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(2018) (Robert Downey Jr., Chris Pratt) (PG-13)

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Superhero Action: Various superheroes attempt to stop a megalomaniacal villain from obtaining six rare but powerful stones that he intends to use to wipe out half of the universe's population.
Thanos (motion capture performance by JOSH BROLIN) is a megalomaniacal villain who wants to get his hands on six rare but powerful Infinity Stones -- they being the mind, soul, space, power, time and reality ones -- that will make him the most powerful being of all time and allow him to carry out his misguided quest to save those in the universe from themselves, mainly by using genocide to cull the herd by half. Naturally, there are those who desire to stop him, but we quickly see that Thor (CHRIS HEMSWORTH), his brother Loki (TOM HIDDLESTON) and even the mighty Hulk (motion capture performance by MARK RUFFALO) are no match for the villain's might, even with only a few stones put into his massive glove so far.

When Hulk's alter ego, Bruce Banner (MARK RUFFALO), ends up literally crashing into the estate of Dr. Strange (BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH), the scientist warns him and Wong (BENEDICT WONG) about Thanos and his deadly quest. They then find Tony Stark (ROBERT DOWNEY JR.), a.k.a. Iron Man, and hope he can get the Avengers to help battle the villain. Tony informs them that his former superheroes group went through a civil war of their own and are not on speaking terms, but is nonetheless urged to make the call.

Before he can, two of Thanos' goons -- including the telepathic Ebony Maw (motion capture performance by TOM VAUGHAN-LAWLOR) -- arrive and try to get their hands on the Infinity Stone that Dr. Strange wears around his neck. Ebony Maw manages to kidnap Strange and both Iron Man and Spider-Man (TOM HOLLAND) -- who's swung in to help his mentor -- catch a ride aboard the enemy spaceship in hopes of saving him.

The Guardians of the Galaxy -- Star-Lord (CHRIS PRATT), Rocket (voiced by BRADLEY COOPER), Drax (motion capture performance by DAVE BAUTISTA), Gamora (ZOE SALDANA), Groot (voiced by VIN DIESEL) and Mantis (POM KLEMENTIEFF) -- end up saving Thor who they find adrift in space. They learn about Thanos' plans from him, something that doesn't sit well with Drax whose family Thanos killed in the past, or Gamora who, like her sister Nebula (KAREN GILLAN), were "adopted" by the villain as children.

Also needing saving are Wanda Maximoff (ELIZABETH OLSEN), a.k.a. Scarlet Witch, and her android boyfriend, Vision (PAUL BETTANY), who've come under attack by more of Thanos' goons who want the Infinity Stone that's planted in Vision's forehead. Thankfully for them, Steve Rogers (CHRIS EVANS), Natasha Romanoff (SCARLETT JOHANSSON), and Falcon (ANTHONY MACKIE) show up just in time.

Realizing they're going to need extra help, they head for the hidden, high-tech capital of Wakanda where they join forces with that land's ruler, Black Panther (CHADWICK BOSEMAN), his top general, Okoye (DANAI GURIRA), Rogers' best friend, Bucky Barnes (SEBASTIAN STAN), and others, all while T'Challa's sister, Shuri (LETITIA WRIGHT), tries to figure out how to get the stone out of Vision's head without killing him, and before Thanos' army of monsters break through the Wakandan force field and attack the army inside that.

As various battles take place on various fronts, the assemblage of superheroes tries to stop Thanos from collecting all six Infinity Stones and unleashing mass murder across the universe.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
I don't know how accurate it is in terms of the actual quote and to whom it's attributed, but aspiring writers often hear or read that novelist William Faulkner reportedly once stated: "In writing, you must kill your darlings." Of course, he wasn't saying one should go all Jack Torrance on the family members while holed up in some remote, snowed-in hotel while trying to write the next great American novel and instead being stuck on "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."

Instead, the quote means that sometimes no matter how much you love some part of what you've written -- be that a character, a line of dialogue, a scene or even an entire chapter -- you must be willing to terminate that with extreme prejudice if it doesn't ultimately move the story forward. The same holds true for any sort of fiction, including screenwriting for movies. While watching "Avengers: Infinity War," you might come to believe that scribes Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely both ignored and then took that advice to heart.

And that's because they've just about included everyone in the MCU (that's the Marvel Cinematic Universe for non comic book movie nerds) and a kitchen sink or two in this sprawling superhero epic smash-up that includes not just the Avengers characters (previously seen in 2012's "The Avengers" and 2015's "Avengers: Age of Ultron" -- along with "Captain America: Civil War") but also the cast from the "Guardians of the Galaxy" movie universe, many of those recently seen in the "Black Panther" mega-hit and even your friendly neighborhood web-slinger, Spider-Man.

While a few characters (such as Ant-Man and Hawkeye) are oddly missing from the figurative and literal action, the end result is still a huge cast to juggle, even in a film where the running time is approaching two and a half hours. Undeterred by the logistical challenge, Markus and McFeely (who previously collaborated on the three "Captain America" films) actually do a decent job of getting everyone in place and giving most -- but not all -- a decent amount of time in the spotlight. With the sibling duo of Joe Russo and Anthony Russo once again behind the camera (having helmed the last "Avengers" flick and the previous two "Captain America" ones), the end result clearly and entertainingly allays most worries about whether the cast count would end up overwhelming the story and result in some sort of disappointing "Battle of the Network Stars" debacle.

The story is fairly straightforward. A big-time villain (Josh Brolin doing the motion capture performance thing) wants to get his enormous paws on the six Infinity Stones (some of which have been referenced in past Marvel films) in order to obtain ultimate power that will allow him to cull the universal population herd. It's never really explained why he's so gung-ho on his save the universe from itself genocidal plan, but the plot thrust certainly gets the storytelling ball rolling with ease.

And that eventually envelopes all of the aforementioned MCU characters, albeit not all together in the same place as the action is split off into various chunks so as not to leave anyone in the shadows. The film picks up where "Thor: Ragnarok" left off and has Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) having a less than favorable run-in with the lead baddie, Thanos (with Brolin being quite good as the villain and bringing extra depth and nuance to the sort of character who often gets the short shrift in such matters in these sorts of films).

The story then moves back to Earth where Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Wong (Benedict Wong), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and eventually Spider-Man (Tom Holland) get wind of what's to come and then battle it off with two of Thanos' henchmen who want the Infinity Stone around Strange's neck. Once that's done, Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Drax (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Groot (Vin Diesel) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) fly into the frame, pick up Thor (leading to some humorous and downright funny interactions between him and some of that rag-tag crew), and then split off into two groups as part of the master plan to deal with the uber-villain.

And that's not the end, as the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) must contend with more Thanos thugs arriving and wanting the Infinity Stone in the latter's head. All of which leads to some of the now-broken-up Avengers squad -- Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) -- arriving to save the day and then escorting everyone over to Wakanda to bring in various members of the "Black Panther" cast including T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), Okoye (Danai Gurira), Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Cap's old buddy, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan).

All of which leads to various battles in various locales, all as mixed with decent amounts of comic relief and a few surprising departures of main characters here and there. And that's when it appears the scribes really start to take Faulkner's advice to heart as the film concludes with a number of moments that could leave MCU fans stunned and maybe heartbroken. Of course, as we've learned in past superhero movies (as well as this one, briefly), the dead don't always stay dead, especially when there's plenty of box office moola at stake. You might think it best to kill your darlings, but you never want to slay your cash cow, so I expect some sort of resurrection fever will sweep across the next "Avengers" installment slated for May of 2019.

Until then, you can expect to be mightily entertained by this offering that expertly mixes action and comedy before segueing into something that sort of reaches for Shakespearean levels with its various storyline and character developments. While I have a few nitpicks with the overall package -- such as why the all-powerful villain doesn't just kill the superheroes as he comes across them since that would give him a head start on his overall and ultimate population control plan -- this is a highly entertaining and satisfying blockbuster popcorn offering. "Avengers: Infinity War" rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed April 24, 2018 / Posted April 27, 2018

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