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Thanos was right

by Thom Yee

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Avengers: Infinity War images courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

This world doesn’t make sense any more.  Californians are intentionally drinking untreated, unsterilized water they’re buying “off the grid” while people in Flint, Michigan still have too much lead in their taps.  A ridiculous, Immortan-Joe-esque ignoramous is the President of the United States.  Vaping is a thing.  And Thanos is a major figure in our popular culture.  Those four things might seem unrelated at first, but I’m pretty sure they all have megalomania and super-villainy at the heart of their origins.  But we’re mostly here to talk about Thanos today, because, as of April 27, 2018, people — normal people all over the world — know who Thanos is.  And the opportunity to talk about Thanos?  As if he was something or someone people might know about?  Someone people might actually care about?  That makes almost no sense!  That’s almost insane!

It’s been ten years since, with the first Iron Man movie, producer Kevin Feige, director Jon Favreau, and star Robert Downey Jr. said “Screw you guys, we’re making our own superhero movies” to the Hollywood elites like Fox (who make the largely underwhelming and unnecessarily screwed up X-Men movies), Sony (who used to make overly traditional and then not very good Spider-Man movies), and…uh… Roger Corman (who made that crazy, low-budget, early-‘90s Fantastic Four that somehow isn’t significantly worse than the more recent efforts)?  Ten… years.  Well, not ten years actually, many more years than that if you’re going to acknowledge the whole story of Marvel Studios and how hard it was to get to the realization of their Cinematic Universe, but ten years since we all got to see an Iron Man movie that was weirdly, crazily, unexpectedly good.  Compared to most of the superhero movies of the era — X-Men:  The Last Stand, Ghost Rider, Spider-Man 3 — 2008’s Iron Man was a breath of fresh air and a big attention grabber simply for being good, balanced, and, unlike most superhero movies before it, faithful to the source material.  Finally we had a live-action version of our superheroes brought to us by people who understood what makes these characters work and why they didn’t need stupid changes like all-black leather outfits or being named David instead of Bruce [Banner].

Of course 2008 was also the year DC’s The Dark Knight was released, probably the best superhero movie of all time (and maybe even one of the best movies), but, in retrospect, the one thing that turned out to be undeniably better about Iron Man was that, unlike The Dark Knight, Iron Man didn’t represent the absolute peak of what one movie studio could do, it was just the beginning of Marvel’s plans.  If you sat through Iron Man in its entirety, all the way through its credits, you were witness to a small scene with, nevertheless, massive implications as a little-known character named Nick Fury began to tell Tony Stark [and us] about the Avenger initiative, the first steps in building a bigger universe, interconnected over space, time, and, so far, 18 different movies, and while we can quibble over which MCU movies are the best (Captain America:  The Winter Soldier) and which are the worst (Thor:  The Dark World), none of them are outright bad, several of them are great, and most of them are easy to love, each telling a part of a greater story as our heroes changed, grew, and evolved over years of real time.  All leading to today.  All leading to Avengers:  Infinity War.  And as tired and cynical and weary as you may have become with superhero movies after ten years of them ruling the box office and dominating the conversation, nothing else like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, at this scale and with this level of ambition, has happened before.  That’s something worth recognizing.  That’s something worth celebrating.  And, as it turns out, so is Avengers:  Infinity War.

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Surprise!

What’s it about?

Fine.  He’ll do it himself.

That might not be the most descriptive synopsis or the most informative trailer, but the first thing you should know about Avengers:  Infinity War is that it’s not exactly new-viewer-friendly.  It’s not a confusing movie by any means, but it doesn’t always hold your hand and you need to have seen many of the preceding MCU movies to fully appreciate it (though, as always, you can continue ignoring 2008’s The Incredible Hulk).  That’s just where we are right now, and it really is an unprecedented feat for serialized storytelling like this to be told in widescreen movie form, over the course of years and multiple yearly installments, and be more popular now than ever, and while the prospect of watching eighteen other movies to catch up to this one might sound daunting, it’s far from a chore.  You might even get more out of seeing them all together, marathon-style, than people like me have over the course of years.  For the record, the ones you should definitely make time to see are Iron Man, Thor, Captain America:  The First Avenger, The Avengers, Captain America:  Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers:  Age of Ultron, and Captain America:  Civil War, and then Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man:  Homecoming, and Black Panther if you have time.  So that’s only, like, 12 out of 18.  Easy peasy.  That’s only, like, one entire day of watching movies with no breaks in between.  Lemon squeezy.

avengers-infinity-war-first-thanos.jpgThe events in Avengers:  Infinity War are based primarily on The Infinity Gauntlet mini-series from the mid-‘90s and the “Infinity” crossover storyline from writer Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers run from the early 2010s, the former the story of Thanos’ first successful gathering of the Infinity Stones and the latter a more twisty, swervy story about Earth’s place in Marvel’s galactic universe.  Unlike the MCU movies, though, it’s not nearly as necessary to go back and read those storylines to fully enjoy Avengers:  Infinity War.  If you are, however, a longtime fan familiar with those stories, there are several scenes and beats you’ll recognize in the movie.  Thanos himself was the creation of comicbook writer Jim Starlin, first appearing in Iron Man #55 in the early ‘70s and variously threatening, destroying, and even occasionally saving the universe on a grand cosmic scale ever since then.  Though it’s easy to view the character, obsessed with death, as the embodiment of evil, what’s been most interesting about Thanos in his more than 40 years of existence is that he’s not just bad, he’s a character with a very specific, life-opposed point of view, and it’s his absolute certainty and cunning more than his actual level of power that’s made him a dominant force in all of his appearances.

Normally in the course of MCU movie releases, critic screenings occur weeks ahead of time, with many of the movies opening earlier in some territories than they have in North America, but this time Infinity War premiered to industry insiders and critics only days before its wide release which was only recently changed to a April 27, up from its originally scheduled May 4th.  This was thought to be a change brought about for a variety of reasons, including giving the movie an additional week of earnings before Deadpool 2’s release (May 18th), minimizing the chance of spoilers being leaked, and favourably positioning the movie for the biggest possible global opening, and, at least on that last point, things seem to have worked out pretty well so farInfinity War opened to almost 258 million dollars, the biggest domestic weekend opening ever (beating Star Wars:  The Force Awakens’ nearly $248 million), and just over $382 million worldwide for the biggest worldwide opening ever at $640 million.  For comparison, that’s more money in its first weekend than last year’s Justice League (which we loved) ever made domestically and just under its final worldwide total.  And by the time we publish this review, Infinity War will most likely already have made more than a billion dollars.  Which is good.  It deserves it.

Is it any Good?

As a semi-professional movie reviewer (emphasis on the semi-), the truth is that I sometimes feel more obligated to see a movie than happy.  That’s not to say that I can’t or won’t enjoy the movies once I see them, but there are times I’m just not really up for them or life finds a way to make seeing them inconvenient.  That wasn’t the case with Avengers:  Infinity War.  Nothing on this Earth was going to keep me from seeing it as soon as possible on opening day, not work, not finals, and not a lack of comp tickets.  As a longtime comicbook fan and a big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe I, of course, was looking forward to Infinity War, but there’s something different about it, about the entire MCU, and I only just fully realized what that difference is as I waited restlessly in my seat for the commercials and trailers to finally end and the movie to begin:  The MCU movies don’t feel like an inferior version to me.  Unlike shows like The Flash or the ‘90s Batman movies or any number of terrible cartoon adaptations, I wouldn’t choose the comicbook versions of these characters and stories over the movie versions.  For me they stand equal to each other, and after more than twenty-five years of reading the comics and, really, growing up with them, that’s saying a lot.

If the first Avengers was a surprisingly fresh and palatable take on the superhero team-up (that left me slightly underwhelmed), and its sequel Age of Ultron was superheroes taken to the level I was hoping for (that left most of you overwhelmed), Infinity War is… I don’t know what it is exactly, but, in the week since I’ve seen it, it’s become my favourite MCU movie.  By far.avengers-infinity-war-all.jpg

From the start, Infinity War is nothing but rising action, more rising action, and more rising action after that, sprinting between major meetings, moments and action sequence at a breathless pace.  In a lot of ways it’s the superhero equivalent of Mad Max:  Fury Road’s one long car chase:  It slows down just enough so that you know what’s happening and can take it all in, but it’s all in motion and it rarely rests.  Importantly though, it’s not rushing at a pace that leaves you exhausted, and with the combination of how deftly its directors, Joe and Anthony Russo (who previously directed Captain America’s Winter Soldier and Civil War), handle the movie’s significant events and the 18 previous movies building to this story, it’s the kind of constant action that feels right and earned.  There’s a clear through line the movie follows, one we’ve been following for the last ten years of MCU movies in one way or another, that ensures you never lose sight of what’s going on or why things are happening.

And because so many of the finer details of the movie have been set up in previous installments, Infinity War often comes across as the best possible sequel, the ultimate and truest expression I’ve ever seen of the idea (especially with superhero movies) that suggests now that they’ve gotten the origin out of the way, the next one should be REALLY good.  Whether it’s the smaller or larger story beats, one-off jokes or scenes with huge payoffs, inside references or moments that will thrill or shock any audience, everything is executed at a high level.  Peter’s (Spider-Man) school friend Ned has a great unintentional joke early on, Peter nearly steals the entire movie in a touching (and chilling) scene towards the end, the battles are filled with extra bits of flourish and detail, like how, of all the Guardians, Drax is the one least willing to wait for the right time to fight Thanos or the way Black Panther and Cap superhumanly race ahead of the rest of the Wakandan army backing them, and after a two-year absence following the events of Captain America:  Civil War, characters like Captain America and Black Widow get huge entrances so monumental they almost made me cry.avengers-infinity-war-gang.png

As an assemblage of [nearly] all the heroes from all the movies, Infinity War allows us to finally see how some of our favourite characters get on with each other, and more often than not they don’t get along very well at all.  Iron Man and Doctor Strange never learn to like each other, Bucky and Rocket Raccoon of all people find a rare moment of kinship (because:  guns) before Rocket says something really offputting to him, and there’s a really great moment where Star-Lord becomes jealous of Thor as he talks to Gamora soon after the Guardians find Thor lost in space and you can’t help but understand why he’d be jealous.  Compared to normal people Chris Pratt is like a god, but compared to Chris Hemsworth even guys like Chris Pratt and Chris Evans look like mere mortals (not Chris Pine though, he’s prettier than all of them; he’d be, like, the God of Soulful, Romantic Rain to Hemsworth’s God of Thunder).

As the bad guy of the movie and the overarching big bad of the entire, 10-year-long sequence of events leading up to Infinity War, Thanos is every bit as intimidating as he should be, but there’s a lot more to him than just being evil.  He’s not cruel or villainous, he’s just determined and brutal and more ready to defend his point of view than our heroes are prepared for.  Despite his genocidal intent, I agree with him and his ultimate goal, and if it weren’t for all of the killing necessary to achieve his plans, I would be the first to sign up for the Thanos army (y’know, if I had anything more to offer than mediocre blogging and some basic math skills).  Sure, it’s a plan that falls apart the more you think about it, but it’s reasoning is compelling on a primal level and the movie is at least good enough to not remind you of its flaws in the moment.  In many ways, Infinity War is Thanos’ movie, our heroes being just the latest in a long line of defenders trying to stop him, and the relationship between Thanos and his daughter Gamora lends the whole movie, popcorn summer blockbuster and all, a weird level of poignance and an enormous amount of depth and relatability.  There are real layers in Infinity War that make additional viewings rewarding and almost required.avengers-infinity-war-gamora.jpg

I only have one major problem with the movie, and it’s one that might be unavoidable given its premise.  If you’ve paid attention to Infinity War’s production and its release dates, you probably know that the next, as-yet-untitled Avengers movie is opening just one year from now and they shot this one and that one back to back.  It’s an easy supposition to make from there that the two will tie in to each other rather closely, and that turns out to be true once you see where Infinity War concludes.  Without getting specific, there’s a very strong part-one-of-twoness to Infinity War, and that’s disappointing if for no other reason than the air of finality with which this movie was marketed.  We were promised death!  Deaths!  And we still have to wait for the next one to see why and how the deaths we did get (and those, no doubt, to come) will matter.

And now that I’m in a less forgiving mood, I have to admit that Thanos’ henchmen barely make an impact.  Their names, especially Proxima Midnight, Corvus Glaive, and Ebony Maw, are really cool and badass and metal too, so it’s a shame that most people walking out of the movie probably won’t even remember them.  At more than two and a half hours, it’s weird to suggest this movie should be even longer, but one scene more to show who they are and why they should be feared might have been warranted.  I also didn’t like that one of our heroes, by virtue of their relationship to the Infinity Gauntlet, is robbed of any real agency in the movie and generally held back from most fights, I didn’t like that most of Thanos’ army is still very much cannon fodder (though they add a few twists to the formula that make them a little different), and of all of the separate stories being told, Cap’s side on Earth (most everyone else is off in space for most of the movie) feels a bit underserved.avengers-infinity-war-head.jpg

So should I see it?

When I think about it, there is not a person alive who I would recommend against seeing Avengers:  Infinity War, not if they’re willing to put in the time to see at least a few of the movies that led to it at least.  It’s fast and fun but soulful and meaningful, it’s the fruition of ten years of deep, thoughtful, tactical planning, and it provides an almost unbelievable payoff to those that have been following all along. And if you don’t care, well, it’s still the first two things I mentioned in that last sentence.

I’m not going to pretend that Infinity War is the movie to bridge the gap between fanboys, fans, normals, skeptics, and haters, but I think even the most jaded, fun-policing person should be able to recognize that it’s a movie of high quality if not necessarily to their taste.  It’s not perfect either, but it’s rarely an air-tight script that guarantees a movie’s quality as much as it’s ability to leave you fully able to recognize and acknowledge a movie’s flaws but not care about them that is the mark of a truly special movie, and that’s exactly what Avengers:  Infinity War does.

I think, at their highest level, that superhero stories speak to the ideas we all know to be true of ourselves and the places we hope to reach.  They provide a model of people doing their best, helping those who need it, and owing the world more because it’s what’s right and not because we’re being judged all the time, that we’re all already sinners, or that our saviours are perfect beings always above us, never themselves wrong or arrogant or self-serving.  That latter type of story?  That’s called guilt, blind, demanding guilt, and it’s not how you get people to really buy in, and it might be sanctimonious to say this, but Avengers:  Infinity War?  That weirdly, crazily, unreasonably good superhero movie that’s better than we have any right to deserve?  It was everything I needed.

Thom’s Avengers:  Infinity War final score

5

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On the Edge

  • “We have a Hulk.” The irony of those words coming from Loki is deeeelicious.
  • Did AT&T really pay for product placement of a flip phone?
  • It’s genius that there’s no explanation given or clear reference as to why Black Widow is blonde now. She just is.
  • I had some real problems with the font choices they made. I think they used straight-up Times New Roman on most of their scene/location headings.
  • Bubbles!
  • Some major Lord of the Rings vibes from one particular scene that I think you’re all going to love for its ties to past movies.
  • Stormbreaker?!? That’s some Walt-Simonson-level sh*t right there.
  • Does Thanos make a habit of carrying around knives meant only to give to kids he likes and meets during his slaughters, ’cause there’s no way that knife he gave young Gamorra was big enough to use for himself. Just one of Thanos’s fingers is about the size of a whole human hand!
  • It actually doesn’t make that much sense that all of Star-Lord’s references come from his mid-’80s childhood. He still grew up and spent more of his life somewhere else, wouldn’t he have picked up some other cultural influences along the way? Or is space completely devoid of its own pop culture?
  • They’re not really meant to be watched one after the other, back-to-back in the direct sense, but realizing that Infinity War directly follows the events of Thor: Ragnarok makes the Thor movie feel grossly off-tone and almost a cruel joke.
  • Anyone else getting tired of autocorrect turning Thanos into thanks yet?

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