Archives For Avengers

When it was first announced that Tony Stark would be making a cameo in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk, minds were blown. Characters crossing over into each other’s movies was nothing new – Hello, House of Frankenstein! – but still, it led to many a fan and moviegoer speculating on the possibilities lying at Marvel’s feet.

In some ways, Avengers: Infinity War is exactly what many a fan conjured up their heads ten years  ago. Sounding like Patton Oswalt’s improvised pitch from Parks and Recreation, the film is the equivalent of throwing all your action figures at each other. Galactic tyrant Thanos (Josh Brolin) is making good on his promise in Age of Ultron and finally setting about collecting the infinity stones that have long played a McGuffin in some way or another in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

After an opening that utterly decimates the happy ending of a recent release, Thanos’ destruction ripples through to our heroes both on earth and in space. And due to numerous reasons, everyone is brought together only to be syphoned off into various groups. Through a mix and very little match effect, these team-ups allow Infinity War to play around with established cannon, whilst building upon it. The highly scientific Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr) is immediately at odds with the philosophical and mystical Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), whilst Thor (Chris Hemsworth) continues to flex his comedic muscle when teamed up with Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Walsh) and a teenage Groot (Vin Diesel, sort of). Elsewhere look out for a bearded Captain America (Chris Evans), a hardened Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), a stoic Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and a shell-shocked Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) struggling to control his inner Hulk, but not in the way you’d imagine.

Unrestrained from having to explain who everyone is – you don’t need to have seen every film, but some cameos may make you scratch your head if you haven’t – directors Anthony and Joe Russo, as well as screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, are allowed to turn their attentions elsewhere. As our heroes bicker and/or make new alliances, Infinity War takes time to flesh out the destructive force/purple Homer Simpson that is Thanos. Whilst not as morally grey as Black Panther’s multi-layered Killmonger (Michel B. Jordan), the exploration of Thanos’ motives, and his connections to other characters in the franchise, show an attempt to mould him into something more than an unstoppable force of destruction. He’s contemplative, a man who craves peace through destroying others. He appears to show empathy to those he crushes under foot. In a series of flashbacks, we’re even presented with a more compassionate side that never feels trite or overplayed. Am I saying there’s a potential for tears when Thanos is asked to make the ultimate sacrifice? Yes, I am. Will I admit that I cried? No, I will not.

With all this stirring up of the back catalogue, a large part of Infinity War, to be fair, feels patchy. Even whilst pushing the 2hr 30 mark, the film feels rushed as it puts everybody in their place ready for a colossal showdown. When it finally settles down, it manages to be a joyful experience. A lot of this joy is found in the cosmos, as the film’s more earth-bound sub plots are little bit dull. Marvel’s Phase One characters are beginning to show their stagnation, and the threat of Thanos doesn’t appear to breathe any new life into them.

Maybe this will be resolved in Avengers 4, the film that will be basically Part 2 to Infinity War. Yes, kept hidden from most, and arguably rightly so, Infinity War goes the route of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay and The Deathly Hallows, ending with a cliff-hanger not to be resolved till 2019. Is this a bad thing? Well, hard to say at the moment. Part 2 of Mockingjay highlighted the pacing issues of its first part, whilst the only thing anyone really remembers of Deathly Hollows Part 1 when the dust settled was that insufferable dance scene set to Nick Cave.

Infinity War is one of the better superhero movies out there, and a perfect reminder of why Marvel’s long game approach outshines DC’s reactionary filmmaking –  but it is really only half a film. Whatever occurs next year will show it up in new light.

Superheroes are likely to go the way of westerns, musicals and the dinosaurs within the next 5 years; your local box office is probably saturated on a regular basis by non-costumed men learning to become costumed superheroes before punching costumed super villains around New York, whilst several hundred digital minions try and get in on the action. And if it’s not an origin story, then it’s a sequel that has our hero learning more about punching people in New York, whilst selling us ten spinoffs lurking just around the corner (Hello Civil War!). And I say all this as someone who constantly champions Marvel’s output. Even if you’re a solid supporter of DC or Marvel, you’ve likely experienced a little cinematic universe fatigue.

Thank heavens then for Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2; a sequel that manages to play all the same notes as its predecessor whilst still managing to be to be surprisingly emotional and, in a film that has a plant that can talk, feel small in scale. James Gunn returns from helming the first volume, picking up several space months later as Drax (David Bautisa), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Peter Quill AKA Star Lord (Chris Pratt) are now carving out a life for themselves as guns for hire. Oh, and in case you haven’t seen the trailer, there’s also Baby Groot, again played by Vin Diesel. Sidenote: Despite Groot’s obvious cuteness, there’s never a sense that Marvel is trying to sell him in the shopping aisles. Even though I’m sure that’s exactly what they want to/are.

After Rocket gets the gang in a spot of space bother, they’re quickly rescued by Ego (Kurt Russell) who not only reveals himself to be a sort of God, but also a sort of planet. Oh, and very definitely Peter’s father. It’s a no-brainer for Russell to play the part of Ego and, let’s be honest, out there in the vast multi-verse John Carpenter has directed Russell as Starlord in the 1985 adaptation of Guardians with a script written by James Cameron and Hulk Hogan as Drax. Probably.

Gunn is clearly having a whale of a time in his sandbox and it is his sandbox. Whilst names are dropped and there a few minor cameos from other Marvel properties, Gunn manages to keep the goings on with the Avengers at a good arm’s length whilst he gleefully slaughters dozens of bad guys to the tunes of Fleetwood Mac and The Sweet. He even breaks up the established gang quickly; splitting them up into groups that allow him get under the skin of his characters. Rocket sidles up with a returning Yondu (Michael Rooker), whilst Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Gamora thrash it as only sisters can. Whilst Age of Ultron gave us more of what it thought we wanted – namely quips and… well see my first paragraph – Volume 2 feels like it’s grown organically from Volume 1. As if it hasn’t hashed out in a marketing board room.

It’s not all great news though. Whilst a dosage of heart has been injected into the narrative, with themes of family, fatherhood and love playing a large part, this attempt to water down the snarkiness of the first film results in the film’s clunkier moments. The dialogue isn’t ‘I’ve failed him in life. I won’t fail him in death’ bad, but there are moments where Volume 2 just doesn’t sparkle like you want it to.

That said, when the film gets it right, it really gets it right with numerous spectacular and often gut busting scenes. Hell, even the opening credits are worth the admission price alone with a great use of Mr Blue Sky. Perhaps one of the biggest strengths of film is Bautisa as the muscular and very literal Drax, who gets much more time on screen to grow, sharing his thoughts on love and life whilst living his life to great effect. If only we could all appreciate life as much as Drax, what happy people we would be. And it goes without saying that everyone else brings their A-game, including Chris Sullivan as the strangely monikered Taserface. Long story short, it’s just a really fun film.

Sadly, I can’t help but think that Avengers: Infinity War will dilute the goodwill of Volume 1 and 2 by trying to fit its anarchic square peg into Marvel’s corporate round hole. But we’ve got 12 months till that happens, so let’s enjoy what we have whilst we can.