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Avengers: Infinity War Review: A Galaxy-Sized Payoff

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It's all been leading to this.

What would you do to bring balance to the universe? It's a question that, in one form or another, countless characters have faced throughout the history of fiction. Heroes and villains--Jedi and Sith, hobbits and Dark Lords alike--have endlessly tried to tip the scales of good and evil one way or the other. Few have had so succinct a solution as Thanos.

This is it--the movie, and the villain, that a decade of laboriously mapped out and meticulously crafted Marvel Cinematic Universe fiction has led to. Marvel made fans a promise when Samuel L. Jackson donned Nick Fury's eyepatch and told Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark about the Avengers Initiative at the end of Iron Man: It would all culminate here. They doubled down on that promise over and over across the subsequent decade of MCU movies, raising the stakes every time a new Infinity Stone entered the fray or Thanos made another of his rare on-screen appearances.

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Now Playing: Avengers: Infinity War Review: Payoff On A Galactic Scale

Now the gloves are off, and the Infinity Gauntlet is on Thanos's hand. And Avengers: Infinity War is a payoff of galactic proportions.

Thanos has been lurking in the MCU's wings for years now, pulling strings and orchestrating plots like Loki's invasion of Earth in the first Avengers movie and Ronan's assault on Xandar in Guardians of the Galaxy. Having lost his patience for subterfuge and with five of the six Infinity Stones located, the Mad Titan decides to finally get his hands dirty in Infinity War. He sends his minions, the Children of Thanos, to Earth to retrieve two of the Stones, while he goes after the others himself.

Infinity War doesn't introduce a lot of new characters, understandable considering the ridiculously enormous cast it already has to work with. The Children of Thanos make up four of those new faces, and they toe the line between campy fun and cannon fodder--they're cool, but they won't make much of an impression in the grand scheme of the movie.

And how grand a scheme it is. To mention only what we know, and not spoil any of the surprising cameos--of which there are a few--Infinity War is juggling protagonists and sidekicks from the worlds of Iron Man, Captain America, Doctor Strange, Black Panther, Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor, Spider-Man, and the Avengers universe at large.

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Incredibly, Infinity War actually manages to do every single one of these characters justice. Some of them only get a few lines in the movie, or just a couple of awesome shots during a huge battle, but that's understandable. The fact that Infinity War actually feels like a well-balanced movie, with time for small, emotional moments between characters in addition to the multiple budget-breaking battles, is undeniably impressive.

There are two factors that help it there. For one thing, with a few exceptions, these are all characters we're already intimately familiar with. (That said, if you haven't been keeping up with the MCU for the last decade, good luck.) For another, this is really only half a movie, despite being long as heck. That shouldn't come as a surprise, and it certainly doesn't detract from the film. If anything, it probably would have turned out a lot messier if they'd tried to cram the whole story into one film. And Infinity War does end on a note of finality--there's no massive cliffhanger, but instead a coda that may come to feel like a bridge only when Avengers 4 arrives in 2019.

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As has been the trend in the MCU lately, Infinity War is also extremely funny, though it occasionally feels like it shoehorns gags into otherwise serious scenes just to break the tension. The action, on the other hand, is as imaginative as you'd hope with all these different heroes with wildly varied powers coming together--and every bit as excellent as we've come to expect from directors Joe and Anthony Russo, the brothers behind Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Civil War before this.

As promised, Infinity War is Thanos's movie. This is by far the most we've seen of the iconic villain since his proper debut in the first Guardians of the Galaxy, and the movie does a decent job fleshing out his backstory and motivations. There are some aspects from the source material that you might find yourself missing if you're well versed on the books, but from the movie's shocking opening moments, Thanos is established as an absurdly powerful and nearly unstoppable force. And Josh Brolin plays the Titan with the exact right amounts of menace, humor, and emotion that the surprisingly complex character demands. In a word, Thanos is phenomenal.

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But this is still an Avengers movie, and the payoff really comes from the unions and reunions we've come to expect from that name. When the first Avengers movie brought Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow, and Hawkeye together in 2012, the goosebumps that came from seeing heroes from disparate franchises fighting on-screen together proved that the Marvel blueprint works on a large scale. And that was after just a few movies and four years; Avengers: Infinity War extrapolates that same sensation over a decade and 18 films, and the results are exponentially more fun, exciting, and awe-inducing.

Avengers: Infinity War does justice both to the promise Marvel has been riding on for the last decade, and the source material that inspired it. Somehow, for all its fire and fury--the raw spectacle of it all--Infinity War is a surprisingly human story, both for the heroes who have to put all their doubts aside and unite, and for Thanos, a genocidal alien who succeeds as a character because he's infused with real emotion. Infinity War reminds us why these characters, one and all, matter, and why they mean so much to fans.

Marvel has accomplished something truly incredible here, although at this point it's no more than the absurdly high quality bar Marvel fans have come to expect. It's been a long road getting here, but it was worth it.

The GoodThe Bad
Payoff of all these characters coming togetherSome humor feels shoehorned in
Thanos is a phenomenal and complex villainNot much time given to the few new characters
Impressive balance among all characters
Creative battles that use all the heroes' powers
Plenty of humor interspersed throughout
Has time for emotional moments as well

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Michael Rougeau

Mike Rougeau is GameSpot's Managing Editor of Entertainment, with over 10 years of pop culture journalism experience. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two dogs.

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