AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR -Review
Wow. Ten years. Really? Must be since they incorporated the fact into their logo, so it’s gotta’ be true. So, time really zips by when you’re having fun. And fun is the often overused word when it comes to the prolific (19 and counting) output of Marvel Studios. Like many great achievements, people scoffed at first. That comic book juggernaut, nicknamed the “House of Ideas” by Stan “the man” Lee decades ago, thought the best way to bring their big staple of characters and properties to cinemas would be to make the films themselves. Or at least they’d make sure their beloved heroes would be portrayed with respect to the source material, and would delight their millions of fans across the globe. That scoffing came from movie reporters and analysts who thought this was pure folly. After all, Marvel’s biggest stars, the X-Men and Spider-Man, were off-limits, since their cinematic exploits were licensed to Fox and Sony, respectively. Plus the subject of their first film was Iron Man, a “B-lister”, and the star was an actor whose career had seen better days, Robert Downey Jr. ( the punchline for many late night talk show hosts). I wonder how those nay-sayers enjoyed their “humble pie” (à la mode, perhaps). All the Marvel Studios films have opened at number one with most in the top ten box office “grossers” of their release years (and a few like MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS and now BLACK PANTHER in the all time top ten). As “Phase Three” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe” (MCU) comes to a close, multiplexes will be packed once more to experience the longest, most ambitious, character-filled superhero epic yet. Face front (toward the screen, true believers) for AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR.
This will be one of the toughest review to write, since I’ve got to avoid all the delights and surprises in store. Talk about “walking on eggshells”! Well, I’m not giving too much away by saying that the film begins soon after the end of last year’s THOR: RAGNAROK, when the starship carrying the last survivors of Asgard, guided by Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston), encounters a massive space vessel. As suspected, it is the battle cruiser of the mad Titan Thanos (voice and motion-capture by Josh Brolin). He and his aides, which he refers to as his “children”, are looking for several “infinity stones” which, when inserted into slots in a gauntlet (or glove for reg’lar folks), will make Thanos all-powerful and nearly unstoppable as he brings “order” to the cosmos. After a brief battle, the master sends his kids off to acquire the other gems. One duo takes a smaller ship to NYC to grab one that is guarded and worn by the sorcerer supreme, Dr, Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) as the center of the “eye of Agamotto”. Luckily for the doc, he is joined in battle by his trusted aide Wong (Benedict Wong), along with Tony Stark AKA Iron Man (Downey), his apprentice/intern Peter Parker AKA Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and a frustrated Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), whose “performance issues” thwart his AKA. Another Thanos pair goes after the stone imbedded in the forehead of the “synthoid” called the Vision (Paul Bettany) who is hiding out with Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson) in Scotland, after breaking out of a maxium security facility at the end of 2016’s CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. But where are the other wanted ex-Avengers: Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), the Falcon/Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), and Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson)? Meanwhile, in the deep reaches of space, the sextet of the stars, the Guardians of the Galaxy, literally bumps into Thor. When the Asgardian tells them of Thanos’s plans, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), who was raised by the Titan as his adopted daughter, knows that her “pop” is headed to the planet Knowhere. Thor hops in a pod ship along with Rocket Racoon (Voice of Bradley Cooper) and teenage Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) and speeds off to the planet of a weapons maker, while Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) pilots the main ship, the Milano to help Gamora, Drax (Dave Bautista),and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) take on the mad Titan. After many fights and escapes, all the heroes gather their forces inone location, the country of Wakanda, and fight to save the universe alongside King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and Steve’s old pal James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan). But is Thanos too mighty for the “Earth’s mightiest heroes”?
Looks like there’s no egg-shell pieces between my toes, so let’s get into some specifics. Hey, how about this cast? Of course most of the ensemble have played these characters many times, so it’s often like slipping on an old comfortable pair of slippers (for Downey it’s seven features and a cameo as Stark, for Evans as good ole’ Cap it’s five and two). Despite the horde of heroes, some actors are given the time to show us a different side to them. Downey’s still got the genius swagger, though it’s tempered with a mounting, sweating anxiety. He’s a man who now seems to be living the nightmares that have plagued his nights for years (at least six). Cumberbatch is exuding more confidence, along with a different swagger, as the wondrous wizard, using the skill and courage from the last act of his solo flick. Same’s true for Holland, who, in this film’s final moments, reminds us that Peter is still a sensitive young lad (still a lot of boy in the Spider-Man). The film’s romantic heart, in addition to Quill and Gamora, is the unique romance between the Vision and the Scarlett Witch. Bettany’s artificial man is more caring and compassionate than most men made of flesh and blood. It’s a wonder that the longing looks from the formidable Olsen don’t melt his circuitry. As mentioned, there’s lots of heat on that space ship, but it’s mixed with dread. Saldana must finally confront her past, knowing that she may be consumed by it. Her later scenes with Thanos allow her to really flex her dramatic chops. Special mention should be made of Ruffalo who balances pure fright and comic frustration with supreme skill.
And in the opposite corner (from the good guys), is a villain every bit worthy of this wave of wonder men and women. Thanos is a true marvel, expertly crafted by an army of incredibly talented craftspeople and artists (and certainly “leagues” beyond another “baddie” from last year’s multi-hero flick from the “Distinguished Competition”). This seven foot purple-hued behemoth has real weight and brawn (we can imagine the planets buckle beneath his boots) as he swats away his foes as though they were annoying gnats. Yes, he looks like a monster, but his humanity breaks through, thinks in large part to the excellent work of Brolin. We see the unpredictable brutality, the amused glint in his eye before delivering a fatal blow. But in the later scenes and flashbacks the brute displays a tenderness and an aching, regretful sorrow. Andy Serkis has cultivated a reputation for being the premiere motion capture actor in his work as Gollum and Caesar (from the PLANET OF THE APES series). Brolin’s Thanos is a most worthy successor. As for his “children”, Carrie Coon intimidates as the towering dark-eyed Amazon-like Proxima Midnight. And Tom Vaughn-Lawlor is pure smirking, sinister savagery as the effete telekinetic Ebony Maw. Oh, and I don’t want to leave out the always superb Peter Dinklage as …oops, don’t want to give that away…it’s one of the film’s most delightful surprises.
Thanos as drawn by his creator Jim Starlin
And what one director could keep all these “plates spinning”? Well. there’s two men keeping this entertainment express on track, the Russo Brothers, Joe and Anthony. Here they’re building on the terrific work they accomplished in the last two Captain America films. We know they can map out those multi-hero battles, but they somehow pace (really it just zips along) the story to allow for many intimate sequences, truly fleshing out the drama and bringing the laughs (don’t be put off by the somber marketing, the jokes are there). The Russos are the first film makers since the talented James Gunn to work with the Guardians, who pivot seamlessly from last year’s VOLUME 2 (it helps that Gunn’s one of the executive producers). Somehow everyone gets a moment to shine (amazing, even though this is the longest MCU flick at two and a half hours). Much of the credit there must also go to another impressive team: screenwriters Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely (this is their fifth MCU effort). As I said, they haven’t neglected the humor, an element essential to the Marvel franchises (other comic book flicks are finally wiseing up to this), but this is darker story than we’ve really seen before. Sure, the Earth’s been in real jeopardy, but with the fearsome Thanos and company at play, we get that it’s for “all the marbles”. The scars, physical and psychological, may never fully heal. That’s even reflected in the incredible score from prolific film composer Alan Silvestri. The biggest “game changer” may be the last act which, the producers have been fairly upfront about this, has an EMPIRE STRIKES BACK feel. The studio’s detracters can’t complain about them sticking with a tried (or trite) and true formula. It’s big, but never bloated. More importantly it makes us eager to see the Marvel-ous movies that will follow the truly epic AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. Nuff said!
5 Out of 5