Wednesday, April 25, 2018

“AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR” Marks End of the Beginning for MCU

If anybody thought that the hype generated by Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther” for theater-goers last February was big enough, you have not seen anything yet. After all, the next movie in sequence for the Marvel Cinematic Universe is, from its myth plot nature, the epic length of its cast alone, and the timing of its premiere, destined to be nothing other than a milestone of its franchise. At long last an antagonist that skulked in the shadows has moved to the open; all the different corners of the universal setting have come together; and nothing will ever be the same.
That is pretty much the mood that Marvel Studios has going for “Avengers: Infinity War”, the third MCU film to carry the name of the foremost superhero team in the Marvel Comics stable. (Fans of “X-Men” in the books and the Fox films might take exception to that, though.) This particular movie is coming to cinemas at roughly the same period of the year that the first chapter of the epic franchise, “Iron Man”, premiered back in 2008. In this first decade of the MCU, the producers have strived to put in a little bit of everything that came before.
But what is really the driving force in the story is the long-promised involvement of a character first seen in the mid-credits of the first “Avengers” film in 2012, the “mad titan” called Thanos. After some escalating threats faced and beaten in all MCU movies during the interim, it is significantly impressive that the team behind the cameras – directors Joe and Anthony Russo and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely – have managed to create a frighteningly unstoppable bad guy, as portrayed by Mark Brolin, “enhanced” by a remarkable application of CGI that convincingly sold Thanos as a flesh-and-blood onscreen presence.
It might be strange to get to discussion of the big bad of “Infinity War” before even mentioning the plot and the good guys’ status. That would be because the story revolves as much around Thanos as with the Avengers, and their fellow movie-side heroes. Normally there would be narrative difficulties in getting the audience to sympathize with a physical godlike entity who wants to exterminate half the total living creatures in the universe using six gems created in the Big Bang as manifestations of the elements of existence. What Markus and McFeely did in the plotting, got really close.
Taking place shortly after the events of 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Black Panther”, “Avengers: Infinity War” starts off with a heavy dose of dread and foreboding bleakness. Without spoiling a lot, Thanos has started to actively search for the Infinity Stones which hold control over the concepts of Power, Mind, Time, Space, Soul and Reality. When inserted into his Infinity Gauntlet, they would allow him to realize his lifelong goal of “balancing” the universe by exterminating half of all life. In acquiring his first two Stones, he sets Thor (Chris Hemsworth) into the path of the Guardians of the Galaxy.
In the meantime, Thanos sends his Black Order henchmen to Earth, where he knows two more Stones reside: Time with sorcerer Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Mind with the artificial being Vision (Paul Bettany). Forced to face this threat are the still-fragmented Avengers, with Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) finding himself lost in space with Spider-Man (Tom Holland) and Strange while Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is forced to somehow track down the public renegade Captain America (Chris Evans). With world governments uncooperative, the trail for assistance leads to the African nation of Wakanda and its king, Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman).
And the personages noted in the previous paragraph barely scratches the surface of so many characters established in the MCU that have a role or two to play in this cosmic-spanning drama of superhero adventure. In fact, some film heroes in the franchise do not even appear in “Infinity War”! Thank goodness for that however, as there would barely be anything left for each face in the screen to have at least one scene of prominence, a herculean management feat pulled off by McFeely, Markus and the Russos. It does get borderline-disjointed a la “Game of Thrones” at some points.
Marvel Studios did say that this “Avengers” movie is like a beginning of the end for the overarching myth arc established from the beginning of the MCU. That has been translated as being a license to the production staff to start “pruning” the cast as it were. Any regular MCU fan used to seeing the heroes pull through will be shocked out of their complacency with “Infinity War”. Never before have the stakes appeared so insurmountable, the battles so close to “total party kill” as now. What is worse, this film was an unfinished story, with “Avengers 4” still coming.
“Infinity War” was originally conceptualized as being a two-part film like the last “Harry Potter” installment. Rewrites led to it being made a standalone, but elements that clue in to the narrative being once split across two installments linger, especially towards the denouement. The obligatory post-credits scene does make a nice call-forward to a future MCU film – which is a prequel – but is apparently going to be instrumental in how the mightiest heroes of Marvel on the big screen (whoever’s still active) will deal with Thanos, who is coming back. We have a year to wait for the cliffhanger conclusion.
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