So, what can you reveal in an advance review of Avengers: Infinity War without revealing significant spoilers, which Marvel Studios and the Walt Disney Company are going to great lengths to try to discourage (and for good reason).
It turns out, not a whole lot, because their epic and dark … funny and dark … surprising and dark ... fervently-anticipated magnum opus is all in service of serial continuity. And if that sounds damning, it isn't meant to be. Stay with us.
What Infinity War is mostly is a nearly unprecedented cinematic (and yes, commercial) animal - a film that is tasked to do what really no other film has done before. Sure, Star Wars Episode I and VII may have carried the weight of even greater fan expectations and the final Harry Potter film had to put a bow on what became one giant beloved home movie of childhoods the entire world followed. No other film, however, has ever had to marry arguably five different film franchises (and that's if we're counting The Avengers as a single one), tying 14 or 15 films-worth of plot points over 10 years together without actually ending the ongoing narrative.
And it does so in ways you both expect and never see coming. Fans who have crafted their own theories or have consumed countless others as to exactly how the film plays out will still find consistent surprises even in the parts they got right, because - how's this for a spoiler that really isn't a spoiler - Disney has been having a little fun with us all.
But we'll leave that at that.
What fans have guessed right is Infinity War plays out mostly as a series of vignettes and what stands out is the care directors Joe and Anthony Russo give to each group of individual franchises. When the film transitions from a battle in New York City to the first appearances of the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Russos channel their inner James Gunn and make the switch seamless yet signature with the clever use of just a single word title card.
But the real fun begins when Infinity War begins mixing and matching characters and weaving various subplots together, with obvious genuine love.
Just seeing the resulting tapestry is the triumph of Infinity War. Is it an airtight three-act plot? No. Do some of the characters - even significant ones - get the short shrift because there are so many characters to serve? Yes, undoubtedly. Is it all going to be comprehensible to four-fifths of the movie-going population? Who the heck knows.
This is a Marvel comic book event movie with a Marvel comic book event sensibility. If that rings your bell, prepare to count Infinity War among your favorite films of all time. If not, go for the spectacle and stay for the film's real star.
In the ramp of press leading go the premiere, the film's producers having been calling Infinity War a 'Thanos movie' and with the advantage of the script and final cut on hand, they knew what they were talking about. He is the through line. Some enterprising journalist will someday record the lines of dialogue and screen time of all the (many) various characters, but Josh Brolin's Thanos will almost certainly top both lists.
It is Brolin's movie, and, no that's not at all a bad thing. Keeping the villain momentum going Marvel Studios has gained with recent entries like the Vulture, the Grandmaster and Erik Killmonger, Thanos is not a hyperbolic purple mass of comic book nihilism his earlier, brief appearances have suggested. Brolin is given the opportunity to emote and simply behave like a person through the motion capture and he delivers a thoughtful, caricature-busting performance.
Yes, Thanos is still a madman, and yes, his ultimate goal is still wanton destruction, but the already-revealed reasons he's seeking the Gauntlet ring credible for a hybrid fantasy/sci-fi/comic book epic and the film gives him moral dilemmas to work through.
With as many heroes as Infinity War sports and the Black Order (not to mention a certain God of Mischief) to do a lot of the dirty work, the Russos could have easily made Thanos a typical, boastful, snarling cipher of a movie supervillain. But they went the opposite direction instead, again inviting the possibility of some mainstream frustration. Some discriminating moviegoers may find reasons to nitpick at the CGI of him, but Brolin's subtly successfully bridges the gap between effect and affect.
His Cable in next month's Deadpool 2 has some really, really big shoes to fill, pun sort of intended.
Whether or not Infinity War is the experience moviegoers en masse think they want remains to be seen. Star Wars: The Last Jedi taught us just in the last few months genre fans can he as polarized as political ideologues. But one thing is for certain, the film in no uncertain terms exists to serve fans invested in the MCU as a whole over the last decade … and of course, set it all up for the next decade.
At that it succeeds wildly.
How the world at large reacts to how it does it will be fascinating to watch.
And we're sorry if that doesn't seem like it's saying a lot. But you'll thank us for it later.