If there's a theme to Avengers: Infinity War beyond the general notion of a superhero free-for-all brawl to cap the cinematic saga of the past decade, it's that sometimes, for the greater good, you must kill that which you love. Not that this notion gets too macro: there's little chance of Disney ever killing the Marvel franchise you love, at least until everyone's well and truly tired of it. In a slightly larger sense, all it means is that Marvel Studios folks are coming to realize that for a saga to be great, there have to be characters you love sacrificed along the way, and most people paying attention have deduced that some of that happens this time around. It also rather aggressively erases most of the remaining plot threads from Thor Ragnarok, Alien 3-style, so if you loved that one as I did, well, it got sacrificed a bit.
Aside from the specifics therein, rest assured that there's little to spoil about the movie, as it mostly leaps from large-scale battle to large-scale battle to large-scale battle, with the minimum narrative required to do so. Then again, I missed probably a good 25% of the dialogue, because this 2.5 hour movie is so jam-packed that there are no beats for applause or laughter, and cheers drowned out a lot of the clever (I presume) lines. It will require another viewing just for that, not to mention the fact that it was shot in Imax cameras and my screening was not Imax. Kevin Feige presumably sent down word that this was to be Marvel's Empire Strikes Back, and it is so not merely in dark tone and cliffhanger conclusion, but also in that it divides our heroes up into groups on several missions, while giving equal weight to the journey of the villain in search of his child...and a literal fistful of power stones that can make him omnipotent.
Said villain, Josh Brolin's Thanos, has previously appeared briefly in the first Guardians of the Galaxy and the Age of Ultron mid-credits tease (a pre-Brolin version first appeared mid-credits in the first Avengers). Here, while we never necessarily get a clear sense of what he is and isn't physically vulnerable to, we are allowed to sense his emotional weaknesses. Described in comics as the Mad Titan, he is better summed up onscreen as world/universe-weary, tasked, or so he thinks, with the burden of instantaneously and violently reducing the population of everywhere by half so that no planet need ever be starved of natural resources again. He has thereby cast himself in the role of both sinner and saint, as the only gratification he seeks in the end is neither treasure nor worship, but merely the cosmic equivalent of kicking back and chilling after a job well done.
Directors "the Russo Brothers" continue to prove that they really don't have a definitive style, yet: Infinity War is cinematically quite different from both Civil War and The Winter Soldier, mercifully so in the case of the former as they've dropped the annoying stutter-vision that made the third Captain America movie's fights difficult to follow, not to mention eye-hurty. Infinity War could easily be a Guardians movie; it lacks James Gunn's breezy tone, but the cosmic visuals and pacing are close enough for horseshoes.
There seems little need to break down each hero's part piece by piece. Suffice it to say they all pretty much do the thing that you like to see them doing. .I'll note instead the differences: Groot's evolution into teenage smartphone addict is funny, though we don't get enough of a sense of his new personality to fully understand a decision he makes later in the game. Black Widow's new blonde hair is simply never explained, and her prior chemistry with Bruce Banner given a few seconds at best. And while Vision and Scarlet Witch pursue romantic sparks, Vision when we meet him has gone full-human Paul Bettany skin, which is understandable from a movie maker standpoint but a letdown for comic fans--the juxtaposition of a red-and-green-faced android attempting normalcy is funnier when he cannot look completely organic.
Ant-Man and Hawkeye are not in this movie. There is a brief explanation why. That is all.
Any wrestling fan of even a casual nature knows that the best WWE event of the year is the Royal Rumble, highlighted by a 30-man free-for-all featuring all the biggest-name talent, a few surprise cameos, and unconventional alliances en route to crowning the ultimate winner...who must then face the real climax at WrestleMania months later. Infinity War has basically pitched itself as the comics-movie version of that, and it fully delivers on the promise. It's big, it's epic, it's going to make you wait for the final-final battle, and there's a whole lot the marketing materials and trailers haven't shown you.
A fellow writer on the way out of the screening complained that it wasn't much more than punches and wisecracks, and while it's tough to mount full-throated disagreement against that thesis, all you really have to do is pop in Justice League to see that there can be quite a range in the punches-and-wisecracks hero-team genre. Not to mention in giant CG bad guys played by acclaimed thespians: where Steppenwolf was a monster-of-the-week, Thanos is a classic heel, drawing enthusiastic boos from my screening audience that were for his villainous deeds rather than any lack of quality in the screen story.
I enjoyed Justice League, but I was riveted to my seat by Infinity War. Now how exactly am I supposed to wait a freakin' year before seeing it resolved?