Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Marvel Watch: Avengers | Infinity War (2018)

Watched:  04/28/2018
Format:  Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2010's

Warning - this write-up will have spoilers.  Do not read this post until you've seen Avengers: Infinity War (2018).

My Marvel reading was never particularly heavy with Avengers-related material.  I was more into Spidey, The Punisher (via my brother's comics) and X-books, and, later, I was an occasional Black Panther reader.  My various dips into Captain America or other Avengers books never quite got me into the team book.  Avengers?  Just never did it.  Didn't care about The Black Knight and Dr. Mento or whatever enough to get into it despite participation from Cap and She-Hulk and whomever.

The Marvel formula that Hollywood has kinda tried to replicate at every studio (and failed) isn't *that* complicated.  I'm not surprised it's guys about my age who brought it to cinemas, because it's more or less what we grew up with.  Folks read a handful of  comics books - but nobody reads every comic on the rack*.  Then there'd be an event series or summer cross-over where you'd see a huge chunk of the Marvel U show up and usually a character or two introduced to see if they could add a new concept to the U.  People and planets would die, it would get kinda resolved and we'd all go back to Spidey worrying about Aunt May by September.  I'd usually buy what I could afford on top of my usual titles (because comics were cheap at this point in history, even with Special prices of, like $1.25) and forego some candy, which was making me a butterball, anyway.

If Avengers was Avengers as a team-book-movie, Infinity War is that summer cross-over/ event in cinematic form.

At the cinema, sure, I have my favorites of the Marvel U movies.  I get more excited for and buy the damn merchandise when the movies come out (hi, Cap!), but in no way do I mind spending $12 seeing Doctor Strange, even if I didn't love the comics, because those movies are still pretty fun and  better made than 65% of films that would occupy the same genre niche.  If there's a Marvel Studios Quasar movie, I don't care that I never cared about Quasar - I'm showing up.**

No matter what else, what Marvel has done in in regards to a shared universe that can come together and splinter into separate profitable components, could change movies - or not.  No one else has quite figured this out though they keep trying (Universal... come on, pal...).  And here - with who knows how much money poured into it - the movie is a spectacle worth your dollar even if the movie itself isn't exactly your bag.  Speeding across the galaxy, visiting locations both familiar and new, as well advertised (but which seemed to confound many-a-person) tying in almost all 17 or 18 prior movies one way or another.  For those of us who've watched those movies (some of them many times - thanks FX network!), it's a tremendous payoff and maybe the best one since Darth Vader pitched that lightning dude down a space well.

If the Avengers comic managed to work with the uncomfortable tension of differing personalities coming together for a common cause, in regards to this film - the scope of the cast by the time we hit Infinity War is so tremendous, this really shouldn't work.  It could feel like making a tomato/ peanut butter/ sardine sandwich.  But from Pepper Potts to Groot to Wong, a whole lotta of familiar faces turn up, work together in line with what we learned from the prior movies, and if you've been showing up to all these movies - you're in a great place to know and *care* about these characters.  Or... I did. Even if there was no Agent Carter.

From a story perspective, the movie is kinda straight forward.  Thanos is hopping about the Galaxy/ Universe (these are two very different things, but movies always like to act like they're the same thing and it drives me a bit insane, but what are you gonna do?) seeking out all 6 of the Infinity Stones and some of those stones are on Earth.  He sends his envoys (characters lifted from Infinity) to come pick them up, which gets the attention of our Earth-bound heroes.  Meanwhile, our space-faring Guardians find out (via a defeated Thor) that Thanos is picking up stones and they decide to get involved.  What we know of Avengers and Guardians line-ups splinters as characters cross paths and take on certain tasks - none of which occurs in a central war room or anything you kind of expect from the usual set ups - and everyone is trying to stop Thanos from having all six stones.

Because that's a pretty simple set-up and we *should* know it from the prior movies plus the helpful presentation given at the film's start, and the fact we're not *supposed* to be meeting anyone fore the first time, we get tossed right into the story.  Surprisingly, there are actual character beats and moments for a lot of characters including Scarlet Witch, Vision, Tony Stark, Star Lord, Gamora, Nebula, and others.  While other characters get less to do and less screentime.  Heck, I think War Machine gets more lines than Captain America in this movie.

Most of the CGI is rock-solid and delivers on the promise of the imaginations and pencils & inks of 60 years of Marvel artists.  Thanos, who always had groovy design, looks positively astounding and kind of straight up scary.  We can quibble over the perfection of the other CGI characters but... no.  It's 99% great and I couldn't tell you what's real and what's not in a lot of scenes (take Wakanda).

The script feels airtight.  The Russos and Co. know how to start lighter, make it feel like standard Marvel quippy actioner fare before ratcheting down the intensity of what's happening as everyone gets tuned into the stakes and normal superheroing isn't cutting it.  It's not a joyful cinematic experience, but it is an emotional ride that won't exactly leave you dancing in the aisles at the end.  And all the characters feel like themselves, from Black Widow to the unique flavor of the Guardians to Tony to the surprisingly specific Doctor Strange.

I could have had more Steve, Natasha and Sam - but that is true in everyday life for me.  I think one villain was dispatched in a way that sort of belied what we'd seen of him to that point, but okay.  It's tough to understand what happened to Ant-Man and Hawkeye between Civil War and this movie - because it sure *looked* like Steve was busting them out -  but way less hard to understand War Machine's change of heart.

Really, I just want to see it again to catch the million things I am sure I missed just keeping up with the movie.

So - Thanos and the elements of the plot.

For the comics nerds: I didn't read Infinity Gauntlet for years after it came out - but did so by 2004 or so, and while I did read Infinity shortly after it arrived in trade, I wasn't reading much Marvel at the time, so I didn't feel terribly invested and didn't understand 1/3rd of what was happening, who people were, etc... (it was also very expensive, which I kept thinking about, which isn't good.)  But Infinity Gauntlet was enjoyable, and as it had earned such a place of importance in Marvel history and comics writ-large - I am glad I read it for a lot of reasons.

And, boy howdy, has it informed the films.

Since making his first appearance in an Avengers film, the post-credits sequence of Avengers, a whole lot of this has been headed one way.  Thanos sort of exists to do one thing in the Marvel Universe, that's to wield god-like powers via his Gauntlet containing the Infinity Stones/ Gems and give the Avengers a Cosmically bad time.  Often by killing, like, everyone.

So if you'd read Infinity Gauntlet, and to a much lesser extent, Infinity, I don't know that Avengers: Infinity War doesn't have a certain perfectly enjoyable predictable pattern to it.  We'd been seeing Infinity Stones show up in the films for 8 years or so, Thanos and the Gauntlet itself.  If you did that reading and didn't guess this movie was going to end on a bit of a bummer note...

But maybe you missed the part where, when Infinity War was  going into production Marvel was saying were making a two-part movie, and then backed off, saying "ha.  No.  We are totally not doing that, but we are shooting two movies back-to-back.  With the same cast."  I mean... it doesn't take a super sleuth.

I am reminded of the time I went to see Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings, a book that was about five decades old and from about as well known as a book series can get, plus it had enjoyed a superbly executed advertising campaign and media blitz that readied the world to expect one movie per year for three years as the tale unfolded.  On the Saturday the picture opened, Jamie and I went to a showing, stood up as the lights came on as the credits rolled, and two girls sitting behind us loudly exclaimed "that's it?  They didn't get there?" and they were steamed.

It sorta feels like that right now.

But that's okay! That doesn't impact what Marvel is doing - which is novel for most movie-goers if a well-worn path for us comics kids.  And, arguably, with a lot of time and thought, Marvel Studios has managed to improve on the original works, which has been their gig since Iron Man.  Take what works, rework things that aren't a big deal, keep the characters basically in the same spirit of the comics, and you're golden.

That ending.

It is interesting seeing the varied reactions of the public - people seem genuinely shaken by the outcome.  For once, our heroes didn't just wrap it up after a big 'ol conflict and move on to the next adventure.  They don't just lose - they fail to save *everyone*.

I'm not sure people are reacting well to that ending.  It's definitely a "Luke has no hand, and Han has been carted off" ending times, like, a million.

As an FYI - this is the size and scope of *some* comics that, when I was a kid, made me weirdly uncomfortable.  I was much happier seeing Batman dole out punches to Two-Face and the Punisher shoot bad dudes.  That concept was containable.  The Anti-Monitor wiping out an infinite number of variations on reality?  That was weird and scary.

But, for quite some time - I've really dug that over-the-top catalcysmic stuff.  Because at the end of the day - those weirdos in their tights and capes are going to fix it.  That's the point.  We might lose some characters or planets along the way, a win with no consequences on that scale just feels *wrong*, but the bigger and sadder and scarier the threat - the more I want to see Spider-Man or Cap or Squirrel Girl standing there at the end, having passed through all of that, ready to save *everyone*.

I like that we've had all these movies, all of which wrapped up with some sort of win for our heroes (although, man, poor Cap...  He's kinda 0 for 3 on things really working out in his sub-franchise) - it's an emotional experience to see them just flat out lose.

Sometimes I think us adult comics nerds who've been doing this for decades forget is that - these Marvel movies are the first time the vast, vast majority of people have seen these stories.  This is all new.  The notion of comic characters dying and coming back hasn't happened so often for them that they wish someone... anyone... would stay dead.  They aren't used to transdimensional god-like-beings just really causing a ruckus.  And one of he greatest separations of superheroes from how people used to think of the ever-cheery do-gooders of the collective imagination that permeated my youth, was the super-bummer stuff that happened pretty much all the time in comics.  Dead relatives and girlfriends.  Friends going crazy and blowing up a star system.  Supergirl dying.  And, hey, Apokolips even existing as a living hellscape with a population dedicated to its success when they could be murdered at any moment.  Comics are heavy, man.

And if you have two extra minutes, there's this.

All in all

My fellow comics nerds - as we come to this movie, our greatest risk is believing the past foibles and irritants of the comics world will infiltrate what Marvel Studios is doing here.  Worrying about whether Marvel will truly end these movies (no... and why would they?  And why do you even think that's a good idea at this point in time?) or will face the same problems as an industry that needs 12 issues per year of a comic, plus specials, multiplied across 50 or so titles... it's apples and oranges.  And we didn't embrace these movies and get to a @#$%ing Infinity War movie because these guys keep screwing up.

So, take a leap of faith.  Worry about what's on the screen now, not what you think will happen in ten years or how this impacts Spider-Man sequels.  Worry about whether you enjoyed what this movie and this grand experiment have done.

I am not saying you're a fool if you didn't like the movie.  I'm not saying that if you haven't watched most of these movies a few times each, it won't be a bit tough to keep up.  It will.

But it's so @#$%ing cool that we have this most comic-booky thing on the big screen with a budget that's the GDP of a small nation.  If you'd told me at age 13 that we'd have 10 years of 19 interlocking Marvel movies and a whole lot more on the way.  And that everyone would know who The Scarlet Witch and Vision are... man.

I just want to enjoy that all of this is even happening.

And wonder what is happening at WB/ DC this week.

*for whatever reason, I wouldn't touch Iron Man or Doctor Strange with a ten foot pole
**example - I don't actually like the Guardians comics, but I want to see those movies by Sunday on opening weekend


horus kemwer said...

Saw it today with my partner who (a) hates comics, and (b) has only seen Guardians 2 of all Marvel movies before this. She was so happy when Thanos won.

The League said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The League said...

Well - I gotta say, sleep with one eye open, my man. But, in all seriousness - I don't want to just guess why that worked for your partner, but if she's only seen one Guardians of the 20 Marvel movies: maybe these movies aren't her thing? I've been recommending to people that if they haven't seen at least half the Marvel movies to not bother with this one, but I may be way off base.