Monday, April 30, 2018

'Avengers: Infinity War' Epitomizes the Cinematic “Comic Book Event”

What Marvel Studios has accomplished is revolutionary.  They didn’t necessarily invent the concept of serialized storytelling and “shared universes” for cinema.  But the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been such a visionary, unique creation that it’s just like they did invent it.  How so?  By adopting the comic book publishing approach into franchise filmmaking.

In the comics business, superheroes have their own solo titles in which they can have arcs centered on them and be developed as characters.  And then there are epic crossover “events” – special comic books in which all these superheroes can band together to fight a huge threat that none can’t individually handle.  Such kind of comics is simply concerned in being as much of a grand spectacle as it can be.  They don’t need to spend so much time in introducing or building up characters.  They operate on the assumption that you very much already know what these featured characters – through their respective solo titles – are all about.  Most importantly, the emotional weight of its plot is not just reliant on itself, but it’s actually banking more on the familiarity and attachment you’ve already built with these characters and the mythology and worldbuilding they bring with them.

By utilizing this same model, the MCU has become the appealing, profitable juggernaut franchise that it is (and, to a lesser extent, this is one of the reasons why the Arrowverse a.k.a. the DCW is more successful than the DCEU).
The Avengers movies supposedly serve as the MCU’s epic crossover “events”, but it’s probably with Avengers: Infinity War where the analogy is most perfectly epitomized.  With tons of characters around – the Avengers, the Guardians of the Galaxies, and their supporting casts – it can only have so much screentime to go around.  But it doesn’t need to give the characters much time anyway, as it assumes that the audience had already learned to care for them from their respective solo movies.  It just needs to be a grand spectacle using those characters, and it does exactly that.

It can be a fun blockbuster on its own.  It has generally eye-popping visuals, jaw-dropping action scenes, and laugh-inducing humor.  And the ambitious production alone should inspire some awe.  However, without familiarity to ten years’ worth of MCU movies, it can feel confusing and shallow.  It might also feel a bit dissonant and cluttered.  Still, considering the scale of this movie, it could have easily been messier.  So all things considered, the Russo Brothers really did a brilliant job juggling everything.  It may look a bit wobbly at times, but no balls are dropped.  Moreover, if you’re an MCU fan who understands what’s the movie is going for, you understand why a bit of a “clutter” is a given, and won’t mind much.
But maybe that’s just it: Avengers: Infinity War will work most effectively on the truly invested MCU fan.  References are made to previous films, and the emotional cores for these characters are presupposed.  Again, this is following the comic book publishing model.  This is an epic crossover “event”, which is inherently designed to be most rewarding to long-time fans.  So, personally, being a huge MCU fan as well as having fondly grown up with all things Marvel Comics, I was pleased with this movie.

Avengers: Infinity War is definitely the darkest and most emotionally heavy of all MCU movies.  Though there are plenty of hilarious moments – it actually has some of the best MCU jokes ever – the tone is ominous and heartbreaking overall.  I really like its audaciously tragic third act.  When the credits finally rolled, there was a stunned silence in the theater and I felt gooseflesh on my arms.  It was glorious.  In this respect, there’s validity on why some dare call this movie the Empire Strikes Back of the MCU.
A huge reason for the movie’s perpetual sense of dread is Thanos, who continues the streak of great MCU villains.  Right off the bat, he’s established as an intimidating, ruthless, and powerful figure from whom no one is safe.   However, he’s not necessarily just pure brute evil.  Later, he’s surprisingly shown in an almost tender and sympathetic light.  Josh Brolin, with the aid of fantastic mo-cap and CGI, excellently delivered the nuanced performance that is required to portray such daunting, multi-dimensional villain.  In a sense, Thanos is the main character of this movie.

As for the heroes… well, again, since there’s so many of them, the “hero spotlight” has to be divided among them.  There’s some who get to shine above others, but each one is nevertheless given at least one cool moment.  But, between this movie and Thor: Ragnarok, I think Thor is emerging as the MCU’s “MVP.”
Avengers: Infinity War was my most anticipated movie of 2018, and it turned out being more or less the movie I was expecting.  (SPOILERS in the rest of this paragraph.) By that, I mean that what I feel about it is within the ballpark of what I thought I would feel for it, and that there were no real surprises for me (okay, maybe one: the return of the Red Skull).  Deaths?  It’s a “war” after all; casualties are to be expected.  Plus, it’s been heavily implied by marketing.  Thanos erasing half of the heroes?  That’s what happened in The Infinity Gauntlet, the comic this movie is based from.  Ending at an unresolved note?  Well, right from the start, a two-part Infinity War story has always been the plan (actually, there would have been more of an impact if its two-part nature was kept a secret).  Though I find the execution splendidly affecting, nothing made me do a double take.  What would have come as a surprise to me is Hawkeye and Ant-Man appearing in it despite not being in the posters and trailers (they didn’t) or characters from MCU’s TV arm – Phil Coulson, Quake, the Runaways, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist – showing up (they didn’t; I would have been fine with just cameos of them rescuing people).

In the end, I love this movie.  I have some dissatisfaction, but I believe its flaws are within the reasonable bounds as expected from the bold, big movie that it is.  Overall, it’s a tremendously compelling, delightful, and poignant watch.

However, I can’t exactly say which I think is better: the first Avengers movie or this one.  The former ends in a decided, feel-good place, while the latter – which is technically a necessary prologue – is partly reliant to the payoff of Avengers 4.  I will re-evaluate then.  For now, I think the first Avengers film has the edge.

Miscellaneous Musings (w/SPOILERS):
  • My biggest disappointment about this movie is that the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy didn’t have a scene where all of them are in one place, fighting side by side.   First of all, that is already made impossible by the absence of Hawkeye and Ant-Man.  Secondly, even those who are in the movie didn’t get to, as they are separated into four ensembles – basically Captain America’s group, Iron Man’s group, Star-Lord’s group and Thor’s group – going on their own missions.  These four eventually became two – Thor’s group enforcing Cap’s group in Wakanda, and Star-Lord’s group teaming up with Iron Man’s group in Titan – but all of them never got together.   Hopefully, in Avengers 4, there’ll be an epic set piece that has everyone in it.  Oh, by the way, that kickass scene from the trailers (see GIF above)?  Never happened in the movie.
  • Avengers 4 should definitely make up for Hawkeye’s absence (he’s rumored to play his Ronin persona.  Which makes sense.  Due to his house arrest deal, if ever he hangs out with the Avengers again, he would need a mask to hide his identity).  On the other hand, I’m confident Ant-Man and the Wasp will make up for Ant-Man’s absence, considering it’s rumored to be set during (as well as prior) Infinity War.
  • Cap and Tony never get to meet up and have their inevitable reconciliation in this movie.  It’s probably reserved for Avengers 4 – in a scene where one of them lies dying.
  • The deadpan Drax has always been hilarious, but with all the wisecracking and snarky characters in this movie, I never thought he would emerge with the funniest bits.
  • Hulk refusing to show up because he was traumatized of getting beat up by Thanos is pretty silly.  It felt off to me.
  • The movie unfortunately has one laughably bad CGI: Bruce Banner in the Hulkbuster, with its hatch open.
  • Rocket Raccoon = “Rabbit”.  Lol.
  • Spidey and Star-Lord having a short exchange about pop culture is wonderfully apt.
  • Spidey panicking then becoming calm when he was about to die was heart-wrenching.  It was a perfect reminder that he might be a superhero, but he’s just a kid.  The effect is similar to the “trapped under the rubble” scene in Spider-Man: Homecoming.  Great dramatic acting from Tom Holland.
  • There’s actually great dramatic acting from across the board here.  Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pratt, Paul Bettany, and Elizabeth Olsen especially had strikingly poignant moments.
  • Unlike many, I wasn’t mad at Star-Lord.  I thought him losing it, preventing them from taking the Infinity Gauntlet off Thanos, was very much earned, storytelling-wise.  It was exactly how someone will react when he learns the girl he loves is murdered (think Brad Pitt’s character in Se7en).  It was also in-character (remember that he also snapped at Ego when he learned that he gave his mother cancer).  Plus, who can be mad at the delightful Chris Pratt?
  • Why did Dr. Strange not stop the enraged Star-Lord from ruining their hold on Thanos?  Why did he surrendered the Time Stone to Thanos instead of using it?  There’s probably a plan behind it.  He had seen all possible futures after all.  Maybe that one scenario where they win involves letting Thanos keep the Infinity Gauntlet, get the Time Stone, and perform his “snapping his fingers” endgame.  We’ll see in Avengers 4.
  • Where are Valkyrie and Korg? And did all the Asgardians die?  Don’t tell me Thanos killed them all.
  • I especially wished Valkyrie had a part in this movie.  After all, in the comics, she’s an Avenger, too.
  • Thor was so gratifyingly badass when he entered the fray in Wakanda that I quickly got over my disappointment that his new weapon was Stormbreaker and not Jarnbjorn.
  • MCU Stormbreaker – which looks more like the Ultimate version of Mjolnir than comicbook Stormbreaker – is pretty dope though.
  • Also, a part of me would have preferred if Thor’s entrance was accompanied by “Immigrant Song” instead of the Avengers theme.  Nevertheless, that was an awesome moment.
  • So, Stormbreaker, eh?  Does that mean Beta Ray Bill is going to show up in the future?
  • When I saw the Banaue Rice Terraces, I was like, “That gotta be the Banaue Rice Terraces.”  This was confirmed to me when I saw in the credits that a Philippine camera crew was part of the production.
  • I have this slight frustration that Adam Warlock is not involved in this when, in the comics, he has a major role in the fight against Thanos.  He was teased in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but the current indication is that he’ll debut in Vol. 3, not in Avengers 4.   Or could this mean Thanos will survive Avengers 4 and be the villain of Vol. 3?   That would be a welcome development, if ever.
  • The recast actor for Red Skull does a spot-on impersonation of Hugo Weaving’s characterization.
  • Surely, the dead heroes are going to be resurrected in Avengers 4.  But it would really blow my mind if the filmmakers take a marvelously ballsy route: keep them permanently dead.  Half of me actually prefers that.  That would sustain the high stakes for future movies.
  • If those who died in Infinity War are resurrected, Quicksilver should be resurrected, too.
  • Based on the leaked production photos of Avengers 4, which has the OG Avengers in their old appearances, it looks like their way of beating Thanos is through time travel.  Or it could be a multiverse thing.  Either way, it’s gonna be interesting.
  • Excited to know how Captain Marvel will fit to all this.

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