Bloated Entertainment With Some Painful Faults
Avengers: Infinity War (2018): The Avengers and their allies must be willing to sacrifice all in an attempt to defeat the powerful Thanos before his blitz of devastation and ruin puts an end to the universe.
The following is my best attempt at a spoiler free review, however there will be a spoiler section at the end. Think of it as a post credits scene? Does that work? Ya, we'll go with that.
It's here! 10 years and billions of dollars in revenue later, Marvel finally drops the penultimate chapter of its original vision started 10 years ago in Avengers: Infinity War. I went into this with relatively low expectations: after all, it is part 1 of a 2 part film story, (with the untitled second part coming in 2019) and the film features over 70 characters....45 of which were main characters in previous stories. It is basically impossible to have any sort of meaningful character developmen in a 2.5 hour film when you have that many main characters. Fortunately, though, I was pleasantly surprised at what the Russo brothers were able to conjure up here. Infinity War is very bloated and slightly overlong with some erratic pacing, but it is a very enjoyable ride nonetheless. It's far from "the greatest thing since sliced bread," (and I think those saying that it is will change their tone once the grandeur of it all wears off) but it's still a fun superhero movie that never felt unwelcome or unnecessary, and builds to a great "water cooler" moment in the final act. So, without further ado, let's talk about the good and bad of the latest from the behemoth known as Marvel!
The undeniable highlight of this film is in the principal villain, Thanos. Played by Josh Brolin in what is EASILY the best CGI character portrayal in cinema history, (and the standard going forward for the potential of these characters-seriously, where was this for poor Oscar Isaac in X-Men: Apocalypse?) Thanos is the best villain Marvel has ever put on film. He's menacing and diabolical, but his belief that he's trying to do the righteous thing in committing mass genocide really grounds him in something palpable and almost even relatable. After all, most people committing evil and heinous acts believe they are doing the right thing, so this motivation makes Thanos feel actually real and not just a cardboard cutout villain. Even if there are some frustrating shortcomings to his character arc. I also really enjoyed some of the pairings the Russo brothers and (credited) screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely chose. I'll omit who's paired with who in case someone thinks that's a spoiler, but I enjoyed basically all of them, and it made an otherwise kind of slow developing first/second act fun and enjoyable. The humor was hit-and-miss for me this time around, but when it hit I was laughing pretty hard. Though it's safe to say the Russo brothers should've brought in Thor: Ragnarok's director, Taiki Waititi, to help with some of the jokes. And how about the score? The Marvel execs finally realized that having a memorable score can boast the overall film. I found myself humming along to the great Avengers theme on more than one occasion. Only took them 19 films to realize they had a great theme that they should feature heavily in the score! Better late than never, right? Finally, the cinematography behind the final climactic setpiece (the one from the trailers) was awesome. Cinematographer Trent Opaloch did a great job showing the chaos of this final setpiece while also showing all the heroes involved kicking butt and taking names. If only the cinematography of the other big setpieces were as good....
Great segue to the bad, right? I know, I do my best. So we gotta talk about shaky cam, for some strange reason. It's 2018, guys. Why hasn't every director in Hollywood, let alone the Russo brothers, realized that SHAKY CAM SUCKS AND DOESN'T ADD ANYTHING TO AN ACTION SEQUENCE. STOOOOOP IT. The shaky cam, combined with horrendously fast editing (seemingly every frame has an edit at points) makes some of the early setpieces almost indecipherable. I don't understand why this is still a thing. No, adding shaky cam and incoherent cuts does not add to the tension of an action scene. I thought we established this like 10 years ago! STOP IT. Also, freaking Stan Lee is in this, which really ticked me off. The fact that a bunch of people cheered at his cameo was equally frustrating. Remember the part where he was accused of sexual harassment? I do. I really thought they were gonna remove his cameo after that, but I guess its harder to remove prominent white men in power than I initially thought. GET STAN LEE OUT OF THIS UNIVERSE. However, my biggest problem with the film is this: the movie builds to a great final moment (that is executed marvelously) but along the way sacrifices a lot of character arcs to get there. It felt like the last 20 pages of this script were written first, and the crew worked backwards from there. There are several major head scratching moments along the way, particularly surrounding Gamora and Doctor Strange. Yes, I get that the film is leading to its big final moment, but I think a few of these sequences could've been done in a much better way than they were. Also, because the film features almost 50 main characters, no one really has an identifiable character arc outside of Thanos, and his is good, but not great. I expected that, but it doesn't change the fact that that's exactly what happened.
I've stopped thinking of Marvel films as, well, films. To me, they're big budget 2 hour film episodes, and Infinity War is the "stuff goes down" episode of the show. Its easy for us to go back and say The Red Wedding is the best moment of Game of Thrones, but if someone just watched that episode without any context they wouldn't appreciate it, and thus be able to identify its faults as an individual episode, as much as a Game of Thrones fan would. I also fear that this film will ultimately meet a similar fate that many other "Part One" films do, and given its big final moment, it seems hard to envision a reality where it doesn't. (I'm trying so hard not to spoil anything, guys) This is why I think most people will ultimately feel the way I do about Infinity War. It's bloated and enjoyable, yes....but when the grandeur wears off, its problems become painstakingly apparent. It does require two watches to take it all in, but after that just wait to see what Part 2 does before revisiting.
The Critique: Anchored by a terrific villain, Avengers: Infinity War brings the bloated Marvel Cinematic Universe to a thrilling penultimate conclusion, despite some painful faults along the way and serious risk of falling into irrelevancy by the upcoming Part 2.
The Recommendation: See it twice, then table it until the next part comes out.
Rewatchability: TBD by Part 2
The Verdict: 6.5/10
SPOILER ALERT: BELOW ARE SPOILERS FOR INFINITY WAR. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
Ok, so, Thanos succeeds, and half the universe dies. It's a great moment, sure, but seems impossible to last beyond Part 2. Most of the new Marvel characters that will be leading the way in Phase 4 disappear, which makes it inevitable to me that they will be brought back thanks to the time stone. (or something else) Black Panther just made Marvel a bajillion dollars. Do you really think they're not going bring Chadwick Boseman back for a sequel? And we already have a third Guardians movie confirmed and another Spider-Man film coming. Do you really think they're going to do the later without Tom Holland? Or the former without Chris Pratt? Of course not! Yes, you could go really savage and say that the heroes could be replace, but these actors delivered iconic performances in these films, and would be a big reason the film would still make a boatload in the future. Maybe they do nothing but origin stories pre-Thanos, but with the time stone on the playing field, I just don't see that being in Marvel's future. And if they do just use the time stone to undo the actions of Thanos here, it'll make this film completely irrelevant. Also, Thanos conveniently having feelings for the soul stone and Doctor Strange giving up the time stone instead of, you know, using it to go back in time and do that battle over again was dumb. And where was Thor at the end when literally every other Avenger was taking on Thanos? Yes, these are all plot devices to get to ensure Thanos succeeds and we have that final moment, but that doesn't mean they could have done it better. Thor's god-ax was as wasted as Vision's character was, and if it doesn't go anywhere in Part 2 then that plotline was as irrelevant as the casino plotline in The Last Jedi. Except without any meaningful character development. Just Peter Dinklage. (Though I do want Vision / Scarlet Witch's love story now. Let's make that a thing, eh, guys? Phase 5 or 6 maybe?) Finally, if Captain Marvel is going to be a thing in Part 2, what was she doing in Part 1? Was she just not around any kind of technology, or civilization, to realize all of this was going on? Given that her character is basically Marvel's Superman, she runs a real risk of simply being nothing more than a "god card" against Thanos that could've been used in Part 1 but wasn't since, you know, we gotta have a Part 2! Because money. Who knows. Maybe Marvel will stick to its guns and actually allow Thanos to wipe out half the universe. If so, it'll make Part 1's staying power be that much better. I just don't see it.
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