Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War

2012's The Avengers brought together all the elements from the planned Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was a payoff movie, and one that was executed brilliantly by Joss Whedon. It also gave us the first on-screen appearance of Thanos (now played by Josh Brolin) whose foreshadowed war on the universe would be put on hold for several years. Until now. Since The Avengers, too many of the Marvel movies have been forced into world building while telling their story. For the first time in years, there is no horizon which frees sreenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directors the Russo Brothers to simply tie the elements together as Whedon did six years ago and tell one hell of a story. And you know what? They do a damn good job.

With some notable exceptions (Natalie Portman, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, and Marvel is still completely ignoring their television properties) everyone is on hand to deal with the threat of Thanos who finally gets around to collecting the Infinity Stones which will allow him to complete his life-long quest of killing off half the lives across the universe with the snap of his fingers.

Avengers: Infinity War is extremely plot heavy, building on stories and relationships set-up over ten years of movies. While I wouldn't recommend this be your first Marvel film, the screenplay pulls together characters and plotlines in a well-paced and exciting manner. This offers us Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in space with the Guardians of the Galaxy, more of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland) working together - this time with a wizard and his magic necklace, and Captain America (Chris Evans) leading the fight on Earth to prevent Thanos from taking a Stone from one of the Avengers. The film juggles several smaller storylines leading up to the big climactic battle to end the film which (other than being slightly too long and momentarily reminding me of the Battle of Naboo) offers an insane amount of action.

More of ensemble than any of the Marvel films so far, the film lacks a real central character (even Thanos, who is the driving force of the plot, isn't on-screen for half the film). Thankfully this turns out to be a gift rather than a burden as the characters previously developed are all given their moments to shine. If you are only going to see a Captain America or Iron Man movie you may be disappointed, but if you are ready to see the Guardians work with the Avengers, Thor team-up with a talking raccoon, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) deal with her daddy issues, and the women of the MCU come together to kick some series ass, then you will get your money's worth.

With so many characters and locations the film does jump around a bit. That said, I never felt the overall story was hurt by the focus continually shifting across the galaxy. We return to several familiar spots, including Earth and Knowhere, along with some new planets of interest including glimpses of the homeworlds of both Gamora and Thanos, and a pretty cool location tied to the God of Thunder which introduces Peter Dinklage to the MCU (and helps explain how Thanos can wield multiple Stones when even a single one is more than most hosts can bear).

Brolin's turn as Thanos surprised me a little as the film certainly doesn't shy away from the villain's murderous plans, but at the same time decides to humanize the Mad Titan more than I expected. The opening scene also highlights an important character flaw of the villain who likes to play with his food, which helps somewhat explain how various heroes can stand-up to him as he starts accumulating Infinity Stones and refrains from relying on them too much. If the movie has any real weakness it's in Thanos' various underlings tho stand-in for him at various times in attempting to collect the stones for their master. I didn't learn a name for a single one of these characters, although they certainly are formidable enough to give our heroes a run for their money.

For months there has been much speculation about who, if any, Marvel characters may not make it out of the film alive. As expected, Avengers: Infinity War does have a body count. I'll stay away from spoilers, but be warned that some fan favorites may not all make it to the closing credits. Also, since it was originally planned as the first-half of a two-part story, the film does end on something of an Empire Strikes Back level cliffhanger. While there is a definite conclusion to events, and the battle against Thanos, there's a lot left to be resolved leading into the (still-untitled) conclusion set to hit theaters in just over one year's time.

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