Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – Movie Review

avengers infinity warAnd so begins the end of an era. Everything that has happened so far in Marvel’s shared universe that began in 2008, everything has led to this moment. Avengers: Infinity War is where this decade’s worth of narrative & world-building is supposed to pay off. And that makes this film more than just another instalment in the franchise. It’s an epic moment, no less than a cinematic event.

The 19th instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and first of the two planned Avengers films that will conclude their Phase 3 plan, Avengers: Infinity War follows the all-powerful Thanos as he travels across the universe looking for infinity stones that would grant him the strength to impose his will on all of reality and finally faces the Avengers in a battle that would decide the fate of all existing lives.

Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo, Infinity War begins where Thor: Ragnarok signed off and what unfolds in the opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the story. It’s no doubt an ambitious undertaking by the Russo brothers but Captain America: Civil War proved that it’s them who were best suited for tackling this massive assignment than anyone else. And for the most part if not all, they do a pretty neat job at it.

Having been teased only in small doses until now, Infinity War puts Thanos front & centre as if it’s his movie. There is more at stake here than previous entries and in Thanos we have a supervillain who lives up to the expectations. His motivation for the sick fantasy that he wants to turn into reality isn’t as strongly appealing but it’s still serviceable. However, the film actually lacks that smooth, perfect balance the first Avengers film exhibited in all aspects.

The VFX team deserves the maximum credit, for everything from the set pieces to numerous locations to changing backdrops & settings to characters’ appearances & outfits is an end result of their work. There are plenty of moments that will make the audience cheer at the spectacle they are witnessing but it could also be exhausting, for CGI-laden action segments don’t carry that lasting effect and may become tiring after a while, which is exactly what happens here.

Cinematography is splendid, utilising IMAX cameras to capture the images in sharp detail & crisp clarity, but it also fails to make the most of the available technology by operating them in conventional fashion. Editing is brilliantly carried out, making sure the action keeps surfacing regularly to keep the interest alive but there were several scenes that it could’ve trimmed from its already demanding 149 mins runtime. And Alan Silvestri contributes with a rousing score that effectively uplifts the film’s larger-than-life aura.

Coming to the performances, barring a few exceptions, the entire ensemble of the MCU return to reprise their respective roles of the Avengers, the Guardians & their allies but it’s Josh Brolin as Thanos who impresses the most. The years of careful threading that underwent into hyping him as the biggest & baddest overlord of villainy & darkness ultimately works out in the film’s favour, as Thanos makes up for one formidable supervillain who’s far more intimidating than past Marvel antagonists and Brolin’s conquering voice makes him stand out even more.

As for the rest of the cast, Robert Downey Jr. returns as Tony Stark (Iron Man) with all his charisma & magnetic charm in tact and delivers a confidently assured input. Chris Hemsworth is even better as Thor and is bestowed with the most interesting arc of all Avengers. Chris Evans as Steve Rogers (Captain America) is no slouch either and carves his own moments to shine. Tom Holland is effortlessly captivating as Peter Parker (Spider-Man) and steals almost every scene he appears in. Others do well with what they are given but every single one of them is overshadowed by Thanos’ imposing presence.

On an overall scale, Avengers: Infinity War is an enjoyable, entertaining & satisfying extravaganza that somehow manages to live up to its enormous hype. There are plenty of unexpected surprises & unforeseen tragedies in store, plus the ending is going to hit the fans hard, but all of it would’ve left a more powerful & unforgettable impact if we didn’t already know that much of it will be undone in the next Avengers film. All in all, Avengers: Infinity War nearly pays off 10 years’ worth of investment with an exhilarating action-adventure spectacle and signs off by setting up a perfect stage for the grand finale.

 

10 out of 10 stars

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Thor: Ragnarok (2017) – Movie Review

thor ragnarok

The ultimate cinematic dilemma is how to make the next comic book movie stand out from the (many, many) others? The brilliant answer comes from director Taika Waititi and co-writers Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost – a screwball superhero action film that delivers not only intense action scenes, but also a compelling villain for the ages in a movie that may be the funniest of 2017.

For those who prefer their superheroes dark and brooding, you’ll be in for a shock. Prepare for Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster – the most polite villain we’ve seen in awhile, and one who looks to be straight out of the 1960’s “Batman” series. Chris Hemsworth as Thor is one of many returning actors/characters, only this time he really gets to flex his comedic timing on top of his Thunder God biceps. His love- hate, trust-no trust, see-saw relationship with brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is in full force, as is the rivalry and banter with The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). It’s certainly more in line with Guardians of the Galaxy than the previous Avengers installments.

As much fun as Goldblum brings to the party, this is really Cate Blanchett’s show. She is the frightening Goddess of Death, long-lost sister of Thor and Loki, and daughter of Odin (Anthony Hopkins). With a costume which is very faithful to the comics (and we get a few versions throughout the movie), Hela’s enormous powers are powerful enough to destroy Mjolnir with little effort, not to mention much of Asgard and key players within.

Of course, with that title, we know that the story revolves around what could be the end of Asgard. Joining in the fun are: Idris Elba who is back as Heimdall, Tessa Thompson as a master of one-liners Valkyrie, Karl Urban as Skurge – rewarded with a wonderful exit scene, Ray Stevenson returns as Volstagg, and rocky alien Korg who is voiced by director Waititi. Fans of the series will be happy to know other familiar faces pop up periodically – one especially magical sequence teaches Loki a quick lesson.

In addition to the main rescue story line, the powerful villains, and crazy aliens, there are numerous nods and tributes to well known storylines from the comic books (notably Planet Hulk, and Fantastic Four), and a hilarious early stage play with three cameos that sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

Special acknowledgment goes to director Taika Waititi for adeptly taking the comic book film world down a different path. While he’s mostly known for his comedic projects like Hunt for the Wilderpeople, What We Do in the Shadows, and his work on the brilliant but short-lived “Flight of the Conchords”, this is still very much a Marvel movie, with the visible fingerprints of Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby. It’s also a fantastic adventure film that sets the stage for 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War, while also featuring the best use ever of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”. This is without a doubt a great addition to the MCU.

 

9 out of 10 stars

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Pacific Rim – Movie Review

Gigantic alien beasts get their asses handed to them by robots that don’t turn into trucks or cars in Guillermo del Toro’s alternately exhilarating and stale Pacific Rim.

This movie is full-on crazy in the head in an often very good, very fun way. This is del Toro’s first directorial project after abandoning The Hobbit, and I’m going on record as saying del Toro made a good call. I had a hard time staying awake during the first Hobbit movie. Such was not the case with this bad boy when the big fights were going on.

It’s the near future, and some freaky beasts called kaiju are rising from the ocean depths and tearing cities to shreds. Do we nuke them? No. That would be too easy. Instead, we spend kazillions to build a bunch of hardcore robots that are driven by pilots melding their minds together. It makes absolutely no sense, and I don’t care because it’s fun.

Nearly all of these battles take place in the dark, in the rain or in the ocean. Normally, I would scream “cop-out!” because this is a technique used by directors to cheat a bit on the CGI. It’s a lot harder to create computer-generated monsters for broad daylight than the dark. Even if this is del Toro cheating, it works. Having the battles go down in the dark makes them scarier.

As for the people inside the robots, watching them throw their fists and move their legs as a means of controlling the robots results in something immersive. I felt like I was throwing punches and wielding swords watching them do it. Del Toro puts you in the battles.

Some of those same people throwing punches at monsters via big robots are a little dull outside of their massive steel shells. Charlie Hunnam, who plays the main protagonist, Raleigh, has one of those movie trailer voices. Every time he spoke, I thought he was going to say something like “In a world where robots beat monsters …” as if delivering a commercial line. He fails to really distinguish himself in this film. Rinko Kikuchi is fine as Mako Mori, a wannabe pilot with a secret past keeping her from her robot dreams.

Speaking of Mako Mori’s past, it provides perhaps the film’s greatest moment. Del Toro takes us into Mako Mori’s memory as she is running away from a monster in a city street. Experiencing the horror of one of the monsters from the vantage point of a child is powerful stuff, and del Toro makes it an amazing sequence.

For comic relief, there’s Charlie Day as a hyperactive scientist who collects kaiju tattoos. The bespectacled Day is 2013’s answer to Rick Moranis, with his presence here being much like the nerdy Louis in Ghostbusters.

Ron Perlman gets perhaps the film’s biggest laughs as Hannibal Chau, a monster collector who sells their crap for fertilizer. Idris Elba lends his formidable presence as Stacker, leader of the robot guys and deliverer of huge, rousing “Cancel the Apocalypse!” speeches.

Admittedly, when the movie isn’t dealing with robot-on-monster smackdowns, it’s a little boring, perhaps even tedious. For those of you looking for a summer blockbuster that delivers the action goods, you won’t mind sifting through the sleepy passages to get to the good stuff.

The kaiju make for great movie monsters because they come in many incarnations. They look like everything ranging from a rhino to the devil, they spit some sort of plasma lasers that act like acid, and the bastards even fly on occasion.

Pacific Rim isn’t the all-time classic I was hoping for, but it’s good, and in a summer where many blockbusters have faltered, I’m glad to get one that is at least good.

 

7 out of 10