “The Infinity Gauntlet,” the film’s source material, knows the graphic novel and film share few similarities.  For example, in Starlin’s “Gauntlet,” Thanos had acquired all six infinity gems from the start.  Meantime, in the movie, Thanos embarks on a crystal scavenger hunt from the beginning.  The film discards Thanos’ futile infatuation with Mistress Death.  Comparatively, over thirty superheroes died, and Thanos pushed the Earth out of orbit. Nevertheless, every catastrophe that Thanos inflicted would later be undone.  The biggest surprise about “Avengers: Infinity War” is the triumph of Thanos over our heroes.  Presumably, the sequel will undo the evil Titan’s victory.


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