Avengers: Infinity War

May 2, 2018 by  
Filed under Movies

After 10 years of what we now nickname the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Univerrse), and nearly 20 films, we have come to the supposed culmination of what this was all about: the Avengers joining forces with others from other film franchises to defeat a common enemy, known as Thanos. Throughout these films, we’ve been thoroughly entertained by A-list actors portraying high end characters, cross-referencing story lines, and explosive special effects and fairly convincing CGI. Franchises include the “Avengers” movie series, the individual Avengers involved, and even the “Guardians of the Galaxy”. They now share billing in one of the biggest films of all time, “Avengers: Infinity War”. For about 130 minutes of its’ staggering 150 minute running time, it is an absolute hoot.

The Guardians provide most of the best humor, some of the biggest laughs, and the greatest on-screen presence. Maybe, too, their franchise has been the most satisfying; seeing some of these other, more familiar Avengers is a tad tiresome. Not that I’m tired of seeing them, but they’ve been thrown in so many films together that it’s kind of refreshing to see new faces. It’s hilarious when Drax (Dave Bautista) is impressed with Thor (Chris Hemsworth), and when Thor continuously calls Rocket (Bradley Cooper) “Rabbit”. It works like a comedic family reunion sometimes, with a lot of quips and pot shots that really keep you smiling throughout.

But it’s not all fun and games and laughs and giggles. Thanos (Josh Brolin), a somewhat mysterious tyrant, is fiendishly collecting Infinity Stones that have been carefully protected by the Avengers, in order to possess all 6. He carries them on a conveniently designed gauntlet, and each has its own power that once forged, can make him the most powerful creature in the universe. He can basically do whatever he wants–and what he wants, is “balance”. That means, for him, to level the population of the world and cut it in half. He will destroy civilization, in his mind, for its’ own good.

Well, that’s obviously not going to set well with the Avengers, or anyone with a good head on their shoulders. However, the more this film reveals about Thanos, the more it becomes apparent that the filmmakers are trying something a bit ambitious:

This is more about Thanos than it is about the Avengers. The Avengers are trying, perhaps in vain, to stop a force that they cannot stop. Thanos already has a few of the stones to start the film out, and he’s already more powerful than any one Avenger–except possibly Thor, who is still without his Hammer. The film portrays Thanos as a “fallen angel” type. Maybe at one time, Thanos was bright-eyed and optimistic about the universe. But he’s older, more cynical, and beaten down by years of torment and self-reflection.

Or is he? We really, actually, never get to know the true Thanos. That’s a hard thing to accomplish anyway in one film, when all this time up until now we have been led to think that the Avengers are the best heroes to follow. Are we now to believe that Thanos is the real hero?

Probably not. But, we still aren’t given a lot to work with to look at it from Thanos’ point of view. We still want to believe that Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) has the ability to thwart his plans with his stone. Or Vision (Paul Bettany), with his.

Much of the climax of this film is a lot of highwire acts by the Avengers to stop Thanos from his plan. Many Avengers striking poses, tossing out lasers and bright projectiles. We even get a nice cameo from Peter Dinklage as Thor’s new Hammer forger.

The last 10-15 minutes, though, are really what the whole movie boils down to. I can’t give away details, but my heart sank when I realized what I’m watching.

Part 1 of 2.

Like “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1”, we are only getting half the story crammed into a nearly 3 hour movie. That means another nearly 3 hour movie still awaits, and will sum up what “Infinity War” is supposed to be about.

So, I cannot once again give a real definitive review of this film. Did I enjoy it? Well, some parts, absolutely. I was right there with these guys, cheering and applauding whenever they did something heroic or spectacular. When it looked like they were beating the bad guys, I was wholly engaged and almost felt like a kid again, when I was reading comics myself.

But it’s not over, and the way the ending leaves you…it just left me cold. Empty. Unfulfilled. I know they are going to resolve this, and it seems pretty predictable how. After all, can there really be “sacrifice” in a comic book movie? If you’ve ever read comic books, you know the answer to that.

So, my heart sank because as much as this film tries to be edgy and shocking–I think I know the outcome too well to either be disappointed by the resolution, or just expecting what looks to be inevitable.

It came off as arrogant to me, after all these years and films, to make audiences wait for an end to just…make them wait a little longer. Especially since other film franchises are going to go on in the meantime. We’re just supposed to suspend disbelief all that time, until Part 2 is released? That’s going to be awkward.

And for that, I can’t really recommend this…

…yet?

My rating: :?

The Avengers

May 15, 2012 by  
Filed under Movies

We are still in the throes of the Super Hero Blockbuster era, and it seems to have gotten so out of hand that now individual super heroes are going to share screen time with others, while also enjoying their own separate franchises. In the DC Universe, we’ve been familiar with this idea with the Justice League. Everybody knows the Justice League–Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and who could forget Aquaman? Well, it seems as though JL has a long ways to go before being able to make their own film. On the Marvel side, however, things have been gearing up for years to make “The Avengers”. Beginning with 2008’s “Ironman”, and culminating in last summer’s “Captain America”, the ingredients were there to put together Marvel’s own Justice League: Ironman, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, and various members of S.H.I.E.L.D. Oh, and Hawkeye. You’ll have to be somewhat knowledgeable to follow who Hawkeye and the Black Widow are; but really, we just want to see the heavyweights. We’re introduced to a new Hulk, because Ed Norton from the 2008 reincarnation of the super beast was “not available” (he declined). So we’re given Mark Ruffalo to provide the body needed for the brainiac Bruce Banner. The body needed for the rageaholic Incredible Hulk is already provided by the obligatory CGI post production magic.

The set up for the story of “The Avengers” couldn’t be simpler: Loki (well played again by Tom Hiddleston), Thor’s brother (did you see “Thor”? well, maybe it won’t matter either way), wants to harness the power of the Tesseract, a cube shaped energy source with limitless possibilities, and control the world. He wants to use a race of supreme beings from another world known as the Chitauri to conquer Earth and be master of the universe, I guess. He infiltrates by way of a portal opening up during a Tesseract trial run and steals the the cube from S.H.I.E.L.D. that’s been protecting it, and also turns a few people into turncloaks–like Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner).

The rest of the plot is basically about assembling the Avengers and winding them up into an inevitable climax with a lot of bad guys and a few creepy slug like monsters that wreak havoc on New York City. But the joy of “The Avengers” is not about the plot. Unless you were totally riveted by my last paragraph, what you came to see was a bunch of super heroes geeking out and bantering. And that’s just what Joss Whedon provides in this easily predictable but still most entertaining action tour de force.

Whedon didn’t have too much to think about while constructing the plot with co-story writer Zak Penn. But his script is crisp and full of wit. You have the familiar Whedonisms he’s utilized in “Buffy” and “Firefly”/”Serenity”–the zippy one-liners, characters you really like will meet untimely deaths (I won’t say who), girl power, and at least one or five fist fights among the main characters. Nothing gets too bitter or over the top. Whedon does a fine job of keeping everyone in each other’s faces but not at each other’s throats. There are some in-fights between the heroes–after all, they’re super heroes. Don’t think they have super egos to go along with them?

The wonderful thing about the film, too, is that these heroes are portrayed by good actors. Robert Downey, Jr. is always a welcome face, especially as Tony Stark/Ironman and provides the most throwaway lines. Chris Evans is extremely credible as the patriotic but still questioning Captain America. Chris Hemsworth is charismatic and hunky as Thor. Scarlett Johansson is more than just pretty, she’s also quite cunning as Black Widow. No surprise, but certainly a treat, is of course having the new guy, Mark Ruffalo, who will most likely get his own rebooted franchise for the “Hulk” (which would make the third time this happens in the last ten years, but who’s counting?). Ruffalo is cool and calm and smart as Banner; but he has something inside that’s itching to come out. And his best line–“I’m always angry”–perfectly defines Banner/The Hulk. I was always fascinated by this Jekyll/Hyde character, and Ruffalo pulls it off pretty well. He doesn’t have the angst level of Ed Norton or the good looks of Eric Bana; but he’s got that just-right touch that makes him instantly believable.

Most of the film is a mix of characters chiding each other and wall-to-wall action. Just about all of the third act involves the baddies from another universe coming down to earth. This is probably where the film gets the most derivative as far as modern action films are concerned. Nothing here is anything you haven’t seen in just about every summer blockbuster of the past 5 years. But that’s really just window dressing. There’s not a lot to admire in the action department. We’ve seen all of that. But it’s still fun because Whedon has done a really good job of setting everything up with likable and entertaining characters. I wasn’t a fan of the film “Captain America”, but his character is well written in “The Avengers” that I’d be willing to give him another chance whenever his sequel is released.

And of course, we’re going to have another “Avengers” movie. It can get a bit groan inducing to think that we’re going to have an “Iron Man 3”, “Thor 2”, and eventually another “Hulk” movie. Not to mention, Spidey’s movie is coming out this summer too. For those who follow the comics, Spider-Man is also an Avenger. So, we could have him show up in “The Avengers 2”. That’s an awful lot of Marvel inundating Hollywood.

If they could get Whedon to helm more of these projects, though, I think I’d be more excited to see them. This stuff is right up Whedon’s alley. While I thought he was trying too hard to press the right buttons with “Cabin in the Woods”, here the keystrokes come easy. He just has a knack for turning the cliched and predictable action genre into something fresh and fun. And you just want more.

My rating:  :-)

Shutter Island

March 6, 2010 by  
Filed under Featured Content, Movies

Mystery films with a twist. This concept has been done so many times in the last 10 years, badly, that I think as an audience we spend more time just trying to figure out the twist at the end than pay attention to the narrative of the story. M. Night Shyamalan has almost single-handedly ruined the sub-genre in itself by making hokey, cheap “twists” to his already weak and thin narratives in movies such as “The Village” and “Signs” that when you see a film advertising  “The ending will BLOW YOU AWAY!” the eyerolling is almost a reflex.

Now comes “Shutter Island”, based upon a novel by Dennis Lehane. The film revolves around an escaped prisoner (or “patient”) at a maximum security mental institution called Ashecliff Hospital on Shutter Island, off the Boston Harbor. US Marshall Teddy Daniels (Di Caprio) and his new partner, Chuck (Mark Ruffalo), are assigned to the case and after a shaky boat trip–Daniels tries to “get a grip” of himself while having sea sickness–the two embark on the case, involving dealings with mad people, and an enigmatic doctor named Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley).

Like any mystery film, there are red herrings and booby traps, and while you’re trying to figure out just what is going on at this asylum, you’re also unravelling the backstory of Daniels’ life. He was a WWII hero, who took down a death camp in Dachau; he also experienced trauma when his wife burned in a fire that was caused by an arsonist that Daniels’ reveals to his partner–may be on this island as a prisoner. As the two investigate the place further, there are more inconsistencies in Dr. Cawley’s approach and philosophy versus how the asylum is actually run, that the two of them believe they’re in danger of being kept there.

The paranoia, along with Daniels’ past sufferings coming back to haunt him, make the film more and more brooding as it goes along. And while you are trying to figure out the “twist”, it becomes more clear as the film progresses–and you can take the journey with Daniels as he starts to battle his own madness, that it makes for a perfect payoff in the end.

The film’s theme of being your own prisoner and how we torture ourselves works well, and the answer in the end to all the questions is not only well done–it’s the only way the film could work. The directing is masterful, once again, by Scorsese. The atmosphere is dark, and at times claustrophobic. It has a touch of film noir that makes the film sexy and lethal. It wants to terrify you, entice you, and tease you. And all three are pulled off perfectly.

This also features some brilliant performances by its lead actors: Ben Kingsley is wonderful as the off-putting and seemingly villainous doctor; Max von Sydow plays another mysterious character, another psychiatrist that Daniels doesn’t trust; Di Caprio is aggressive and powerful as the tormented Daniels in probably his best role since “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?”; and even Michelle Williams is impressive as Daniels’ wife who appears to him in his dreams and visions throughout the film, haunting him and plaguing him with self-doubt.

This film is extremely well executed and worth more than one viewing. While it’s a bit long (clocks in at about 138 minutes), it never feels though it’s too long and I never felt uncomfortable watching it. It’s a great movie experience. One that should have been recognized by the Academy. But how often does the Academy get it right?

My rating: :D