Sunday, May 20, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War


Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo.
2018. Rated PG-13, 149 minutes.
Cast:
Chris Hemsworth
Robert Downey Jr.
Josh Brolin
Mark Ruffalo
Scarlett Johansson
Chris Pratt
Zoe Saldana
Tom Holland
Chris Evans
Chadwick Boseman
Elizabeth Olsen
Don Cheadle
Paul Bettany
Benedict Cumberbatch
Anthony Mackie
Peter Dinklage

As MCU fans have known for quite some time, it's all been leading to this. This being the official arrival of the incredibly powerful Thanos (Brolin) into the MCU. As his several appearances in mid- and post-credit scenes have let us know, he's been observing things from the sidelines. He has finally joined the game and has big ideas. He seeks to gather all of the Infinity Stones spread throughout the galaxy which will give him immeasurable power. With this power, he plans on enacting some pretty drastic measures of population control. As we're told several times, once he has all of the stones he can snap his fingers and kill half the beings in the galaxy. Of course, some of these stones are on good ol' Planet Earth and it's up to our mightiest heroes to keep this from happening.

What Marvel does better than anyone else, most notably rival DC, is bring the different factions of its universe together seamlessly. That power is on full display here as the Guardians of the Galaxy are put into the mix and Thor is reintegrated after being absent from Captain America: Civil War. Characters mesh very well and have instant chemistry. In what's become par for the franchise course, some of the best scenes are back-and-forth exchanges where characters try to one-up each other, either aggressively, or more entertainingly, passive-aggressively. In this installment, the bulk of this part of the workload is handled by Thor (Hemsworth) and Peter Quill (Pratt) with Iron Man (Stark) and Dr. Strange (Cumberbatch) occasionally taking over. Surprisingly, we even get some of this from Bruce Banner and the Incredible Hulk (Ruffalo). More on that later. Just for good measure, the father-son dynamic between Iron Man and Spider-Man (Holland) continues. Sure, it's all part of the franchise formula, but for the most part, the jokes still work.

A decade of immensely popular movies has afforded Marvel a luxury that is the envy of every other franchise hoping to follow in its footsteps. They can release some movies with a total lack of regard for character development. Audience familiarity is so strong this isn't really an issue. Characters from all over the MCU just pop up to help out and it's no issue. Of course, if you're somehow coming into this without being familiar with everyone, you may not feel the same. Honestly, if you're in that camp, the film ignores your feelings. Nothing about any of the good guys is explained or developed, aside from the occasional reference to earlier films in the canon. It's the ultimate in media res story-telling. All outsiders would really know is that Thor is leading a band of costumed heroes in an effort to save the galaxy.


Yes, I said Thor leads the band. He has been thrust into the spot previously reserved for Iron Man and Captain America. However, the film really centers around its villain, Thanos. Since Infinity War serves as his official introduction, he is the only character who is explored. In what amounts to a voice-over role, Josh Brolin somehow manages to create one of the MCU's top villains. Though saddled with the same treasure hunt as many of the franchise's previous baddies, chasing some all-powerful whatchamacallit, he manages to convince us Thanos sincerely believes he is on some magnanimous quest. As Killmonger showed us in Black Panther, bad guys who think they're the heroes are the most interesting types. Thanos is of this ilk. His overall point is defensible, it's his methodology that is not. This dichotomy between what the heart desires and how the brain chooses to get it is what makes him a compelling figure. His determination is immediately apparent. Eventually, his sadness and weariness are, too.

Even with a wonderful bad guy giving our beloved heroes a run for their money, all is not peachy-keen with Infinity War. Remember that lack of character development I mentioned? It comes with a price. In lieu of giving the Hulk another solo film, we've watched his character grow throughout the various movies he's shown up in. Despite Thor Ragnarok skipping lots of comic book history to get to this point, it was an excellent showcase for Hulk. This film throws us some things that hint at further development, but doesn't actually do anything with the character other than confuse the audience. I'm sure all will be explained in future installments, but what happens here is the polar opposite of everything we know about Hulk, both within and prior to the MCU. We're suddenly to believe he has an emotion we've consistently been told he isn't capable of - fear. It's an interesting direction to take him in, but it needs to be explored. Instead, it's just thrown out as a recurring gag, that back and forth between Bruce and Hulk I mentioned, with no actual payoff. This is disappointing because it takes Hulk completely out of the film.

Perhaps, Hulk's sharp left turn could not be examined thanks to the sheer number of characters who cross the screen. In what has become the double-edged sword of these types of movies, there are superheroes everywhere. Fans like me might have nerdgasms every time one of them does their thing, but there's no denying this is a crowded movie. To it's credit, Infinity War handles this about as well as it can, again owing much to audience familiarity, but it can be a bit fatiguing bouncing around from one micro set of heroes to another at breakneck speed for nearly two-and-a-half hours. However, as mentioned, the upshot is we get plenty of superhero stuff to distract us from weak plot elements.

Then there's that ending. I'll tread lightly here in order to not spoil it for the one or two of you who haven't seen it. On one hand, it feels like a total cash-grab by a company that already has our money. After all, what better way to ensure you come back for more? On the other, it feels like a stroke of genius. It's a cliffhanger in every sense of the word. If you haven't seen the movie, you may have heard that it's frustrating. To a degree, it is. That's because, as fans of the MCU, we've been conditioned to expect the main plot of the film we're watching to take care of itself by the time the credits start rolling with a teaser or two for future movies after that. That's not what happens here. Theoretically, the plot does wrap itself up, just not in a way we're expecting. As I was leaving the theater, I was one of the confused. However, I couldn't stop thinking of the possibilities. My brother, a friend, and I texted our predictions for the MCU back and forth. I privately mulled over how accurate they might be. I quickly came to understand that this movie had done what I most want movies to do - give me an experience that travels with me beyond the borders of its runtime. This is where it gets tricky. Depending on how you feel about the ending, you might think it's either one of the all-time greatest, or all-time worse movies. It's neither. Infinity War is a movie that's pretty good for about two hours and fifteen minutes. The last ten minutes or so, I'm calling brilliant.

18 comments:

  1. Great review! I saw this about a month ago and I'm still not sure how I feel about it. I enjoyed it but I feel like I should have enjoyed it more. Some parts don't work, like the Hulk subplot you mentioned, and the merging of storylines was handled poorly, but overall it was enjoyable. As for the ending, it's easily the best in the MCU. So weird and full of possibilities.

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    1. Yes, definitely the best ending in the MCU. I get what you're saying about your overall feelings on it. It seems to have had that type of effect on lots of people. Thanks!

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  2. This was a great film but that ending.... I'm still coping with what I saw. More importantly, I was at the location where post-credit scene was shot as I was trying to get NIN tickets yesterday at the Fox Theatre. Fucking Thanos. That is an evil motherfucker. You could make a list of great villains and he will definitely be somewhere in the top 10.

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    1. I think most of us are still coping with that ending. Thanos has definitely made a major impression.

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  3. You've finally seen it! Great review buddy! Considering all it had to juggle and accomplish, IW is definitely one of the great MCU movies (not as good as The Winter Soldier mind you).

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    1. I actually saw opening weekend. I've just been too busy to sit down and write reviews. I'm hoping to get my Deadpool 2 review done at some point before I die, lol. The Winter Soldier is a great one to have ahead of it, no doubt.

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  4. I'm still mad at this movie.

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  5. Excellent review! Yeah, I still don't know what the hell that Banner/Hulk plot was. Maybe it was Marvel's revenge for Ruffalo spoiling stuff because good God that was humiliating.

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    1. Never thought of it that way, but I wouldn't be surprised. Still, I expect that to get more attention in the next part.

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  6. Ah, feels like I've been gone for forever. Barely recognised your site - very nice changes to the header images btw. Gonna wait till I write my review of this movie before reading this one. Gonna be good to read your work again, my friend.

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    1. Thanks. Haven't been so active myself lately. Summer is here, so I'll be able to ratchet it up, though. Looking forward to reading yours, as well.

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  7. Great review Dell. I love your "On one hand..., on the other hand..." analysis of the ending. I thought this was one of the best MCU movies yet, but the ending did feel a bit cheap to me, especially if they bring some or all of them back. But, as you say, you can guarantee we'll all be back for more.

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    1. Thanks. And I'm positive most, if not all of them will be back. The question for me is who doesn't?

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  8. "as fans of the MCU, we've been conditioned to expect the main plot of the film we're watching to take care of itself by the time the credits start rolling with a teaser or two for future movies after that."

    Interesting. That's definitely not the reason the ending frustrated me so. To me, it felt so cheap and obvious to leave SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS only the original Avengers left at the end (plus some more recent minor characters). I mean, not a single one of them gets taken away? And the way it was staged signified that this was clearly meant to be taken deadly seriously, which was extremely difficult to do since the next Guardians and Black Panther movies have been announced already. I thought it was pandering and ridiculous and it left a bad taste in my mouth, especially since the rest of the thing was done pretty well. It just proved yet again that the Marvel movies are better when they're more focused on the comedy.

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    1. Can't really argue with any of that. The only thing I'll say is (SPOILERS - sorta) the door is still wide open for any of those original Avengers to actually die. So, the stakes are still intact.

      Unfortunately, we live in a time where companies announce their films up to a decade in advance. That knowledge has clearly impacted your thoughts on it. I agree, we talk too much. That said, I think the ending works the more you can become submerged in the film and can ignore the upcoming release dates.

      As for Marvel being better when it focuses on comedy, I disagree. I think those are the more "fun" movies in the MCU, but not necessarily the "better." The Captain America movies are among the best in the canon, as is Black Panther, and none of those focused on comedy.

      Great comment! Love the exchange of ideas and opinions.

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    2. I feel like the first two Capt. America movies and Black Panther are the exceptions to the rule. Both Guardians of the Galaxy movies, Thor Ragnarok, and Ant Man are all more focused on being fun/funny, and they're also all great. The next tier of greatness would be Iron Man, Thor, Iron Man 3, Doctor Strange, and the first Avengers movie, all of which have heavy doses of humor. Iron Man 2, The Dark World, Age of Ultron, and Civil War are all varying levels of interminable to me, and they're the least leavened with humor (or, at least, successful humor). (I haven't bothered with the Spider-Man movies after the Sam Raimi trilogy, so can't speak to that one)

      And the thing is, even if I didn't know that there were more Guardians and Black Panther movies coming, what Marvel has done with their "cinematic universe" has conditioned us to expect sequels to their successful properties, which means that we KNOW there's no way these people won't be coming back, which means the dramatic stakes are much lower for the sequel to this.

      I'm actually not that pissed at Marvel for this. I'm more pissed at the people describing this ending as "game-changing" and "ambitious" etc. It changes absolutely nothing, and the only thing "ambitious" about it is that Marvel tried to make us forget that this was originally "PART ONE" of the Infinity War; they ended on a cliff-hanger where no one was looking for one. Except that, given both comic book conventions and Marvel's craven desire to pry our money from our wallets, it's not surprising at all, and isn't emotionally affecting because it's so obviously going to be reversed.

      I can buy some people's argument that the ending is clearly a big moment for the characters who do get left behind, and that the ending is affecting because of that... but so few people seem to be making that argument, instead seemingly believing in the moment that all these billion-dollar characters are actually more than likely dead for good. Which... is that what we've become as moviegoers? REALLY?

      I don't mean to rant so much. I liked the movie more than these comments make it sound. I just can't help but roll my eyes at it because anyone with any knowledge of comic book conventions and/or today's movie business could see THIS EXACT ENDING coming from a mile away.

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    3. Love your passion! I have a pretty good knowledge of comic conventions and the movie biz, but I was still a bit taken aback by the ending. I think it's because even knowing this was a 2-parter, I still somehow expected a cleaner ending to this chapter of it, which is where the conditioning I mentioned comes in. Is it a shameless cash grab? Sure, but it's one I don't mind.

      Again, love that you got all worked up over this. Really appreciate it because it shows a desire for the films you watch to be as good as they can possibly be.

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