Avengers: Infinity War
Anthon and Joe Russo (2018)
Perhaps the most anticipated movie in the long ten-year construction of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, one that in some ways weaves together strands from the previous 18 films so as to seem like the culmination of a lengthy process, Avengers: Infinity Warexploded onto the screen—I should say onto thousands of screens worldwide—over this past weekend. The film, which cost somewhere close to $400 million to produce, making it perhaps the most expensive film in history (or the second most expensive, depending on who you believe) has already recouped that huge budget in its first weekend, which early returns indicate set records for domestic gross (more than $258 million) and world-wide earnings (roughly $640 million—and it hasn’t even opened in China yet). Of course, charging an arm and a leg for 3D showings (which there’s never a good reason for) doesn’t hurt that income total.
These huge earnings seem to validate the philosophy of the film: if one superhero is good, then two superheroes are better, and twenty superheroes must be best of all. If one ten-minute CGI-enhanced battle scene on one planet is better, then two twenty-minute battle scenes on two planets must be better still, and continuous battle scenes on many planets for the entire length of a 156-minute film (they don’t call it “Infinity War” for nothing) must be best of all. For that certainly seems to work: whether your favorite is Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Spiderman (Tim Holland), Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), or Black Panther (Chadwich Boseman), you’ve got a chance to see them here. As an added bonus, you also get to see all of the Guardians of the Galaxy, including Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and everyone’s favorite, Groot (Vin Diesel). Add to that some of those marginal Avengers who have yet to get their own movies: Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Vision (Paul Bettany), War Machine (really, apparently that’s his name, who knew?) (Don Cheadle), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Cap’s buddy the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), and all those Wakandan buddies of the Black Panther—except for Martin Freeman who, like Paul Rudd and Jeremy Renner, must have had other commitments during the filming of this movie and its sequel, so don’t count on seeing Ant-man or Hawkeye. Belovedly villainous Loki (Tom Hiddleston) does make an appearance, though, as does everyone’s favorite Lannister, Peter Dinklage, as Eitri, a “dwarf” (with an ironic twist) straight out of Tolkien or Norse mythology who is the last survivor of a race of smiths who forged Thor’s great hammer, Mjolnir.
The fact that it probably took you twenty minutes to read that list of heroes, and another twenty minutes to try to remember who exactly these people are and why you should care, underscores one of the film’s chief problems: there are simply too many characters for an audience to try to keep up with or to care about. As my awesome wife likes to say, “If everything’s important, then nothing’s important.” None of this galaxy of stars gets more than a few minutes of screen time out of that precious 156. So for them to have anything interesting to do other than fight evil with their superpowers in battle after battle, the writers have to give them a few clever bantering lines as they jockey for position in the superhero pecking order, so Thor and Star Lord can bicker about who’s in charge, or Iron Man and Dr. Strange can squabble about whose plan they should follow. Probably the most memorable of these is Bruce Banner’s (Ruffalo’s) difficulties in catching up (in case you haven’t memorized all 18 prequels, he’s been out of circulation for awhile), learning that the Avengers actually broke up (“Like a band? Like the Beatles?”), and that there are some new heroes on the block (“You mean there’s an Ant-man anda Spiderman?”). He also spends much of the film unable to get his inner Hulk to blossom, and must do his fighting mainly in an Ironman suit.
With our focus spread over the entire galaxy and trying to keep up with dozens of characters, creating a coherent plot is something of a challenge for writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (the team that gave us three Captain Americamovies, Thor: The Dark World, and two Chronicles of Narniamovies). What we get is not so much coherence as it is a swirl loosely orbiting the kernel of an idea: It seems that at the time of the Big Bang at the beginning of the universe, six precious gemstones were created—stones that govern space, time, reality, power, soul and mind. If one possesses one of these stones, one possesses power over that which is in that stone’s dominion. If one possesses all six, well golly, I guess he would be in control of everything. The villainous Thanos (Josh Brolin) has already got one and wants to gain all six, and thereby the ability to exert his will on the entire universe. There’s kind of a “one ring to rule them all” vibe about this whole thing, and wait a minute, weren’t there sixhorcruxes somewhere, or am I dreaming that? The point is, we don’t exactly have an original plot. And for you to follow every twist of it, you kind of have to have not only seen all 18 previous MCU movies, but actually have to remember stuff that happened in them. I realize there is a devoted core of fanboys out there of which this is true, but most people have seen these films and let them wash over their brains like popcorn for the mind—something pleasant enough at the time but not something that’s going to nourish you substantially. But don’t worry if you don’t catch every connection: this, too, will wash over you and be gone. Or you can watch it on DVD or streaming ad infinitum.
The one character in Infinity Warswho has any chance to develop, or for whom directors Anthony and Joe Russo(who directed the last two Captain Americamovies and won an Emmy in another universe for directing TV’s Arrested Development) have given any room for a character arc, is Thanos. This is a villain who measures up to the superheroes ranged against him. He’s potentially a threat to all life in the galaxy, for he wants those six stones so that he can end trillions of lives with a snap of his fingers. But he is not simply monomaniacally evil. He actually believes what he’s doing is a good thing, and his motive is to relieve suffering: His Malthusian understanding of the universe is that there are not enough resources to support all life, and fewer living sentient beings could live a rich life, while overpopulation results in miserable lives. So he only plans to kill half of everything living. It’s a difficult and controversial choice but a moral one, he argues: “The hardest choices” he says, “require the strongest wills.” What a perfect Fascist he is.
He is also created convincingly through motion capture, like Lord of the Rings’Gollum or Planet of the Apes’Caesar. Brolin does a creditable job with the technology—I guess Andy Serkis must have been unavailable. Indeed, if what you want from your movies are these kinds of gimmicks, if you like visual CGI thrills (I won’t say “cheap thrills” because there’s no way $400 million can be called cheap), there is plenty in this film to get your heart pumping. The Russos know better than anyone what to put their money into. But you probably already know that the movie ends disturbingly, with a lot of deaths, including those of a number beloved characters. And, as Thanos threatens in the very first scene after one such death, there will be “No resurrections this time.” But if you really think that I’m pretty sure you’ve got another think coming. Because as you are also probably aware, there is a 20thMCU movie coming, the sequel to this one, that was filmed at the same time during the first half of 2017. Don’t be too surprised if there are resurrections next time (after all, Thanos has a “time” stone, doesn’t he?). The good thing about all those deaths is that they’ve vastly reduced the number of superheroes left to take the fight to Thanos, which means that the follow-up film might just be free of some of the excess superhero problems of this one. We can only hope.
Two Jacqueline Susanns for this one, with a half a Tennyson for those who want those well-done CGI thrills.
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When word comes to Camelot that Sir Tristram has died in Brittany of wounds suffered in a skirmish, and that his longtime mistress, La Belle Isolde, Queen of Cornwall, has subsequently died herself of a broken heart, Queen Guinevere and her trusted lady Rosemounde immediately suspect that there is more to the story of the lovers’ deaths than they are being told. It is up to Merlin and his faithful assistant, Gildas of Cornwall, to find the truth behind the myths and half-truths surrounding these untimely deaths. By the time they are finally able to uncover the truth, Gildas and Merlin have lost one companion and are in danger of losing their own lives.
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