The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been building up to this for a decade, and it’s safe to say that Avengers: Infinity War carries with it the right amount of gravitas for such a monumental milestone, as heroes from across the universe tackle their most powerful foe to date.

As we know from the end of Thor: Ragnarok, it is the Asgardian princes who are first to encounter the Mad Titan, so naturally this is where the Russos choose to begin their story. It is in these opening moments that Thanos (Josh Brolin) cements himself as the MCU’s most ruthless villain as he almost instantaneously quashes most of the hope that our heroes (even in such a vast number) will be able to defeat him.

With one stone already in his possession, Thanos dispatches his “children” (who evidently have some kind of internal Infinity Stone tracker) to retrieve the others. Not that he’s sitting idly as he has done for the past 6+ years since the Battle of New York – no, the Mad Titan definitely gets his hands dirty, taking on everyone who would stand in between him and his “destiny.” However, what is wonderful about Thanos is that we come to learn why he is so intent on destroying half the universe and in his mind, there is a logic and a necessity to his actions. More than this, Thanos feels in the same way as our heroes do, he too loves and loses, and he makes difficult decisions for the greater good – the only difference being that his idea of good doesn’t line up with our own. This is especially apparent when the villain is faced with his estranged daughter, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) who comes to him as the opposition.

The work on his character in this film does more to humanise the villain than many of Marvel’s secondary heroes (*cough* Falcon) and definitely more than his helpers who are barely even introduced as more than Infinity Stone couriers with a vague set of powers and skills. Particularly strange to spend time with is the squish-face wonder, Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) who essentially plays the role of someone trying to convert everyone to their mysterious new cult, through a variety of unsettling speeches.

Elsewhere, when news reaches Earth of the impending attack, it’s all hands on deck, as Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) learns that there’s no such thing as a stress-free life when you’re a superhero – but he does so in a suit that caused sounds of joy from everyone in the cinema. Finally living the nightmare he’s had since the Avengers first joined together, Tony must put aside his fear and his pride when he see the damage that Thanos is poised to unleash on the universe. However, plans begin to go awry when Stark joins forces with Alpha Dogs of their own franchises, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) who aren’t willing to be less than the leader, and refuse to relinquish the role, even if there is no other choice. And if wrangling egos wasn’t enough, Tony must also try to rein in the arachnid boy wonder, Peter Parker (Tom Holland), who holds his own while finding himself completely out of his depth.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) are enjoying some good old-fashioned romance – until they too fall prey to Thanos, causing Team Cap’s most elusive members, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) to come back from their mysterious adventures in order to once again help save the world. With Vision in possession of the Mind Stone, they know that Thanos will come for him – so they need all the help they can get.

Enter – the Wakandans. Made up of the only teams in the MCU to be able to work cohesively, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), Shuri (Letitia Wright), Okoye (Danai Gurira) and company are worth their weight in vibranium, but the real surprise power in this film is Scarlet Witch. Having been very much a supporting character since her debut in Age of Ultron, Marvel were yet to use Wanda to her full potential as perhaps one of Marvel Comics’ most powerful characters. However, facing Thanos, we see more of the Wanda Maximoff who disassembled the Avengers, and created an entirely new mutant-free reality – but more than this, we see the emotionally fragile heroine who is still struggling to find her feet with a power she doesn’t completely understand.

With the end of Phase 3 in sight, there has always been a worry that when the key players eventually depart the franchise, the characters who have been side-lined in the earlier films won’t be developed enough to carry the franchise forward to the dizzying heights of success that Downey and co. have. Fortunately, Infinity War (and very probably its sequel) appears to be working on fleshing out those who are likely to continue into Phase 4.

While Thanos demands our silence, there’s little in specifics we can mention, but it’s important to get across the message that Avengers: Infinity War absolutely lives up to the hype. The knowledge that any character could fall victim to the Titan at any moment makes for a thrilling, suspenseful adventure that is as emotional as it is humorous and will leave you on the edge of your seat (probably in tears) as you witness the culmination of a decade’s worth of planning that sees Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in their most arduous battle to date.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.

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