Over the last decade, Marvel Studios has redefined the blockbuster world with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Despite an apparent formula at work, most of the 18 individual films still managed to surprise audiences to some degree.

Which is why it's mildly disappointing to report that for the most part, Avengers: Infinity War does what it says on the box, and little else.

Don't get me wrong – this is a hugely entertaining film-going experience stuffed to the brim with everything we've come to expect from MCU movies – inventive action set-pieces, witty interplay, nimble dialogue, epic clashes, fist-pumping moments of heroism – but the issue is just that: we've come to expect all these elements. The film lives up to the high standard set by its predecessors, but fails to build on it in any significant manner, and doesn't contain any big surprises for the majority of its running time.

How the film ends, however, is another story. But that cannot be discussed in this review.

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As has been teased repeatedly throughout the previous movies, the plot of Infinity War concerns big purple alien Thanos (Josh Brolin in a CGI-assisted motion-capture performance) and his quest to gather together the Infinity Stones, which will grant him the power to fulfill his goal of eliminating half of all life that exists, which in his mind will bring balance to the universe.

He already has a couple of the Stones, and it's up to the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Black Panther and almost everybody else who's ever been in a Marvel movie (except Ant Man and Hawkeye, for some reason) to stop him from getting his hands on the remaining few.

Although the film goes to great creative lengths to make sure all the participants have something relevant to do, the unwieldy nature of 'team' movies is felt. Everybody gets a nice moment or two, but that's about it. That said, there is plenty of fun to be found in seeing iconic characters who've never met on screen before get to interact – these provide most of the film's most crowd-pleasing moments.

Thanos himself probably gets more screentime than any individual good guy, and the mythic status of the character is palpable. Which is a relief, because he looked a little bit ridiculous ahead of time. He's never ridiculous in the film, thanks largely to Brolin's imposing intonations.

A culmination without being a finale, Avengers: Infinity War is an impressive achievement in blockbuster movie-making. But there's no denying that, expectation-wise, the MCU is starting to look a little bit like a victim of its own success.

Cast:

Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pratt, Chadwick Boseman, Scarlett Johansson and more

Directors:

Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Running time:

149 minutes

Rating:

M (violence, offensive language, sex scenes and content that may disturb)

Verdict:

Breathlessly entertaining. Not particularly surprising. Except for the ending.