Avengers: Infinity War Review

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The Russo Brothers have used the term “heist” to describe what Avengers: Infinity War looks like. Indeed, there are feelings of a race against the clock as the heroes try and stop the mad titan Thanos from acquiring all the Infinity Stones. Like the best heist films, the films moves at an expert pace with characters one enjoys watching. Of course, Infinity War is more than a heist movie. It is the culmination of 10 years of film making. It all began in 2008’s Iron Man, when Nick Fury walked from out of the shadows to tell Tony Stark, “I’m here to talk to you about the Avenger initiative.” From there, the Marvel Cinematic Universe became one of the most notable franchises in the history of film.

Infinity War grabs almost all the major characters -the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man- and puts them in a universe-shaking situation. Few films have combined so many characters in a connected continuity. One of the earliest examples is 1968’s Destroy All Monsters, which grabbed all the famous kaiju at that point for a world-shaking story. Infinity War however is built upon 18 movies. Everything begins to culminate here. With so many characters running around, it would be difficult to keep the picture from collapsing under its own weight. The Russo Brothers have proved masterful with an ensemble cast, as seen two years ago in Captain America: Civil War. While Infinity War doesn’t exceed Civil War or The Russo Brothers’ other MCU film, The Winter Solider, Infinity War is nonetheless a crowning achievement in entertainment.

You might hear the complaint that most of the characters aren’t fleshed out in this movie. That would be a foolish complaint however, because Infinity War features many characters whom have appeared multiple times. We know who these characters are already, so there’s no need to spend too much time on deepening their personas. The Russo Brothers do not make this film accessible for newcomers; it doesn’t have to be. The story is the culmination of a plot that began in The Avengers. With that said, the film does amazingly manage to continue character arcs seen in previous movies, which is a feat in itself. The dynamic between Tony and Pepper is touched upon, and the romance between Peter Quill and Gamora is brought to a center focus in a couple of spots.

With so many characters, many would think it inevitable that some would get the shaft. But the Russo Brothers manage to give every character a moment to shine. Even when it does feel like a major character is missing for awhile, when he/she does return to the screen, it’s a notable appearance. For a primary example of this, after Steve Rogers has his entrance (one of the most crowd-pleasing moments of the film) and a couple of other small appearances, there’s this long stretch of the runtime where he’s missing. But when when the movie does return to him, it’s good stuff.

Chris Evans’ portrayal of Captain America was fantastic in Civil War, and it’s tempting to say his portrayal here exceeds it. Cap has always been a serious character, but here there’s truly no sense of irony or comedy coming from him in Infinity War. Two scenes come to mind to highlight this portrayal. A little early on, Cap tells Thunderbolt Ross that he will fight Ross if the latter chooses to stand in his way. (One can see Cap’s internal anger with the Sokovia Accords here, and his alienation with the government.) Later, as the war against Thanos’ forces is about break out, we see Cap (alongside T’Challa and Black Widow) talking with Proxima Midnight of Thanos’ Black Order. As Cap stands firm, and says that what the Black Order wants is not going to happen, there’s such a great nobility coming from Cap. Evans really shows that Cap is the greatest of all the heroes in every scene he’s in.

Because the MCU began with Iron Man, it makes sense that Tony would get a substantial amount of screen time. Robert Downy Jr. is given the usual sarcastic dialogue, but there’s an engaging seriousness to Tony’s character arc. We see early on that he cares for his future with Pepper, and later when he knows that the universe really is at stake. There’s a scene late in the movie when he’s shouting to Star-Lord not to give into rage. It’s brief, but it does the best in showing Tony’s passion in wanting to put a stop to Thanos. Speaking of Tony shouting at Quill, one of the highlights of Infinity War was seeing characters whom have never interacted together. Tony’s dialogue with Dr. Strange was fun, and Thor alongside Rocket Raccoon was a humorous dynamic. Thor was great in this movie too. One of the most powerful scenes was when he volunteered into what was dubbed “suicide” in order to buy enough time near the climax  of the film.

Two major highlights are Thanos and Gamora. This is by far Zoe Saldana’s most compelling portrayal of Gamora. This is because she has a very emotional character arc that runs through a good chunk of the movie. She being the daughter of Thanos made for a fascinating dynamic. Every scene with Gamora and Thanos was five star quality. There’s anger, and sadness in Gamora that shows when she is discussing Thanos, whether it be with Quill, or the Titan himself. Gamora is a character haunted by her parentage. Out of all the heroes, she might have been the most compelling. One of the most powerful scenes was the flashback of when Gamora, as a little girl, was taken in by Thanos. The writing in that sequence was wonderful.

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This brings us to the Titan himself. The MCU has had a problem with villains. Quite a few of them – Malekith, Darren Cross, Killian – come off as one-note and forgettable. Thanos is neither one-note nor forgettable. Thanos’ goal is to erase half the universe’s population. But it is not because he’s “bad” in the sense of just killing for the fun of it, but because he’s attempting to bring an equilibrium to the universe. He states at one point during the film that there is a finite amount of resources in the universe, so one must have the will to do what needs to be done, and in his mind, the thing to do is to get rid of half the population.

Perhaps the best sequence explaining his reasoning is when he relates his backstory to Dr. Strange, showing that his planet was once a paradise. But, there were too many people and not enough resources. So, Thanos’ told the elders his plan: wipe out half the planet’s people. He was deemed mad, but in the end, the planet died. In his mind, Thanos was proven right. Because of that, there is an unwavering conviction that drives him. Thanos is the most compelling antagonist in a comic book film since Heath Ledger’s the Joker from The Dark Knight.

There are of course other characters whom have not been mentioned, most of them good. Spider-Man is mostly engaging. Like in Civil War, where he brought up The Empire Strikes Back for an analogy of a plan of attack, he uses his pop culture knowledge again here for a fun sequence. Another brief, but excellent exchange of dialogue was between Spidey and Quill, discussing Footloose as the so called best movie of all time. Speaking of Quill, Star-Lord is fun for the most part. His exchange with Tony, “Let’s talk about this plan of yours. I think it’s good, except it sucks” was good. There is a scene later in the film that many might groan at. One can argue that Quill was being human, but with the high stakes and everything happening, it came off as more annoying than anything. Meanwhile, teenage Groot gets one compelling scene late in the film, but that’s it; everything else that comes before makes the viewer wonder why the much more compelling adult Groot isn’t back yet.

T’Challa was a highlight. Chadwick Boseman commands every scene he’s in as the Black Panther. There’s passion from T’Challa as he demonstrates his ability to lead. This is evident in the buildup to the big war sequence against Thanos’ army. Quite a few other characters appear, such as Bucky and M’Baku. They aren’t given many notable scenes, but contribute in the scenes there are in. Scarlet Witch is engaging, and her new relationship with Vision is interesting. Their dynamic takes a center focus in the climax, and it was well done emotionally. The Black Order, while not given much of a character arc, served their purpose well enough as servants believing Thanos to be enacting a righteous cause.

There is one character that sadly detracts to the story, so much so that he really took it out of the viewer in almost every scene he’s in. That character is Bruce Banner. It would be good to briefly touch upon the history here. In 2008’s The Inedible Hulk, Banner was played by Edward Norton. It was a solid performance, but Norton did not return for The Avengers, and was replaced by Mark Ruffalo. Ruffalo proved to be a fantastic replacement. He had charisma, and it seemed like his dynamic with Hulk was at its peak; Banner proudly states, “I’m always angry,” in that he’s able to bring out the Hulk at will. That was reversed out of nowhere in Age of Ultron, where there was this melodramatic character arc of him not being able to control the Hulk anymore. Bruce reappears in Thor: Ragnarok, and is little more than a comedic character, meanwhile the Hulk has an annoying child-like persona. But at least Hulk fought when it counted and felt important to the conflict. That doesn’t happen in Infinity War.

After the opening sequence, Hulk doesn’t return, and refuses to come out, despite Banner telling him to. Banner is mostly a comic relief character, delivering unbelievable lines and just detracting from the overall atmosphere. His (and Hulk’s) portrayal is so bad, the thought, “What were they thinking?” crosses one’s mind. Banner doesn’t contribute much to the story, and Hulk comes across as weak. It’s a sad time for Hulk fans.

There is a lot of great action in this film. A lot of is divided into a few different set pieces. Everyone will have their favorite team-up battle, but every battle brought something to the table in terms of pure comic book fun. The war sequence at Wakanda was appropriately intense, and the characters’ stand against Thanos was both epic, and emotional. Who can forget Cap giving it his all as he tries to hold back Thanos? Granted, there isn’t a singular action sequence that can match up against the famous airport battle in Civil War. But to be fair, it is hard to top that one. No one should be disappointed with the action, because every character gets to be a part of it. The actual build-up to the action scenes are also excellent. Early on, a Black Order ship touches down on New York City, and chaos ensures. The scenes of people running, and Tony walking outside to see what’s happening, were some of the best parts of the film.

Like other MCU films, Infinity War has scenes whose goal is to generate laughter from the audience. Most of it is fine, and flows naturally. (As opposed to unnaturally in Thor: The Dark World.) The humor is rarely overdrawn (aside from Banner scenes), with only one scene in particular taking it out of the viewer, where Drax on the ship apparently has mastered the art of standing still. But overall, Infinity War’s tone is almost always consistent. The soundtrack is what you would expect from this type of blockbuster. While technically generic, the themes nonetheless work for the scenes and help to make them extra important. One notable theme is the usage of violin in the final part of the opening scene, as Thanos acquires one of the Infinity Stones. The violin helps to elevate the scene to one of a poetic nature.

The Verdict

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Infinity War has an ensemble cast of fantastic characters, and a compelling antagonist. The story features a universe in peril, and big action scenes. It is the definition of a comic book made into a production. There are so many moments throughout that will get a smile out of the viewer. It’s a well paced story with a unique heist element. Not everything is perfect. The character of Bruce Banner is continually mishandled, and his dynamic with Hulk was painful to watch. The humor is mostly good. All in all, there’s too much to like in this movie, and it makes sure to leave viewers clamoring for the fourth Avengers movie.

9/10

Black Panther Review

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Let me start this review by saying how unique of a film Black Panther is. It’s as if the viewer is transported to a different culture. We’re very used to seeing the New York setting in comic book films, so it’s refreshing to see a new setting. The African scenery is beautiful. There’s a scene late in the film where T’Challa shows N’Jadaka a view of Wakanda, showcasing the fictional country’s splendor. The unique setting doesn’t hide mediocre performances either. Some films have stylistic scenery, but mediocre writing. Not so in Black Panther, where almost every major character is well developed and engaging. It’s tough to say if Black Panther is the best made Marvel film to date with films like Captain America: The Winter Solider and Iron Man. It very well could be, because Director Ryan Coogler gives viewers a well paced, developed story with fantastic characters.

The story takes place shortly after the events of Captain America: Civil War. In that film, King T’Chaka (T’Challa’s father) was killed and T’Challa assumed the mantle of Black Panther. Here in his titled movie, T’Challa officially becomes Wakanda’s king. Meanwhile, Ulysses Klaue, last seen in Avengers: Age of Ultron, is still on the loose and working with a black-ops soldier named Erik Stevens, nicknamed Killmonger. T’Challa makes a plan to capture Klaue, but Killmonger ends up being a bigger threat, because he has personal ties to Wakanda…

In Civil War, Black Panther’s character arc was that of revenge for the death of his father. At the end however, T’Challa let go of that desire for revenge. In his title film, we get to see T’Challa take on the center focus. With the revenge story out of the way, what would his character arc be? To put it simply, to display his love for his country as its new king. Chadwick Boseman is a standout as the title character. The performance is very likable. Unlike many of the other Marvel protagonists, T’challa is rarely sarcastic, instead coming off as more of a subdued character with just the right amount of humor. (If there was too much humor, it would have ruined the flow of the story.) T’challa is an engaging character, and viewers get a sense throughout of how passionate he is. A good scene demonstrating that passion is late in the story, when T’Challa shouts at his ancestors that they were wrong for not being more involved with the world outside Wakanda.

It’s always a treat when the whole cast is excellent. This is the case with Black Panther. His sister, Shuri, is a fun character throughout the story. She being something of the Lucius Fox to T’Challa made for an interesting dynamic, and the banter between the two siblings was organic and genuinely funny. Nakia and Okoye get substantial roles, and both are compelling characters. Nakia’s sense of duty to helping those less fortunate, and Okoye’s unwavering loyalty to the throne made for interesting dynamics. There are a lot of strong performances in this movie.

Klaue’s brief appearance in Age of Ultron was notable, because the titular robot ripped off his arm. In this film, Klaue has a chance to be seen as a compelling character. Aside from some forced, unrealistic dialogue like “That was awesome!”, Klaue is a fun character, with highlights being his scenes at the Korean casino and his interrogation with Everett K. Ross.

Klaue however is not the primary antagonist, that would be N’Jadaka/Killmonger. The Marvel films have a history with mediocre villains, but that isn’t the case here. Sure, some of Killmonger’s dialogue is generic. (“The world took everything from me!”) But overall, Killmonger is an interesting character with ties to T’Challa’s family. The opening scene set in 1992 is nicely tied into what motivates Killmonger to want to kill T’Challa. Similar to Thor realizing that Odin was not the perfect being he idolized in Thor: Ragnarok, T’Challa is given the revelation that his father made a controversial decision, thus ruining T’Challa’s perfect view of his father. Killmonger’s street type of talking makes for an interesting contrast to the more noble-sounding Wakandians One of Killmonger’s best scenes is his ritual battle with T’Challa. Here, Killmonger demonstrates genuine passion when mocking T’Challa in front of the onlookers.

There are some other named characters that should be mentioned. M’Baku, known as Man-Ape in the comics, was an interesting character. W’Kabi was decent, but needed more development. Finally, there’s the CIA agent, Everett K. Ross. While some may see him as an Agent Coulson stand-in, he was nonetheless fun to have around. He bordered on being unrealistic for the sake of laughs at times, but never quite crossed that border into the Erik Selvig land of no return.

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The sequences are extremely well done in this film. Perhaps the best part was the casino sequence. First, the build-up was interesting because of the change of scenery. T’Challa travels to Korea, which is in stark contrast to the vibrant land of Wakanda. The scenes in the casino are full of tension because the viewer knows something is about to go down. Black Panther does not disappoint in the action department, featuring well choreographed sequences such as the outbreak at the casino and the climatic battle at the heart of Wakanda.

If the review hasn’t made it apparent by now, I’ll summarize what makes Black Panther good: the writing. The characters and their interactions are excellent, and the overall tone is consistent. It doesn’t traverse into ultra-dark territory, but it lacks the constant gags of other Marvel movies. That’s not to say the tone of the other Marvel movies is negative, because it has worked for the most part. But, what’s special about Black Panther is that it doesn’t rely on gags or funny scenes; it relies on the core characters and story. The only discrepancy in the writing I found was right before the journey to Korea. Shuri asks T’Challa if he thinks it’s a good idea to take his ex on a mission. That line of dialogue didn’t need to be there, because it doesn’t become a focus at all when at the casino. Moving past that, the soundtrack is notable. As I said earlier, the film transports the viewer to a different culture, and the music is part of that, providing some unique sounds we don’t typically hear in these movies.

Overall, Black Panther is a great movie. Chadwick Boseman delivers a fantastic performance as the title character. He is assisted by an excellent cast of compelling characters. Nakia, Okoye, and Shuri are particularly strong characters, each with their own unique personality. Killmonger is an engaging antagonist. The action scenes are great, and the pacing is adequate. The film is a special one among the Marvel movies, worthy of acquiring its 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, the highest rated Marvel Studios film as of the publishing of this review.

9/10