In ‘Avengers: Infinity War,’ Marvel goes nuclear

From left: Tom Holland, Robert Downey Jr., Dave Bautista, Chris Pratt and Pom Klementieff in a scene from “Avengers: Infinity War”

After 10 years of lean, threadbare, Lilliputian tales, Marvel Studios has, thank heavens, finally decided to go big.

The scale of “Avengers: Infinity War,” of course, isn’t a departure for Marvel. It’s an apotheosis. But is it possible to supersize what is already colossal? “Infinity War,” which brings together more than 30 significant characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and enough spandex to clothe a small nation, is a little like launching an invasion after the war was already won. Despite assured dominance, Marvel has gone nuclear.

“Infinity” is an interesting word for the Marvel machine, which sets much of its development pipeline a decade in advance. Never-ending is indeed how the superhero era of blockbusterdom sometimes feels, both to its fans and its critics. Even Steven Spielberg, who once said superheroes will eventually go the way of the western, recently signed on to produce a DC Comics film.

But the title refers to the six “infinity stones” scattered around the universe, each conveying a power of sorcery, like the time-warping one held by Doctor Strange. They are dearly sought by Thanos, the indestructible Titan warlord, who rules over much of space but would like all of it. With all the McGuffins — er, stones — he can, with the snap of his fingers, wipe away half of the universe’s beings: a rapture to cull an overgrown herd, he envisions.

And it’s, in part, the lure of finality that has made “Infinity War,” directed by Anthony and Joe Russo (veterans of two “Captain America” movies), one of the year’s most salivated-over movies. The preamble has been one long tease — we have seen fleeting glimpses of Thanos (Josh Brolin) since Barack Obama’s first term — leading up to a battle royal that could mean the demise of some of Marvel’s most famous faces.

It can be hard to know who or what to root for. Arguably the best quality — and most vital asset — of the Marvel canon is its star-making (or at least star-expanding) power. On the one hand, Chris Pratt’s performance as Star-Lord in “The Guardians of the Galaxy” has been terrific and turned him into a household name. On the other hand, we’ve hardly seen Robert Downey Jr. outside of the Iron Man suit in the last decade. It took 18 months to shoot both parts of “Infinity War” back-to-back (the sequel is due out next summer), putting a stranglehold on some of our best movie stars, like Chris Hemsworth and Anthony Mackie. Faint cries can be heard on the street of: “Let our Ruffalo go!”

And it’s really the simple pleasure of seeing so many good actors together that makes “Infinity War” — an “Ocean’s Eleven” in hyper drive — work. Lindsey Bahr, AP Film Writer

“Avengers: Infinity War,” a Walt Disney Co. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, language and some crude references.” Running time: 149 minutes.

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