Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Deadpool 2

Alternate Title:  Wait for the End Credits
One sentence synopsis:  Deadpool must save a mutant boy from being killed by a time-travelling bionic commando named Cable.

Things Havoc liked: 2016's Deadpool was a goddamn miracle, even in this era where superhero movies have conquered the world, primarily because it was about a character that should have been unfilmable, given the fourth-wall-shredding madness that it customarily came with. And yet somehow, by the grace of God and Ryan Reynolds, they pulled it off, producing a madcap lunatic movie filled with all of the raunchy humor and general narrative absurdity that one should properly think of when one imagines "Deadpool: The Movie". Having drastically outperformed expectations, it is only fitting that the film be rewarded with a sequel, so here we are.

So how is it? Well... it's good! Primarily because Ryan Reynolds is still in it, and Ryan Reynolds is still awesome. There was a consensus among friends of mine that Ryan Reynolds, despite all the awful movies he made a habit of making (Blade 3, RIPD, Green Lantern, X-Men Origins Wolverine...) was not a bad actor, but simply one who was waiting for that one movie that he would make, to make everyone fall in love with him again. I don't know that anyone except him thought that Deadpool would be that movie, but it's a personal labor of love for Reynolds (he co-wrote the thing this time), and it shows. Reynolds is just as perfect for this round as he was before, indeed his performance is slightly more subtle than it was, imbuing Deadpool with a bit more of a settled, cool affect. There were moments in the last movie where I felt that the film was trying a bit too hard. There are no such moments this time.

All the old favorites from last time are back. Collosus (Stefan Kapičić), Blind Al (Leslie Uggams), Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), and Weasel (TJ Miller, who will likely not be appearing in the third film after getting caught calling fake bomb threats in against New York trains). But there are also a number of additions, foremost among them Josh Brolin, whom we last saw like two weeks ago in another Marvel film, this time playing the time travelling cyborg Cable. All of a sudden, I've become a huge fan of Brolin's, thanks to the incredible work he did on Infinity War. This round isn't quite as demanding, as Cable is basically a foil to Deadpool's insanity, but Brolin, as it turns out, is an incredibly good straightman to the antics of the Merc with a Mouth. Cable joins the cast by virtue of traveling back in time to slay a dangerous mutant who will one day do horrific things, the mutant in question being Firefist (Hunt for the Wilderpeople's Julian Dennison) a pyrokinetic kid stuck in a horrific situation, whose bitterness at the abuses he has suffered threatens to boil over into a cataclysm of pent-up frustration and rage.

Oh I'm sorry, did I forget to mention the themes of child abuse and murder that are riven into Deadpool 2? Because it's there, alongside a bunch of other heavy stuff, like suicide, depression, the pain of loss, and so forth. Why is all of this present in a madcap comedy? Because Reynolds and his co-writers (Paul Wernack and Rhett Resse, returning from the original) understand that the strength of the original Deadpool was that it wasn't a straight comedy, but tempered with a great deal of relationship drama, well-excuted relationship drama at that, which cut the insanity just enough for your average moviegoer (or your above-average movie critic) to get into the movie without being put off by a world without rules. Deadpool 2 doubles down on this concept, using its lunacy to get into some heavy topics, and coming off reasonably well across the board for all that. Family-style drama is hard to play straight, and yet ironically, it's Deadpool, Deadpool of all movies that pulls it off in a superhero context, better than practically any film I've ever seen. And it's not like this isn't tried, for half the superhero movies out there involve characters forming a surrogate family, and almost none of them do it as well as Deadpool does, in between the shirtdick gags and the R-rated ultraviolence.

Things Havoc disliked: Sooo... do y'all know what "Fridging" is?

"Fridging" is a term invented about twenty years ago by Comic author Gail Simone (a former writer of Deadpool), a trope found in comics whereby a female character is murdered, injured, or otherwise thrown out of the story so as to make the male character she is closest to sad, vengeful, or enraged. It's a veeery common trope in comics, and it is regarded, generally, as a lazy one (to say nothing else), a cheap way of generating pathos whilst robbing the audience of a potentially interesting character. Not every character who gets fridged is an interesting one, of course (one could argue that John Wick's dog got fridged, and nobody batted an eye there), but some of them are, and in Deadpool 2, the one that gets hit with the refrigerator is arguably one of the best characters from the first movie, Morena Baccarin's Vanessa.

No, I'm not giving the movie away, this literally comes before the opening credits, nor is the fridging standard by several metrics (which I shall not go into), but the fact is that one of the best things from the first movie is cashed out just to provide a bit of plot motivation for Deadpool himself, and that's just lazy goddamn writing right there, and there's no other way to put it. Fridging is a contentious subject among pop culture critics, and one that I have no interest in diving down, but on a narrative level, the point of writing characters out of a story is to get something out of it, either audience shock or narrative development, or yes, character growth from the remaining party members, and the return on investment that Deadpool 2 gets from shock-eliminating one of its strongest elements from the last time around is grossly disproportionate for what was given up. Deadpool is a character that can evolve any way the writers want, he's literally insane for God's sake, and the writers have shown themselves more than capable of evolving him along the razor's edge of what the film can support, and it strikes me, both now and as I was watching the film, that this was the first-draft response, and that no additional thought was put into it.

Neither am I impressed by the film's attempts to replace Vanessa with a brand new super-kewl character that we are supposed to care about (I SAID CARE ABOUT THEM DAMMIT) by the name of Domino (Zazie Beetz). I've never liked Domino in the comics or out of them, as the character's shtick (preternatural luck) means that there is never any meaningful tension as to whether or not she will get out of a situation, nor any reason to cause her to have to exert herself in any way, as lady luck will come to her rescue automatically. It's like if Death from the Final Destination universe were to come to life as an actual character, it's a character built on contrivances and narrative convenience, it sucks. And the screenwriters knew it too, because they basically stop the movie for ten minutes so that we can all bear witness to how awesome Domino is, how amazing it is that circumstances arrange itself for her to give no shits because she's protected by narrative fiat. This is the mark of an insecure screen element, and even if it were not, detatched apathy is a sensibility that only works in limited circumstances in movies, and certainly not in your epic superhero tale that is trying desperately to convince you has a heart.

Ultimately, all things being equal, Deadpool 2 just isn't as sharp as Deadpool 1 was. The jokes are just a little more forced, the action just a little more rote, the sentiment just a little less real, the writing just a little less expert. We've already proven that Deadpool can exist in his own movie, somehow, and so a bit of let down was probably inevitable, as the shock of just what Deadpool is has worn off a little bit. Still, there was unquestionably a part of me that hoped that the magicians who managed to put the original together in defiance of all common sense, might have been able to avoid a sophomore slump.


Final thoughts:   I don't want to give the wrong impression here, for Deadpool 2 is, ultimately, a good movie, one that I enjoyed, and one that I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who liked the first film. In a way, it is lightning striking twice, a return to the well that yields water almost as sweet as the first draught. That the movie ultimately relies on narrative tropes that are dated and tired to get its point across prevents it from being great, but not from being good, nor from being a worthwhile watch to anyone interested in the Superhero film as an art form.

Oh, and incidentally, Deadpool 2 has the greatest mid-credits sequence of any movie ever. That sequence alone earned it another half-point.
Final Score:  6.5/10

Next Time:  Star Wars time.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Spring 2018 Roundup, Part 2

With Infinity War Concluded, and May heating up, it's time to polish off what else we saw this Spring.

The General's Post Spring 2018 Roundup, Part 2

Pacific Rim: Uprising

Alternate Title:  That's... Better?

One sentence synopsis:    The son of Stacker Pentacost and a war orphan with her own Jaeger must join the Pan-Pacific Defense Corps to help save the world from a resurgence of Kaiju.

The Verdict:  I... did not like Pacific Rim. I think I might be the only one. I did not like it because it was goddamn boring, a slog of bad characters, piss-poor fights, cringeable comic relief, and no decent ideas beyond the first five minutes of the thing (and the bit with the cargo ship being used as a club, that was pretty cool.) Despite this, I did decide to see the new Pacific Rim movie. Why? Well partly because there was nothing else playing (an empty schedule is the best friend to a bad franchise), but also partly because it looked, trailerwise at least, like they had fixed some of the most obvious problems of the original. They had dropped Charlie Hunnam, the acting equivalent of a jar of mayonnaise, and replaced him with Star Wars' John Boyega. In film terms, this is like comparing the intellect of Donald Trump with that of Neil DeGrasse Tyson, an upgrade so fundamental as to defy the term. And that wasn't the only thing they fixed. I objected to the way in which the previous film's love interest plot was hackneyed and useless, and the new film eliminates that entirely, replacing it with an (admittedly pretty generic) story about duty and finding oneself. I objected to all the fight scenes lacking a sense of scale, due to the majority of them being set way out to sea, rather than in settings filled with human-scale objects. The movie obliges by putting all the action in downtown Tokyo and Hong Kong, or in windswept arctic settings amidst massive, calving glaciers. If you took only a bullet point listing of the various elements of this film and compared it to my review, you might conclude that the filmmakers specifically had me in mind when they made the sequel. And for this, they are to be commended.

Does this mean the sequel is good? Um... no. No I'm afraid it does not.

Look, many of you liked Pacific Rim, but I think we're going to meet in the middle on this one and call it "average". Uprising is an average movie, with average action, average acting, average thrills in service of an average plot. It never falls to the level of boring, but neither does it raise more than the occasional twinge of interest as it mechanically moves from plot point to plot point. The original film did well in China, so we have the obligatory censor-pleasing throwaway valiant Chinese government official added into the original mix, the praise of Chinese industrial conglomerate, who always act forthrightly and without corruption in their quest to improve the world, and so forth. Meanwhile our main characters learn well-trod lessons in well-trod manners before getting together for the obligatory fight sequence at the end of the film, wherein only they can save the very world. The result is a movie that feels like Independence Day: Resurgence, but without the camp value that the aforementioned sequel had. Even the comic relief, which last time was insufferable and stupid, now feels just tired and obligatory, and while Boyega does his best with the material he's given, the film patently lacks for Idris Elba and Ron Perlman, who at the very least have the experience to elevate a movie like this one.

Pacific Rim Uprising was worth a shot, but ultimately the movie just isn't about anything beyond milking the Chinese market for all it's worth and moving on with everyone's life, which is what I now intend to do with this franchise as a whole should the PRC decide it's worthwhile to make a third.

Final Score:  5.5/10


The Death of Stalin

Alternate Title:  Banned in Russia

One sentence synopsis:   Stalin's death in 1953 throws the tightly-wound Soviet Politburo into chaos as the members struggle to determine who will come out on top.

The Verdict: "Dictators are comical," said Charlie Chaplin once. "My job is to make people laugh at them." He said that in reference to his classic "The Great Dictator", which was about Hitler and Mussolini, and now here comes veteran Scottish satyrist Armando Iannucci, creator of The Thick of It, and In the Loop, to do the same with their Soviet counterpart. The resulting film got itself banned from Russia and its satellites for being disrespectful to a murderous dictator, which was all the impetus I needed to go and see the thing. Call this the Anti-Interview.

The Death of Stalin stars a number of wonderful actors, from Steve Buscemi to Simon Russell Beale, to Michael Palin, Jeffrey Tambor, and the absolutely irreplaceable Jason Isaacs, all of whom are playing senior members in the Soviet Aristocracy, craven bootlickers by necessity, who must kowtow to Stalin at all times while maneuvering among one another to stay alive. Stalin's death, early in the film, throws these men up against one another, be it the secret reformer Kruschev (Buscemi) to the psychotic and pederast Beria (Beale) to the utterly weak Malenkov (Tambor), and the movie itself consists of their maneuverings, political and otherwise, as they scheme and plot and try to remain in control of events that are happening more or less automatically. Autocracies all resemble one another in the end, after all, and so the pomp and circumstance provides the backdrop for absurdist humor of a very British sort, where officiousness is the joke, and reality the punchline, and the deaths of thousands of people, which occur regularly in this film, are merely the sticks that the players can use to beat one another and maybe survive until the next day. The only person not playing the game, as it were, is Grand Marshall of the Soviet Union Georgi Zhukov (Isaacs), who is the goddamn best thing in the entire movie, a hard-drinking Russian general who knows himself to be inviolate, and who has no interest in who takes over, which grants him a freedom nobody else in the film has, one he exploits with savagely-hilarious gusto. The movie needs this counterpoint to the tightly-wound businessmen in their identical grey suits desperately trying not to be shot. This is still a comedy after all.

So is Death of Stalin a masterpiece? Well I'm not sure about that. The humor is very British, by which I mean dry as a desert, and that's just not always my taste. Rather than make people ridiculous, it tends to simply portray things as they were and let the absurdity of their situation carry the comedy. This is a bold and stylish choice, but it also results in a hell of a lot of tonal whiplash, which may or may not have been unavoidable, but is still present. Sometimes letting characters be themselves works great. Stalin's children, entitled, spoiled-rotten, delusional, divorced from everyday life to the point of derangement, are played by Rupert Friend and Andrea Riseborough, two actors I've never much liked, but who find their calling in playing bitchy, dramatic, drunken wrecks with whom our main characters must deal because the alternative could wind them up shot. At the same time though, the film struggles to find something to do with characters whose roles were not that funny, such as Foreign Minister Molotov (Palin), who is basically there because Michael Palin was in Monty Python, and is consequently British comedic royalty. There just isn't a lot of humor to be wrung from straightforward depictions of torture, rape, and husbands publicly turning on their wrongly-accused wives, and so we're back to the tonal whiplash again.

But all that having been said, The Death of Stalin is one of the better films I've seen this year, a movie I was looking forward to since it was announced and am privileged to have seen and supported. I encourage everyone here to do the same, as doing so will aggravate other, less murderous but no less comical dictators with whom we are forced to deal nowadays. And that's really the best thing that can come from any movie, now isn't it?

Final Score:  7/10


Isle of Dogs

Alternate Title:  Arch-Anderson

One sentence synopsis:    A young boy in Japan searches for his dog on the island that the nation's dogs have been all banished to.

The Verdict: I do like Wes Anderson and always have, my reviews of Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel have indicated as much, but there has always been a certain sense about him that he risks disappearing up his own ass after a point. Wes Anderson films are so distinctive that other movies with wide-angle perpendicular shots are compared to him automatically, as are films with casts of twenty thousand. There are risks, in establishing such a style, that the accidents of one's typical filming style are going to swallow the actual filmcraft. Just ask M. Night Shayamalan.

Nevertheless, here we are with another Wes Anderson film, for which he has eschewed the temporal plane altogether this time, and decided to proceed with an animated film, done in woodcut Japanese style, in Japanese, with and without subtitles as he deems it appropriate. Anderson himself has described the film as being if Kurosawa made a Rankin/Bass stop-motion picture, and while I would shudder to compare this film to anything Kurosawa ever did, the intention is there and plain to see. Great masses of computers and highly-qualified artists have been employed to ensure that we have a film that looks as cheap and as homespun as possible, and while normally that sort of thing fails, the movie does a bang-up job of producing something that actually looks like an Anderson picture. Wes Anderson's movies have always had a dreamlike quality to them, and animation suits that very well, what with its ability to frame and composite any way you choose. The stylization is unsubtle (determining who the bad guys are in the film is made easier when they look like the Butler from the Addams Family), but it does the job.

Anderson's other claim to fame is for his giant casts, however, and this is both a blessing and a curse, and always has been. Having enormous, highly-talented casts, fills every role, even inconsequential ones, with a tremendous amount of interesting choices and fun. But it also ensures that Anderson movies have to scramble to find things for their various characters to do. Anderson can't ever make a movie about a single character's life, because there would be no room for the eight hundred and fourteen other major actors he needs to squeeze into the movie. It's a dance he's well accustomed to, and has pulled off repeatedly before, but this time it's harder than it was, because Isle of Dogs, at its core, is a "Boy and his Dog" movie, which does not leave a lot of room for meaty roles beyond those of the aforementioned Boy and his aforementioned Dog. Oh plenty of other shit transpires, from political conspiracies and murder, to public health scares, ancient curses, samurai legends, twists of motivation and plot, several love interests that have nothing to do but take up time, and an entirely out-of-place subplot about a foreign exchange student from Iowa who becomes a rabble rouser. But while most Anderson films also have their nested forest of subplots, this is the first film of Anderson's I've seen that felt burdened with them, as though the movie could not get on with it because Scarlett Johansson and F. Murray Abraham hadn't had their scenes yet.

I know I'm being negative here, but that's only because I expect a lot from Wes Anderson nowadays, and Isle of Dogs, while a good film, does not clear his high bar. The movie is enjoyable, highly unpredictable, and has practically every major actor in Hollywood in it, albeit in voice roles. If that's all you want from a film, then Isle of Dogs will do very nicely for you. But if you were hoping that Anderson would outdo himself after the triumph that was The Grand Budapest Hotel, I'm afraid you may need to bark up another tree.

I regret nothing.

Final Score:  6.5/10


You Were Never Really Here

Alternate Title:  The Taxi Driver's Still Here

One sentence synopsis:    An ex-FBI agent tries to rescue a young girl from sexual slavery.

The Verdict: "Joaquin Phoenix is remaking Taxi Driver." That was basically all I needed to hear to sign on to this one. I can't say I love Joaquin Phoenix, but I have liked a good deal of his work, especially in his older, crazier phase, after the massive and disastrous publicity-stunt/trolling-attempt that was I'm Still Here and his abortive rap career (anyone who can make David Letterman look like a fool has got my thumb's up). As to Taxi Driver, well it's a masterpiece of course, and I was all in for a weird, psychological trip into dark places, especially as written and directed by Lynne Ramsay, the Glaswegian director of Ratcatcher and We Need to Talk About Kevin. Ramsay likes her films dark and twisted and full of weird shit, and this sounded like a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

Stop judging me.

So how is the movie? Wellllll... it's weird. It's really weird. Phoenix plays Joe, a combat veteran with terrible PTSD, not the fun or uplifting kind, but the real kind, the kind he has to treat by gargling drugs and beating people who annoy him with his fists. Formerly a cop of some sort, Joe is now a rescuer of young girls, who tracks them to the underground, underage brothels that movies like to imagine exist in every other corner of every major city, brutally murders their staff with a hammer, and takes them back to their families. Hired to do this for a State Senator, whose daughter has disappeared, he vanishes into a web of corruption, politics, and very very unreliable narrators.

And it's just a mess. Joe is a completely broken soul, not on the edge like Travis Bickle, but so far past the edge that he doesn't remember which direction it's in. He hallucinates throughout the film, sometimes in shocking sequences of some power, but usually in sequences that rob the audience of any sense of what in the living hell is supposed to be going on here. In a film like Black Swan or Requiem for a Dream this might have worked, but this is no psycho-drama within the character's head. Not only is he a hallucinating paranoiac, but people are actually trying to kill him, and this undercuts the film's emphasis on Joe's mental state by placing him in a world in which everyone is insane, a world where the cops gleefully murder dozens of people in public so as to prevent them from opposing the Governor of New York's efforts to turn his mansion into a permanent orgy for underaged girls. Even in the 80s, this would have been over the top, and the juxtaposition of an insane protagonist in an insane world is never commented on. We are expected to accept that this is a world in which pedophilia is just fine and dandy, but that the man who hallucinates is insane because the gritty, realistic world he is in has denied him the help he needs.

I tried, I really tried to like You Were Never Really Here, as it's the kind of movie I tend to like. Hell, I had nice things to say about Only God Forgives, for Christ's sake. But a movie I can't follow, which annoys me when I can follow it, is not going to win a lot of points from me. You Were Never Really Here is well made and well acted, but to what purpose, I have no idea.

Final Score:  5/10



Alternate Title:  Notorious RBG

One sentence synopsis:    A look at Ruth Bader Ginsberg's life and career as a supreme court justice.

I can't take credit for the alt title on this one, people. If the filmmakers had had any sense, they'd have used it themselves.

RBG is a look at the life and times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the Brooklyn-born Jewish jurist who became the second woman ever appointed to the Supreme Court. Now in her 80s, Ginsberg has served on the court for 25 years, overseeing much landmark legislation, trying and judging cases, and becoming infamous for the number and quality of her dissents from the opinions of her fellow justices. But you all, being erudite persons of culture and wit (I assume you must be so if you read this blog), knew all this already, and are not here to have a hagiography or wikipedia bio-summary dropped on you, but to find out if the biographical documentary made about Justice Ginsberg is any good.

Well yes, yes it is. It's one of those sober, respectful, documentaries that tell us all we ever wanted to know about a person's life, intercut with scenes from their more recent life. Life Itself, the documentary biopic on Roger Ebert, was similar, save that for some reason its filmmakers decided to focus exclusively on Ebert's decrepitude and impending death, rather than on the man's works. No such muddle disrupts the movie here. We get a long list of history on Ginsberg's life, her education at Harvard, her struggles to be accepted as a litigating attorney in New York as a woman, and her gradual push into civil rights law, first as an attorney, then as a judge. We learn, as I did not know, that Ginsberg was a well-known figure at the Supreme Court long before she joined it, having fought six cases there as a litigator and won five of them. I further did not know her centrality to the wider march of Women's rights in the United States long before reaching the bench, her calculated strategy of dismantling patriarchal structures piece by piece, occasionally by means of taking cases where men were being discriminated against to make a wider point. I was tangentially though not fully familiar with the fact that she maintained a long friendship with Anton Scalia, the rock-anchor of the Arch-Conservative wing of the Supreme Court for many years. As the two were political opposites, this was a friendship which mystified everyone for whom political orthodoxy is a prerequisite for human interaction, which is to say, idiots.

And that's... really all there is to RBG. It's a victory lap by a public figure who has won great plaudits from the country as a whole. It does not sidestep the stridency of the political times we live in now, but neither does it speak in woeful, hand-wringing terms, about how noble politics and justice "used to be". It simply tells of the life of a woman who has shaped our times, and who, God willing, will continue to do just that into the future. If that sort of thing interests you, then my recommendation is that you go and see it. And if it does not, then my recommendation is that you wait for Deadpool 2.

Sorry, did I just spoil my next review?
Final Score:  7/10

Next Time: Hmmm... I wonder what it could be...

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Avengers: Infinity War

Alternate Title:  Not Fucking Around
One sentence synopsis:  The Avengers and their allies gather to try and stop Thanos from obtaining all of the Infinity Stones, and slaying half of the universe's life.

Things Havoc liked: For eleven years, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been giving us movies, and for most of those eleven years, I have been reviewing them. Starting with Thor, back in 2011, I have reviewed fourteen of the fifteen Marvel movies that have been deployed since I began reviewing, skipping Civil War only due to personal reasons. And yet despite the multitude of movies I have reviewed, and the heaps of praise I have typically poured forth upon them, I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the universe to turn bad in some kind of cosmic balancing act against the glories that the MCU has given us. Cinematic Universes like this just don't work. They can't work. Universal and Warner Brothers and a host of other examples dating back a hundred years have shown us that. This sort of thing just isn't sustainable long term, right? This has to come to an end. One way or another.

Infinity War, the culmination of a decade-plus work on the part of Marvel and Disney and directors and actors and filmmakers great and small, was, as a friend of mine put it, yet another chance for the entire project to fall apart. Every film is, of course, in one sense, but this one, a crossover involving more than two dozen major and twice that in minor characters, had every chance to blow the entire enterprise by proving that movies like this could not be made, for all the thousands of reasons obvious enough to anyone casually familiar with the making of movies. Though the eighteen Marvel films leading up to this one have all served as opportunities for failure, this was perhaps the greatest chance for Marvel to blow it yet. This was where they had to lay all their cards down and determine if the iron laws of filmmaking applied even to their lofty ambitions.

So did they pull it off? Well of course they pulled it off, you idiots, this is Marvel!

Infinity War is amazing. It is fantastic. It is glorious. It is an act of pure, cinematic arrogance deployed in praise of itself and the accomplishments of a studio that has conquered the cinematic world. It is a wonderful film that all but dares you to hate it, a movie full of glories (and a few missteps), replete with bone-shattering action and wonderful moments of characterization for characters we've all come to know so well, and even a few that we haven't. I enjoyed the hell out of it because I have always enjoyed the MCU, and this is the MCU throwing itself a party, while reducing its entire fanbase to shocked gasps and, according to the reports of many others who have seen the movie, blubbering tears.

This review is not going to be long enough to recap where we are in the MCU at this point, nor go through what I thought of all the characters therein. I've reviewed fourteen Marvel movies to this point, go look them up. But in a cast this large, the filmmakers manage to deftly grant everyone who needs it a moment of their own, even for characters I had previously little-to-no use for. So it is with Scarlett Witch and Vision (Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany), who turn out to be more interesting than I had expected them to be, having formed a couple offscreen and contriving to bring some actual warmth to the scant time we are given to establish it. So it is with the characters set up between the last team-up movie and this one, with Spiderman, still expertly played by Tom Holland as the protoge/sidekick, willing or otherwise, of Tony Stark, himself a man trying desperately to keep himself together in the face of a truly world-shattering apocolypse. So it is with Benedict Cumberbatch's Dr. Strange, who has matured considerably since the beginning of his film, and brings a cynical wit to the occasions to bounce perfectly off of Robert Downey Jr.'s own masterful performance. I loved Cumberbatch and Holland in their respective films and I loved them here, but Downey's Tony Stark/Iron Man has always been my favorite, and this time we get a Stark who is truly desperate, throwing everything he has of himself and his ingenuity at the problem in the knowledge that it may simply not be enough. But better than any of that is Thor's part, Thor who got shortchanged in Avengers 2 by any account, but who here turns back up off the momentum of last year's superlative Ragnarok, and flows effortlessly into the Guardians of the Galaxy universe, and takes the whole "space-viking" theme that Thor's world had blended into to a whole new level. And so it is that we get space-dwarves forging space-weapons for space-gods so that they can do space-deeds worthy of space-sagas. And it is fucking awesome, though to say much more would involve spoilers that should not be spoken of.

All this, and I still haven't spoken of a good half of the cast, but that's because I have no time to. Suffice to say that all of them are awesome (though Chadwick Boseman still can't manage his goddamn accent), with even bit characters like Winston Duke's M'Baku livening the moments they are given. But all this I expected, I expected the cast to work wonders for they are the greatest cast of actors ever assembled for any cinematic project ever. What I didn't expect, what I thought could well sink the entire movie, was two other things, the first of which is Thanos.

You see, Thanos has been looming in the background of the MCU for nearly a decade, but we have seen nothing of him, and nothing would be easier than to make this arch-force of malevolance into nothing but a looming, monstrous, character-free CGI-fest, an excuse to punch something large for a while while reciting portentous dialogue about the inevitability of doom. Last year's Justice League apparently did just that. But Thanos as realized in this movie is nothing of the sort, instead forming a fully-realized, three-dimensional character laden with weight, emotional turmoil, and his own twisted internal logic, a charming, philosophizing psychopath who believes that the universe demands that he use semi-divine power to cull its population lest Malthusian catastrophe overcome it. Thanos is fascinating in this film, consitent, driven, warped, and yet very human, the protagonist, in a strange sense, of his own story, as though this film were another introductory movie bringing another character into the wider MCU world (which in a sense, it very much is). I've never been wild about the Malthusian-catastrophe-as-excuse-for-genocide plot device but this film, this comic book movie about magic rocks and a twelve-foot purple alien who wants to collect them, might be the best use I've ever seen that tired trope put to, and while plenty of the praise for this must go to the scriptwriters (veteran MCU duo Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely), plenty more belongs to Josh Brolin, an actor I have never loved, but who with this role has finally won me over. I know the MCU has a reputation for bad villains, but Thanos exorcises that demon almost effortlessly. He is the most interesting villain Marvel has come up with since Loki, and he almost forces the movie to work around him.

I say 'almost', because of the second thing I thought would sink the project. The simple mechanical fact that a movie with nearly thirty main characters cannot be made. That to make such a thing is in defiance of all rules of screencraft, and that movies as varied as 13 Assassins and X-Men Apocalypse have shown why this is. But apparently nobody bothered to let the Russo brothers know about this, because they tried it anyway, and somehow, they made it work.

I... have seen lots of movies in my time, ladies and gentlemen. I've reviewed more than three hundred of them for you all here on this blog, and I have no idea how Infinity War worked at all. Maybe it didn't, and I simply have bad taste, but I think it did, and I think it has something to do with a screenplay and a direction style that just has no time to waste. There is no fat (almost) on this movie, every minute of its two-and-a-half-hour runtime is justified carefully and with great precision. This isn't to say I couldn't call out one choice over another, but the movie in and of itself is a doctoral thesis in how to make a film out of something unfilmable, in a way that only the most daring adaptations and films are. Like Fellowship of the Ring or 2001 or Watchmen, Infinity War's simple existence, its functional structure which bounces between half a dozen settings and three dozen characters without ever losing us or becoming nothing but a paceless mess, is itself a miracle. There is fighting in this movie, lots of it. There is pathos and loss, and humor and moments that are even touching. But every second of the film has been placed with precision and care, for if the Russo's, veteran MCU directors though they are, had done anything else, the entire movie would have imploded like a soap bubble.

Things Havoc disliked: None of this is to say that the movie is perfect, indeed there are moments that will drive viewers absolutely around the bend. Most of these are, I believe, intentional, but some are not. The juggling act to give each of the characters their defined characterization does slip once or twice, particularly in the case of Starlord, who is written a bit too buffoonish, contradicting some of the character growth we saw back in Guardians of the Galaxy 2. A single scene near the end (you'll know it when you see it), is a bit much, even for a man-child like Peter Quill.

But the big issue, for any movie that has to rely so heavily on narrative shorthand (in this case because there's no physical way to fit the narrative structure in otherwise), is telegraphing. A lot of this movie is pretty heavily telegraphed, either for events to happen later in the film or to happen in the followup. It's not so bad as to make the movie obvious and rote, but it has moments where you simply know what is to happen next and need to wait for the characters to come to the same state of awareness that you have. Granted, for most of the film, the pace is so damn fast that there isn't a lot of time to dwell on such things, but it still comes up, and not for the better.

Final thoughts:   'Infinity War,' another reviewer claimed after walking out of it, 'was as good as it possibly could have been', and this sentiment is one that I wholly agree with. It is difficult to gauge it in the context of the other Marvel films, partly because it is incomplete, with a sequel due next year, and partly because it resembles none of them, not even the other team-up movies which led up to them. I adored it, but I can be counted upon to adore most Marvel films, and so what I give you as a final thought is simply my awe that such a project could have worked at all, that someone could have brought it into being after all this time and build-up and produced something that did not suck, did not disappoint, did not bring the characterization so painfully-crafted by its predecessors crashing to the ground, and even contrived to characterize more. The filmcraft, the staggering filmcraft on display in Infinity War is breathtaking, leaving aside the questions of nostalgia or excitement, or the joy at seeing beloved characters come to life.

Infinity War is the best film I have seen so-far in 2018. That itself does not say a great deal of course, but it remains true nonetheless. And when it comes to films that had no right to be as good as they were, there are few examples worthy of citing above this one, for this is the film that once and for all time proved that insofar as the MCU is concerned, the rules just don't apply.

Final Score:  8/10

Next Time:  With Infinity War concluded, time to look at the remaining movies that Spring was heir to.

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