More than two months since "Black Panther" smashed all expectations about comic book films, Marvel is set to unleash its most comic book movie to date with "Avengers: Infinity War," a crossover event the studio touts as 10 years, three phases and 18 pictures in the making.
The reviews are in, and it seems the only consensus among critics is that "Infinity War" is not for anyone new to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Set for wide release on Friday, the movie is for those who have been a part of Marvel's decade-long journey — or at the very least have a passing knowledge of the various superheroes assembled for the film: Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman).
Since the focus is the villain Thanos, who's made appearances throughout a number of MCU films, on his quest to collect various Infinity Stones, many of which have played significant parts in past pictures, it does make sense that some familiarity of the franchise is helpful.
Though slightly vague and spoiler-free, the reviews have mostly been positive, and the movie now has an 87% "certified fresh" rating at review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes.
Times film critic Justin Chang described "Infinity War" as "the most ambitious, eventful and exhausting convocation of Marvel comic-book superheroes yet." And though it's not a ringing endorsement, he writes that the movie "works just fine, and that's all it was ever meant to do."
Chang explained that "whatever else it may be — a culmination, an obligation, a staggering feat of crowd control, a truly epic tease — 'Avengers: Infinity War' is a brisk, propulsive, occasionally rousing and borderline-gutsy continuation of a saga that finally and sensibly seems to be drawing to a close.
"It is also a carefully engineered and ultimately unsuccessful bid for something that has rarely, if ever, rattled the Marvel cosmos: catharsis."
Similarly, the New York Times' A.O. Scott found "Infinity War" a "delight" to an extent. But he said that 19 films in, the MCU "long ago expanded beyond the usual boundaries of sequelization and brand extension," adding that the franchise "has come to be less a creative or commercial undertaking than an immutable fact of life, like sex or the weather or capitalism itself."
Scott insisted that he was "not complaining, but rather pointing out how pointless, how silly it sounds when anyone bothers to venture a complaint" about these films.
Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune described "Infinity War" as "a lot of movie," noting that "'a lot' … doesn't mean it's much fun or even very good."
While Phillips wrote that the film was "a little bit brave, a little bit cowardly" with "modest payoffs," he mostly wondered if "after 'Black Panther,' does anyone care about that louche, narcissistic playboy Tony Stark as much as they used to?"
Many other reviewers were more straightforward about enjoying "Infinity War," including the Washington Post's Michael O'Sullivan, who found the movie "dark, maddeningly open-ended yet fiercely entertaining."
"For a superhero movie, the nuance with which the film presents this horrible scenario is refreshing," wrote Sullivan, who praised the film for presenting "a villain in a more nuanced, complex (and arguably even sympathetic) way than most comic book movies do."
Sara Stewart of the New York Post was similarly enthusiastic, stating that the movie was "worth the wait."
Stewart recognized that it "doesn't even really pretend to have a plot, beyond: 'Keep Thanos from getting stones.'" But that didn't bother her, because "plot is not really what we're here for, is it?"
The thrill of the movie, she said, is watching the various heroes meet for the first time and trade barbs and banter as well as seeing "long-lost allies … reunited."
In his positive take, Variety's Owen Gleiberman called "Infinity War" a "sleekly witty action opera that's at once overstuffed and bedazzling."
"'Infinity War' can, at times, make it feel like you're at a birthday party where you got so many presents that you start to grow tired of opening them," wrote Gleiberman. "But taken on its own piñata-of-fun terms, it's sharp, fast-moving, and elegantly staged. It also has what any superhero movie worth its salt requires: a sense that there's something at stake."
Not all critics were completely sold, however.
Time's Stephanie Zacharek decided that "'Infinity War' isn't really anything you could call a movie — it's more of a fulfillment center."
"There's no pacing in 'Avengers: Infinity War.' It's all sensation and no pulse. Everything is big, all of the time," Zacharek wrote.