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Saturday, May 5, 2018

DAMN Good Movies -- AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR


You guessed it, I'm back once again with another movie take, this time on the movie Avengers: Infinity War, the nineteenth film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  As always, if you haven't seen the movie yet and you don't want it spoiled for you, then please step back from your computer or whatever electronic device you're reading this on and stop reading now. If, however, you're wise enough to know that movie reviews with spoilers are always more interesting than the ones without them...well...time to assemble!

It's all been leading to this.  Eighteen Marvel Cinematic Universe films introducing and connecting various Marvel characters, all with the ultimate goal of having the Marvel superheroes and assorted supporting characters finally face the looming threat of Big Bad supervillain Thanos.  Directors Anthony and Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who earned their geek cred with the stellar Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War films, loosely based the film on Jim Starlin's The Infinity Gauntlet comic series and elements from Jonathan Hickman's Infinity event series.  Oh, and there was only the ridiculous expectations of millions of MCU fans to consider as well.

Believe it or not, though...they pulled it off.

The film opens with Thanos and his Black Order lieutenants — Corvus Glaive, Ebony Maw, Cull Obsidian, and Proxima Midnight — intercepting the spaceship carrying the survivors of Asgard's destruction after the events of Thor: Ragnarok.  Having already acquired the Power Stone from the planet Xandar, Thanos extracts the Space Stone from the Tesseract that Loki nicked when everyone wasn't looking.  Eyepatch Thor is taken out, and Thanos beats the unholy hell out of the Hulk (!!!) and kills Loki, traumatizing thousands of weeping Hiddlestoners in the process.  Before being taken off the board as well, Heimdall sends the Hulk to Earth using the Bifröst.  Thanos and the Black Order depart, and the ship is obliterated.

So right off the bat, we see that Thanos isn't playing around and neither are the Russos.  Two longtime characters dead, and the two strongest Avengers thrown around like they were nothing.  All before you've made a dent in your bag of popcorn.

The Hulk crash-lands into Doctor Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum in New York, reverting to Bruce Banner.  He warns Strange and his assistant Wong about Thanos' plan to kill half of all life in the universe, so Doctor Strange decides maybe bringing in Tony Stark would be a good idea.  Ebony Maw and Cull Obsidian arrive to get the Time Stone from Strange's Eye of Agamotto, with their big, wheel-shaped spaceship tingling the Spider-Sense of Peter Parker.  During a brutal friendly neighborhood battle, Ebony Maw captures Doctor Strange, but fails to take the Time Stone due to an enchantment.  Iron Man and Spider-Man pursue Ebony Maw's spaceship as it leaves orbit, while Banner splits to contact Steve Rogers, and Wong decides he's staying behind to guard the Sanctum.  Smart move, Wong.

Meanwhile in Scotland, Proxima Midnight and Corvus Glaive ambush the Vision and the Scarlet Witch in order to retrieve the Mind Stone from Vision's forehead.  Steve Rogers (Don't call him Captain America), Black Widow and The Falcon rescue them and hide out with War Machine and Bruce Banner at the Avengers Compound.  Vision offers to sacrifice himself by having the Scarlet Witch destroy the Mind Stone to keep Thanos from getting his oversized mitts on it.  Steve suggests they go to Wakanda, where he believes has the resources to remove the Mind Stone without destroying the Vision and is a very popular place these days.

At this point, with most of the film's major players revealed, anyone who hasn't seen at least 3/4 of the MCU movies is probably going to feel a bit lost.  It becomes all too apparent that Avengers: Infinity War is the advanced class for Marvel fans, and the Russos make no apology for it.  They give only the barest explanations for who all these characters are, and plow straight ahead, expecting everyone watching to know their MCU lore back to front.

We go into the Second Act with the Guardians of the Galaxy responding to a distress call from the Asgardian ship and giving the movie a much-needed humor boost.  They find and rescue Thor, who guesses that Thanos wants the Reality Stone, which is in the possession of the Collector on Knowhere.  The group splits up, with Rocket and Groot accompanying Thor to Nidavellir, where they and a giant Dwarf named Eitri create an enchanted axe hammer called Stormbreaker that's capable of killing Thanos.  On Knowhere, Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, and Mantis find Thanos with the Reality Stone already in his possession.  Ruh-roh!  Thanos kidnaps Gamora, his adoptive daughter, who reveals the location of the Soul Stone to save her captive adoptive sister Nebula from torture.  Thanos and Gamora head to a planet called Vormir, where we're stunned to find the Red Skull, of all people, is now the keeper of the Soul Stone.  The Red Skull informs Thanos that the stone can only be retrieved by sacrificing someone he loves, so Thanos reluctantly sends Gamora over a cliff, granting him the Soul Stone and delivering another big death.

Nebula escapes her captivity and asks the remaining Guardians to meet her on Thanos' homeworld, Titan.  Iron Man and Spider-Man kill Ebony Maw (as "heroes" do these days) by ejecting him from his ship, and rescue Doctor Strange.  Landing on Titan, they meet Star-Lord, Drax, and Mantis, and there's some quippy banter as Tony Stark and Peter Quill butt heads to become the alpha.  The group forms a plan to remove Thanos' Infinity Gauntlet,  after Doctor Strange uses the Time Stone to view millions of possible futures, seeing only one in which Thanos loses, so...no pressure.  Thanos arrives, justifying his plans as necessary for the survival of a universe threatened by overpopulation.  The big plan actually put Thanos on the ropes...until Nebula realizes that Thanos killed Gamora.  As you might expect, Star-Lord flips out and goes after Thanos, breaking their hold on him, who then overpowers everyone.  D'oh!  Doctor Strange surrenders the Time Stone in exchange for Thanos sparing Iron Man, because remember, he saw all those possible futures, and Thanos heads for Earth to finish off his jewelry set.

It's time for the Third Act and boy, is this one a doozy.  In Wakanda, Steve Rogers reunites with his ol' pal the Winter Soldier before Thanos' army of Outriders invades.  This group of Avengers, alongside the Black Panther and bunch of ready-to-throw-down Wakandans, mount a defense while the Panther's sister Shuri scrambles to extract the Mind Stone from Vision. Banner, unable to transform into the Hulk because the Hulk's a'scared, is forced to fights using Iron Man's Hulkbuster armor.  Just when the battle starts to go south, Thor, Rocket, and Groot arrive as reinforcements.  Proxima Midnight, Cull Obsidian, and Corvus Glaive are killed and their Outrider army is defeated.  The victory is short-lived, however, as Thanos arrives.  Despite the Scarlet Witch's attempt to destroy the Mind Stone, Thanos retrieves the stone from the Vision, destroying him in the latest gut-punch.  Thor severely wounds Thanos, but Thanos uses his now-complete Infinity Gauntlet and teleports away.

And then, everyone (especially the audience) sees the ramifications of what just happened.  With Thanos' plan all kinds of winning, half of all life across the universe starts disintegrating in a series of horrific moments.  One by one, fan favorites like the Winter Soldier, the Black Panther, Groot, the Scarlet Witch, the Falcon, Mantis, Drax, Star-Lord, Doctor Strange, and even Spider-Man are taken off the board.  Iron Man and Nebula remain on Titan while Steve Rogers, Bruce Banner, Black Widow, Okoye, War Machine, M'Baku, and Thor are left on the Wakandan battlefield wondering what the hell just happened.  Meanwhile, on some other planet, Thanos finally kicks back and rests in satisfaction as the credits start rolling, and millions of voices in movie theaters all over the world suddenly cry out in terror and are suddenly silenced.

As expected, the film's ginormous cast give some great performances, with some entertaining and emotionally powerful character moments.  Here are some of the things that stood out:

IRON MAN/TONY STARK -- We may be seeing the final two-part ride for Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man.  In this film, Tony still has some residual PTSD issues from the first Avengers film and some wedding issues with Pepper Potts to work out, but his best moments come when he views Peter Parker as he son he'll never have.  This, of course, makes Peter's disintegration at the end so powerful.

STEVE ROGERS -- Chris Evans isn't going by his Captain America handle this time, as anyone who saw Captain America: Civil War can understand.  Regardless, Steve is still very much the hero and leader we need him to be, and gets a great moment when he's defiantly struggling and pushing back against Thanos, for all the good both know it will do.

THOR ODINSON -- Fresh off the events of Thor: Ragnarok, Chris Hemsworth's Thor is still being played more for laughs as he was there.  He gets some fun moments meeting the Guardians of the Galaxy, but it's his acquisition of Stormbreaker that I find more intriguing.  Does this mean we could finally see Beta Ray Bill?

HULK/BRUCE BANNER -- Mark Ruffalo finally gets to be more active in a Marvel movie than his big, green alter ego.  After having the gamma rays kicked out of him by Thanos, the Hulk is now refusing to come out and play, even with Puny Banner becoming angry.  This movie is probably a big letdown for Hulk fans, so hopefully The Strongest One There Is gets off the bench early in Avengers 4.

BLACK WIDOW/NATASHA ROMANOFF -- For some reason, Scarlett Johansson is sporting her natural blond hair this time as Black Widow.  Sure, it can be easily explained away as a dye job while she's being a fugitive from justice, but why wouldn't Natasha just wear a wig instead?  And more importantly, why wouldn't Johansson at least wear a red wig if she didn't want to dye her hair this time?  Thanos, would you mind fixing this with your Infinity Gauntlet, because this is obviously really important.

THANOS -- Josh Brolin has been playing Thanos in post-credit cameos since 2014 and finally gets to step up as the Big Bad.  Interestingly, Thanos ditches the armor he's typically known for, presumably in an attempt to make the character more relatable and less like a throwaway CGI villain like Steppenwolf in DC's Justice League movie.  A good villain sees themself as a the hero of the story, and Thanos certainly does that, even when erasing half the population of the universe from existence.

BLACK PANTHER/T'CHALLA -- It seems a little weird to see Chadwick Boseman here as Black Panther while his insanely popular solo film is still making money in movie theaters.  Regardless, it's still great to see T'Challa leading Okoye, M'Baku and the other Wakandans into battle in a sequence that feels like the Marvel Comics version of Lord of the Rings.

DOCTOR STRANGE/DR. STEPHEN STRANGE -- Benedict Cumberbatch is still waiting for Doctor Strange 2 to be greenlit, so it was nice to see him be a major player in this movie.  Strange has a great moment with Spider-Man that makes me want to see them do a Marvel team-up at some point.

SPIDER-MAN/PETER PARKER -- And speaking of our friendly neighboorhood wall-crawler, Tom Holland seems more comfortable in the role with each movie he does.  Peter finally gets his Iron Spider suit from Tony this time and gets some good Spidey quips in, but it's his disintegration moment that proves most powerful.  We see Peter as just a scared kid that doesn't want to die and the moment is truly heartbreaking, even though common sense tells us Marvel isn't about to let Spider-Man go after fighting to get him back all these years.

THE FALCON/SAM WILSON -- Anthony Mackie's Falcon is one of the more underused Avengers.  He gets some good action scenes, but nothing truly notable, even his disintegration.

SCARLET WITCH/WANDA MAXIMOFF -- As the Scarlet Witch, Elizabeth Olsen gets to explore a little romance with the Vision this time.  Her biggest moment comes when Wanda has to set aside her love and try to destroy the Mind Stone, but of course, far too late.

THE VISION -- Paul Bettany gets a little character development this time, with the Vision taking on hair and a more human appearance (presumably so Bettany wouldn't always be in hours of makeup).  He also proves his selflessness by being willing to risk losing himself with the destruction of the Mind Stone.

WAR MACHINE/JAMES "RHODEY" RHODES -- As Rhodey, Don Cheadle is another underused Avenger, but he does get a fun moment where he tricks Bruce Banner into needlessly bowing before Black Panther.

THE WINTER SOLDIER/JAMES "BUCKY" BARNES -- Sebastian Stan's Bucky is finally reunited with his longtime friend Steve Rogers, which I'm sure made the Stucky shippers squee with delight.  Even better, Bucky gets a new bionic arm and some solid action scenes during the Outriders battle.

STAR-LORD/PETER QUILL -- Chris Pratt's Star-Lord never changes, nor should he.  As the MCU's Han Solo, Star-Lord gets into an alpha male contest with Tony Stark, but you just want to smack Quill upside the head when he flips out on Thanos and lets him break free.

GAMORA -- As Thanos' adoptive daughter, Zoe Saldana finally gets to explore the connection between the two characters.  We even get to see how Thanos met Gamora as a small child after wiping out her mother and her entire race.  She even gets a big death scene moment, arguably the biggest of the movie if you don't count Thanos wiping out half the universe.

DRAX THE DESTROYER -- Dave Bautista's Drax finally gets to attempt some vengeance on Thanos for the murder of his wife and child, but of course, it doesn't lead anywhere.  

ROCKET RACCOON -- Bradley Cooper has some fun moments with mopey teenaged Groot this time and gets to hang out with Thor for a bit, but for those paying attention, Rocket is now the sole surviving Guardian of the Galaxy.  I'm sure he's not going to take that well in the next Avengers movie and I can't wait to see what happens.

GROOT -- Groot fans wanting to see everyone's favorite living tree back to normal get some progress, but we're still not there yet.  Vin Diesel is now voicing the character as a sulky teen obsessed with his retro hand-held video game, which is cute for a couple of scenes, but I'm ready to see adult Groot again.

MANTIS -- Pom Klementieff only really gets to shine as Mantis when she and the other Guardians recover Thor in space, but she does help with the big attempt to subdue Thanos and take his Infinity Gauntlet, for all the good it does.  Way to go, "Star-Lord"...

NEBULA -- As Thanos' other adoptive daughter, Karen Gillan's Nebula spends most of the movie being tortured and stretched apart by Thanos.  She does make her escape though, and if you've read The Infinity Gauntlet, you know how important she might be in Avengers 4.  Definitely a character to watch very closely next time.

EITRI -- I have to think Peter Dinklage took some joy in playing a character who's a giant, even though he's considered a Dwarf.  As Eitri, he gets to craft a new hammer for Thor to use and any fan of Walt Simonson's Thor comics run had to be smiling when he was on the screen.

THE COLLECTOR/TANELEER TIVAN -- Benicio del Toro's reprises the Collector once again, but this time as an illusion created by Thanos using the Reality Stone.  We're not really sure if he's actually dead or not, but it's implied that Thanos killed him before the Guardians of the Galaxy arrived at Knowhere.

OKOYE -- As one of the big highlights of the solo Black Panther movie, Danai Gurira's Okoye gets to help T'Challa lead the Wakandan forces into battle against the Outriders, and her eyeroll is strong when Bruce Banner faceplants while running in the Hulkbuster armor.

SHURI -- Another highlight from the Black Panther movie was Letitia Wright as Shuri, who practically stole every scene she was in.  Here, she has a fun moment being a science geek with Bruce Banner before she is forced to scramble attempting to remove the Vision's Mind Stone before Thanos arrived.

WONG -- Also waiting for the Doctor Strange 2 greenlight, Benedict Wong's Wong (Yes, I know what I just typed) gets to use his typical deadpan humor to great effect.  You also have to respect Wong for having the sense to deliberately sit this one out and stick to his responsibilities.

LOKI LAUFEYSON CAMEO -- As Loki once again, Tom Hiddleston tries to pull a fast one on Thanos in the opening sequence, only to end up dead in the film's first shocking moment.

HEIMDALL CAMEO -- Idris Elba only gets one scene in the movie as Heimdall, but it's a big one as Heimdall is killed after sending the Hulk to Earth.  

RED SKULL CAMEO -- The Walking Dead's Ross Marquand takes over for Hugo Weaving as Captain America's arch-enemy, who turns up unexpectedly on Vormir as the keeper of the Soul Stone.  Now that he doesn't have the Soul Stone, maybe he should return to Earth and be Captain America's main bad guy again?  Just sayin'.

OBLIGATORY STAN LEE CAMEO -- Stan "The Man" turns up as a school bus driver taking Peter to school, only for Peter to duck out to investigate the arrival of Ebony Maw's spaceship.

NICK FURY AND MARIA HILL CAMEOS -- Samuel L. Jackson and Cobie Smulders appear in the post-credits scene, where Nick Fury transmits a distress signal just in the nick of time (See what I did there?) as he, Maria Hill and others also disintegrate.  The transmitter displays a yellow star insignia of Captain Marvel on a red-and-blue background, so be sure to go see her movie.

All in all, Avengers: Infinity War actually lives up to its insane amount of hype.  The film is essentially The Empire Strikes Back of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, bringing everything fans love only to end on a brutal downbeat cliffhanger.  While we wait for the big Cosmic Reset Button to be pushed in Avengers 4 (Quick, go read The Infinity Gauntlet to find out how), the big question is, will that film stick the landing better than Return of the Jedi did?  Well, at least there shouldn't be any Ewoks...although that could be kind of amazing and Disney does own both franchises...Hmmm...

And for those who may be wondering, here's the updated list of my Top 20 Comic Book Films:

1. Superman (1978)
2. The Dark Knight (2008)
3. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
4. The Avengers (2012)
5. Batman Begins (2005)
6. Logan (2017)
7. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
8. Black Panther (2018)
9. Man of Steel (2013)
10. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
11. Doctor Strange (2016)
12. Wonder Woman (2017)
13. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
14. Spider-Man (2002)
15. Iron Man (2008)
16. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
17. Watchmen (2009)
18. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
19. Thor (2011)
20. Justice League (2017)

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