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MOVIES: Avengers: Infinity War - Review

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When the Marvel Cinematic Universe first began with 2008's Iron Man, longtime comic fans reveled in the notion that someday in the near future, some of the most recognizable heroes from the pages of Marvel books would assemble on the big screen. And when The Avengers finally hit screens four years later, it not only broke box office records, but also laid the foundation for a much larger saga: that of the Infinity Stones.

After ten years and eighteen films featuring an ever-expanding roster of heroes and villains, the culmination of a meticulously plotted journey is finally upon us as Avengers: Infinity War arrives this weekend. Scattered across the galaxy, the Stones are being sought by Thanos (Josh Brolin), a ruthless conqueror who believes that life has been allowed to grow unchecked for too long, leading to poverty and suffering borne from a dwindling supply of resources. His solution is a simple one: use the Stones to erase half of all life across the cosmos, and the universe will naturally fall back into balance.

"They called me a madman," Thanos laments to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), whose ornate medallion holds one of the Stones. On his own, Strange is no match for the purple-skinned warrior, but Avengers: Infinity War is full of surprising (and often hilarious) team-up moments, such as when Spider-Man (Tom Holland) shows up to lend a hand to the good doctor, just as energetic and inquisitive as always. "Who's that guy?" he wonders aloud, to which Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) explains, "He's from space, he came here to steal a necklace from a wizard."

Elsewhere, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) seeks aid from the Guardians of the Galaxy - who count the Mad Titan's adopted daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana) among their ranks - while Captain America (Chris Evans) emerges from exile to help some of his fellow Avengers fend off The Black Order, a detachment of Thanos' most savage warriors. With so many characters and locations, there's more than enough action and excitement to go around, and the film's colossal budget provides directors Anthony and Joe Russo with everything they need to stage some of the most jaw-dropping action sequences ever conceived, much less accomplished.

The MCU has long been criticized for the lack of depth in many of its villains, and although Thanos has been little more than a spectre hovering menacingly in the background of the previous films, Avengers: Infinity War shapes him into a fully realized character. Not only is he an intimidating physical specimen, capable of manhandling The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and withstanding an extensive onslaught of attacks, but his motivations are crystal clear - misguided though they might be - and we understand the emotional burden of the sacrifices he makes to achieve his ultimate goal.

Those sacrifices also take their toll on the audience, and fans should brace themselves for the hard truth: not everyone will make it out of this conflict alive. Going into Avengers: Infinity War, I expected to bid farewell to at least one major character, but I wasn't prepared to be rocked throughout the film by multiple deaths - more than one of whom I was sure would be part of the MCU for several more years. It's surprising how attached we've become to some of these Spandex-clad superbeings, and to think that we've truly seen the last of some of our favorites is a hard pill to swallow.

Prior to this weekend, Captain America: Civil War served as the pinnacle of ambition for the MCU, if not for comic book films in general. But when it comes to scale and scope, Civil War pales in comparison to what the Russo brothers have accomplished with Avengers: Infinity War. This is the kind of film that comic book fans have spent their entire lives dreaming about, one that breathes life into events that heretofore could only have existed on the page, or in the imagination. It's an exhilarating epic overflowing with action, humor, drama and emotion, a film that rewards fans for their dedication over the past decade and paves the way for a very, very different future in the MCU.

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