Thursday, May 3, 2018

Movie Review: Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers: Infinity War *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo.
Written by: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely based on comics/characters created by Stan Lee &
 Jack Kirby and Jim Starlin & George Pérez & Ron Lim and Steve Ditko and Joe Simon.
Starring: Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark / Iron Man), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner / Hulk), Chris Evans (Steve Rogers), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow), Benedict Cumberbatch (Stephen Strange), Don Cheadle (James "Rhodey" Rhodes / War Machine), Tom Holland (Peter Parker / Spider-Man), Chadwick Boseman (T'Challa / Black Panther), Paul Bettany (Vision), Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson / Falcon), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes / White Wolf), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Idris Elba (Heimdall), Peter Dinklage (Eitri), Benedict Wong (Wong), Pom Klementieff (Mantis), Karen Gillan (Nebula), Dave Bautista (Drax the Destroyer), Zoe Saldana (Gamora), Vin Diesel (Groot), Bradley Cooper (Rocket), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Benicio del Toro (Taneleer Tivan / The Collector), Josh Brolin (Thanos), Chris Pratt (Peter Quill / Star-Lord), Danai Gurira (Okoye), Letitia Wright (Shuri), Winston Duke (M'Baku).
Spoiler Warning: This film has already made so much money, and I’m writing a review a week late, so I cannot imagine I’d actually be spoiling anything for some who would care. Nevertheless, consider yourself warned.
So this is where the last decade of Marvel movies – 18 before this – has been leading up to. In a certain sense, you could argue that Avengers: Infinity War is the biggest movie of its era, and perhaps ever made – simply because it has taken so long, so many movies to lead up to this one point – and then because in the movie itself there are multiple storylines with a few dozen characters all brought together in various ways. If you want to look at the movie in that light, you have to admire its sheer scale – the logistical achievement involved in bringing this altogether into something resembling a movie with a coherent storyline. For the most part, the movie actually works to – for those of us who have followed along until now, the film is fun to watch. It has more than its share of flaws to be sure – but this is probably about as good of a movie that can be made when you crash all these characters together into one behemoth movie.
The movie finally makes Thanos (Josh Brolin) into a real character, instead of being the CGI bad guy who pops up for a cameo in credit stingers – and despite all the other characters in this film, he is the closest thing you’d come to having a main character. He’s actually a fair good villain by Marvel standards (which isn’t saying much) – like Eric Killmonger in Black Panther, Thanos actually has a plan and a point-of-view that makes him interesting. You can even see his point – even while you disagree with the way he goes about doing things. Basically, Thanos is collecting all the Infinity Stones – which up until now have been little more than MacGuffins referenced in every film – and if he can get all six, he will be virtually unstoppable, and be able to carry out his plan of wiping out half of the universe’s population. Brolin’s performance in the film is pretty good too – he doesn’t go for bombast – his performance is quieter. He doesn’t necessarily like what he’s going to do, just believes it is necessary. He would be an even better villain if he didn’t look so silly - he is a giant, purple CGI monster, and after a while you get used to him, but he does look kind of ridiculous.
The movie ties together various storylines of different subsets of the Avenger – and the Guardians of the Galaxy – trying in their own individual ways to stop Thanos. This makes for some interesting pairings – so Thor spends a lot of time with the Guardians for example, although they eventually splinter into two groups as well, and Iron Man and Doctor Strange square off in a contest to determine who can be the most obnoxious, and most of the rest rally around Vision, because he has one of the Infinity Stones at the start of the movie, to try and stop Thanos from getting it.
I have never been more confident that I was right all those years ago when I said that these Marvel movies are essentially a large scale TV show with a couple supersized episodes per year. This movie makes almost no effort to catch people up who haven’t been keeping up with the various storylines – although to be fair, it really isn’t that complicated to figure most of it (the purple guy wants the stones, everyone else doesn’t want him to have them, etc.). The directing duties here go to Joe and Anthony Russo – who also made Captain America: The Winter Solider (my favorite Marvel movie) and Captain America: Civil War, which was also quite good – although, like everyone else, I remember the wonderful airport fight sequence more than anything else. They are a good choice here – they keep all the different narrative balls in the air, and do a good enough job with the action sequences (even if nothing approaches that airport scene). The movie runs a long time, and yet it is consistently entertaining.
Most of the problems with the movie were probably unavoidable. With this many characters, some were clearly going to get the shaft, and so it goes with people like Captain America here (truly, this series hasn’t really known what to do with him since The Winter Soldier – after establishing in the first two Cap films that this ultimate symbol of America no longer fits into modern America, it hasn’t done much with him). The series seems to want Downey’s Iron Man to learn and relearn the same lessons again and again – and carry the emotional weight of the franchise in many ways, but he’s too glib and jokey for that. An emotional lynchpin of this movie is supposed to be Zoe Saldana’s Gamora, but her solo storyline here doesn’t hit as hard as it should.
And the same is true for the ending of the film that many seem to thinking is daring and audacious, but to me seemed more like a cheap ploy than anything else. We know damn well that the end of this film isn’t “final” – if it was, then sure, it would be daring. The makers of the film are right now trying to do the Jon Snow death dance around the ending, but no one is buying it. And if the end of this film isn’t final, then what really are the stakes at play? I truly do want the next Avengers film – due a year from now (after Ant-Man and the Wasp and Captain Marvel) to not do what I think it’s going to do – but I don’t see another way around it (I will gladly be proven very wrong in that regard).
In short, Avengers: Infinity War basically delivers on its promise on being a massive comics crossover in movie form – and is about as good of a film as it could be, considering all the things it has to do. I don’t think these films will ever quite be as good as the best one-offs in the series (the first two Captain America films, the first and third Iron Man films, Thor: Ragnorok, Black Panther) – but as pure spectacle and fun, the film works.

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