Avengers: Infinity War opens with high expectations. It is, after all, the culmination of events from the previous eighteen films of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) going back to 2008’s Iron Man. We’ve known for some time where the movies have been heading, and not only because Disney/Marvel Studios has held press conferences to announce their upcoming line-up of films sometimes years in advance. Even before they let us all know that Infinity War was set for Spring 2018, we’d seen glimpses of the infinity stones (gems in the original comics), and even saw the Mad Titan himself (Thanos) in the post-credit stinger for The Avengers in 2012. So how do you answer all the hype that this kind of multi-billion franchise has developed over the last ten years?

[SPOILER ALERT: Scroll through below to read my review of Avengers: Infinity War. The review will not spoil events in the movie, but will assume a familiarity with the previous films in the franchise.]

Simple (although nothing about this mega-franchise is simple at all): by producing an excellent film that manages to juggle a crew of what feels like about three thousand heroes and their various sidekicks all while appearing to give them a) decent screen time, b) weighty moments, and c) actual character arcs compressed into mere minutes. The running time of just under two and half hours feels like it flashes by (apologies to DC), and while we’ll all have favorites that don’t get the amount of screen time we’d like them to have, it’s hard to fault the Russo brothers or screenwriters Markus and McFeely for the way they’ve handled things.

Speaking of the brothers Russo (Anthony and Joe), they’ve proven themselves as excellent co-directors and producers over a decade and a half career that has included two of my favorite MCU movies in Captain America: Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War. What you might not know, and something that explains their excellent sense of comic timing, is that they both cut their teeth on Arrested Development, directing fifteen episodes between them (that’s almost a third of the original run’s fifty-three, for those that are counting). So while Taika Waititi may have the crown for directing outright comedy in the MCU (for the excellent Thor: Ragnarok), the Russos more than hold their own, and to be frank, under much more difficult circumstances.

This is because, much like Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, this is an interstitial film, one that comes between the set-up and the payoff. And as such, the stakes here are higher than they’ve ever been in any of the MCU movies to come before. We already know that there is a follow-up coming next year (the yet-to-be-titled Avengers 4), which means that going in, we kind of already knew that there would be some unresolved plot points. And let me tell you, without spoiling any actual events of the film, that there is a ton of stuff yet to be resolved. Rather than making this movie less viable as a standalone experience, it actually serves to build the anticipation for what should be a helluva climax and resolution this time next year – or let’s hope so. And make no mistake – some of these hanging plot-points involve very dire circumstances for many of Marvel’s most beloved characters. Fates, lives, deaths – all are in the balance, and nothing audiences have come to expect regarding the inviolability of their favorite characters can be trusted any longer. Anyone – everyone – is vulnerable.

There are a lot of balls in the air right now, and it would not be hard to drop one or two of them along the way. If things go as planned, we’ll end up with a tremendous six hour-plus culmination to ten years of films; if not, it would be hard to over-estimate the potential disappointment. I, for one, am feeling confident in putting my faith in the team that Disney and the MCU have put together for this unprecedented project. Now, let’s see what Ant-Man and the Wasp has in store for us this summer!

Steve’s Rating: (8.5 / 10)
An MCU movie that isn’t afraid to tread into dark places, Avengers: Infinity War may very well be this franchise’s Empire Strikes Back. Now let’s hope that they can finish things off with a few less Ewoks.

Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Writers: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (screenplay by); Stan Lee (based on the Marvel comics by; Groot created by); Jack Kirby (based on the comics by; Captain America created by); Joe Simon (Captain America created by); Steve Engleheart (Star-Lord and Mantis created by); Steve Gan (Star-Lord created by); Bill Mantlo & Keith Giffen (Rocket Raccoon created by); Jim Starlin (Thanos, Gamora and Drax created by); Larry Lieber (Groot created by); Don Heck (Mantis created by)
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Zoe Saldana, Chris Pratt, Josh Brolin
Release Date: April 27, 2018
Runtime: 2 hrs. 29 mins.
MPAA Rating: PG-13