No spoilers. You’re welcome.

There was an idea — moviegoers know this — called the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). The idea was to bring together the stories of a group of remarkable people, to see if they could become something greater, to see if they could get the average person to return to the big screen again and again, to see these remarkable people fight the forces of evil.

That idea worked, to the tune of $15 billion so far. “Avengers: Infinity War” is the 19th and most recent installment in the MCU, and the payoff of 10 years of films in the MCU; it is the reason why diehard Marvel fans, average moviegoers, and obsessive people who got hooked and now need to see the franchise through, have invested so much money and emotional value in the series. It is not the last MCU movie lined up, but it is essentially the climax of the series.

Unfortunately, that makes this review very difficult to write. The nature of this film, as the crown jewel of what will be a 24-movie series by its end, means that so much of its plot is tied down to things that have happened previously in the series’ timeline, and much of its significance will only be revealed when the fourth Avengers movie comes out in one year’s time. Things like the emotional weight carried by the movie — which is substantial — must therefore go only barely discussed here for the sake of avoiding spoilers of this and previous MCU films.

Suffice it to say that the film brings together the Avengers, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and an impressive host of other heroes, antiheroes, and side characters from the previous films to oppose Thanos (Josh Brolin) in his quest to acquire the Infinity Stones — a handful of McGuffins that have driven the previous movies — and bring death to trillions across the universe.

“Infinity War” shows that the franchise has learned from the mistakes of some of its predecessors, making it the second-best of the four MCU ensemble movies to date (counting “The Avengers” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” along with “Captain America: Civil War” because it is close enough to the others in my book). A primary example of this is the refusal to bog down the film with side action. There is little in terms of character development in “Infinity War,” which would seem to be a criticism if it were not for the fact that much of it was built up over the last 10 years. A key failing of “Age of Ultron” and “Civil War” was the attempt to give each character adequate screen time and a side plot or two, alongside all the action one expects of an MCU story. In “Infinity War,” on the other hand, there is no such conflict. The roughly 2.5 hour runtime is fully devoted to uniting separate groups of characters toward a single overarching plotline, and to delivering physical and emotional confrontation along the way.

The characters, always (at least in theory) the main strength of the MCU movies, are for the most part used well based on the personages that have been presented thus far in the MCU. Naturally, only the most well-established heroes have the largest share of screen time and impact on the plot. However, the presence of such a broad and diverse cast of characters nevertheless gives the movie a lot of flavor. A few of the scattered characters do seem to have less impact on the larger goings-on in the film though, making for a bit of a lull between its stronger moments.

Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

A few words should be said for Thanos, whose appearance in this film makes him one of the best villains in the MCU to date. Granted, few of them are even memorable (I doubt I could name the main villain of, say, “Ant-Man” without resorting to Google), but that does not undermine the fact that much of the strength of this movie owes itself to Thanos. The tension of the film grows as his strength grows, leading to a cataclysmic ending when he is at his strongest. At the same time, we also see his emotional vulnerability, as well as the elements of his past that shaped his admittedly simplistic, cruel motives. As the villain Marvel fans have been waiting to see since the end-credits scene from “The Avengers,” Thanos is an intimidating and dangerous enemy, taking his place alongside Loki from the Thor movies and Erik Killmonger from “Black Panther” as one of the actually interesting or compelling MCU villains.

There are other factors that can be considered in examining this movie, but they overall do not deter from the strengths of the movie. CGI is probably overused, which is to be expected from a movie featuring alien hordes, space battles and catastrophic destruction, but it’s also of generally good quality, not too difficult to look at. The score is nothing worth mentioning, even underusing now-classic pieces such as the Avengers’ theme so as to be nearly unremarkable. At about 2.5 hours, the film does come quite close to dragging on, though as with all MCU movies, the ending is the most interesting part, and entirely makes up for the handful of duller moments. And that snarky Marvel humor that many have grown tired of is still present, but in more measured amounts than in some MCU movies. Of course, all these arguments against the movie are moot; the same could be said for more or less all the previous MCU films, so these are hardly new complaints, and people have crowded into theaters anyway time and again.

Verdict: “Avengers: Infinity War” is not a perfect film nor the best movie in the MCU, and is sure to leave many fans disappointed when it has been the subject of so much speculation. But, it does deliver exciting action, surprising and even shocking emotional moments, and a satisfying high point for the MCU franchise that will ensure fans coming back for more.