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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Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) – Movie Review

avengers age of ultron

The original line-up of the Avengers are back for another go: Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow and a whole bunch of new heroes in Joss Whedon’s final turn in the director’s chair for Marvel’s ensemble franchise.

What’s the story about? Well it’s pretty simple, in the wake of Loki’s attempted invasion of New York City, Tony Stark attempts to create an artificial intelligence whose sole task is to protect Earth against future threats. Of course, this backfires and the Avengers end up creating their deadly enemy, Ultron. The rumors are true: one Avenger will die and it might not be who you expect.

Is it worth watching? Well, first the good stuff: the battle between an enraged Hulk and Iron Man in an unnamed African city is the highlight of the movie and it happens around the midpoint. Supporting characters in the first film like Hawkeye, Black Widow and the Hulk finally get center stage though at the expense of old stalwarts like Thor (who becomes an inadvertent comic relief throughout most of the movie) and Captain America (who turns into a one-dimensional boy scout). Iron Man is the Jimmy Neutron of the team- a tortured genius who tries to create a solution to a problem that has yet to exist and ends up creating a Frankenstein monster of sorts- it’s not that Tony Stark is the villain but this does tie in nicely with the upcoming Captain America: Civil War movie.

This brings into focus the central weakness of the movie: namely too many characters and not enough screen time for each one to be fleshed out. The movie not only serves as an origin story for Ultron as well as new Avengers Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and the Vision but it ends up making the story a paper thin pastiche of short character building vignettes around huge swirling chaotic battle scenes- many of them too enamored with fast editing to the point that they are almost too quick to follow with the mind’s eye. Additional cameos by the Falcon, War Machine and Nick Fury only adds to its ad-hoc nature and myriad narrative.

In the end, Avengers Age of Ultron is ultimately satisfying but if you look closer, it seems to be nothing more than a placeholder for future plot lines in the upcoming Marvel Universe movie franchises.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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The Avengers (2012) – Movie Review

avengers

A colossal wave of fevered anticipation preceded the arrival of ‘Marvel’s The Avengers’, the culmination of five incredibly successful standalone films. Not only has helmer Joss Whedon weathered the immense scrutiny, he has amazingly managed to surpass the loftiest expectations with a movie that towers over the rest that have come before it, combining jaw-dropping action, tongue-in-cheek humour and poignant drama into a dazzling piece of summer blockbuster entertainment.

Proving that the whole can be so much more than the sum of its parts, Wheedon has distilled the best elements of each of the preceding movies into this assembly of Marvel superheroes- Iron Man is wiry and snarky as ever; Thor is just as Godly in his might but human in his compassion; and Captain America is still appealingly old-school. The Hulk, or Bruce Banner in his human form, is quite something else altogether though (being the only character to have a change of actor from the previous films) and all the better for it.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the one movie which ‘Avengers’ is most intimately associated with is ‘Thor’, given that both share the same villain- Thor’s adopted brother and fellow Asgardian Loki (Tom Hiddleston)- and that Wheedon did shoot the post-credits scene with Loki and S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Opening with a recurring character from that movie, Dr Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) is now assisting with experiments on the Tessaract which has quite unexpectedly displayed a life of its own.

Turns out that the fallen Loki has been drafted by an alien race to lead its invasion of Earth, using the same Tessaract as a portal to cross over from their universe to ours- and his arrival not only leads to the decimation of the S.H.I.E.L.D. base, but also the takeover of Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Dr Selvig to do his bidding. With the fate of the world in the balance, Fury activates his ‘Avengers’ initiative to gather this group of heroes, including two S.H.I.E.L.D. operatives – the Black Widow and Hawkeye.

From the outset it’s clear that there is relative poetry in Wheedon’s storytelling as he expertly weaves together the recruiting exercise by Fury and his trusted agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). The best he saves for last, so even though Thor only first appears half an hour into the movie, his is a spectacular entrance befitting a God, crossing paths with Iron Man for a thunderous one-on-one clash in the middle of the woods.

True to the spirit of the books, the assembly of these superheroes begins on a fractious note- chiefly due to Stark’s distrust of Fury and disdain for the star-and-stripes outfitted Captain America. Instead, Stark teams up with the only person he deigns as his intellectual equal- Bruce Banner- to locate the Tessaract and uncover what dirty secrets Fury has been keeping from the rest of them. The answer to the latter isn’t all too unexpected, but kudos to Wheedon for tying this little detail nicely with the events in ‘Thor’.

It will take a colossal event to bring these disparate heroes together, resulting in the first of two action set pieces in the movie that will undoubtedly qualify amongst some of the most spectacularly thrilling stuff you’ll ever see on the big screen. And just when you think it couldn’t get any better, Wheedon tops it with an even grander and absolutely breathtaking climax set in the heart of New York City.

The reason why the finale works so brilliantly is that Wheedon loves and respects each and every superhero character just as much. Wheedon gets the action pitch-perfect through reinforcing the individual powers of each one of the superheroes before uniting their strengths to form an even mightier coalition. It is nothing less than pure ecstasy when they join forces as a team, and you’ll find it difficult to resist getting up from your seat and cheering for them at various points throughout the remarkable finish.

This review however won’t be complete without a special shout-out for the Hulk, many fans of whom have been disappointed by both the Lee Ang and the later Louis Leterrier iteration of it. Here, Wheedon has finally gotten it right, blending both the character’s brains and brawn to crowd pleasing effect- even more so through some clever plotting that ensures Banner’s eventual transformation from man to beast is as rewarding as it should be.

Calling it the perfect summer blockbuster is probably not enough to do justice to just how brilliant it is, and it certainly ranks as one of the most- if not the most- entertaining and exhilarating experiences you’ll have at the movies.

 

9 out of 10 stars

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Captain America: Civil War (2016) – Movie Review

captain america civil war

Combining political intrigue with superhero action is a daring, risky move…but “Captain America: Civil War” couldn’t be in better hands. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo prove once again to be the best directors in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, turning Stephen McFeely and Christopher Marcus’s brilliant screenplay into a work of art. No other Marvel movie has yet delivered such a fluid combination of intelligence, symbolism, and heartbreaking opposition as the Russo brothers’ latest entry into the already amazing Captain America series.

Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America) reminds audiences why his hero has always been the most likable as he embodies the valiantly flawless titular hero in a way only he can. Robert Downey Jr. introduces a new side of his egocentric Tony Stark/Iron Man, which will either make you love him all the more or repel you, depending on who’s side you take. And that’s one of the many beauties of “Civil War”: the viewer has to determine which hero’s side he’s on, as both have their own opinion of the “Sokovia Accords”, a document that will put the United Nations in charge of all super-powered individuals.

As both heroes recruit others of their kind to fight for (or against) the “Sokovia Accords”, a scheming puppeteer manipulates them, practically unseen, both Captain America and Iron Man mistakenly believing the other to be the true enemy. And Daniel Bruhl as Helmut Zemo, the man most determined to accomplish his agenda, delivers the most moving, emotional performance in the whole movie. Helmut Zemo is at once terrifying and enigmatic, in a way no other Marvel villain has been before, and he accomplishes this without any superpowers, bringing to mind Heath Ledger’s Joker. As he stares blankly into space listening to a voice recording on his phone, his motionless face says more than any other actor in the whole film. And that’s saying a lot, because most of what fuels “Civil War” is dynamic, passionate acting from almost all of the actors.

During its worst moments, the film is thought-provoking, conflicting, and emotionally immersive, and when an action scene obligatorily comes along, it doesn’t forget the inherent tragedy of the circumstances. The many lighthearted, chuckle-inducing moments (many courtesy of Ant-Man) don’t distract from the plot, but remind us that the dueling heroes are still friends, despite their differences. The third installment of the Captain America series–and hopefully not the last–is sure to excite superhero fans, and also entice those harder to please.

Synopsis: “Civil War” is an instant classic that transcends typical superhero movie expectations with powerful acting, an artistic vision, and a story that will spark discussions and arguments many years from now.

 

10 out of 10 stars

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Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015) – Movie Review

mission

It is very rare for a film series to actually get better with each subsequent installment, but that is exactly how the Mission: Impossible series rolls. Rogue Nation is the fifth installment in the film series that started all the way back in 1996 (that film in itself based off of the Sixties TV series), but Rogue Nation is really the first Mission: Impossible film to bring together every element that worked in the previous films to make the most complete Mission: Impossible to date.

Tom Cruise once again is the face of the IMF as agent Ethan Hunt, tracking down a clandestine shadow organization known as the Syndicate, who is always just one step ahead of Hunt. Making Hunt’s mission even more impossible is the fact that the US government has shuttered the IMF after their cowboy actions in Ghost Protocol that nearly saw San Francisco obliterated by a nuke because Hunt willingly gave a terrorist nuclear launch codes in order to try and catch him. Of course, Hunt has gone rogue in every single Mission: Impossible movie that has ever been made, so it’s no surprise that he continues to evade the CIA (led by Alec Baldwin) while trying to bring down the Syndicate. However, like Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation has a greater attention to the team element than most of the previous Mission films with Simon Pegg back as funny gadget guy Benji, Jeremy Renner back as analyst Brandt, and Ving Rhames back as hacker Luther. Then there is the new addition of Rebecca Ferguson as the mysterious, butt- kicking Ilsa Faust, who is either a double agent helping Ethan bring down the Syndicate from within, or is actually in the Syndicate and is playing Ethan and his team.

While it may seem like there is a lot going on in this film, it all feels organic and the story clips along at a very brisk pace, always making sense (which was a problem I had with Ghost Protocol). Then there is the stronger villain presence in this film than in Ghost Protocol, with Sean Harris portraying the cold-blooded head of the Syndicate who is always outsmarting Ethan at every turn (though Philip Seymour Hoffman in M:I:III is still the series best bad guy). While I have to concede that Ghost Protocol had better gags, Rogue Nation utilizes Simon Pegg better than he has been utilized in any of his previous two Mission films and that in itself leads to some good comedic beats featuring Benji. Another thing that Rogue Nation really does better than most of its predecessors is action aiding the story. All of the action scenes are exquisitely orchestrated and are some of the franchise’s best. Of course, the thing that makes Rogue Nation the best Mission film is it really plays off of the relationships established between these characters in a way that no other Mission film has done.

Having gotten to know Simon Pegg’s Benji for three films now, we actually get to see more of a friendship between Benji and Hunt than ever before, and that idea of friendship is echoed in the characters of Brandt and Luther. Most of the Mission: Impossible films never really brought back the previous teammates, but with the past two films they have made a concentrated effort at creating this team and it finally pays off here with some nice emotional moments between all of them. There is arguing between them, but there is also a level of trust and a willingness to do anything to save one another’s lives that was never there in any of the previous films, which makes you care more. Then there is the new friendship forged between Ethan and Ilsa that is very engaging because it is so different from any of Ethan’s previous relationships with women in these movies. It also doesn’t hurt that Rebecca Ferguson is insanely awesome in this movie.

When all is said and done, you really feel like you have gone on a ride in Rogue Nation. The plot is full of twists and turns, something one should expect with writer/director Christopher McQuarrie having written The Usual Suspects, and the action is thrilling and intense, with McQuarrie really flexing his directorial muscles with only his third film as a director. You will have fun with Rogue Nation like you have with every previous Mission: Impossible, but you will also be treated to a smart story that you have think about with some emotional consequences at the core that McQuarrie really milks in one beautiful sequence near the end where all sound drops out of the film and we go into slo-mo. It’s a smart choice in a film full of smart choices.

 

8 out of 10 stars

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American Hustle (2013) – Movie Review

This may be a case where heightened expectations play a factor, but I found American Hustle disappointing. The narrative feels kind of obtuse/unfocused/sloppy…pick a word. It just seems disoriented, and not in a deliberate, effective way. So a lot of flash and interesting shots, but not a very sharp-feeling overall effect.

The Good – Christian Bale. Amy Adams. Christian Bale. Nice 70s aesthetic in the look, feel and sound of the film. Christian Bale. This is the first time that I have truly enjoyed Jeremy Renner in a film (I still do not buy into the “star hype” with him, but this is a good, affecting performance). The humor, while spotty, comes through very well here and there. Did I mention that Christian Bale is superb in this? Man.

The Not So Good – The combination of directing, writing, scoring and editing muddies the narrative unnecessarily. This film could have been better if those aforementioned things had been conducted more sharply and cohesively in concert with each other. But hey, maybe the way it is is absolutely intentional on David Russell’s part. If so, then it is just not to my tastes. I found Bradley Cooper’s character to be unremarkable and lacking in genuine punch, and Jennifer Lawrence’s performance to be awkward and unconvincing for the most part.

The Takeaway – This film is okay. But the trailer had me expecting something dazzling, something great. Make no mistake, there is some serious spark from Bale and Adams, and a heavy dose of 70s aesthetic. But more than anything else, this is a lesson in how you cannot always trust the hype machine to deliver on its buildup (or other reviewers, for that matter).

6 out of 10 stars

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