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

Spider-Man: Homecoming Review

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We are living in quite an interesting era for the comic book film landscape. Spider-Man got his first film all the way back in 2002, 15 years ago. When Marvel launched their Cinematic Universe, the idea of the Webhead fighting alongside the Avengers was nothing but fan fiction at that point. But, in an unprecedented event, a deal between Sony and Marvel allowed Spidey to join the MCU. He debuted in Captain America: Civil War to critical acclaim. To put it simply, it was surreal and a dream come true. Now here we are with Spider-Man’s first solo outing in this continuity and also his fist solo outing since 2014’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2. So, with all this pre-hype excitement out of the way, the question has to be asked: Is Spider-Man: Homecoming the best Spidey film yet? It is not, but Director Jon Watts’ film is still fun from beginning to end.

The opening act takes place eight years ago, during the aftermath of the Chitauri Invasion. It’s an interesting way to set up the story, and in this case it’s setting up Adrian Toomes’, (known to comic fans as the Vulture) rise to villainy. I’m all for antagonists getting this kind of treatment in the beginning (and we all know villains in the MCU need to be better) but there’s something hammy to Michael Keaton’s portrayal in this first act. It takes a bit before the Vulture becomes an engaging character. It’s interesting when he brings up how rich people like Tony Stark rule, while working people like him have to eat off the scraps. It’s a solid motivation for him; it’s a shame the writing didn’t do a better job developing that in the beginning. To give some credit, Toomes has some good scenes toward the climax. In the end, Vulture doesn’t solve the ongoing problem of mediocre villains in these films, but he’s a step above villains like Darren Cross and Malekith. As a bonus, the suit design is genuinely menacing.

Of course, the primary reason why one would watch this is to see Spider-Man. For some, this is the first time seeing Spider-Man on the big screen. For others, this is the second rebooted Spider-Man film. Either way, I believe most will be satisfied with Tom Holland’s portrayal of the famous character. Holland portrays this energetic young Peter Parker well. Some particularly strong scenes are when he busts the fake Avengers robbery and when he tries to save the Staten Island Ferry. The writing does a good job bringing the story to street level. An example is the montage early on with Spidey helping the common citizen. (There are plenty of humorous scenes throughout the film, but my favorite comes from this montage – the brief clip of Spidey giving an older woman directions.)

Tom Holland’s portrayal is mostly great, but it can border on the annoying side in a few instances. The video clip early on for example was a bit much after awhile. Also, if one is used to the more adult incarnations of Spider-Man, it could be tough getting used to this 15 year old version. But, I think it’s possible since the writing does a solid job at making this about him discovering how to be a mature hero. One of the most powerful scenes was Tony taking away the Spider suit. Peter claims he’s nothing without the suit. Tony replies, “If you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it.” Speaking of Tony, Robert Downy Jr. steals the show every scene he’s in. He doesn’t appear too much, which would have taken the spotlight away from Peter. Iron Man appears for just the right amount of screen time.

There’s plenty of fun, fast-paced action. Though, there’s no truly notable battle sequence. Yes, the climax finally featured Spidey dealing blows to the Vulture, but before that the fight scenes were mostly brief. You won’t walk out of the theater saying, “Wow, that was one great action sequence.” Some of the more well done action pieces weren’t fights. The scene where Spidey breaks into the Washington Monument and the one where he attempts to hold the Ferry together were intense. Also, I’m sure longtime fans will appreciate seeing a famous comic scene adapted near the climax. (Personally, I think that particular scene would have been better saved for a future film.) The soundtrack isn’t bad, though not too memorable outside a couple of themes.

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As for the other characters, the most major is Jacob Batalon’s Ned. He was fun to have around; he worked well as a friend and later “guy in the chair” for Peter. Laura Harrier as Liz wasn’t bad. She wasn’t much besides a love interest for Peter. But, to give some credit, she wasn’t devoid of personality. The romance angle wasn’t terrible. In the end, it doesn’t really go anywhere, but without it, it would have been hard to have the well done car scene with Toomes. Zendaya as Michelle was one of the most interesting characters with her unique, quirky personality. It looks like the writing has plans for her in future installments, which is good. Out of all the supporting characters, ironically the standout wasn’t a human – it was Karen, an A.I. built into the Spider-Man suit. One of the best scenes is when Spidey talks with her while being stuck at a base. Oh, we can’t forget Marisa Tomei’s Aunt May. The writing really tries to make her the complete opposite of the original trilogy’s May. It mostly works, but the last scene went a little too far.

Overall, Spider-Man: Homecoming is a solid addition to the Marvel film library, Tom Holland’s energetic outing in Civil War takes the center focus here, and it’s mostly well done. As he should be, Peter is portrayed as an upbeat kid. At its core, the story is about Peter becoming the hero we’ve seen throughout the years in comics. When Tony takes away Peter’s suit, Spidey is forced to reevaluate himself. The Vulture is a decent enough antagonist. There’s enough solid material to avoid calling him a mediocre villain. The action is fun, but it feels like there should have been one more important fight scene. But, despite any negatives, Homecoming remains an engaging watch. By the end, it makes the viewer anticipate Spidey’s future appearances.

8/10

 

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR Review

Marvel never fails to surprise. Age of Ultron as the second Avengers movie was a shocking announcement, but Civil War might have it beat. The idea of a film adapting the famous comic story was but a dream years ago and the company has made it reality today. The original comic is lauded by many as one of the greatest Marvel events of them all. The idea was to have Captain America go against the country he has engraved on his shield, to stand up for ideals while Tony Stark agreed with the government on a controversial subject: the registration of superheroes. There’s a fascinating political backdrop of course but the main draw was to see which sides the heroes would take and of course the Cap vs. Iron Man conflict. In many ways their relationship is like Batman and Superman’s. The films have done a solid job at exploring that, and today they go head to head. Civil War is one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had in a theater. It’s a fantastic film and you’ll walk away feeling like you got your money’s worth.

The Russo Brothers made their directing debut with The Winter Soldier, which many still consider to be the best MCU film. They return here and showcase how to do a movie featuring multiple characters. Often a film is unable to devote enough time to so many people (and in this case, introducing three big players) but the directors succeed. Every character is given adequate screen time. What I personally like however is that despite having all these Avengers, the film still watches like a Captain America story. Early on in marketing fans jokingly called it “Avengers 3,” but it’s a Cap story guest starring the Avengers. One could argue of course that Civil War is better from a general perspective, because the audience watching a Cap film would be leaning toward his side automatically. I believe the story however does an excellent job showcasing both viewpoints.

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It’s only in recent history that comics started to explore the collateral damage of superhero conflicts. Because the Avengers are enhanced humans operating outside the government, should they be registered with the UN? This is a question the film throws at the viewers. To back up that idea, we’re shown scenes of the past movies from the civilian perspective. Tony Stark blames himself for Ultron’s destruction of Sokovia, so it makes the viewer consider that point of view. (Also the mother saying she blames Tony for the death of her son in that country.) Cap challenges this question of registration, and the writing is fantastic. The round table discussion with the characters was a lot of fun to watch. Even if you know which side you’re on going into the film, the story does a good job making each at the very least understandable.

It’ll be a sad day when a new actor is chosen to portray the Sentinel of Liberty, because Chris Evans once again does a great job. The thing about Captain America is that he doesn’t wield the shield to represent America, he wields it to represent American ideals, which is freedom, truth, and justice. As seen in the comic and the film, he will rebel against the country when he believes it is conflicting with those ideals. (Even though he wasn’t the one to say it in the film, I’m glad this famous quote was used.) The road to him rebelling against the government here was well established with, as I’ve said, fantastic writing. The entire Winter Solider angle was heavily marketed, almost as if it would be the entire point of Cap turning against the law. Thankfully it’s more of an add-on than the absolute main reason.

The films have briefly explored Tony Stark’s problems with depression, and of course one can imagine the saddening thought of being responsible for the creation of a sociopath robot whom destroyed many innocent lives. It makes sense that he would agree for registration, which in his mind helps right wrongs. The back and fourth dialogue between him and Cap was a blast to watch. While the two are the heart of the conflict, every character is a highlight. Just about every line Falcon had gave me a good laugh and Scott Lang’s arrival was fun, just for a couple of examples. This is best exemplified in the film’s big middle conflict.

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Interestingly enough, the movie’s big highlight isn’t the climatic fight, it’s the center conflict. This is the battle marketed in trailers where we see both teams come at each other. Words cannot describe the amount of fun one has while watching it. This is where all the good stuff happens. This is where we see Spider-Man (more on him soon) and iconic moments which shows just how in tune the writing is with the comics. It’s incredibly done and pretty much the epitome of a fan’s dream. There’s so many highlights in this sequence it’s hard to think anything will top it.

Of course it’s a lot of fun when you’re sitting there and watching, but at the same time from another perspective the fight feels like it should be a little more serious. Just about everyone the whole time is cracking jokes and based on their faces look like they’re having a good time. In the comic when the teams first collide it was brutal, and the reader could see that. Here were these longtime friends fighting for real, fighting to win. Even though the film’s version of their first fight is a great time, I think it would have been great to see that gritty, bloody battle between old comrades. It’s a Civil War after all, not sparring practice. Another thing is that because the middle conflict is so great to watch, it kind of takes away from the climax fight. After all, once the story introduces Spider-Man, it’s hard not wondering why we don’t get to see more of him after that battle.

As a longtime Spider-Man fan, seeing him alongside Cap and the others was a treat I’ll never forget. The way he fights, talks and just about everything does not disappoint. While technically not being significant to the overall story, (you can cut out his role and it wouldn’t affect the plot) he added another whole dimension of epic enjoyment. Tom Holland in his brief scenes portrayed a young Peter Parker well. I’m very excited to see how he does when the focus is completely on him in his solo film, Homecoming. Of course, Spidey isn’t the only new hero established. Black Panther also makes his debut. Somehow the story manages to incorporate his origin, and amazingly it works. As stated earlier, this film is the perfect example of how to juggle so many characters at once.

Mysteriously, almost none of marketing featured the film’s antagonist, Baron Zemo to the point where many forgot he was even in it. Even with the superhero conflict happening, the story manages to interweave his plot into it. Zemo wasn’t bad, even solid. Though, it would have been nice to get a costume reveal at some point and a bigger conflict with Cap. Steve’s biggest nemesis is Red Skull, but a close second is the Baron. Hopefully in the future we’ll see that conflict. Also, it’s great to see Hydra still being a force in the background. Like the comics, they’re always there in some capacity.

The fights in the Captain America movies tend to be the best from Marvel, and this one is no different. The opening act battle with Crossbones was easily one of the best choreographed fights from any comic book film. The chase/battle sequence between Bucky and Panther was also very good. The climax as stated doesn’t quite reach the greatness of the middle, but at the very least features some of that brutality I was referring to earlier. Though, the circumstances are a little plot convenient and felt like just an excuse to have Tony and Steve come at each other again. The soundtrack is pretty strong throughout. I particularly liked how early in the Wakanda sequence the soundtrack would feature fast-paced music for the intense fights and then slow down with detective-like music as Falcon surveys the area.

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Overall, Civil War is a blast. It’s a Captain America story at its core as he fights for what he believes in. As a comic book fan it’s quite amazing seeing all the characters come together. There are too many iconic moments to name, and the film is expertly paced. There’s no sense of dragging on or a rather long wait for an extended action sequence. (As was the case in Batman v Superman.) As an adaption it captures most of what made the original story captivating. The idea of registration is nicely explored from both sides of the argument. The Bucky aspect of the story was definitely interesting, though the ending to it is kinda disappointing. Any disappointment however is forgotten when one remembers how amazingly spectacular Spider-Man was. If it’s one film that can combat the first Avengers for sheer enjoyment, it might be this one.

9/10