Wednesday, August 1, 2018

"Avengers: Infinity Wars" (Without Spoilers)

So here we are at last. The super, mega crossover of all the different Marvel films, from "Iron Man" to "Black Panther" is finally upon us, tying together all those little after-credits scenes that have been building up to this movie over the past several years. With dozens of major characters to juggle, and the weight of sky-high expectations and hype, how could "Infinity Wars" possibly be any good? Well, that's the beauty of the whole Marvel franchise. It doesn't really have to be.

So, the big purple alien Thanos (Josh Brolin) has come to Earth, on his quest to collect the six Infinity Stones that will allow him to wipe out half of the life in the universe, because he's fanatically devoted to the cause of curbing overpopulation. One stone is currently with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), another is with Vision (Paul Bettany), and the opening scenes see Thanos taking one from Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Our heroes are divided into three distinct groups at the outset: Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Peter Parker (Tom Holland), and Strange protecting one stone, Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy trying to stop Thanos more directly, and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and pretty much everyone left over keeping Vision away from Thanos's minions. These minions have names, apparently, but I didn't manage to catch any.

"Infinity War" is relentlessly plot-driven and tightly paced, so even if you have no idea who a particular character is, you understand what they want and what they're doing. The bad guys want all the shiny rocks, and the good guys are trying to stop them. There is almost no time devoted to developing any of the characters, with the exception of Thanos and his estranged foster daughter Gamora (Zoe Saldana), to try and give the audience some insight on why the big bad is on his insane quest, and to try and paint him as something of a tragic figure. It's more than most of the Marvel movies have done for their villains, so I give them points for that. However, it means that most of the other character interactions are reduced to one-liners and quipping. This works in some cases, like the overgrown badboy collective of Stark, Strange, and Starlord (Chris Pratt) butting heads, but not in others. And naturally, the involvement of some characters like Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) feel pointless because they barely get enough screen time to register.

The material with the Guardians comes off the most satisfying because there are more personal stakes, and we really only have Thor as a newcomer to the existing dynamic. The humor works the best, and I found the story more interesting than what we got in "Guardians of the Galaxy 2." It's all very rushed, but at least we're actually seeing some progression in the relationships and I've wanted more Gamora backstory from the beginning. The other two storylines have some nice moments, but they suffer from not having the breathing space to actually let people talk to each other or build camaraderie. The Vision and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) romance, for instance, is important here, but we only get a single quick scene in the beginning to establish the two are together before the rubble starts to fly. By contrast, Black Widow and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) reuniting gets a quick acknowledgement, but nothing else.

And of course, there's the biggest elephant in the room. "Infinity Wars" is only the first half of this particular "Avengers" story, to be concluded in next year's installment. Therefore, it feels premature to judge the dramatic merits of the film, especially in a comic book movie where it's possible to rewind time and resurrect dead characters with hardly any fuss. There are some big stakes rolled out, but it's difficult to take them at face value, which I'll get into more detail about in my spoiler post, coming in a day or two.

I can't find much to find fault with in "Infinity Wars" as far as the actual filmmaking goes, but after so many years of seeing the Infinity Stones and Thanos elbow their way into other Marvel movies, mostly I'm just relieved to see the end is in sight. Sure, some of the fights are fun, the quips are funny, and the CGI spectacle has rarely been more impressive. However, I have never been more aware that I was watching a comic book movie, with so much devoted solely to convincing me to buy the next issue.


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