Note: Although this review avoids spoilers, it inevitably contains hints of what transpires in the film. Those who wish to avoid any such knowledge should see the movie first.
Ah, how times passes. It seems like only a couple of Marvel movies ago that the original Avengers—Cap, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Hulk, Hawkeye—were duking it out with Tony Stark’s high-end, ill-advised kitchenware Ultron and his shiny utensil-minions. But actually—trust me, and take a deep breath—that was eight Marvel movies ago. Feeling old yet?
So when Bruce Banner—a.k.a. the Hulk, a.k.a. the actor Mark Ruffalo—shows up early in Avengers: Infinity War, he has a bit of catching up to do. (Marvel fans will recall he spent the interim years perfecting the extraterrestrial ultimate-fighting skills that he showed off in last year’s Thor: Ragnarok.) At one point, having sat out the whole Captain America: Civil War storyline, Banner asks, “The Avengers broke up? Like a band? Like the Beatles?” Later, he’s more incredulous still at the launch of not one, but two new arthropod-based Marvel franchises: “There’s an Ant-Man and a Spider-Man?” Oh, Bruce. Try to keep up.
Never has the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” seemed like more of a universe, in ways both good and bad. Infinity War—the title is almost too apt—is a narrative juggling act the likes of which I’m not sure I’ve ever seen before. It is far from a perfect movie, but it is probably close to the best movie it could have been. There are a few unforced errors—a late defeat-snatched-from-the-jaws-of-victory moment, the ongoing Iron Man–ification of Spidey’s “suit”—but the film’s number of actual missteps is a tiny fraction of the potential missteps inherent in an undertaking this vast.