Avengers: Infinity War is a blockbuster like no other.
Love or hate the penultimate installment of Marvel’s sprawling superhero universe, you have to admire Marvel’s ambition. Infinity War tells a story on a scale never seen before in cinema.
Marvel wove together a complex plot involving six powerful space stones, a villain who wants to wipe out half the universe to save it, and more than 40 superheroes and other characters on their own paths to stop him. Yet, at its core this is a tale of family, duty, and sacrifice—and one that doesn’t lose the good-natured fun and wit Marvel movies are known for. It’s a story that could only be told smartly and succinctly on the big screen because of all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films that came before it.
Each movie, a blockbuster in its own right, planted the seeds of plot and character development that blossomed in Infinity War. You don’t need to see the previous 18 movies to watch this one, but the story is made richer by the pre-existing dynamics and storylines that shape the hugs, side eyes, quips, and longing looks between the dozens of characters in the film.
It is depth that may be missed by those who only watched Infinity War, because it couldn’t be achieved in the span of a single movie or trilogy. Even big bad Thanos, who showed that he loved and respected that which he destroyed, was only wholly developed in this film after he was built up as an evil overload in numerous earlier movies. And, let’s be real: Villains have never been the MCU’s strong suit.
The pacing was also aided by the robust world Marvel spent the past 10 years building. While more than 2.5 hours, Infinity War didn’t feel long. There was no fat; the movie gets right into the action. Yet it’s still generally easy to follow without knowing the intricacies of the prior films’ plots. The drama is tempered by the steady flow of familiar faces and carefully crafted character pairings. In the brief moments when the dialogue is used to explain the action, it does so in a classic, self-effacing Marvel way: “He’s from space. He came here to steal a necklace from a wizard.” Boom.
Only a decade of world-building could have made Marvel’s fantastical universe of costumed heroes and larger-than-life villains feels more real than nearly anything else in cinema.