Reel Opinions


Saturday, April 28, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War

Overstuffed?  Perhaps.  Overlong?  Most definitely.  Avengers: Infinity War is like attending a reunion where all the characters need name cards that not only tell who they are, but also their back story, so that the audience can keep them all straight.  And yet, the whole thing remains enjoyable, because there's simply no denying the scope and ambition of the project.  It also helps that the movie has a sense of humor to itself (as all Marvel movies do), at least until the last half, when things start to get pretty dour in order to set up next year's Avengers flick.

After the likable Spider-Man: Homecoming, the bizarre yet fun Thor: Ragnarok, and the amazing Black Panther, Infinity War can feel like a bit much.  It basically feels like every comic book movie plot ever written crammed into a two and a half hour experience.  Those previous three Marvel movies I just mentioned were more or less small stories which have led up to this big epic Superhero-fest that manages to be entertaining throughout, even if it often feels like it's going to fly off the rails at any second.  Miraculously, it never does.  Viewer be warned, however, this movie is only for those who hold encyclopedic knowledge of the comic books, or have a strong knowledge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe up to now, which started just 10 years ago with the original Iron Man. (It actually feels like these movies have been around longer than that.)

The movie's cast reads like a who's-who of summer blockbusters from the past 10 years.  We have the ever-grumpy and sarcastic Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), who seems to be on the verge of leaving superheroing behind to settle down with his long-time girlfriend (Gwyneth Paltrow).  There's the ever-quippy Spider-Man (Tom Holland), who actually gets to use his knowledge of nerdy pop culture to take out one of the villains. (He remembers a trick he saw in an old movie called Aliens.) The Guardians of the Galaxy get involved when they come across Thor (Chris Hemsworth).  And even though he had his big movie breakthrough just two months ago, Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and the people of Wakanda are back on the big screen.  Throw in heroes like Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Captain America (Chris Evans), and even the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and the mind boggles on just how much the filmmakers spent just on signing everyone to get on board alone.

And who have all of these big names been gathered to fight this time?  It's none other than the intergalactic menace that all of these Marvel movies have been building up to for a while now, Thanos (Josh Brolin), a big-chinned alien baddie with a purple complexion whose face kind of looks like Bruce Willis.  Thanos is on a world-conquering kick, and his main goal is to obtain the Infinity Stones, magical gems that will allow him power over elements such as time, space, and reality just to name a few.  With the powers of the individual Gems, he would be unstoppable, so the heroes have to prevent that from happening.  Strip away all the huge set pieces, impressive battles, and a cast of literal hundreds, and that's the basic plot right there.  Of course, I am honor-bound to avoid going much further in order to avoid spoilers.  A lot of the heroes have personal reasons for going up against Thanos, which I will leave you to discover on your own.

Much of the fun of Infinity Wars is not just seeing how the plot unfolds, but also just how many characters directors Anthony and Joe Russo (Captain America: Civil War) can cram into one scene at a time.  The plot and individual battle scenes naturally start out on the streets of New York City, but quickly escalates into the vast reaches of space, various planets and far away lands, and eventually a big finale set in Wakanda where everybody and everything comes together in a scene that must have required a lot of planning just to make sure the actors themselves weren't getting confused as to who was fighting who, and what was happening.  We also get to see some fun new alliances, such as Rocket Raccoon (voice by Bradley Cooper) from the Guardians of the Galaxy teaming up with and sharing a lot of screentime with the God of Thunder, Thor.  I personally would have liked to have seen some more "odd couple" pairings, such as the brief scene between Captain America and Groot (voice by Vin Diesel), which gets a big laugh.

This is a daunting movie in its very nature, and the reason why it manages to work is because the Russo brothers successfully juggle everything that is happening, and the constantly-switching tone of the story itself.  They are able to handle the epic battles, individual personal moments that help us get behind these heroes, and the moments of goofy humor that help lighten the mood of the overall film itself from time to time.  You know the entire time that you are basically watching a corporate cash in Hollywood project designed to dazzle the mind and the senses, but there's just enough moments of character drama and humor that helps it rise above the usual spectacle, and prevents it from becoming a soulless cash grab.  Plus, the large cast is as big of a pleasure to watch when they are all together in a big movie, as they are in their smaller, individual films.  It's great fun seeing everyone interacting, and since that is the whole reason behind this project, the movie works, no matter how overstuffed it may get.

Surprisingly, for all of its nature of over-excess, Avengers: Infinity War is fairly quick, and never gets bogged down.  Perhaps the highest praise I can give it is that it makes me want to see next year's film much sooner than its planned May 3rd release date.  Watch the movie and sit through the end credits, and I have a hunch that you will feel the same way.

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