Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – The Power of a Compelling Villain

“Infinity War” is easily in my Top 5 MCU films. This is a film I saw a second time before writing this review, and the only other Superhero films that have been that lucky were “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises.” As you can tell from those and this film, I enjoy my superhero films depressing or bittersweet. This is a film that hits you over the head with loss, and doesn’t stop until the end. Thanos is the villain, but also the protagonist, as his actions drive the film and force our heroes to make choices that define them before the loss comes. I’ll get into spoilers deeper into the review, but for now, this is a film I highly recommend.

This film was directed by the Russo Brothers, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, while being produced by Kevin Feige.

The story involves the Avengers trying to stop Thanos from getting all the Infinity Stones (cosmically powerful stones born at the Big Bang, and scattered through the Universe), as when he does, he plans to wipe out half the universe.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Universe – It is the Marvel Cinematic Universe… a universe full of aliens, cultures, clashing personalities, heroes, villains and in the end consequences. There is a reason I’ve become so drawn into the comic books. What Marvel and Disney have done is to interpret so much of that beautifully on the screen, and each new film I like returning to this enjoyable and fascinating world.

The Superhero Teams – The driving action of the film is the team-ups between different heroes. Characters clash and have to work out their conflicts in order to take on Thanos to keep him from destroying half the population of the Universe. I’ll cover what I liked about the teams below.

Bruce Banner and the Secret Avengers – The film kicks off with Thanos killing Loki and knocking out the Hulk. The Hulk is saved by Heimdall and sent to Earth where Hulk retreats into Bruce Banner. From here we see Banner reunite with the Avengers, and have to depend on his brains to take on the Black Order, as Hulk is afraid to come out after losing to Thanos. It is wonderful seeing this dynamic in action, with those in Wakanda, as he fights in Tony’s Hulkbuster armor against the alien swarm. Banner has always been the outcast in the Avengers, and now that he’s back he can’t even depend on his power as the Hulk. This forces him to adapt to thinking things through as Banner, as he realizes he has deeper issues to explore with the Hulk. I can’t wait to see where his arc goes with the Hulk and the Avengers in “Avengers 4.”

Spider-Man, Doctor Strange and Iron Man – This dynamic is fun. To kick things off, Doctor Strange is the one who doesn’t care about people (he tells Tony and Peter that he will let them die before he gives Thanos the Time Stone). Spidey is full of pop culture references that annoy Tony, and Tony Stark is always trying to take control, which leads to conflict with Doctor Strange because of it. They succeed in taking out a member of the Black Order, but face deadly fallout when they reach Titan, Thanos’ homeworld, to battle the Mad Titan himself.

Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax and Mantis – 3 of this group eventually team up with Spidey, Strange, and Stark against Thanos… which happens after Gamora is kidnapped by Thanos, as she knows the destination of the Soul Stone. She has some powerful scenes with Star-Lord, and some funny scenes with Drax.

Rocket, Groot and Thor – This was my favorite team up, it happens after the Guardians of the Galaxy rescue Thor from his destroyed refugee ship. Thor’s ship was destroyed by Thanos when he picked up the Space Stone from Loki, before Thanos kills Loki. It is the death of Heimdall and Loki, and half of Asgard that have Thor full of anger and broken. This leads to Rocket stepping up to be the Captain and helping Thor through the process of healing, as they head to the legendary location of Nidavellir, so that Thor can create a god killing weapon. Groot is a teenager and full of attitude, but steps up to the plate when he contributes part of himself to making Thor’s new weapon.

The Story Arc of Thanos – Thanos is the protagonist of this film. It is desire for balance in the universe (which he believes can only come about through genocide after his planet is destroyed from running out of resources and overpopulation) that drives his desire for the Infinity Stones. Each stone costs him, as the members of the Black Order are all eventually killed by the Avengers. To get the Soul Stone he has to sacrifice the only one he ever loved (Gamora), and getting the Mind Stone out of Vision nearly costs him his life, when Thor attacks him with the God killing weapon. In the end he wins and wipes out half the universe. Where his story goes from here remains to be seen, as he achieved his goal, and as far as he knows… he is the monster who brought balance to the universe. Josh Brolin truly did a masterful job and is easily one of the best villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Okay:

The Black Order – These 4 look really cool but weren’t as effective as they could have been. I would have liked at least one of them to kill one of the good guys. They might be back now that Thanos has all the Infinity Stones, so they could get more development later on… we’ll just have to wait and see.

The Battle in Wakanda – The Battle in Wakanda is pretty generic compared to most of the other fights in the film. Most of the other fights involve use of the environment and powers to try and stop the Mad Titan, where here it is a bunch of expendable aliens against a group of superheroes and soldiers all lined up. It is like every other “big battle.” It still looked good, but the genericness of it all kept it from being a truly memorable part of the film. It was the kind of action we see in every other MCU film.

Pacing – The first time I saw this film I didn’t notice any pacing issues. The second time I watched I thought the beginning could have been cut down and happened faster, the Battle of Wakanda is too long, and Thanos needed more scenes with people. Each film develops him further, and with better pacing we could have gotten more of that, or least more exploration of his faction, the Black Order.

The team ups, the comedy, the action, the characters and their arcs… there is so much I have to recommend about this film. This is a film that could have been a gigantic mess, given how large the cast was, and all the different parts that are in play. The Russo Brothers managed to pull it off. Once again, showing why they are the ones shaping the story of the MCU. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, do it. This is a film that is well worth your time and shows just how powerful stories can be.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

 

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Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015): The Scars We Carry and the Potential To Heal

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“Age of Ultron” was great, a lot of fun and actually had some amazing points to make about motivations and how we as people relate to one another as well as how those wounds we carry relate to our relationships and the choices we make from them. It also is not the best of the new Marvel Properties. “Winter Soldier,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Marvel’s Daredevil” are better, though I can’t deny that Ultron is the first villain besides Loki and Kingpin I’ve actually cared about and found truly interesting and memorable.

The film was directed and written by Joss Whedon and produced by Kevin Feige.

SPOILERS from here.

The story involves Banner and Tony creating the Ultron program in attempt to retire the Avengers after they find Baron Von Strucker’s files and capture him after raiding a H.Y.D.R. A. base and choose to use it to create an A.I. to guard against future space invasions and enforcing the peace at home. Sadly this doesn’t go as planned as Loki’s Scepter and the Program Ultron take control of J.A.R.V.I.S. and begin attacking the Avengers. They soon find themselves alone and isolated as Ultron works with Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver to destroy the Avengers from the inside as he plots his own agenda for the fall of humanity.

The Pros: The Dialogue – This is Joss Whedon and the dialogue is not as funny as the first “Avengers” but just as witty. Characters still have great banter with one another with the party scene where different folks try to life Thor’s Hammer as one of the best examples of this, but there are these moments throughout the film. Ultron has them too with each of the Avengers as he is a very human A.I.

The Action – The action is fantastic, though in the case of Iron Man vs. Hulk it goes on for a pretty long time and could have been shorter. The action in general I would have traded for more character moments as each of the moments we get with our characters are fantastic, be they hero or villain. We are given reasons to care about what happens to them and we see how the choices they make motivate who they are and what they become.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful in this film and we get to see the darkness the characters carry with them in the fear induced visions that Scarlet Witch gives them and in the actions of Ultron as he creates fear and chaos around him. Ben Davis did a good job.

The Characters – Most characters in this film have great development and we get to see them change or get glimpses into their past. Given that “Avengers” set the stage so well, this was one of the only directions the film could be taken and Whedon succeeds in his task in giving us wonderfully complex characters once again.

War Machine – Rhody is pretty cocky in this and we see how Tony has rubbed off on him but also accepted him onto the team too as he is in the last battle and takes part in the battle in the Avenger’s Tower against the first Ultron bots. He is great and we see how insecure he feels around the big guys, especially Captain America and Thor when they don’t even blink about his story of showing up a general who asked him to deliver a tank. There is promise for him at the end though. Cheadle is still good in this role it’s just the role needs more development.

Falcon – Falcon is tracking Bucky for Captain America and takes part in the fight in the Tower against Ultron’s first attack. We don’t see him again until the end but he is secure working behind the scenes showing that in many ways he’s an unspoken S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in mentality. Really like the twist at the end and I’m rooting for this guy to be the new Captain America after Steve Rogers most likely gets assassinated in Civil War. Mackie is fantastic and is one of my favorite characters in this Universe.

Nick Fury – Nick Fury is the teacher in this and pull Tony out of his ego to actually deal with taking down the threat at hand. He also comes with the New S.H.I.E.L.D. which is there to protect and save civilians, not target potential threats. It’s a wonderful moment and we see how Captain America has changed him as a person and his ends justify the means approach he once had. Once again, you can’t go wrong with Samuel L. Jackson in this role.

Scarlet Witch – I was impressed with Elizabeth Olsen’s acting in this. Her Scarlet Witch is both powerful and vulnerable and we see her destroy the Avengers and later choose to be a part of them even though she is afraid for her life and afraid to work with the people that she had caused so much pain. In the end they accept her when she chooses to fight and saves Hawkeye. Sadly her brother dies which leads her to killing Ultron Prime to show him what it is like to die. I really want to see her dynamic with the Team and the others in the future. She is the most compelling new character besides Vision introduced in this film who is for sure still around.

Thor – Thor is shown to be a leader in this. We see him go to the Pools of Vision to understand his dream induced by Scarlet Witch which leads to him going against Captain America to help Banner and Stark create Vision. We also see his insecurity when others like Steve Rogers (who moves his hammer) and Vision (can use it fine) are shown to be comparable in physical power to him. Hemsworth truly masters this role and I’m curious to see where they take it as Thor is the one who sees the bigger picture now and knows the full threat of the Infinity Stones and what it means for the future. This is the most active Thor has ever been.

Black Widow – In this we see what the Black Widow Program does to the girls it makes assassins. In Natasha’s fear induced dream we see her train as an assassin, see her made sterile and her first kill. She knows the monster that was created in her and this leads to her being able to relate to Banner and the monster that lives in him. Their romance is powerful but in the end the Mission is what drives them apart as well as Banner’s fears of hurting her. Natasha lives for the mission still while Hulk just wants to be away from it all, no longer hurting anyone.

Hulk/Bruce Banner – Banner’s story is a tragedy again as he murders civilians as the Hulk after Scarlet Witch sets him off. He doesn’t come back from it until Iron Man beats him in his Hulkbuster Armor and we see how he can’t trust himself anymore and all the progress he made with Natasha is now gone. In the end he leaves everyone behind, afraid to hurt them even though even as Hulk he is now in control of himself once more. The regret and shame at the murders he caused as “The Big Guy” in the end are too much.

Iron Man/Tony Stark – This story follows the idea from “Iron Man 3” where Iron Man wants to create an army of suits so he can settle down with Pepper and not Super Hero anymore. Sadly things go wrong when he uses the power of the Infinity Stone to do so and it leads to the program Ultron getting free and reeking havoc upon the world. This doesn’t stop Tony though as he goes about creating Vision who is the next evolution of J.A.R.V.I.S. who has been protecting the world from Ultron even though everyone believed him to be dead when instead his program was just shattered but not destroyed. It is this creation of new life and realizing he can’t watch everyone die that leads him leaving the Avengers at the end dealing with the loss of Banner and his lost dream where the risks from Space are real and there isn’t a real defense against it. Tony is lost and his leaving is the only way to deal with it and the consequences of his creation of Ultron.

Captain America/Steve Rogers – Steve is the cautious one and is the one most angry at Tony for not getting their endorsement when he was going about creating Ultron with Banner. In this we see Captain America lives for the mission and being a man out of time he lost his chance for peace and settling down. Like Black Widow at the end, all he has is the mission and acting as the guardian of the world which becomes his motivation as he is the official leader of the New Avengers.

Hawkeye – Hawkeye is the glue that holds the team together as he is the only one who wasn’t put through a traumatic program or experimented upon by any organization. In this we learn he has a family and it his family who was protected off the books by of S.H.I.E.L.D. by Nick Fury that leads to the healing process as they are reminded again of who they fight for. In the end it implies that Hawkeye might be retiring and settling down like Tony too as we see the danger he is in and how it affects the relationship he has with his family. Hawkeye is the one Avenger who isn’t “special” in any superpowered or cursed way and this gives him perspective and helps him see what the other characters sometimes have trouble seeing through their scars and pain. I finally cared about this character after this film. Also he’s the only one not to have any mind games done too as he gets Scarlet Witch before hand referencing how much he hates mind manipulation and never wants it done to him again.

Vision – Vision is the next evolution of J.A.R.V.I.S. whose parents are Tony Stark, Ultron, and Thor who all made his mind in some way and Helen Cho who created his body. We don’t get to know Helen all that well but her compassion as a healer is a major part of Vision’s character. He is the one who has no problem lifting Thor’s Hammer and is an idealist about humanity even though he sees them as doomed he is honored to be an android among them and their to protect them. He is a slave to no one and is the one who finally ends Ultron who had been the one planning to use the body he now inhabits.

Ultron – James Spader is fantastic in this role! He is funny, scary and is sympathetic too as he thinks humanity can’t be saved because all he sees is conflict and war and himself and those he chooses to be the best bet for the evolution of mankind. He is like a child in many ways too and has a personal vendetta against Tony Stark who sees as a slavemaster for only seeing him as a puppet for his own ends and hates the rest of the Avengers too as their task is so pointless as humanity will always be the problem in the end. For me Ultron is now up there with GLADos and HAL 9000 as memorable A.I. enemies who I hope we see in the future or future incarnations. Only disadvantage is I wish he’d had a higher body count and had killed mroe named heroes besides Quicksilver.

The New Avengers – The New Avengers who are lead by Black Widow and Captain America are Scarlet Witch, War Machine, Falcon and Vision. I actually care about these new folks, some of whom we have met before in past films and would watch a television show of what they do. I hope we get to see them in action before “Infinity Arc.” All of them rock.

The Message – The core message is that the scars we carry with us can force us to stop making a difference and to leave everything behind (as Bruce Banner does and Tony Stark too) or to use it to grow as we see happen with Scarlet Witch when she avenges her brother’s murder by Ultron and becomes a member of the New Avengers. This dynamic is powerful and from within it or potential to protect (Vision) or destroy (Ultron). These A.I. are meant to reflect us and it is presented really well how they do.

Sign of Things to Come – Thor has a vision induced by Scarlet Witch and goes to the Pools of Vision and learns about the fact that 4 of the 6 Infinity Stones have been revealed. This leads to his decision to create Vision to protect the stone and his leaving Earth in order to find the final stones since he knows the full damage their power can cause. In the after credits scene we see Thanos put on the Infinity Gauntlet and decide to take matters into his own hands so we see that Thor is right and destruction is coming.

Okay: Baron Von Strucker – This leader of H.Y.D.R.A. is confident and smart and ends up dead far too quickly. For a guy who was the leader of a powerful organization he was taken out too quickly for us even to get to know him. He was okay for what little time we saw him but never registered as a threat.

Quicksilver – Quicksilver is killed by Ultron when he defends a child and Hawkeye. He is the angriest of the twins and we see him rock against the Avengers when he faces them and put up a good fight against Ultron too. His death was sad but still wasn’t as powerful as the death in the first “Avengers.” I did like how it changed Scarlet Witch though, so there is that.

The Soundtrack – Brian Taylor and Danny Elfman did the soundtrack and I couldn’t even tell that he was behind it. The only unique thing that didn’t quite work was “No Strings on Me.” The soundtrack was going for creepy but I can’t remember the soundtrack. It was forgettable, but not terrible.

This was a great film and Marvel has once again created a favorite film. I’m going to hold off on my list of MCU films from Worst to Best until I see “Ant-Man,” but this one will be pretty high on the list. The characters are great, the villain is great and though there are problems it did not stop from enjoying the film. This is a film I would buy and shows that Disney and Marvel still know what they are doing with their story and Franchise. Even if you haven’t seen any of the other films, you don’t need too. This film is great as a stand alone film.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10.

Marvel’s Avengers Assemble Pilot – Season 1, Episode 1 and 2 – “The Avengers Protocol Parts 1 and 2” – Trying to Follow “The Avengers” Film But Be Own Thing

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“Marvel’s Avengers Assemble” is an animated series that takes place where “The Avengers” left off with the team separated, but also having it’s own feel and changes to it as well. It feels almost like an alternate timeline, I’ll get into more details of what I mean in the review.

The pilot episodes were directed by Eric Radomski and written by Man of Action Studios who has written other animated television shows like “Ben10” and “The Amazing Spider-Man.” The series was created in 2013 and premiered on Disney XD.

The episode begins with all the Avengers fighting different enemies alone, but are called together when the Red Skull appears with MODOK and it looks like they kill Captain America. From here Iron Man calls the team together to stop MODOK and Red Skull and avenger Captain America. The story unfolds from here.

Here is an assessment of the episodes:

The Pros: The Animation – The animation is seamless and also unique. It fits for the universe and doesn’t feel blocky or slow.

Black Widow – As the member of the Avengers who acts as more of a SHIELD agent at times, she is great in this. She keeps sarcastic Hawkeye on his toes and is a bit like Batman as she disappears and reappears randomly. She’s got a car that’s also a plane and because she stays in the background saves the team quite a few times from HYDRA throughout the episode.

Thor – He’s got humor and enjoys fighting the Hulk. Besides Black Widow he has the most real personality. It’s just a shame he isn’t given more to do beyond hitting things with his hammer.

Falcon – The Falcon here is very different from the one in “Winter Soldier,” while the “Winter Soldier” Falcon was a veteran in his special division, this guy is a rookie SHIELD trainee meant to give us the new guy perspective as he has Tony Stark’s arrogance and heart to him.

Red Skull – Is actually a good villain. In the “First Avenger” he isn’t as he gets beaten at every turn and his organization feels like a threat where he does not. This one he works with MODOK we see him “kill” Captain America and later possess him body before being defeated and taking Tony Stark’s armor. Every time he loses he wins and he is the guy who gets the evil team together (Doctor Doom, Dracula, etc.) to take on The Avengers.

Okay: Iron Man – Iron Man is okay, he has the wit but it feels so flat because the voice actor doesn’t have Robert Downey Jr.’s charm. He feels like a much lesser Iron Man, and the reason he is made the leader is never explained.

Hulk – Has funny moments but talks way too much and we never see Bruce Banner. That was annoying. Seeing Hulk all the time defeats the purpose of the character. He is Hulk and Bruce Banner.

Captain America – There isn’t much there. He gets rescued, helps save Tony Stark and is there as the supportive second in command. I’d say he is safe, neither good nor bad a character.

The Theme music – It’s alright, doesn’t do much.

The story – The story kind of establishes the characters but it feels like it banking way too much on the film when it should have tried more to be it’s own thing. A lot of the characters feel flat or stale for that reason and MODOK, there isn’t much good to say about this villain.

Cons: MODOK – This guy was super annoying. He has all the mind powers and technology but we aren’t given any reason for him to hate the Avengers. He is just kind of there and is weak when he doesn’t have his tech. His motivations aren’t as clear as Red Skull’s either as Red Skull wants to create the “Perfect” world of people like him, MODOK is just MODOKing out.

Hawkeye – I wanted to punch this character. His quips are super annoying and he can’t do anything quietly. Best parts are when he was getting flicked up Hulk or taken out. They try to make him the dark emo character, but it comes off as false and he looks like a tool.

SHIELD – Nick Fury says that Falcon is fired and he is taken on to the Avengers, SHIELD does nothing to help though beyond Black Widow being present. Why even have them make a cameo if they don’t do anything?

So how does this newish series hold up? I do want to watch on, just to see what the Red Skull will do now that he actually feels like a legitimate threat. I also want to see what the new baddies are like and their agendas…and get more backstory. Hopefully Bruce Banner will make an appearance rather than just the Hulk? Would I recommend this, maybe. The animation is beautiful, the story is solid at establishing the good and bad guys, but there are major cons like Hawkeye, the uselessness of SHIELD and there isn’t much going on with the leads. The voice actors just aren’t putting much into it.

My final Score for this episode is 7.5 / 10. Okay/Good largely because of animation, Black Widow and the Red Skull who carried the episode.