Sunday, April 29, 2018

A Better Title Might've Been "Avengers: Infinity WOW!!!"

Yes, yes, I’m writing an essay about this one - because you just KNEW I would.  It might not really be terribly necessary, as every single human being on the North American continent will see it (at least once), as will large percentages of the human race on all the other continents… and possibly some of those Emperor penguins in the Antarctic as well.  This may not be a “review,” per se, as I loved it, and you knew I would, so you really didn’t come here wondering what my opinion would be. I suppose the only way to honestly convey my take on it is to not even attempt to summarize it in a way you non-nerd readers out there can follow, but instead just tell you how this two hour-thirty minute, seventy-something character visual explosion affected me.

All of that being said, I find writing this more difficult than you might imagine.  I first saw Avengers: Infinity War three days ago, then again the following day, and have struggled trying to start this piece.  “How can it be so hard???” you may ask. Well, I’ll tell you. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU, for short) has been a dream-come-true for those such as myself who grew up having these stories and characters become as important to us as daytime soap operas were to our mothers.  It’s a shared continuity featuring a varied cast of fascinating and colourful characters played by excellent actors starring in stories that have been adapted by talented filmmakers who actually respect the material. It’s something from our formative years that society has allowed us geeks to continue to enjoy as we hit our Golden Years without having to feel ashamed of it.

There are other film franchises out there that have been around longer and produced more films that this one, but none that has been as effective at stringing together a connective narrative throughout ALL of its entries and building to a dramatic conclusion like this one.  It has steadily been growing over the years by adding different characters and elements organically to create more depth as it goes. Avengers: Infinity War is the culmination of all the work that went into building a universe by having it pay off in the biggest team-up movie ever made.

While this movie is one of those rare instances of a piece of incredibly over-publicized and over-hyped entertainment actually living up to said hype (and possibly even exceeding it), there’s never really been a film like it.  It’s not a standalone movie. It’s also not a direct sequel to anything. Do you need to have seen all eighteen of the other Marvel films to enjoy it? Will you be completely lost with so many characters flying/jumping about? Is more than two and half hours of all this going to feel like cinematic excess?  The answer to all of these questions is Yes… and No.

While I’m sure there are spoilers about the plot and its surprises out and about in mass media by now, I won’t be one to add to them.  Disney’s marketing people did a superb job of producing trailers and other TV/internet video spots that haven’t given away much of anything - and in some cases have even lied about certain elements.  The broadest stroke of plot-summary is that all these Infinity Stones that have been constantly popping up in the narrative of so many of these MCU flicks are finally being brought together to threaten the entire universe.  The Mad Monster from the planet Titan, Thanos (Josh Brolin, beneath a whole-heap of computer-generated imagery) is gathering them with the intent of killing trillions of beings, and all of our scattered, various heroes must unite to stop him.  Pretty simple.

One of the most surprising things to me about Avengers: Infinity War is that it is very much the villain’s story.  Thanos is one of the best villains the MCU has yet had. Sure, that’s not saying much (Mickey Rourke’s Whiplash from Iron Man 2… need I say more?), but I do think it accurate to say that we feel his motivation much more than we usually do from other Marvel movie villains.  Brolin’s often understated delivery is an excellent contrast to Thanos’ intimidating stature and immense strength (he did WHAT to the Hulk??? DAMN!!!). While those who have seen Guardians of the Galaxy are aware of his relationship with Gamora (Zoe Saldana), seeing how it began, and how important it actually was to him added an emotional weight to that part of the story that I didn’t really expect.  Thanos’ motivation is clear and simple, and makes sense from a certain point of view. There’s definite method to his madness, and time is taken to give him the depth required for a villain that has teased since 2012.

None of this comes at the expense of the heroes, though the film doesn’t spend any time introducing them to an audience that might be unfamiliar with them.  While no one hero has much of a chance to outshine any other (well, maybe Chris Hemsworth’s Thor has one or two more rays of light than the others…), this is a team-up, after all, so all of them are equally served by the screenplay, and all of them FEEL just like we’d expect them to after coming to know them in their own films.  It’s the characters that keep people coming back to this franchise, and this movie never loses sight of that. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo (the guys who also made the last two Captain America films) seem to assume audiences have at least a basic idea of who these people are, and can accept those characters' contributions to the story.  If audiences can meet those two expectations, then they will be tremendously entertained by the interplay between several vastly different characters whom we would never otherwise get to see interact and hear speak to each other in some pretty hilarious ways.

Infinity War uses every minute of its two and a half hour run time, and I can’t for the life of me think of anything that didn’t need to be there.  I was prepared for one of those struggles that only we middle-aged men with ever-smaller bladders have to face, but that didn’t happen. Despite large segments of dialogue, the action seemingly never stops until the abrupt, cliffhanger ending.  Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (all three Captain America flicks, among other things) have managed to craft a film story effectively utilizes more characters that normally appear in several movies, and given them all useful actions and witty things to say, a feat that may be studied in screenwriting classes for years to come.  Sure, it’s not Shakespeare, but the Bard never had to write a play for seventy-five characters.

The only disappointment from Avengers: Infinity War is knowing that you’ll have to wait until next year’s Avengers 4 (yet-to-be subtitled) to find out how it all ends.  If you can forgive that, and you dig superhero movies in general, then you may find Infinity War to be the perfect movie. Well, not Citizen Kane or Lawrence of Arabia kind of perfection, but you get my drift…