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“This is the end, beautiful friend.”  Or is it?  After a decade of dominating the worldwide box office with offerings ranging from the superlative to the so-so; it seems that all roads taken by the Marvel Cinematic Universe point us to the beginning of the end of the series as we’ve known it with AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR.

Opening in the haze of destruction, the remainders of the royal house of Asgard, and a really strong green earthling are of no effect against a force of invaders in search of a special object.  Somewhere on the ark of survivors is one of the most powerful artifacts in the universe, the Infinity Stones, and after eons of searching, interplanetary conqueror Thanos and his troop of elite soldiers are determined to find it.  Their quest will leave devastation in their wake as they retrieve their prize and gift the Asgardians with annihilation.  Thanos’ cure for the universe’s ills is the obliteration of half of all living beings across the galaxies.  This will be achieved with much more efficiency after he acquires all six Infinity Stones, which will unlock unparalleled power, and enable him to destroy the universe with a snap of his fingers.

Several of those stones have made their way to Earth.  Luckily, the planet’s citizens can rest assured that at least one of those stones is in safe hands, being guarded by Earth’s Mightiest Warriors, The Avengers.  Oh, wait…

When last we saw our team, some of them were rotting in an underwater supermax prison after defying the bureaucracies of the world and their own comrades, who felt the actions of The Avengers should be government-regulated.  The disparate factions, led by Tony Stark and Captain America, have not kissed and made up after their political disagreements turned toxic, though the door for Détente, was left open by the eternal Boy Scout for the billionaire (former?) playboy to simply flip open a phone with Cap’s direct number on it.  Stark, possibly in a rare spate of shame for the utter wrongheadedness of all his mistakes, and allowing himself to be totally manipulated by the enemy (Who succeeded in his goal of splitting up the team), has never made the call.  Our heroes (Eventually sprung from the clink) live on the run as outlaws, still refusing to submit to the government leash.

So, it is with great discomfort that Tony must join hands with his former comrades, after Bruce Banner comes hurtling through space to land in the Sanctum Sanctorum of the mystic, Doctor Stephen Strange.  Bruce relates his witness of Thanos’ horrifying power and determination to claim the rest of the stones; one of which hangs round the neck of Strange.  Before Tony can dither any longer in the face of Banner’s emergency, Thanos’ forces arrive in a great space doughnut and tear apart Greenwich Village before absconding with the good Doctor and his gem.  Clad in intelligent metal once more and aided by his plucky protégé Peter Parker, whose Spider-Man suit is also a groovy, new high-tech tin design, Tony heads out of the atmosphere once more to rescue Strange and retrieve the stone.

At almost the same time, while love blooms, danger lurks.  Wanda, the Scarlet Witch, and Vision, Tony Stark’s AI nanotech, who became a real boy -- more or less -- have consummated their attraction, and consider a new future together during a secret rendezvous in Scotland.  Their happiness is extremely short lived as more of Thanos’ crew seeks the Mind Stone, which is implanted in Vision’s metal skull and is feared to be the thing keeping him alive.  The outgunned pair valiantly battle to near defeat to be saved by some old friends.  A hirsute Captain America (In moody black armour replacing his star-spangled, technicolour gear, and sans the shield he dropped at the fallen form of Tony Stark), Black Widow, and Falcon beat back the invaders, but stupidly let them to escape instead of allowing experience to remind them that there’s only one safe way to deal with violent space aliens.  With a notion to remove the Mind Stone without killing Vision, and for safe haven, Cap turns to a new, but trusted friend in the glorious African nation of Wakanda.

Meanwhile in space, a giant bug lands on the windscreen of the spaceship, Milano.  Upon further inspection, the creature is less of an insect than a god, whose face and form are admired by all of Peter Quill’s crew except the jealous half-human, himself.  Barely recovered from Thanos’ destruction of his Asgardian rescue ship, the young King is filled with rage and mourning for all his losses, and a vehement determination to find a weapon to slay the great, purple madman.  As Thor’s goals match those of various members of the crew, including Thanos’ own adopted daughter, Gamora, who knows more about their enemy than anyone, they separate into teams to claim the weapon, and fetch one of the hidden stones.  While Thor’s adventure brings success, Peter’s team fails and Gamora is reclaimed by her father, who is soon in possession of his fourth stone.

Thanos’ fifth stone is won after a battle with Quill’s Guardians team, Iron Man, Strange and Spider-Man.  Human frailty in several quarters makes for the loss, and so now with the ability to control time, Thanos’ speeds towards Earth, specifically Wakanda and Vision’s Mind Stone.

Led by their young king, T’Challa, Wakanda’s armies are strong, courageous and proud, but nothing can prepare them for the teeming horde of mindless, shrieking alien creatures, whose only mission is to destroy everything in their path.  The only way to protect Vision, whose Mind Stone is being carefully removed by T’Challa’s supergenius little sister, Shuri, is to let the monsters through the force field that has defended and hidden Wakanda, and the beasts begin to overrun even the most powerful fighters.

With Thanos on the way, and the swarm of monsters overwhelming Wakandans and Avengers alike by sheer force of numbers, ultimate and terrible choices must be made to keep the Mad Titan from collecting the sixth and final stone.

I would advise anyone with tickets to AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR to get in some exercise, eat healthy, and drink a lot of Red Bull before going.  It’s a lot, and you will be drained by the end.  There’s the incredibly broad span of storyline; stretching literally across galaxies and dimensions.  There are the subplots involving more superhero characters than have ever been onscreen at one time -- each one with a fanbase that needs tending.  There are the action sequences that are frequent and unrelenting.  One also has to train one’s ears for the dialogue that will either give us laughs or possible glimpses into whatever future the Marvel Cinematic Universe might hold.  Lastly, the emotional stakes, as all signs prior to release have implied that not everyone is going to make it out of this movie alive.

The Thanos storyline in the Marvel Comics universe is one of the furthest reaching and all encompassing.  The Infinity Stones seems to touch every corner of the Marvel world in one form or other; so this film brings together the casts from (nearly) all the series, with Thanos as their shared target.  Any screenwriter’s dilemma would be all in the balance; how to make sure all these heroes, some who have never interacted with others, many with unresolved issues with other characters, are adequately featured, while pushing forward this new story of this seemingly invincible foe, whose own storyline is widespread and massive.  This is also the film’s biggest weakness. 

Is it too much for one, and maybe even two films?  Thanos’ story is changed and simplified, but we still must learn about him and his insane dream of peace through genocide.  There’s of course his hunt for the remaining five stones that takes us from planet to planet, which gets tough to keep track of after a while.  We also must meet the folks who keep the earthbound Avengers busy while Thanos is away; the Black Order, the Mad Titan’s personal guard of elite killers.  The four members provide much of the film’s action pieces, going up against the divided team of good guys and wreaking havoc on the streets of Manhattan and Scotland and the fields of Wakanda.  The heroes must rediscover their strengths as a team, or forge new bonds to overcome such powerful foes.

With the promise of so much action, and that action is indeed formidable, what is surprising is how deeply I was affected by AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR’s emotional content.  There is a lot of concentration on the bonds that have torn, and more on the ones that struggle to stay together.  The foremost of those is in Gamora’s reminiscences of her life with Thanos; starting with his claiming her as his own as he ruthlessly destroyed her entire people, including her mother.  The only tenderness the Mad Titan shows is in his interaction with the girl, who he seems to truly love as much as he is capable, even telling her he had intended for her to sit his throne after him had she not rejected him and run away.  Thanos himself is interestingly rendered and quite unexpected; more of an introspective philosopher than cackling madman.  But for his value of strength above all things and generous application of genocide, he might have been a likeable fellow.

Another particular emotional standout is the relationship between Wanda and Vision.  The two outcasts are of one heart, despite the latter’s lack of an actual one.  Even within their group of devoted friends, no one understands their outsider-ness as much as each other, or serves as an oasis after so much tormented history.

Thor’s arc is also remarkable, particularly after the brilliantly comic THOR: RAGNAROK.  This movie is the anti-RAGNAROK, with the god king fighting not only Thanos’ threat, but the danger of all the losses of Asgard catching up with him. 

Captain America has changed.  The pains and betrayals of CIVIL WAR have affected The Last Boy Scout in a way that waking up after 70 years in ice did not.  Always at odds in the world gone by without him, Cap’s last adventures have pulled the curtain back on the evilness and corruption in the world he tried so hard to save.  The same world that wants to put him behind bars, now, with the help of people he once called his closest friends.  He is cold; hollow-eyed, a shadow of the star-spangled, optimistic do-gooder who battled the Red Skull to help end World War II.  While his higher instincts and innate honour compel him to action against Thanos, despite his disillusionment; the only glimmer of happiness comes at his reunion with his only true friend-- a being more broken than himself -- Bucky Barnes, AKA the Winter Soldier.  Bucky has lived a life of peace and recovery, hidden in Wakanda, but sadly resigns himself that his haven comes at a cost and he is only a killing machine after all, when T’Challa approaches with his sleek new Vibranium arm.  (T’Challa: “The White Wolf has rested long enough.”)

The brutality of the action is fiercer than I expected: The amount of casualties is downright shocking.  As was hinted through the trailers, there is indeed a body count that starts not even 10 minutes into the film (Don’t get there late).  There will be a lot of conjecture (and howling rage and tears) about that body count, particularly knowing this is only the first of two parts, but the process of watching it all unfold onscreen, often coldly and dispassionately, is jaw-dropping.

The fight scenes for the most part are excellent.  There is a sense of real threat, pain, and impending loss due to the excellent choreography and filming.  The initial battle of Vision and Scarlet Witch against the Black Order is rougher than I’d seen either of those characters endure before with great long angles and impact.  (Sadly, the mood of the fight is jarringly altered when Black Widow enters the fray and suddenly the camerawork is too close and edited in a blender. Widow’s profile suffers besides the superior fighter Okoye and the amazing Scarlet Witch.)  We get our first glimpse of what Wanda is really capable of; a fact borne out on Wakanda, when she joins the battle to keep the aliens away from Vision, and wipes out an entire field of enemies with a wave of her arms. “Why wasn’t she down here all this time?” shouts a bemused Okoye to a slack-jawed Widow.  Speak for the people, Okoye.  

A small scene after Wakanda’s force field has opened finds the King T’Challa sprinting ahead of his troops toward the monsters, joined by a reenergised Captain America.  It’s pretty glorious, as are the hand-to-hand combat scenes, with Black Panther reclaiming his beautiful feline grace, and Cap scrapping and swinging shields hard (Thumbs down on that replacement shield, tho; you can’t even throw it like a frisbee.).  Thor’s battle scenes are literally electrifying and actually reestablish him as the powerful god he is meant to be (After teetering into Guardians country in the ha-ha department). Spider-Man’s new suit is fabulous and one can only imagine what would happen if he actually had any time to train in it?  Doctor Strange also has a great showing using his mystic arts to make enemies vanish through dimensions.

(Oddly, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR makes for a better showing of both Doctor Strange and the Guardians than either Strange’s film debut, or the Guardian’s sequel did.  Maybe the Russo brothers need to take those over, as well?)

To leaven such dire proceedings, there of course is the humour inherent to all good Marvel movies.  Not RAGNAROK hilarious, but clever lines and interplays between characters that either know each other too well, or are meeting for the first time and not liking it too much.  I was gleeful at the superior Mr. Stark meeting his egomaniacal match in Stephen Strange; the battle of snark vs. snark was almost as good as watching any of the action sequences.  Strange’s curiosity about the presence of a youngster in a super suit causes him to silence the very Team Tony teen by admonishing, “The adults are talking” and asking Stark if Peter was his “protégé” No. “Is he your ward?” Calling back to another possibly suspect older man, younger boy comic book pairing. (Which results in the “official” dubbing of Spidey as an Avenger.) Peter Parker continues his assault on Tony’s steely treatment of him, proving himself time and again; “You can’t be a Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, if there’s no neighborhood.” and continuing to successfully strategise using plots from 1980s movies. 

Hulk’s return to earth requires him to catch-up with questions like, “Wait, there’s an Ant-Man and a Spider-Man?”  Cap’s introduction to the Guardians of the Galaxy includes his meeting everybody’s favourite sentient sapling, whose “I am Groot” is naturally replied with “I am Steve Rogers.

Thor’s brief time with the Guardians is comedy gold as they acquiesce to and even admire his bluster and strength - except for Mr. Star Lord, Peter Quill: Peter: "How is this dude still alive?"  Drax: "He is not a dude. You're a dude. This? This is a man. A handsome, muscular man."  Rocket Raccoon doesn’t kill The Mighty One even after the 100th time being called “Rabbit.”  Our all-too-brief moments with BLACK PANTHER’s breakout, Shuri, is highlighted by her immediate and correct analysis of Vision’s cure, but questions why the eminent Dr. Bruce Banner had not come to the same conclusion.  When he admits ignorance, she sweetly smiles, “I’m sure you did your best,” which I’m sure means ‘Bless your heart’ in Wakandan.  There is also a wacky cameo by a beloved actor playing the biggest role of his life.

There are a couple of stumbles in logic and misfires that come off as lazy and cliché.  The standout is the oh-so-close capture of Thanos by the Guardians, Iron Man, Strange, and Spidey, that is ruined when one character has an ill-timed hissy fit of a type that we’ve all seen too many times before.  I was taken aback at how weak Vision was compared to his showing during CIVIL WAR. This is a super-intelligent character that can change density and float through enemies’ bodies.  Also, my saturation point with Hulk is at its limit, and the running conundrum of the big green’s refusal to appear despite Bruce Banner’s best contortions, doesn’t make it any better.  Small things, but irritating and beneath the script’s level.

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR is this close to being spread too thin by the massive amounts of plot and characters.  It’s almost too much to take in, and does feel every minute of its 2 hours and 40 minutes.  Yet by highlighting the relationships and humanity of even the characters that are not human, and placing real peril in fierce and unrestrained action the audience can feel, the movie is redeemed and utterly necessary viewing.  AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR is full of surprises and foreboding, and I cannot wait to see the next chapter.

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR… does put a smile on my face.

 

~The Lady Miz Diva
April 24th, 2018

 

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