Sunday, April 29, 2018

Movie Review: AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (Full Spoiler Review)

Ten years ago, Jon Favreau and Robert Downey Jr. started something that no one could've foreseen becoming what it is today.  Iron Man began a decade-long journey with characters from all over the globe and beyond, which has taken us to places no comic book fan ever thought they'd see on the big screen, and some that just shouldn't have been possible.  But they were.  We saw characters like Captain America, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Hulk, and the aforementioned Iron Man, most of which were characters that the average person on the street had never heard of, and yet, within four years, they would grow to super stardom as Marvel Studios and Kevin Feige managed to bring them all together for the what many people considered the cinematic event of the decade...The Avengers.

But this was just the beginning.  Over the next six years, Feige built and shaped this world into something spectacular.  Something more than just the Avengers.  This was a family.  You really began to care about all of these characters and the lives they were leading.  You wanted them to succeed, you wanted them to love, you wanted them to learn and grow, but most of all, you wanted them to survive, because with the Avengers there, the world was a safer place.  However, little did they know that behind the veil, pulling the strings, was a Mad Titan named Thanos.  It has been unclear for years as to what his true motives were, but Avengers: Infinity War finally brings them all into the light.

Infinity War truly is Thanos' film.  His arc throughout is so beautifully structured, as we go from seeing him as this megalomaniacal force bent on genicide, to a being who believes himself to be altruistic in his endeavors, to someone in mourning, unsure of if what he has done is truly the path he should've taken.  And that scene with young Gamora was so touching, in a twisted kind of way.  This is the absolute, hands down, best villain I have ever seen in a comic book film and is one of the best villains in cinematic history.  He's such a complex, layered character who feels emotions and shows them.  He isn't completely cold hearted, but he believes so fervently in his plan that he is willing to do whatever it takes, sacrifice whatever (or whoever) it takes to bring it to fruition.  At times you sympathize with Thanos, even when you know what he's about to do, and this is what makes him so incredible.

This film starts off with a total gut punch, as two fan-favorites are killed off: Heimdall and Loki.  I was shaken by this.  I couldn't believe what I was seeing.  This opening is unlike anything we've ever seen in a Marvel film, and it set the tone for what we were about to witness.  But death wasn't the only thing that was shocking about this scene.  In it, we saw the Hulk go toe-to-toe with Thanos, something we've wanted to see from the get go, but what I didn't expect was for Hulk to be tossed around like a rag doll.  This event sets the stage for a really interesting arc for Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner.  The Hulk, having been manhandled unlike ever before, refuses to come back out, forcing Bruce to take this threat head on.  We see almost none of the Hulk, and that's alright as it gave Ruffalo a chance to highlight his version of Bruce Banner in a way we've really never seen before.

Captain America

We also got our introduction to the Children of Thanos, aka the Black Order, which consisted of Ebony Maw, Corvus Glaive, Proxima Midnight, and Cull Obsidian.  Having these characters around to do most of the heavy lifting, as far as fight scenes go, was a brilliant choice.  It allowed for us to see our favorite characters fight some pretty powerful beings without just being smacked down.  A prime example of this is the scene in Scotland where Captain America and his team take on Proxima Midnight and Corvus Glaive.  It's five-on-two, but it felt evenly matched, which made for an amazing battle.  Having the Black Order there also allowed a deeper dive into who Thanos really is and why he has chosen this path.

We learn that Thanos' home planet, Titan, was once a thriving society which became burdened with overpopulation and dwindling resources (much like our own planet). Thanos' plan was to cull half the population, an act he viewed as completely altruistic, randomized genocide to save the planet and his people.  But he was called "mad" for his radical thoughts, and so his world died, leaving him with the belief that this is the only way to prevent situations like this from ever happening again.  And to do so on a wide scale across the universe would take immense power, power that would come from six stones known as the Infinity Stones.

For those of you who have been paying attention over the last decade, you know that these stones are extremely powerful all on their own, but combining them would make the wielder nearly unstoppable.  As Gamora says, with this kind of power, Thanos could wipe out half of the life in the universe with the snap of his fingers.  When the film starts, he already has one of the stones, the Power Stone, which was entrusted to the Nova Corps on Xandar at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy.  However, we later learn that Thanos decimated Xandar and took the stone.  He is then given the Tesseract by Loki in a ploy to try to kill him, which fails.  And so, inside of the first ten minutes, he already has two stones and is well on his way to getting more.

This film not only has an amazing villain, it also managed to give a near perfect balance of all (or at least most) of our favorite characters.  This is a feat in and of itself as the sheer number of heroes from the past 18 films shouldn't all work together in one film...but they do, and they do so beautifully.  You get little pockets of characters interacting with one another like Tony and Bruce at the New York Sanctum with Dr. Strange and Wong, or Cap, Widow, and Falcon teaming with Scarlet Witch and Vision, or Thor and the Guardians traveling through space.  These are all handled with such finesse, they all fit together perfectly but still manage to encapsulate the personalities of all these characters.  It's mind blowing.

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The Russo Brothers have really out done themselves this time around.  They took what was great about their two previous MCU installments, and blended it to perfection, successfully merging deep character pieces with edge of your seat, high intensity action.  Their aesthetic choices where pitch perfect, from the color palette to the fight choreography, and so much more.  The pacing was astounding, especially for a 2.5+ hour movie with so many moving parts.  It could have easily all fallen apart at any moment, but it didn't.  Never once did I feel like it dragged, never once did I feel the long length of the film, in fact when it was over, I felt like I could've watched at least another hour, if not more.  That's how gripping the story is, and that's not something you find very often.

The performances in this film are something that must be talked about (though I will do my best to keep my thoughts brief), and the first one I feel like I have to talk about is Josh Brolin as Thanos.  Marvel has this unfortunate tendency of underplaying their villains, so much so that it leaves some being very unmemorable.  I can count on one hand the number of well done, complex villains in the MCU, and Thanos is, by far, the best of the bunch.  However, we wouldn’t have this fantastic character without the wonderful performance by Josh Brolin.  Even though the physical emotions seen by Thanos were done with digital effects (yes, he did motion capture, but effects are still used to touch up and get the exact expression desired), it’s Brolin’s voice work and line delivery that really shined.  You could just feel his desire to make a better universe, even if you don’t agree with his methods.  And in the scene with Gamora, where he has to sacrifice the thing he loves most, you can feel the pain in his decision.  Seeing tears fall from Thanos’ eyes was powerful, but it’s the dialogue that really hits it.

Speaking of Gamora, the Guardians did a great job here intermingling with the various members of the Avengers.  I loved their interactions with Thor, especially Peter’s insecurity.  It played perfectly to these characters’ personalities.  Chris Pratt also shined in his scenes with Tony and Thanos.  His quick wit up again Stark’s sarcastic humor played like a tennis match, zipping back and forth.  And the level of emotion he was able to reach after the reveal of Gamora’s death was gripping.  You could feel his pain, you could feel his rage, and you sympathized with him.  You wanted him to tear Thanos apart, but knew it could never happen.

Thor was also a bit of a stand out for me, as the Russo’s managed to take what Taika Waititi did with the character in Thor: Ragnarok, and blended it perfectly with the Thor from the previous films.  This is a character that has truly grown over the course of these films, evolving a little bit each time we’ve seen him, and Chris Hemsworth kills it.  He too has grown and evolved as an actor, and with that brings more nuance and depth to his performance.  Another stand out was Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch.  She brought so much emotion to this character, and her performance was absolutely wonderful.  Seeing this love between her and Vision and how it was ripped away really allowed her to span the emotional gamut over the course of the film.  She was the shining star of every scene she was in, and I hope to see more of her.

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There are so many solid performances throughout this film that it would take me much longer than I’d like to spend to detail them all.  Some characters got more screen time than others, which is understandable in a film with a main cast this large, but with that came a desire for more.  For me, this was particularly felt with Black Panther, Nebula, and Black Widow.  I would have loved to have gotten just a bit more from these characters, even if it extended the film to three hours.  I was ready for at least another hour of film when it ended, as was most of the audience I was with.  And that right there is one of the many things that made this movie great.  It captures your attention, transports you to another world, and holds on to you tightly. 

We got some great comic book geek out moments throughout, which really made me happy.  For instance, we got to see the Iron Spider suit – and it was AWESOME!!!  Not only did Peter get to rock an Iron Man-inspired Spidey suit, it came fully equipped with the metal spider legs out of the back, something I have been dying to see since I first heard they were bringing Spider-Man into the MCU.  We also saw the Stormbreaker, Thor’s new Axe/Hammer.  This was a total geek out moment when it was revealed, and the entire scene where they’re at the forge was amazing.  Peter Dinklage as the Dwarf was just brilliant casting, as he never disappoints. 

And then, of course, there’s the Infinity Gauntlet and the Stones themselves.  This is something, ten years ago, I never thought I would see in any live action form, let alone to this degree, and it was pulled off to perfection.  The retrieval of the stones felt perfectly paced, and Thanos’ use of the gauntlet was a marvel (no pun intended) of special effects, all of which were done beautifully.  And speaking of special effects, Thanos himself was gorgeous.  There were times I totally forgot this was a CGI character, that’s how real he looked.  The amount of time and care that was taken to perfect his look and feel is something that I hope more studios start doing.

I can’t talk about the Infinity Stones without addressing the long standing theory that has surrounded them for years, known simply as “The THANOS Theory”.  This theory claims that each stone’s location corresponded to the letters in THANOS, and this movie has officially confirmed it by revealing that the final stone, the Soul Stone was being guarded by none other than Red Skull, aka Herr Schmidt.  For a long time, I assumed that it was Heimdall that had the stone, giving him his power.  Then I thought, maybe it's in the Heart of Wakanda.  But, boy was I wrong, and that's okay.  Check out the breakdown below:

T – Tesseract (Space Stone)
H – Herr Schmidt (Soul Stone)
A – Aether (Reality Stone)
N – Necklace (Time Stone)
O – Orb (Power Stone)
S – Scepter (Mind Stone)

Whether you believe this is a stretch or not, it holds true.  It’s no coincidence that they line up, as Kevin Feige doesn’t do coincidences.  He has had a long standing plan for years, and has the next decade already mapped out.  I for one was thrilled that they were able to throw me, and every other person I’ve heard speculate about the Soul Stone, off from the true location.  I never saw this coming and it was an incredible surprise, even if the Red Skull wasn’t played by Hugo Weaving (we all knew he’d never come back for it).  It was great to see him, and part of me hopes that Cap will get the chance to face him once more.

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Avengers: Infinity War isn’t without a few flaws, albeit minor ones.  First off, where were Valkyrie and Korg?  Last we saw them, they were aboard the Asgardian ship with Thor, Hulk, Loki, and Heimdall, all of whom we see at the beginning of this film.  Did Thanos and the Black Order kill them?  That is a very likely scenario as the ship is decimated when we get to it.  Heimdall bifrosts an injured Hulk back to Earth before he and Loki are Killed, and it seems like Thor is the only survivor left.  And if they were alive, there’s no way they would sit this fight out.  I just wish we had gotten some concrete evidence to say, one way or another, whether or not they were killed too.

The only other flaw is one that I have seen too many times in MCU films, and that’s the over use of humor to lighten heavy, dramatic moments.  It didn’t happen too many times here, but there were a few that stuck out to me like a sore thumb.  This is a product of the machine that is Marvel Studios.  They have found something that works and just continue to do it over and over again.  It’s when they break away from that pattern that we tend to get something great, and thankfully they did limit it here, allowing for a fantastically tense, dramatic film when it needed to be.  I just felt like they stretched that humor line a bit far at times, which took me out of the movie in those few instances.

Overall, this is a brilliant piece of cinema, with more depth and complexity than most comic book movies can ever reach.  It was perfectly balanced and structured, and was able to work its way to a wonderful cliffhanger that left us wanting more, but not in an angry way.  I, for one, am excited for what’s to come next, and I look forward to the inclusion of Captain Marvel, and hopefully Adam Warlock, in the next Avengers film.  Luckily we only have to wait a year for that.

The Merc’s Score:  10/10

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