Marvel Studios' new "Avengers: Infinity War" shows up DC Entertainment's "Justice League" in every respect: It's a truly epic adventure, spectacular and wildly entertaining, with impressive CG characters and a cast stocked with not six beloved superheroes but 20. Marvel's superhero movies may not run the risk of being called "elegant," but they're sure as hell sturdy, well-built popcorn flicks that send audiences out unequivocally satisfied.
As part one of a two-part culmination to Marvel's decade of movie hits, "Avengers: Infinity War" doesn't quite reach the summit of the house producer Kevin Feige has built on the foundation of comics legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. No spoilers here, but the movie does end on a big ol' cliffhanger to be resolved one year from now, making the film feel like the season finale of the best superhero show ever. But "Infinity War" is a high-water mark for lovers of the hugely popular superhero genre, a fangasm comic-book war movie that blows past the thrills of "Captain America: Civil War" by crazy-quilting nearly every Marvel sub-franchise into one movie, with astonishing star power. If you've been wondering if the Guardians of the Galaxy's Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) would ever tango with Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), and Spider-Man (Tom Holland)? Your time has come.
Inspired by the 1991 six-issue limited series "The Infinity Gauntlet" -- written by Jim Starlin and penciled by George Pérez and Ron Lim -- "Infinity War" blooms from seeds planted six years ago in "The Avengers." Thanos (Josh Brolin), a powerful being from Saturn's moon Titan, now wears the Infinity Gauntlet on his left hand, and it's got settings for six Infinity Stones: the Mind Gem, the Soul Gem, the Space Gem, the Power Gem, the Time Gem and the Reality Gem. Those stones are scattered through the universe, under the protection of our heroes, but if Thanos has his way, he'll collect every stone and wield unthinkable power.
Unlike the exasperatingly generic Steppenwolf in "Justice League," Thanos actually manages to be interesting: He's power-mad about population control, seeking to sustain the universe through halving its denizens one planetary culling at a time. Add the fact that he's the foster father to one of the heroes and you have to admit, the guy's got some shading. Certainly, his determination sets off mayhem of the highest order. A representative eye-popping action sequence finds some A-list heroes battered around Manhattan as they try to protect one of the stones from Thanos' offspring. Even at 149 minutes, "Infinity War" is more or less paced like a runaway freight train, and it does a fair job of balancing the dire and the comic (okay, you may have to suspend your disbelief a bit when the heroes get quippy under imminent mortal danger).
This much pure heroes-and-villains sensation is a lot to take in, no question. But that's also part and parcel of the way Marvel has been obliterating assumptions about what action cinema -- and especially action sequels -- can be. It's a trade-off most viewers will gladly make. If you've never given a hoot about superhero nonsense, "Avengers: Infinity War" will only further entrench your view that these things are a waste of time, but a lot of children and inner children will be wondering if their eyes can possibly grow any wider.