Welcome back to a special edition of the YOMYOMF Blockbuster Showdown, where a group of Offenders watch this season’s biggest Hollywood releases and see how they hold up. Here, we express our VERY SPOILERY OPINIONS on all the big Hollywood tentpoles. For this edition, we review the highly anticipated AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, the 19th film in a decade’s worth of Marvel Cinematic Universe films. It’s all come to this… How does it hold up? Read below!
1. Ten years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe building has culminated with INFINITY WAR. Initial thoughts?
DOMINIC: Astonishing. Incredible. Mighty. Spectacular. Absorbing, like Absorbing Man kind of absorbing. It’s become impossible to objectively detach and see whether INFINITY WAR is a “good movie” on its own terms (Except to say, if you’re coming in with no context or investment in the Marvel stuff, as usual, this film makes no sense. It can’t.) but as the culmination event of a 10-year maxi-series, it’s…awesome.
ANDERSON: I definitely feel that I have to see it again. My crowd was so rowdy that I missed a lot of the dialogue but it was so interesting to experience so much hooting and hollering and then total silence and dread at the end, when “the rapture” happened. It was definitely an experience!
DOMINIC: INFINITY WAR does the essential thing that crossovers/mashups are supposed to do: it sparks new relationships between familiar characters, revealing unexpected and interesting dynamics. Strange and Stark, Thor and Rocket, Steve and T’Challa. They spend a lot of time bumping chests and bro-baiting, true, but with the natural, breezy quality of an improv comedy troupe. Contrast with CIVIL WAR, which tried to do the more difficult trick of bending characters’ established personalities into something that fit the plot. We never quite believed that Cap would turn against Iron Man, or that Spider-Man could be convinced to fight the rebel superheroes, and that terribly awkward videotape bit to manufacture Iron Man’s rage against Bucky and Steve — all of it smacked with insincerity. This just to say that INFINITY WAR accomplishes a lot more than CIVIL WAR by using the frictious energy of all the “awkward introduction” scenes to enhance the characters, allowing us to believe in their actions, and to be devastated with them when the final hammer comes down.
ANDERSON: I still feel CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER is the best MCU film, but I definitely agree with you, Dom, that INFINITY WAR is better than CIVIL WAR. The fight scene at the airport in CIVIL WAR? Ha, it seems like a schoolyard scuffle compared to the epic-ness of INFINITY WAR. I also liked how characters stepped up like Doctor Strange, who I assume will take over the leadership mantle for the next iteration of Avengers (or I am hoping). His banter with Tony Stark was great.
I also thought that Peter Quill/Star Lord tracked well because this was really his first time interacting with humans since a kid, so his alpha-male behavior worked for me too. Peter Parker was awesome as usual, and Thor, especially after RAGNAROK, is now my favorite Avenger. But one odd choice that kind of irks me is that Scarlet Witch’s accent is gone. Granted, some time has past, and maybe she adopted it because she’s in hiding but that’s an interesting choice. Perhaps because it was such a bad accent to begin with that the Russo Brothers probably felt no one would care… except for me!
2. Were they able to give each character their moment to shine? Or was the film overstuffed?
DOMINIC: I found it remarkably balanced, and am grateful that for large stretches it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Thor exposits most of the backstory quick and painlessly, so he can get back to riffing with the Guardians. The actors seem to be both committed and enjoying themselves.
The Russo brothers and their editors do an impressive job of pacing this sprawling epic, which maintains a propulsive rhythm, probably by virtue of having a 8+ massive action sequences. Again, in contrast to CIVIL WAR, every fight has a meaning and a dramatic progression. That CIVIL WAR airport fight was cool, but let’s remember it was basically about whether or not Captain America can get to an airplane, so was all that hubbub really necessary…? In INFINITY WAR, we care about whether someone’s gonna die unpleasantly, and then we care more because of the crafty chaining of events within each fight. In the Scotland sequence, the least-powered of the Avengers come to the rescue of (arguably) the most powerful duo, Vision and the Scarlet Witch. It recalled (for me) the only cheerworthy part of the otherwise-terrible X-MEN 3: THE LAST STAND, Kitty Pryde vs. Juggernaut, wherein the littlest superhero dives in to face a behemoth. I love shit like that.
I wasn’t a big fan of SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, but INFINITY WAR gives Spidey a basically perfect arc. As far as scorekeeping the relative screentime of all the main characters, sure, there could’ve been more Black Panther, less Puny Banner, but essentially everyone who showed up did something that had to be done, and if there was a slight bias for Spider-Man and those wacky alien Asians Drax and Mantis, I’m here for it.
ANDERSON: I am thinking Disney was like “Fuck, we should’ve filmed for T’Challa in this movie” after the box-office receipts came in for BLACK PANTHER. I think, for the most part, it all worked. I agree it was surprisingly well balanced but the part with Peter Dinklage was a little slow, and after Ryan Coogler’s work in BP, I kind of felt Wakanda in this film was basically the Gungan battle from THE PHANTOM MENACE. Well, not that bad, but it did have shades of it.
And I guess that Marvel does make cool shots that are specifically just for the trailer. Because, uh, where was this scene in the film, considering that Bruce Banner had Hulk-tile dysfunction?
3. A criticism of Marvel movies is that they churn out great hero characters but big bads, not so much, with the exception of Loki and Killmonger. How was Thanos?
DOMINIC: Thanos is an unredeemable dick! Josh Brolin does good work here, emanating sadism with little inflections of voice. But basically it was about that Gamora scene. Do you love Gamora, do you love killing people, or do you just love your Soul Stone? In the cases of Loki and Killmonger, the villain gains some sympathy by having a legitimate grievance; Thanos isn’t that, he just kills what he loves and kills what he’s indifferent to, ‘cause he wants the stuff that will allow him to kill more. He sees himself as the arbiter of life and death for everyone he meets, and that kind of person is, essentially, an asshole.
ANDERSON: I think Marvel definitely changed Thanos’s character midway. I don’t think he was intended to be Malthusian from the very beginning. He was definitely more Killmonger-ish. I am also glad they didn’t stick with the INFINITY GAUNTLET comic book story, in that he was collecting the stones as a big romantic gesture to woo the actual personification of Death.
4. Any Asians in the film?
DOMINIC: Hey, this is sort of like when we review a summer film because there’s an Asian cast member in it, because there are a ton of Asians in INFINITY WAR! And I don’t mean in that “a ton of people in Hong Kong get killed by meteor, CUT TO:” sort of way.
The Asian heroes had all the funny bits! Or let’s say they had a more-than-equitable portion of the funny bits. Wong goes on about tuna melts and ice cream flavors like any normal food-obsessed Chinese person does. Drax and Mantis have developed an adorable rapport, and I ship their “unspoken thing” more than I care about Star-Lord + Gamora. (That was me trying to use the slangsense of “ship” correctly in a sentence. Y/N?) Mantis gets in some tasteful ESL humor (“take ass!”) and Drax’s invisibility-power performance is the most unnecessary, yet somehow most delightful, of his many physical-comedy gags.
And CAN I JUST SAY that the YOMYOMF piece I wrote last week, stipulating that the Asian Marvel heroes possess the power-sets most likely to beat Thanos, was mostly right. It was meant as a joke, but let’s review the facts with MAJOR SPECIFIC SPOILERS AHEAD:
- WONG demonstrates the trick of using magic portals to dismember Thanos’s goons in the NYC fight sequence. Cool, right? Cuts the goon’s hand off. Wong exits the narrative shortly after, but gee, wouldn’t it possibly have been useful to use that spell trick to cut someone else’s hand off during that part where the fate of the universe rests on whether the heroes can pull a glove off Thanos’s hand? Looking at you, Dr. Strange…
- MANTIS totally almost had Thanos with her empathy mind powers, as I ridiculously predicted. She was THIS close to saving the whole universe, and then Star-Lord happened, but more on that later. As Thanos himself says, “you should’ve gone for the head.” Well, Mantis went for the head, and she totally. Almost. Had him.
- DRAX, lovable muscly oaf that he is, is predictably ineffectual against Thanos, but he does contribute a nasty hamstring-strike in the fight on Titan, before Star-Lord dooms us all with his distorted notions of masculinity.
My point is, if not for Star-Lord, the Asian Marvels would’ve actually SAVED THE WHOLE UNIVERSE. Retcon, anyone?
ANDERSON: Maybe in one of the 14 million scenarios that Strange saw, that one win is because the Asians did what they had to do, undeterred. 🙂
DOMINIC: Does that mean the title of the next movie will be AVENGERS 4: THE SEARCH FOR MANTIS?
5. How does this tally on the scoreboard for the MCU vs DCEU?
DOMINIC: DC might wanna lay low for a while, dude. **In the same way Shuri one-ups Bruce Banner with her superior Wakandan sciencing, Marvel has a way of saying to DC, “Well, I see what you were going for there, DC, but what if you did this instead and then it’ll be really good.” I mean, WONDER WOMAN is on the right track, but CAPTAIN MARVEL could surpass WW in the women-oriented superhero film category (Not that there can’t be more than one of those! And btw, the director choice of Boden & Fleck on CAPTAIN MARVEL I find very fascinating.)
ANDERSON: No comparison. DC is definitely in trouble. Compared to the MCU, they’re all over the place! When the CW Network’s “Crisis on Earth-X” crossover is more epic and entertaining that JUSTICE LEAGUE, then you have a problem.
The MCU is not perfect and there were some bumps in the road, but man, they usually stick the landing and I cannot wait for Phase 4!
6. Where do you see the MCU going from here?
DOMINIC: I had a debate with my podcast partner about who the NEXT ultimate MCU villain could be, assuming they get past Thanos. Chris voted for Mephisto, but I think that brings in too many Christianity/Hell/Satan associations, and anyway they’ve already had a Hela. My vote would be for Zemo to break out of his CIVIL WAR cell and form the Masters of Evil, preferably not called the Masters of Evil, ideally including worthy matchups like Moonstone, Whirlwind, and Radioactive Man (you know, the evil green Chinese guy).
And may I say, because his name came up again in the film, isn’t it about time Kevin Bacon joined the MCU? Possibly as the next Avengers Big Bad? Kevin Bacon as Kang? Attuma? Count Nefaria? Bacon-and-Egghead?
ANDERSON: Bacon was already a Marvel villain, Sebastian Shaw (granted for Fox’s X-MEN FIRST CLASS).
Hmm, maybe with the eventual Disney/Fox merger, the MCU can bring the Hellfire Club into the fold, and also Shaw’s son Shinobi. Just spitballing any Asian Marvel characters at this point…
DOMINIC: Damn, Anderson, you’re right. That is how much I block out all the X-Men movies. My bad, Mr. Bacon. If the question is what will the MCU look like after AVENGERS 4, when, presumably, some of the core Avengers actors will go back to making normal movies where they don’t have to have 12-pack abs all the time…this comics fan would say, duh, form a new Avengers team! Marvel’s not running out of characters any time soon, and BLACK PANTHER elegantly proved that the palette of cinematic Marvel stories is expanding, not stagnating.
7. Rate it! 1 banana (worst) 4 bananas (best)
DOMINIC: 3-and-a-half bananas. Falls short of four bananas because it lacks an ending, per se. Also, the score/soundtrack underwhelmed, and could’ve benefited from more of Quill’s deep-cut pop anthems. ** But I can’t deny that they managed to replicate the thing from that “really old movie” EMPIRE STRIKES BACK: a truly devastating cliffhanger which demands we return (in just one year, conveniently) to find out how the heroes prevail. Unlike stories which end in actual tragedy, we can be very confident that in AVENGERS 4, order will be restored, somehow. It’s the hard cut at the exact point which will most gall the audience YET maintain their absolute faith in the good guys/gals/groots’ eventual triumph, that’s INFINITY WAR’s masterful achievement. (Or, put more cynically, way to keep ‘em coming back for more.)
But seriously, how is it possible that teenage Peter Parker has seen ALIENS and Tony Stark, who ostensibly lived through the 1980’s, hasn’t? That just doesn’t scan to me.
ANDERSON: Simple. Stark is a rom-com guy and probably saw WHEN HARRY MET SALLY a gajillion times. He’s a big Meg Ryan fan! Anyhoo, I am on the same wavelength with Dom, 3.5 bananas! It is just the first chapter in a 2-parter, so yes, it doesn’t have an ending per se. It’s more BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II and less THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK.
But, what I think is cool in setting up next year’s AVENGERS film is this: O.G. Avengers will have to figure out how to defeat Thanos and there will be real consequences w/ some, if not all of them, dying. Also, with all the heroes that blew off into dust, it is interesting that their “sidekicks” survived, so it’ll be interesting to see them dealing w/ the aftermath — Shuri and Okoye, Wong, etc. Also, the notion that the savior of them all will be Carol Danvers aka Captain Marvel? Even the end credits stinger was relevant to the story! I dig this and May 2019 cannot come soon enough.
Dominic Mah is a writer, director, erratic blogger at dommah.com, and rock musical enthusiast. He tweets pop-culture critique as @thorhulkcritic. Pretty soon he will be premiering a new reality web show about karaoke bars at karaokerhapsody. He is a regular contributor to YOMYOMF.