Saturday, April 28, 2018

‘Avengers: Infinity War’ has plenty of carnage: the no-spoiler review

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent a good bit of the last several months avoiding any and every sort of spoiler for “Avengers: Infinity War.” 

That has meant avoiding the temptation to click on headlines you’ve seen on social media – for so-called news stories based around a short quote from any of the cast members or directors that inevitably turn to speculation based on the other Marvel films, previous quotes, news from other websites and/or knowledge of the comic books featuring Thanos. 

Any way you slice it, this review is for you – and the fans who have yet to see “Infinity War” but can’t seem to stay away from reviews beforehand – a no-spoiler review.

Give credit to Thanos; he has conviction. He will do whatever it takes to acquire all six Infinity Stones, even if that means lying and committing not just murder, but genocide.

The carnage starts early in “Avengers: Infinity War” and the death toll of beloved characters begins in the opening minutes. By the time the credits roll, so will your head, rolling with trying to make sense of and process the nearly 2 1/2-hour movie.

The first scene takes place moments after an end-credit scene of “Thor: Ragnarok.” So if you haven’t seen it or know what happens, you may be slightly lost at some of the subsequent references.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) as he looks in "Thor: Ragnarok" and "Avengers: Infinity War"
Less important to see are “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and Marvel Studios’ latest blockbuster release, “Black Panther.” Peter Parker and King T’Challa already were introduced in “Captain America: Civil War,” so Marvel fans should be familiar with them. Besides, nearly all the “Infinity War” trailers reveal that Wakanda will be one of the settings for a major battle, (the final one, in fact).

There is enough dialogue to adequately fill in fans who haven’t seen “Doctor Strange.” Also you may have forgotten that Bruce Banner hasn’t seen the Avengers (with the exception of Thor) since the Hulk grabbed a quinjet to fly off for parts unknown at the end of “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” That being said, the Russos missed an opportunity for great drama when Black Widow sees Banner for the first time after two years.

If you know anything about the Hulk, you know Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and the Big Green Guy are at odds and in “Infinity War,” there is an ongoing shtick of Banner unable to go green at will.

Combining so many the characters from the Marvel movies into one massive ensemble movie is a challenge, but the Russo brothers handle this well by slowly but surely integrating characters from the “Avengers” world with those from “Doctor Strange,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

The directors are masters at balancing a lot of characters, as seen in their previous Marvel flicks, “Captain America: Winter Soldier” and “Captain America: Civil War” – both which remain in the top three of all the Marvel Studios films through Phase II. While nearly every superhero has some nice moments in “Infinity War,” there are those who get significantly less screen time – the Falcon and Winter Soldier/Bucky Barnes being the most obvious.

Here’s my one mild spoiler: Don’t look for Hawkeye or Ant-Man; they are mentioned but aren’t in the movie. There is one massively surprising cameo of a character we haven’t seen since the early years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He – and yes, it’s a male – plays a Grim Reaper-type character, but is never named. I was thrilled to see him back, even if it were just for a few minutes of screen time.

There are times when “Avengers: Infinity War” feels like a gigantic issue of MARVEL TEAM-UP come to life. (Readers of the Bronze Age of Comics will understand that reference; if you’re too young, use your preferred search engine to find out more about the Spider-Man-based comic book series.)
Needless to say, not all the immediate meetings go smoothly. Not surprisingly, there is quite a bit of tension between the heroes with the two biggest egos in the MCU, Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Dr. Stephen Strange. Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord remains a douche bag who feels like he has to up his testosterone level to compete with Chris Hemsworth’s Thor.

It’s the God of Thunder’s subplot that is the most interesting to follow, which makes his grand reunion with the Avengers worthy of a pumping your fist and/or clapping. (And one fan did just that today!) Thor is paired with Rocket Raccoon and Groot for most of the film and it’s fun seeing them together.

Another triumphant first-appearance is Chris Evans as Steve Rogers. You’ll notice Captain America is wearing the same suit from “Age of Ultron” – with the white star removed, which is symbolic of Rogers being a Nomad-like character.

(Again, youngsters, look up that Bronze Age reference. But to help you, here’s a combined interview-review I did many years ago with Star-Lord co-creator Steve Englehart about that compelling and innovative Cap story from the 1970s.)

Back to Thanos. As with many cinematic villains, he firmly believes what he’s doing his right. Honestly though, killing half of the universe’s population with the snap of his fingers because he feels there needs to be a necessary restart is tough logic to swallow.

Thanos is unlikeable; he’s a villain without one redeeming quality and the love he swears for one family member is self-serving. In short, Thanos is a power-hungry titan with the desire for more power, ultimate power in this case, – and as I argue in my “Infinity War” preview/final trailer review – that’s boring.

In fact, the early part of the movie is much too heavy with “half of the universe is going to die” type of dialogue and mumbo-jumbo of death being the ultimate reward. Even as a fan who grew up on plenty of comics and movies with similar possible end games, it’s a cliché.

Just when you think the Avengers and Guardians are going to save the day after facing impossible odds, “Avengers: Infinity War” ends as a depressing downer. There aren’t enough humorous one-liners/zingers, emotional character-moments and feel-good scenes (the majority of which work) before that to say it isn’t.

There is only one after-credits scene. While it features two sweet cameos, that too is a bummer. Do your research about the logo that appears on the message screen of the dropped gizmo – the only hope after all the carnage and destruction.

After all, just before the screen goes all black, Marvel only leaves us with the promise that “Thanos will return.”

Grade: B

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