Sunday, April 29, 2018

Review: Marvel aims high and bets big with "Avengers: Infinity War"

Avengers: Infinity War Review
Words can’t really describe how I felt on that night ten years ago. That night I saw “Iron Man” for the first time. I had no idea how the world was about to change for me, for all of you, for entertainment. Okay, maybe it didn’t change the world, but when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) broke into Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr) house, telling him he belonged to a “bigger universe” and also telling him that he wanted to discuss the Avengers Initiative. This whole Marvel Cinematic Universe has been the brainchild of Marvel Studios president and executive producer Kevin Feige. He’s been wanting a shared universe onscreen for many years, and he’s finally been making it all look so easy for the past ten years. For better or for worse, he’s changed the entire landscape of Hollywood and filmmaking forever. If we just look at his Marvel universe, some movies have been great, a few have been mediocre, but how well he’s accomplished his ultimate goal, and how much he’s got right here has been rather remarkable.

There is a piece of Kevin Feige’s cinematic universe that I’ve been dreaming about now for five years now. After “The Avengers” in 2012, Marvel introduced Thanos. Cool, I thought. That’s a great way to elevate things for the next movie. In 2013, they introduced the Infinity Stones, which made sense. If Thanos exists in this cinematic universe, so should the Infinity Stones, since the comics with Thanos tied him so much to them. In 2014, we were going to get a huge payoff to these teases. A two-part “Infinity War” Avengers movie. Yes, I understand they dropped the Part One-Part Two thing. But after seeing “Avengers: Infinity War” today, that point is mute. This is a two-parter, no matter how you look at it.

So how is “Avengers: Infinity War?” After all the hype. After all the waiting? After all the big set ups, was there a grand payoff?

If you haven’t been immersed in comic books like I have and if you’ve ever wondered what a comic book crossover truly looks like, well it’s like “Avengers: Infinity War.” The directors, Joe and Anthony Russo, could have easily called the movie “Marvel’s Infinity War.” Because even though the Avengers turn up, its hardly an Avengers movie. As you’ve seen in the marketing, the Guardians of the Galaxy show up. There is a huge chunk of film that takes place in Wakanda, and several supporting characters from “Black Panther” show up here. Heck, tons of supporting characters from several of the MCU movies show up here. (Including some appearances, I flat out DID NOT see coming.) One thing that I have to hand the Russo brothers is that with all of these characters sharing a movie together and also introducing some new characters, its amazing that the film didn’t result in a discombobulated, incoherent mess. You are going to be surprised by how well each character and each piece of story is juggled. I certainly was. It literally feels like a superhero episode of “Game of Thrones.”

But the reason I ended up loving “Avengers: Infinity War” isn’t because of “OHMYGODTHEAVENGERSANDTHEGUARIDANSTOGETHER!” It’s been clear since day one that Kevin Feige has loved every moment putting this huge long story together. Across nineteen movies and across ten years, there is one thing that I repeatedly see in these movies. That one thing is passion. Even in the movies that don’t work as well as the other films are filled with passion. If you’ve ever heard Kevin Feige talk in interviews, that passion is all over his face. He loves these characters. He’s been in love with these characters since he was a kid, I’m sure. He’s been hiring actors and directors and writers and other filmmakers who also love these characters too. “Avengers: Infinity War” was a huge collaboration, and its been said that the Russo brothers discussed the film with the other directors of the MCU movies to bring this film to life. You see that in every frame. The Russo Brothers pay tribute to everyone who has ever been hired to be apart of this franchise. And I’ve learned from watching lots of movies each year, that if you love your creation, that love shows. The audience will follow you, and its really a big reason why these MCU movies work year after year.

Within all of these appearances, there is a story. It’s a pretty simple story. A story we usually see in these superhero stories. But honestly, that’s not a bad thing. In a world this dense, its always best to keep the story simple. Sure, it certainly helps that we’ve come to know these characters for a decade. There are some big moments between characters that pay off in massive proportions. You are going to demand a Thor-Rocket-Groot (Chris Hemsworth, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel) team-up movie after what you see them go through here. Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Iron Man (Downey Jr.), Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) all bantering back and forth is great. Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) teaming up was amazing. Shuri (Letitia Wright) schooling Banner (Mark Ruffalo) in science was magnificent. Since we’ve got to know these characters, their interactions are stronger. The stakes are higher. It all makes for a better movie.

Let’s discuss stakes for a minute too. “Avengers: Infinity War” is a movie that will rightfully shut all those hardcore DC fanboys up. The fanboys who think that since Disney bought Marvel that they are only capable of making family-friendly, low-stakes movies. “Avengers: Infinity War” is anything but. This is the most ambitious film in the MCU arsenal. The repercussions from this film are unimaginable. I look forward to discussing this movie with friends and family who are unfamiliar with the comics. Because I am sure this is going to divide viewers. In fact, if the internet is correct, it already has. The ending is confusing and it was pretty clear that most of the people I saw this movie with were caught off guard by it. The post-credit scene is even more confusing, leading a person in my audience to ask what it meant after the lights came up, hoping that a comic book freak was in the crowd. This film just doesn’t work like the other MCU movies, and I humbly commend Marvel for really going big with this one. If you’re expecting just another Marvel movie, you may end up hating “Avengers: Infinity War,” because that’s not this movie. I am totally loving that Marvel chose creativity over easy commerce here.

I will tell you that Marvel has finally cracked their villain problem. Earlier this year with “Black Panther,” they introduced Killmonger, who is easily the greatest villain they’ve ever created. Marvel has been building toward Thanos for six years now, and we’ve seen him here and there a couple times. I am pleased to report that Josh Brolin’s work is just plain superb. I am equally pleased to report that Thanos pays off big time. Much like Killmonger, he’s righteously angry here. He isn’t collecting the Infinity Gauntlet and the Infinity Stones, which happen to be the most powerful relics in the world and can turn anybody into a god, just to simply subjugate people. Too many times in superhero movies, the bad guy does something bad because…well…they are the villains. It’s always easy to give a villain a mad grab for power. But there is so much more to Thanos. Yes, he wants to kill half the universe. But the reason isn’t just due to artificial superhero movie antics. Hell, its not even the same reason as in the comic books. He’s doing it for reasons that are truly important to him. He creates a slippery slope of morality with his motivations, and there were moments with Thanos that blindsided me. The Russo brother were right, Thanos is the main character here. After all the build-up, he truly does stick the landing as a villain.

All the special effects are as top notch as they’ve always been. With all the characters in the movie, there are moments that will be stuck in your head for many, many weeks. With “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Captain America: Civil War” and now “Avengers: Infinity War,” the Russo brothers have proven that they can maneuver through tones with ease. There are moments where you will laugh out loud, moments where your heart will drop, and moments that will make you want to get up and cheer. If it were up to me, I’d put the Russo brothers in charge of every superhero movie. Not just Marvel movies. But every. Single. Superhero. Movie. Ever. They have such a great command of craft, such control of the genre that you won’t believe how much they get right. Yes, this plays out as big superhero ensemble. I’d say I prefer the story in “Black Panther” over the story told here. But “Avengers: Infinity War” is so confident, so fun to watch, so full of passion that it was impossible for me not to love it. After ten years of build-up, I couldn’t ask for anything less. The future is going to be hard as shit for our heroes, and I am left curious as hell as to how things will conclude.

I know you will be too.

FINAL GRADE: A

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