Cinema Dispatch: Avengers: Infinity War

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Avengers: Infinity War and all the images you see in this review are owned by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

You know, for a while there I COMPLETELY forgot that this was supposed to be a two parter, and I don’t think I’m ENTIRELY at fault on that because PART ONE is never mentioned anywhere on the poster, on IMDb, not even on the Wikipedia page!  I don’t know, that just seems kind of curious considering they ARE for sure planning on doing another one of these (unlike what happened with Justice League PART 2), and yet they seem to want you to forget that little fact.  Either way, whether they put Part One, Part Three, or Part Sixty-Five on the poster, people will still come out to see it in droves because the brand is just THAT powerful at this point.  However, as was once said by a dude who presumably lived in this universe and died a horrible death, WITH GREAT POWER COMES GREAT RESPONSIBILITY, and with so many characters to juggle at once it is surely a responsibility not to be taken lightly.  Can Marvel pull it off once again like they’ve done pretty much every time they’ve stepped up to the plate, or is the build up to Thanos and the Infinity Stones a challenge even they aren’t truly prepared to face?  Let’s find out!!

The movie is, well basically everything we knew it was going to be leading up to it.  Thanos (Josh Brolin) is a purple alien who wants to destroy at least half of all life in the universe, and he’s finally making his big move to collect the Infinity Stones which is the only power source in existence strong enough to complete such a heinous act, and now The Avengers (as well as Avenger adjacent characters) are finally aware of what he’s up to and try to stop him from obtaining further gems.  Primarily, we’ve got three groups working together to try and stop him; The Guardians of the Galaxy (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, and Pom Kiementieff) as well as Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in space who are trying to stop him from getting that one Stone from Thor The Dark World, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) are stuck on a spaceship heading to his home world after attempt by one of Thanos’s minions to steal the Time Stone from the Sorcerer Supreme, and basically everyone else back on Earth which includes Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), War Machine (Don Cheadle) The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) trying to find a way to protect The Infinity Stone lodged in The Vision’s head (Paul Bettany) which involves a trip to Wakanda and everyone we remember from that movie a few months ago (Chadwick Boseman, Danai Gurira, and Letitia Wright) minus Nakia who I’m guessing was off fighting crime elsewhere.  Oh, and as much as I KNOW it will break your heart… Hawkeye is not in this.  I’m sure Jeremy Renner will find a way to cope.  ANYWAY, that’s about it.  We’ve got three stories running parallel to each other with a giant purple jerk wad right in the center of it; tearing through anyone foolish enough to get in his way!  Can The Avengers (and its loose affiliates) manage to put up enough of a resistance to stop Thanos from causing mass genocide across the MCU?  What is he truly after, and will his backstory reveal any possible weaknesses that can be used to stop the evil tyrant once and for all?  Thanos may be strong, but can he defeat the one entity stronger than himself?  Disney’s reliance on BRAND NAME RECOGNITION!?

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“All your sequels have been canceled.  I made sure to it myself.”     “The HELL did he just say!?”

Yeah, I’m not here to try to persuade you one way or the other about a movie that everyone has already decided whether or not they were going to see in the first place, so we’re getting that out up front.  I certainly recommend seeing it if you were planning on seeing it anyway, but this isn’t the one that’s going to persuade you.  The better question here is where it fits into the MCU cannon which I guess is only SLIGHTLY less annoying a question than whether or not you should see it, but it at least serves a purpose for those who want to stay engaged in the conversation.  So how does it fare in that regard?  I liked it more than both Civil War and Age of Ultron as far as the big team up movies go, but the movie’s biggest faults are possibly its most ambitious moments and therefore stick out the most when looking back on it.  Yes, there is IMMENSE fun to be had with the cavalcade of Marvel characters finally meeting one another (mostly the Guardians of the Galaxy being folded into the mix) and it flows surprisingly well considering how much it has to juggle.  The actors are still great in the roles they’ve honed for several movies now, and Josh Brolin gives a surprisingly dynamic performance as Thanos; not that I ever doubted his abilities as an actor, but the script gives him a lot more to do and a lot more screen time than I would have imagined.  The movie is great in so many places, but when it stumbles… it stumbles REALLY hard.  I don’t know if the problems are enough to TRULY sink the movie, especially if these problems become moot in further installments and once we get the nice box sets for this phase of the MCU, but right now coming out of the movie THIS weekend, I think Marvel may have finally made their first TRULY terrible mistake. Not mediocre films like Thor 2 or Iron Man 2, or even the abysmally lackluster Iron Fist series, but something that is comparable to Batman v Superman; if not in scope and impact (there’s no way this will slow anything down in the MCU or even really damage the enjoyment we’ll have with future films) but in tone and hubris.  AND I CAN’T FREAKING TELL YOU ANYTHING ABOUT IT BECAUSE IT WOULD BE a HUGE SPOILER!!

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“Darth Vader is Luke’s father and Pamela Voorhees is the killer!”     “Really?  Is that the best you’ve got?”     “I’VE BEEN IN SPACE FOR OVER TWENTY YEARS!!”

To step back a bit form the apocalyptic tone, let’s focus on what this movie gets right and why it manages to succeed where Age of Ultron and Civil War did not, at least as far as I’m concerned.  First, while Age of Ultron was in a REALLY tough situation of trying to be the big set up piece for stuff going forward (similar to the problem with Iron Man 2), there’s no denying that the narrative felt cluttered and portentous which drained some of the snappy fun that the better Marvel films are known for.  This film is much more of a payoff than Age of Ultron was, so the plot points don’t feel as dense as they were in that; making the movie have a much better flow and a tighter script.  We don’t need to set up any new heroes like we had to do with Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver (and even The Vision who only shows up in the third act) we’re not cutting out chunks of the movie to set up future films like they did with Thor, and the plot itself is much more straightforward than it was in Age of Ultron.  Now I’m not gonna say that it’s a BAD idea to have a complicated dynamic between the good guys and bad guys (Ultron being a byproduct of Tony Stark’s own sense of paranoia works really well), but there’s too much futzing about with what Ultron is, how he turns evil, how he can be stopped, and his really convoluted plan to destroy all life on Earth for reasons that… now that I think about it, I can’t even remember what his goal was.  With Thanos we’ve have about a dozen films teasing his existence and showing how he fits into the big picture, so he slips very easily into the villain role which gives more time for character building moments that would have normally gone to exposition to keep the audience in the loop which works MUCH better for a team up movie and is also why the first one felt a lot more satisfying in the moment than Age of Ultron did.

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Not QUITE Hulk vs Captain America, but it’ll do I guess.

So we’ve got a more streamlined film that manages to balance all its disparate pieces a lot better than its predecessor did, but what about the story itself?  It may be told efficiently, but does it carry the scope emotional grandeur of Civil War, i.e. Avengers 2.5?  This might be a bit more contentious as I’m one of the few people out there that was REALLY annoyed by Civil War, but I found this to be a much more fulfilling and enjoyably bleak experience.  The biggest question mark in this movie was whether or not Thanos could live up to the hype, and barring some issues we’ll get to soon enough, I think they pull him off phenomenally well.  The filmmakers did a great job of just making him an imposing presence in every scene he’s in; and not just by beating up on who are supposed to be the strongest characters in the roster.  His movements, his speech, the way he’s shot, the way he lets his emotions come pouring out when the need to, he feels like the most dangerous person imaginable and it rarely if ever feels cheap.  Sure there are plot contrivances here and there that give him a saving throw to increase the tension are noticeable, but you get really get the feeling that this isn’t just a war; it’s oncoming disaster.  It’s the Battle of Helms Deep if the orcs were just one big ass purple dude with a power glove full of cheat codes, and you constantly feel the danger whenever he’s around.  You really don’t know just how far he’ll go or how many people we will lose along the way which makes this probably the most viscerally intense action movie in quite some time; certainly more so than anything DC has done with their try hard attempts at being grim and gritty.  Even beyond the villain itself, the plot works a lot better than I thought the one in Civil War did; but then I’m the one guy who thought the central conflict in that movie of HERO VS VIGILANTE was completely asinine and handled with no sense of nuance or grace.  The big reoccurring theme of this one is how far would you go to save yourself and save someone you care for, which is basically the one trick Thanos constantly has up his sleeve as he simply could not have accomplished his goal if every single piece of resistance in his way didn’t crack under that kind of pressure.  I at least understood why the characters made THOSE choices more than I understood why ANYONE thought the Sokovia Accords AS WRITTEN would be a good idea in the slightest; especially given how poorly the world governments handled any crisis in that movie.

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Oh please.  I’d LOVE to see them try to rein this guy in.

So yes, this is better than its predecessors and could have been one of the best in the entire franchise… but then we get to what doesn’t work in this movie, and BOY does it not work.  Now unfortunately, EVERYTHING bad I have to say about this movie involves spoilers to some degree (though I will try to refrain from giving anything significant away), so if you plan on seeing this you will DEFINITELY want to skip ahead or just go see the movie before finding out what I thought about where this movie took a bad turn.

No seriously, turn back now if you haven’t seen it yet.

We good?  Alright.  SO!  I did praise this movie for its bleak tone and oppressive atmosphere, and I stand by that due to just how well they managed to pull of Thanos as a character and as an unstoppable force of nature in this movie.  That said… there feels like a few places where the filmmakers took a few cheap shots.  I get the feeling that if the filmmakers knew that certain movies were gonna be HUGE hits, they would have reconsidered a few decisions in this because the opening scene in particular feels like a real slap in the face to what was accomplished so well in one of the other films.  It’s like if we got an Iron Man 4, but then it started with Tony getting caught in ANOTHER explosion and having to get ANOTHER battery in his chest to save his life.  Probably wouldn’t be the best idea to push the reset button on that, yet they push the reset button another recent film in this.  There’s also a moment where… let’s say THE UNIVERSE ITSELF puts a value judgement on something, and to me it was a really bad call.  To put it simply (and very vaguely), there’s a very unhealthy relationship in this movie that is somewhat validated; not be society or by a character, but by the cosmic forces of good and evil itself; a judgement call so ethereal that it unfortunately can’t HELP but be reflect badly on the filmmakers.  I’ve talked about this before with films like Truth or Dare where, in the absence of an entity with its own thoughts and beliefs within the context of the movie, the only voice that remains is that of who’s telling the story.  It’s the difference between Scorsese making a movie about bad people doing bad things (and even telling it from that bad person’s perspective), and someone like Eli Roth where the bad things are the end goal we’re striving for.  In this movie I don’t think it’s intentional as much as it is thoughtless, but it sadly feeds into really awful beliefs that too many people have in society about toxic relationships which was certainly a sour note for the movie.  The sourest note though, and the one that’s going to be exhausting to hear about within a week, is the ending.  When I say that this reminded me of Batman v Superman, this is what I’m talking about.  The ending is predictable, portentous, completely unsatisfying, and doesn’t sell in the least.  MAYBE when you can watch both this and Infinity Wars Part 2 back to back it won’t feel so underwhelming and manipulative, but Marvel expects us to hold onto THIS as the cliffhanger for AT LEAST a freaking year?  It’s just… too much to hang the ending of a movie on, and it’s also too much to ACTUALLY hold tension.  They overplay their hand and do something that you KNOW isn’t gonna stick for what should be the most obvious reasons imaginable, and it’s made doubly worse because the intent was clearly to make us wait on bated breath until the next movie, yet I imagine that all its gonna do is leave audiences around the world feeling really deflated and they’re gonna have to hold onto that until Marvel can get around to releasing the next film.  Even if Ant Man and The Wasp turns out to be fun or Captain Marvel is a big hit, there’s still this black stain on the franchise that isn’t going to be cleared up by the time those movies come out.

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“WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME!?  I’VE MADE MY MISTAKES!  I mean… Thor 2 wasn’t THAT bad, right!?”

It’s weird because my biggest complaint about this movie is less to do with the CONTENT of the ending which in all honestly we should kind of expect to happen, but rather in the fact that it IS the ending and that we aren’t getting a resolution for quite a long time.  We’ve seen two part movies before where we wait a long time for the next chapter in the story, but this feels like the most ham fisted attempt at raising the stakes and keeping audiences “engaged” that I’ve seen in one of these, and it felt COMPLETELY unnecessary.  Does that make it a bad film?  Heck, does that make it only a SHORT TERM bad film if the sequel has the perfect resolution and makes it all come together?  Well I can’t see into the future so I don’t know how it will all shake out by then, but for now I am very annoyed with what I saw.  I was having a good time and enjoying this movie for what it was and how well it was doing it, but by the end I felt like Marvel and Disney were taking advantage of the good will that me and you have built up for this cinematic universe which is why I felt like this was the first big misstep.  It’s not a disappointment like some of the lesser films in the series as we can easily forgive those; this feels like disrespect, intentional or not, and hopefully we won’t be put in a situation like this in future films.  For now through… yeah you should still go see it.  It’s a hell of a lot of fun, it’s got all so many great payoffs for things that have been building up since the beginning, and maybe you won’t even have the same problems with the ending that I did.  Wait a minute… a movie with an unsatisfying ending that stars Josh Brolin… SON OF A BISCUIT!  The Russo Brothers are just the Coen Brothers in disguise!  I KNEW IT ALL ALONG!!

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