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‘AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR’ OFFERS ONE SURPRISE AFTER ANOTHER

Watching the latest, most ambitious entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is an overpowering experience….especially if you have a deep emotional connection to any of the characters. I enjoy most of these films but wouldn’t call myself a fanboy; I didn’t get that kick-in-the-gut feeling until the very end of the picture (of which I cannot speak). The finale of Infinity War is truly mind-blowing.

Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, whose Marvel credits include all three Captain America movies and Thor: The Dark World, took on a superhuman challenge this time around. How do you craft a script that involves almost all the major characters who have made their mark onscreen over the past decade? How does teenage Spider-man fit in with snarky Tony Stark and the wizardry of Doctor Strange? Do Loki and Groot belong in the same movie?

The answer, for the most part, is a surprising “yes.” The film is naturally episodic in nature and two and a half hours long but it does make sense. Only the reveal of Wakanda and its leaders felt arbitrary to me—but it elicited shrieks of joy from fans sitting near me at a screening the other night.

Markus and McFeely, in concert with directors Anthony and Joe Russo, chose to tell this story from the perspective of Thanos (Josh Brolin), a formidable, power-hungry villain. He is the link, the through-line that propels this serpentine story through many worlds and involves so many prominent characters. Thanos is humanized here, to an unanticipated degree, which gives his cold-blooded actions enormous impact.

Fortunately, the serious matters at stake haven’t dissuaded the writers from peppering their screenplay with the kind of humor that shows the MCU at its best. Robert Downey, Jr. leads the charge, but Chris Pratt and other A-listers from the Marvel roster get their fair share of wisecracks and punchlines, all of them welcome.

Avengers: Infinity War is positioned as the first of a grand two-movie story. But this one ends on such an unusual note that it’s impossible to predict where the next episode will take us…and which characters who are underutilized here will get more screen time. All I know is that Marvel has lived up to its reputation for daring its filmmakers to break boundaries, and trusting its audience to go along for the ride. I don’t think fans will be disappointed.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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