Avengers: Endgame Movie Review

**There’s really no way to write a review of Avengers: Endgame without some minor spoilers. You may wish to read this post viewing…

The word “epic” can be overused by those who review movies like me, but it unquestionably applies to Avengers: Endgame. It’s epic in its running time (none of the other 21 MCU pics run three hours) and epic in the number of well-known thespians reprising their superhero and villain characters. It doesn’t seem feasible that so many characters could manage to coexist in this vast universe without seeming like a gimmick. If you happen to think predecessor Infinity War was overcrowded, you’ll get whiplash here. Truth be told, there are moments when this borders on playing like a greatest hits reel based on what’s preceded it during the last eleven years.

Yet Endgame figures out a rewarding way to stick the landing and honor the dozens of faces that we’ve spent billions of dollars visiting since 2008. At the conclusion of Infinity War, bad guy Thanos (Josh Brolin) had collected his precious Infinity Stones and decimated half the intergalactic population into dramatic looking dust particles. What’s left is mostly the core of the OG Avengers – Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). There’s others as Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) is the sole surviving Guardian of the Galaxy. And we have the two notable characters that were MIA last summer – Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd).

One might think this whole saga might be about the original band and some newer friends taking on Thanos. You would be wrong. Endgame has plenty of time bending tricks up its endless story arch sleeves. The first is an unexpected resolution that comes very early. However, that climax is just a set-up to further complications.

This is indeed a time travel movie in which the screenwriters almost sheepishly concede the contrived nature of such a device. The survivors set upon a course of multiple back in time ways to retrieve the Stones and bring back their loved ones. It doesn’t happen overnight and the lengthy nature of the plan coming together provides funny and poignant moments. Tony is off the grid with his beloved Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) and a new addition. Bruce is in full Hulk mode, but kindler and gentler. Thor is rounder and drunkenly grappling with his losses. Hawkeye is a full-blown vigilante. When the gang revs up their figurative DeLoreans, it gives us a chance to revisit lots of MCU personnel. And it’s a LOT of former players. Some are genuinely surprising. During this lengthy stretch, the film walks a fine line of not devolving into nostalgic sugar shock amidst the action sequences. By the final act, it rises above it.

We know the battle scenes will be well choreographed and well-directed (with the Russo Brothers handling duties once again). The final one is rather jaw dropping with the mixing of so many known quantities. Thanos is one of the stronger villains in MCU history and he remains so here, though there’s nothing fresh to add about his character. His daughter Nebula (Karen Gillan), on the other hand, continues her evolution as a fine addition to the roster.

The comic relief comes more from Thor as opposed to Ant-Man or Rocket and Hemsworth is up to the task. Captain America and Black Widow are given their emotional moments that we’re invested in from their backstories. To this writer, it’s Tony who’s always been the damaged beating heart of this franchise. The Marvel Cinematic Universe simply wouldn’t exist as it is without Downey Jr.’s brilliant work. That’s never changed. The quality of the movies he’s appeared in has. His performance has always been fantastic. If we’re ranking, I would put Endgame as an overall experience just under the first Avengers in 2012 and Infinity War. I can’t promise that thinking about all the shifting time plot points might raise as many questions as answers. I won’t deny that its emotional payoff is real and we have Downey and an amazing group of technicians bringing these comics to life to thank for it.

***1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch – Avengers: Endgame

Last year, Marvel’s Black Panther became the first comic book pic to score a Best Picture nomination. While it didn’t win, it took home three gold trophies from its seven nods. This weekend, box office records are highly likely to break with the release of Avengers: Endgame. The 22nd MCU title had its review embargo lift hours ago… try to your best to avoid spoilers.

The verdict? A 98% Rotten Tomatoes score thus far. Some critics are going as far as saying it’s the best overall entry in the massive franchise. Others write ups, while positive, don’t go that far. One thing seems certain as Endgame is classified as an epic experience.

Could lightning strike two years in a row for Marvel with Academy voters? Here’s the advantage: this fourth Avengers saga is seen as the culmination of not just its three predecessors, but also the many other pictures MCU blockbusters over the past 11 years. That lifts its chances for recognition as Oscar could see this as an “atta boy” for the whole series.

That said, I’m doubtful. The first three Avengers flicks garnered a grand total of two nominations. The 2012 original and last year’s Infinity War both received Visual Effects nods. Neither won. The middle child (2015’s Age of Ultron) got no love. Last year, Disney was undoubtedly more focused on getting Black Panther recognition and they succeeded. In 2019, they could put together a more robust campaign for Endgame.

A third calling in Visual Effects is probably inevitable, but anything else from the Academy is questionable and maybe even doubtful. Yet I wouldn’t totally count out some Disney marketing campaign magic. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

Avengers: Endgame Box Office Prediction

This current massively successful phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe draws to a close next weekend with the release of Avengers: Endgame. There’s an excellent chance that it achieves the largest opening weekend gross of all time with the grand finale. Endgame follows up directly with last summer’s Avengers: Infinity War, which is the current record holder with $257 million.

Anthony and Joe Russo return in the directors chairs with a core group of familiar heroes battling Josh Brolin’s Thanos. They include Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, Chris Evans as Captain America, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, Brie Larson as Captain Marvel, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man, and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye. That’s just scratching the surface, by the way. The events (spoiler alert if you’ve been in a year-long coma) of Infinity War dissolved numerous other beloved characters into dust including Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange and the majority of the Guardians of the Galaxy (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista) save for Bradley Cooper voicing Rocket. It’s quite likely you’ll see them again. And also in the roles we’ve seen them in before… there’s Gwyneth Paltrow, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Tessa Thompson, Don Cheadle, Jon Favreau, Anthony Mackie, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, and Evangeline Lilly. Oh… and Letitia Wright and Sebastian Stan and Tom Hiddleston.

Whew. Back to the numbers crunching. When early tickets went on sale a couple of weeks ago, Endgame smashed every record in sight. Its YouTube trailer views are off the charts. Audiences know this is the culmination of what we’ve paid billions of dollars for over the past decade plus. Yes, there’s a three-hour runtime which is unprecedented for the MCU.

I have a feeling that won’t matter when it comes to reaching a premiere level we’ve yet to witness. No other movie is daring to compete against it and most holdovers will be earning $10 million and less. In other words, multiplexes will clear a ton of real estate for this.

Initial estimates put Endgame around $250 million, but the buzz has this inching upwards. I believe that’s a correct assumption. While I don’t believe this will hit $300 million (as the rosiest projections suggest), a gross just north of $285 million seems feasible. If it achieves that mark, the endgame here will indeed set records.

Avengers: Endgame opening weekend prediction: $289.6 million

2018 Weekly Oscar Predictions: September 6th Edition

What a difference a week makes! Last Thursday, I gave you my first initial predictions in the major categories for the Oscars. Since then – we’ve seen a slew of pictures screened at the Venice and Telluride Film Festivals.

Films like A Star Is Born, Roma, First Man, and The Favourite solidified their status as contenders. Others like Boy Erased and The Front Runner availed themselves as possibilities, but not slam dunks. Others like Destroyer and The Old Man & The Gun likely took themselves out of the running in Best Picture, but shined a light on their actors that could receive nods.

And here’s the thing… by the time I do my third round of predictions next Thursday, we will have lots more pictures screened at the Toronto Film Festival, which begins today. That includes such high-profile titles as If Beale Street Could Talk, Beautiful Boy, Widows, and more.

Here’s how I have the key races ranked by possibility of nomination at this point in time!

Best Picture

1. If Beale Street Could Talk (Previous Ranking: 1)

2. A Star Is Born (PR: 2)

3. Roma (PR: 4)

4. First Man (PR: 5)

5. Beautiful Boy (PR: 3)

6. The Favourite (PR: 13)

7. BlacKkKlansman (PR: 6)

8. Boy Erased (PR: 7)

9. Backseat (PR: 8)

Other Possibilities:

10. The Front Runner (PR: 14)

11. Black Panther (PR: 12)

12. Peterloo (PR: 9)

13. Mary Queen of Scots (PR: 10)

14. Widows (PR: 11)

15. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (PR: 16)

16. Crazy Rich Asians (PR: 17)

17. Mary Poppins Returns (PR: 22)

18. Green Book (PR: 21)

19. On the Basis of Sex (PR: 24)

20. Cold War (PR: Not Ranked)

21. At Eternity’s Gate (PR: 23)

22. July 22 (PR: Not Ranked)

23. Bohemian Rhapsody (PR: 19)

24. The Sisters Brothers (PR: Not Ranked)

25. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (PR: 15)

Dropped Out:

The Old Man & The Gun

Destroyer

Ben Is Back

Best Director

1. Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk (PR: 1)

2. Alfonso Cuaron, Roma (PR: 2)

3. Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born (PR: 3)

4. Damien Chazelle, First Man (PR: 4)

5. Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman (PR: 5)

Other Possibilities:

6. Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite (PR: 11)

7. Felix Van Groeningen, Beautiful Boy (PR: 6)

8. Adam McKay, Backseat (PR: 7)

9. Joel Edgerton, Boy Erased (PR: 8)

10. Jason Reitman, The Front Runner (PR: 14)

11. Mike Leigh, Peterloo (PR: 9)

12. Marielle Heller, Can You Ever Forgive Me? (PR: Not Ranked)

13. Ryan Coogler, Black Panther (PR: 13)

14. Josie Rourke, Mary Queen of Scots (PR: 10)

15. Steve McQueen, Widows (PR: 12)

Dropped Out:

Joel and Ethan Coen, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Best Actor

1. Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born (PR: 1)

2. Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate (PR: 3)

3. Steve Carell, Beautiful Boy (PR: 2)

4. Christian Bale, Backseat (PR: 6)

5. Hugh Jackman, The Front Runner (PR: 9)

Other Possibilities:

6. Ryan Gosling, First Man (PR: 4)

7. Robert Redford, The Old Man & The Gun (PR: 5)

8. Lucas Hedges, Boy Erased (PR: 7)

9. John David Washington, BlacKkKlansman (PR: 8)

10. Viggo Mortensen, Green Book (PR: 13)

11. Stephan James, If Beale Street Could Talk (PR: 10)

12. Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody (PR: 12)

13. Joaquin Phoenix, You Were Never Really Here (PR: 14)

14. John C. Reilly, The Sisters Brothers (PR: Not Ranked)

15. Ethan Hawke, First Reformed (PR: 15)

Dropped Out:

Rory Kinnear, Peterloo

Best Actress

1. Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born (PR: 1)

2. Glenn Close, The Wife (PR: 2)

3. Nicole Kidman, Destroyer (PR: 6)

4. Olivia Colman, The Favourite (PR: 9)

5. Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me? (PR: 11)

Other Possibilities:

6. Kiki Layne, If Beale Street Could Talk (PR: 5)

7. Toni Collette, Hereditary (PR: 7)

8. Viola Davis, Widows (PR: 3)

9. Natalie Portman, Vox Lux (PR: Not Ranked)

10. Saoirse Ronan, Mary Queen of Scots (PR: 4)

11. Felicity Jones, On the Basis of Sex (PR: 10)

12. Yalitza Aparicio, Roma (PR: 15)

13. Emily Blunt, Mary Poppins Returns (PR: 8)

14. Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade (PR: 13)

15. Joanna Kulig, Cold War

Dropped Out:

Julia Roberts, Ben Is Back

Emily Blunt, A Quiet Place

Best Supporting Actor

1. Timothee Chalamet, Beautiful Boy (PR: 1)

2. Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me? (PR: 10)

3. Sam Rockwell, Backseat (PR: 3)

4. Sam Elliot, A Star Is Born (PR: 2)

5. Russell Crowe, Boy Erased (PR: 4)

Other Possibilities:

6. Oscar Isaac, At Eternity’s Gate (PR: 7)

7. Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman (PR: 6)

8. Michael B. Jordan, Black Panther (PR: 8)

9. Mahershala Ali, Green Book (PR: 9)

10. Armie Hammer, On the Basis of Sex (PR: 13)

11. Joel Edgerton, Boy Erased (PR: 5)

12. Jason Clarke, First Man (PR: 11)

13. David Tennant, Mary Queen of Scots (PR: 14)

14. Matthew McConaughey, White Boy Rick (PR: Not Ranked)

15. J.K. Simmons, The Front Runner (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

Sebastian Stan, Destroyer

Topher Grace, BlacKkKlansman

Best Supporting Actress

1. Claire Foy, First Man (PR: 3)

2. Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk (PR: 2)

3. Amy Adams, Backseat (PR: 5)

4. Vera Farmiga, The Front Runner (PR: 10)

5. Nicole Kidman, Boy Erased (PR: 1)

Other Possibilities:

6. Maura Tierney, Beautiful Boy (PR: 6)

7. Emma Stone, The Favourite (PR: Not Ranked)

8. Margot Robbie, Mary Queen of Scots (PR: 4)

9. Michelle Yeoh, Crazy Rich Asians (PR: 12)

10. Amy Ryan, Beautiful Boy (PR: 7)

11. Rachel Weisz, The Favourite (PR: 11)

12. Meryl Streep, Mary Poppins Returns (PR: 9)

13. Blythe Danner, What They Had (PR: Not Ranked)

14. Sissy Spacek, The Old Man & The Gun (PR: 8)

15. Rachel McAdams, Disobedience (PR: 14)

Dropped Out:

Tatiana Maslany, Destroyer

Kathy Bates, On the Basis of Sex

Best Adapted Screenplay

1. If Beale Street Could Talk (PR: 1)

2. Beautiful Boy (PR: 2)

3. A Star Is Born (PR: 4)

4. Boy Erased (PR: 3)

5. First Man (PR: 6)

Other Possibilities:

6. BlacKkKlansman (PR: 5)

7. The Front Runner (PR: 8)

8. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (PR: 10)

9. Mary Queen of Scots (PR: 7)

10. Crazy Rich Asians (PR: 9)

11. Disobedience (PR: 13)

12. The Sisters Brothers (PR: 15)

13. Widows (PR: 12)

14. Wildlife (PR: 14)

15. The Miseducation of Cameron Post (PR: Not Ranked)

Dropped Out:

The Old Man & The Gun

Best Original Screenplay

1. The Favourite (PR: 5)

2. Roma (PR: 1)

3. Backseat (PR: 3)

4. Eighth Grade (PR: 4)

5. At Eternity’s Gate (PR: 10)

Other Possibilities:

6. Green Book (PR: 11)

7. Peterloo (PR: 2)

8. Vox Lux (PR: Not Ranked)

9. Ben is Back (PR: 8)

10. A Quiet Place (PR: 13)

11. Isle of Dogs (PR: Not Ranked)

12. On the Basis of Sex (PR: 9)

13. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (PR: 6)

14. Bohemian Rhapsody (PR: 14)

15. Sorry to Bother You (PR: 15)

Dropped Out:

Destroyer

Colette

Check back next Thursday for updated predictions!

Oscar Watch: Destroyer

Going into the Telluride Film Festival, one storyline was the possibility of Nicole Kidman garnering Oscar buzz for two roles. In the Supporting realm, her part in Boy Erased seemed like a somewhat safe bet for attention. That film’s mixed reaction has brought her inclusion in that race as more of a question mark.

When it comes to lead Actress, Kidman stars in the crime thriller Destroyer from director Karyn Kusama. Reaction from Colorado on the picture itself is also mixed. Some reviews have compared it to the work of Michael Mann while others have criticized its confusing storyline. Yet everyone seems to agree that Kidman is terrific in an unglamorous role.

Expect Annapurna Pictures to focus all of its Academy campaign on the four-time nominee and one time winner (for 2002’s The Hours). Don’t expect much chatter for the Picture, Director, or costars Sebastian Stan, Tatiana Maslany, Toby Kebbell, and Bradley Whitford.

Bottom line: the Boy Erased reaction lessens Kidman’s chances at a nod in Supporting Actress. The buzz about her performance in Destroyer bolsters her shot at lead.

The film opens domestically on Christmas. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

2018 Weekly Oscar Predictions: August 30th Edition

My weekly ranked Oscar predictions kick off today as the Venice Film Festival is in full swing with Toronto and Telluride on deck!

Each Thursday, I will be bringing you my top 25 possibilities for Best Picture, along with 15 for Best Director, the four acting races, and the screenplay categories.

In November, the rankings will constrict to 15 possibilities for Best Picture and ten for every other race covering feature films (this is when all the tech categories, animated feature, foreign film, documentary will enter the mix).

Before I get to the rankings, some warnings: these will change dramatically as time rolls along. Some features could be pushed back to 2019. Some of them will instantly become non-factors due to poor critical reaction. Others will vault higher.

In the acting races, there is always uncertainty at this juncture about placement in which category. Here’s a few 2018 examples: right now I have Steve Carell listed in lead actor for Beautiful Boy with Timothee Chalamet in supporting. That could switch or both could be campaigned for in lead. Time will tell. Same goes for Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali in Green Book. Right now, I have Tim Blake Nelson in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs for lead, but it could easily be supporting. And it’s uncertain where the women (Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone) of The Favourite will land.

All of this will be sorted out in the coming weeks and months and I’ll be here every Thursday to share with you where I have each category at this snapshot in time.

You can expect a whole bunch of Oscar Watch posts coming your way directly focused on individual films screenings at festivals over the coming days.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

Best Picture

1. If Beale Street Could Talk

2. A Star Is Born

3. Beautiful Boy

4. Roma

5. First Man

6. BlacKkKlansman

7. Boy Erased

8. Backseat

9. Peterloo

Other Possibilities:

10. Mary Queen of Scots

11. Widows

12. Black Panther

13. The Favourite

14. The Front Runner

15. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

16. Can You Ever Forgive Me?

17. Crazy Rich Asians

18. Old Man & The Gun

19. Bohemian Rhapsody

20. Destroyer

21. Green Book

22. Mary Poppins Returns

23. At Eternity’s Gate

24. On the Basis of Sex

25. Ben Is Back

Best Director

1. Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk

2. Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

3. Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born

4. Damien Chazelle, First Man

5. Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman

Other Possibilities:

6. Felix Van Groeningen, Beautiful Boy

7. Adam McKay, Backseat

8. Joel Edgerton, Boy Erased

9. Mike Leigh, Peterloo

10. Josie Rourke, Mary Queen of Scots

11. Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite

12. Steve McQueen, Widows

13. Ryan Coogler, Black Panther

14. Jason Reitman, The Front Runner

15. Joel and Ethan Coen, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Best Actor

1. Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born

2. Steve Carell, Beautiful Boy

3. Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate

4. Ryan Gosling, First Man

5. Robert Redford, Old Man & The Gun

Other Possibilities:

6. Christian Bale, Backseat

7. Lucas Hedges, Boy Erased

8. John David Washington, BlacKkKlansman

9. Hugh Jackman, The Front Runner

10. Stephan James, If Beale Street Could Talk

11. Rory Kinnear, Peterloo

12. Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody

13. Viggo Mortensen, Green Book

14. Joaquin Phoenix, You Were Never Really Here

15. Ethan Hawke, First Reformed

Best Actress

1. Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born

2. Glenn Close, The Wife

3. Viola Davis, Widows

4. Saoirse Ronan, Mary Queen of Scots

5. Kiki Layne, If Beale Street Could Talk

Other Possibilities:

6. Nicole Kidman, Destroyer

7. Toni Collette, Hereditary

8. Emily Blunt, Mary Poppins Returns

9. Olivia Colman, The Favourite

10. Felicity Jones, On the Basis of Sex

11. Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

12. Julia Roberts, Ben Is Back

13. Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade

14. Emily Blunt, A Quiet Place

15. Yalitza Aparicio, Roma

Best Supporting Actor

1. Timothee Chalamet, Beautiful Boy

2. Sam Elliot, A Star Is Born

3. Sam Rockwell, Backseat

4. Russell Crowe, Boy Erased

5. Joel Edgerton, Boy Erased

Other Possibilities:

6. Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman

7. Oscar Isaac, At Eternity’s Gate

8. Michael B. Jordan, Black Panther

9.. Mahershala Ali, Green Book

10. Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

11. Jason Clarke, First Man

12. Sebastian Stan, Destroyer

13. Armie Hammer, On the Basis of Sex

14. David Tennant, Mary Queen of Scots

15. Topher Grace, BlacKkKlansman

Best Supporting Actress

1. Nicole Kidman, Boy Erased

2. Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

3. Claire Foy, First Man

4. Margot Robbie, Mary Queen of Scots

5. Amy Adams, Backseat

Other Possibilities:

6. Maura Tierney, Beautiful Boy

7. Amy Ryan, Beautiful Boy

8. Sissy Spacek, Old Man & The Gun

9. Meryl Streep, Mary Poppins Returns

10. Vera Farmiga, The Front Runner

11. Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

12. Michelle Yeoh, Crazy Rich Asians

13. Tatiana Maslany, Destroyer

14. Rachel McAdams, Disobedience

15. Kathy Bates, On the Basis of Sex

Best Adapted Screenplay

1. If Beale Street Could Talk

2. Beautiful Boy

3. Boy Erased

4. A Star Is Born

5. BlacKkKlansman

Other Possibilities:

6. First Man

7. Mary Queen of Scots

8. The Front Runner

9. Crazy Rich Asians

10. Can You Ever Forgive Me?

11. Old Man & The Gun

12. Widows

13. Disobedience

14. Wildlife

15. The Sisters Brothers

Best Original Screenplay

1. Roma

2. Peterloo

3. Backseat

4. Eighth Grade

5. The Favourite

Other Possibilities:

6. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

7. Destroyer

8. Ben Is Back

9. On the Basis of Sex

10. At Eternity’s Gate

11. Green Book

12. Colette

13. A Quiet Place

14. Bohemian Rhapsody

15. Sorry to Bother You

Avengers: Infinity War Movie Review

A decade into its multi-billion dollar cinematic universe, Avengers: Infinity War invites viewers to marvel at its gathering of superhero titans to fight another – a villain from planet Titan who reverses  one frequent MCU debit (a weak villain). It’s an experience that yields many positive results packed with the action and humor we’ve come to anticipate from the best of this franchise. This movie is massive and it feels that way. The 19th entry in the MCU that started with 2008’s Iron Man, here we have nearly all the significant characters from its catalog banding together. If you ever wondered how Thor (Chris Hemsworth) would get along with the Guardians of the Galaxy, the answer is humorously provided. How do the egos of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) meld? You’re about to find out. What happens when the original Avengers and others pick up their weapons alongside Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) in Wakanda? Giddyup!

All of this runs the risk of Infinity War coming off as gimmicky, but it mostly doesn’t. That’s because directors Anthony and Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely do a remarkable job sticking these giants into the blender and creating something that goes down smooth. This is not necessarily a sequel to 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron or 2016’s Captain America: Civil War (essentially the third Avengers flick). Rather it’s a follow-up to almost every MCU title. It’s important to know what happened in the actual Avengers pics and Civil War, but I’d suggest having knowledge of the Guardians, Panther, and so on. Lucky for Disney and Marvel Studios, you probably do. The gathering of these comic book and box office behemoths leads Infinity War to often feel like the continuation of a long running TV serial – albeit one with huge stars and an unlimited budget.

What brings all the characters together is Thanos (Josh Brolin). He has the proportions of the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and a similar sized ambitions of world destruction. Thanos is hell-bent on collecting the Infinity Stones, six potent gems that would render him all-powerful and capable of wiping out populations of many galaxies. After the breakup of the Avengers in Civil War two years ago, it’s Thanos that causes Mr. Stark and Captain America (Chris Evans) to put their differences aside. Thus begins the jigsaw puzzle of matching up Guardians and Asgardian gods with Wakanda kings and mystical doctors and your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man (Tom Holland).

As you may recall, Thanos has history with one particular character – Gamora (Zoe Saldana). She’s his adopted daughter after he decimated her home planet when she was a little girl. For those who might have assumed the Guardians of the Galaxy would have a glorified cameo in this universe, that is certainly not the case. It’s Gamora’s backstory with Thanos that puts meat on his character’s bones and assists in making him one of the franchise’s best villains. Brolin, for his part, gives the performance his menacing all in crafting him.

Delving too far into what happens in Infinity War would feel like cheating in any review. Part of the fun here is discovering just how these dozens of heroes and villains coexist. Some general observations: Thor alongside Groot and Rocket is a joy, as is witnessing Groot as a bratty teen with its attention rooted to a video game device. The return to Wakanda and its whip smart inhabitants feels welcome just weeks after Panther’s stand-alone effort. And after 10 years of Tony Stark onscreen in numerous MCU titles, Downey Jr.’s portrayal of him is still as strong as ever. There’s never been a moment in the decade where it felt like Downey was slumming it. He’s the heart of this franchise.

The conclusion of Infinity War leaves a lot open for the sequel that will arrive next year. When the credits roll before the inevitable post-credits sequence, we witness something both powerful and perhaps not as powerful as it seems after careful thought (saying more would be a spoiler). There’s no doubt, however, that this comic book all-star game is a winner.

***1/2 (out of four)