Thanos has finally arrived, and he’s bringing destruction along with him.

Spoilers will probably appear. Proceed at your own risk.

From the opening scene of AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, it’s clear it would be a darker, more somber film than what the studio has produced over the last decade. The 18 movies that came before in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have put its protagonists in dire situations, but there was always a sense of awe and wonder in watching these heroes save the day. INFINITY WAR, though, starts out with a decimating defeat for The Hulk and Thor, still in space after the events of THOR: RAGNAROK. Things do not get better for them from there.

The MCU has been building up to the moment where the universe’s heroes would face off against Thanos, the Mad Titan who is seeking to collect all six Infinity Stones, since 2012’s THE AVENGERS. Instead of a cathartic ending where Tony Stark and Steve Rogers put their differences behind them after CIVIL WAR, though, we get a very dark picture with Thanos and his forces taking on several split squads of heroes strewn across the galaxy looking for an advantage.

INIFNITY WAR‘s scope is nothing short of impressive. It is most impressive, I thought, when the movie shifted away from Earth and onto other planets. Marvel Studios movies have never looked more like a comic book than in the amazing scenes where the heroes battle Thanos on an alien world. The stunning visuals cemented the feeling that this was an epic film the likes of which we have rarely ever seen.

The movie, a lengthy 2 and a half hours, includes almost every hero previously introduced to moviegoers. Because some of them – Dr. Strange and the Guardians of the Galaxy, namely – aren’t Avengers, there are several moments of introduction that add some levity to the film. Just when I think that gimmick is starting to wear thin, though, we get the meeting of Groot and Captain America, and it’s nothing short of wonderful.

Even better was Thor’s encounter with Guardians of the Galaxy. The space-faring crew find an unconscious Thor out in a vacuum and bring him in to their ship. Nearly every line was a gag that built on what had come before. Chris Hemsworth proved in Ragnarok that he could do action and comedy in the same breath, and he continues that here with the MCU’s other more light-hearted team. In fact, I would say Hemsworth was the breakout star of the film. When he made his final entrance during the climactic fight scene, the whole theater was cheering.

Character interactions like these are frequently a highlight of MCU films, and that thankfully continues here. Without them, INFINITY WAR would be a dour affair. There are very few moments where The Avengers manage to get the upper hand against Thanos’ forces, either on Earth or out in space. Already in possession of two of the Infinity Stones, the villain tears through various iterations of the heroic forces to get the other four stones, to fulfill his goal of remaking reality and wiping out half of the sentient beings in the universe in order to preserve the resources throughout the galaxies. Yes, the Mad Titan sought out the Infinity Stones to create an extreme environmental protection policy. With each victory, Thanos’ power grows, and it becomes less and less likely that the heroes can get the upper hand.

Even in the final battle, with Captain America, Thor, BLACK PANTHER and the forces of Wakanda, Scarlet Witch and other heroes battling Thanos’ troops, felt like a foregone conclusion once Thanos made his appearance on Earth. The final moments of the movie left everyone in the theater I was in dumbstruck, shocked they would end the movie the way they did.

As the credits rise on the film, the MCU is easily in the darkest place it’s ever been, and it sets up the need for a fourth Avengers film where the heroes can set things right. While that may get INFINITY WAR points for style and daring, as a standalone movie, it is certainly a little less desirable. I kept waiting for the moment in the credits where the title of the next Avengers movie would be announced – it’s due out next year – but all we got was a warning that THANOS WOULD RETURN at the end of the credits.

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR was an enjoyable experience, filled with moments that elicited cheers, but I’ll admit to having a bit of disappointment in paying money for a cliffhanger better suited to the mid-season finale of cable TV show. But the ending doesn’t really take away from the amazing visuals, the fun interactions or the breathtaking battles. It’s going to take a lot for another MCU film to top this one in terms of impact, though giving us a happy ending may go a long way.

SPOILER: This scene from the trailer does not appear in the film!