Stoned

Marvel all-stars scramble in sprawling superhero smorgasbord 

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Avengers: Infinity War
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Josh Brolin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chris Pratt, Mark Ruffalo & Zoe Saldana

Directed by Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
PG-13

The superhero smorgasbord Avengers: Infinity War brings together pretty much every character, narrative thread and place from most every Marvel movie of the past 10 years.

It’s like a $300 million mega-version of one of those ratings-grabbing TV episodes, when characters from Family Guy showed up on The Simpsons, or Alf washed ashore on Gilligan’s Island, or The Six Million Dollar Man collaborated with The Bionic Woman.

This ambitious all-star game of Marvel movies revolves around the A-team coming together to fight the cosmic baddie Thanos (Josh Brolin), a super-sized, lavender-hued Titan with a plan to re-make the universe—by destroying half of it.

Thanos seeks all six Infinity Stones, magical, immensely powerful objects that, when combined, will give him the ultimate keys to the kingdom. If you’ve been watching Marvel movies over the years, you’ve probably seen an Infinity Stone or two. These far-flung hot rocks have cropped up in other flicks, and now you’ll know why: Whoever gathers all of them has the building blocks to break down creation itself, and put it back together again, any way they choose.

The superheroes know a gravely serious situation when they see it. And though they’ve had their quarrels before (see Captain America: Civil War, also directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo), they set those squabbles aside to scramble for a common cause: Keep those stones out of the hands of the warmongering Thanos.

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Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo and Benedict Wong

The gang’s all here: Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) teams with Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch); high schooler Peter Parker (Tom Holland) busts free of his classmates to swing into action as Spider-Man; scientist Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) worries about Hulk-tile dysfunction when he has some trouble summoning his raging green-guy alter ego.

Captain America (Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) reunite with Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and War Machine (Don Cheadle) to join the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) in battle on the plains of Wakanda.

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Tom Holland, Downey Jr., Dave Bautista, Chris Pratt and Pom Klementieff

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) ends up in a rocketship with the Guardians of the Galaxy. The presence of the hunky God of Thunder brings out a jealous bone in “Star Lord” Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) when some of his crew—Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket the raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), the now-teenaged tree creature Groot, Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff)—seems to fall under the sway of handsome Asgardian.

Gwyneth Paltrow makes a brief appearance as Pepper Potts, the CEO of Stark Industries and now fiancé of Tony Stark. Peter Dinklage from Game of Thrones has a cameo as a giant dwarf. And there’s Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s trickster brother, and Nebula, Gamora’s cyborg sister (Karen Gillan). Elizabeth Olson is the telekinetic Scarlet Witch, who’s in love with Vision (Paul Bettany), the android Avenger.

There wasn’t enough room, however, to squeeze in Ant-Man (Paul Rudd). But he did get a shout-out (and he’ll get his own sequel in July of next year).

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Josh Brolin provides the voice and motion-capture animation for Thanos.

Even though his performance is CGI and motion-capture, Brolin brings an amazing combination of pathos, terror and gravity to Thanos, a madman with the power to destroy anything—and a willingness to lose everything. He’s a towering purple people crusher that practically steals the whole show.

It’s crowded, busy and noisy—and if you’re a Marvel fan, pretty close to heaven. If you haven’t been following the franchise storylines, at least casually, you might feel a bit lost in its speed, shuffle, smashing action scenes and the star-hopping, two and a half-hour race for the Infinity Stones, which are scattered from Earth to the far reaches of the cosmos. But the Marvel faithful will love the rush, sweep, scope, spectacle and almost operatic scale.

Although there are moments of levity and humor, there’s a lot heaviness, darkness and even heartbreak that finally crescendos in a spectacular, breathtaking finale orchestrated to leave fans gasping for more. It’s a closer that ranks among Marvel’s most enigmatic wrap-ups—and set-ups.

The film keeps returning to the notion of mortality, and it’s not a spoiler to report the widespread rumors that not all the beloved characters make it all the way through. I won’t give anything away, but Thanos does ominously intone early on that there’ll be “no resurrection this time.”

But he’s in a franchise, remember, that always seems to keep a few surprises up its comic-book sleeve—especially when you have characters with time warps, inter-dimensionality and certain other things to put into play.

And after all, the word infinity means unlimited, boundless, continuing without end. Spider-Man is set to return next summer, and if you stay through the credits, you’ll see the plug for the next new character in the Marvel line, and the movie coming March 2019. And the next Avengers movie, the fourth, is scheduled to release a little over a year from now.

So, to infinity… and beyond!

In theaters April 27, 2018

 

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