“THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR” (2018) Review

 

“THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR” (2018) Review

After ten years and eighteen films, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) finally released “THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR”. The movie represented the first half of a culmination of the previous films that either focused or touched upon the super-villain Thanos’ attempt to attain possession of a collection of powerful gems known as the Infinity Stones.

Although 2008’s “IRON MAN” signaled the beginning of the MCU franchise and the introduction of the latter’s collection of comic book heroes/heroines, supporting players and villains; I believe that the true beginning of this story arc involving Thanos and the Infinity Stones began in 2011 with two movies – “THOR” and “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER”. The former introduced the Tesseract, a cube that contained the Infinity Stone known as the Space Stone, in its post-credit scene. However, the Space Stone was more fully explored in the second 20111 movie, “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER”. After 2011, most of the Infinity Stones were either introduced, explored or both in the MCU movies that followed. Only one stone made its introduction in “INFINITY WAR” – the Soul Stone.

Before I find myself wallowing into an essay about the Infinity Stones, let me continue with this review. “THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR” began several minutes after 2017’s “THOR: RAGNAROK” left off. Thanos had caught up with the Asgardian refugee ship and with the help of his minions, inflict considerable damage upon the survivors and their new king, former Avenger Thor. Why? Apparently, before their flight from Asgard’s destruction, Thor’s adopted brother, Loki, had taken the Tesseract, which had been inside Asgard’s royal vault. After killing half of the Asgardian survivors (the other half had managed to escape), Asgard’s gatekeeper Heimdall, beating Thor and killing Loki; Thanos took the Space Stone and blew up the ship. It turned out that the Tesseract was the second Infinity Stone that Thanos managed to acquire. Before the events of this film, Thanos and his minions had attacked and destroyed half of Xandar homeworld before he managed to get his hands on the Power Stone, last seen in 2014’s “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY”. And before Heimdall was killed, he used Asgard’s Bifrost sword to transport a beaten Dr. Bruce Banner aka the Hulk to warn the Avengers and Earth about Thanos’ campaign to collect the Infinity Stones. Meanwhile, the Guardians of Galaxy come across Thor’s body floating in space and rescue him. Thanks to Heimdall’s actions, along with the Guardians’ rescue of Thor; the movie’s main protagonists become aware of Thanos’ current campaign to hunt down the remaining Infinity Stones and set about preventing him from raining more destruction upon the universe.

What can I say about “THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR”? When I first heard about the movie’s premise, I immediately felt that the only way this would work was if the narrative was set up in the same style as war films like “THE LONGEST DAY” or “A BRIDGE TOO FAR”. You know . . . blockbuster combat films about a particular battle or campaign that featured an all-star cast. Despite being a comic book movie, “THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR” proved to be exactly just that. The movie’s narrative centered around most of the MCU’s protagonists trying to prevent Thanos from collecting all of the Infinity Stones and carrying out his plan to eradicate half of the universe’s population in order to prevent the decrease of essential resources. And more importantly, the screenplay written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely almost hit the right note when it tried to maintain a balancing act between the franchise’s numerous stars. And considering that this movie was all about Thanos’ efforts to utilize the stones in the first place, it seemed quite apparent that he proved to be the movie’s main character. And personally, I feel that was the right thing to do.

In fact, some of the film’s best scenes and story arc had a lot to do with Thanos . . . and especially his relationship with his adoptive daughters, Gamora and Nebula. Thanos’ relationship with the latter seemed just as straight-forward as she had described it in 2017’s “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOL. 2”. It seemed perfectly clear that Thanos did not give a rat’s ass about Nebula, especially since he seemed to display no remorse or hesitation to use her life as a bargaining chip for the location of the Soul Stone. Thanos’ relationship with Gamora, on the other hand, seemed to be a different and murkier kettle of fish. Some fans have debated on whether he truly loved Gamora. I believe he did, in his own warped way, as the following image depicted:

image

And the tears that Gamora had shed, when she thought she had killed him on Nowhere made it pretty obvious that she harbored feelings for him, as well. By the end of the movie, it seemed pretty obvious that Thanos loved his crusade to “save” the universe from overpopulation a lot more than Gamora . . . to the point that he was willing to sacrifice her life for possession of the Soul Stone. I have to give screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely credit for portraying Thanos as a very complex character. Do not get me wrong. I do not regard Thanos as the best MCU villain in the franchise so far. I simply found his different relationships with adoptive daughters Gamora and Nebula a lot more interesting than his goal with the Infinity Gauntlet.

The film featured other story arcs that I found interesting. I have mixed feelings about Thor’s story arc. On one hand, I managed to spot several plot holes in his narrative. On the other hand, it was a relief to see the new Asgardian king finally face the emotional consequences of the losses he had sustained in not only this film, but also “THOR: RAGNAROK”. Thanks to Gamora’s connection to Thanos, “INFINITY WAR” served the main protagonists very well. Audiences finally got to see Gamora and Peter Quill aka Star-Lord declare their love for one another. Rocket managed to form a new bond with Thor, of all people . . . and lose another close bond. “INFINITY WAR” also saw the development of the romance between Wanda Maximoff aka Scarlet Witch and Vision and how Thanos’ search for the Infinity Stones affected that relationship. The movie paid scant attention to the Sokovia Accords, which I did not find surprising. But two satisfying developments came from the brief mention of the agreement, when James “Rhodey” Rhodes aka War Machine expressed is deep regret for signing the Sokovia Accords, along with his refusal to obey Thaddeus Ross’ order for the arrests of Steve Rogers, Natasha Romanoff, Sam Wilson and Wanda Maximoff. For me, it was Don Cheadle’s finest moment in the MCU franchise.

“INFINITY WAR” also featured some pretty interesting action sequences. I can count at least XX of them as among my favorites. One of them included a conflict on the streets of Manhattan in which the two sorcerers Dr. Stephen Strange and Wong, Tony Stark aka Iron Man and Peter Parker aka Spider-man battled against one of Thanos’ adopted children, Ebony Maw. The battle ended with Strange being kidnapped, due to his possession of the Time Stone. I thought it was well-handled. However, I find it odd that both Strange and Wong had difficulty with a being who was basically a telekinetic. Another battle I found interesting was Strange, Iron Man and Spider-man’s first meeting with Star-Lord, Drax and Mantis on Thanos’ homeworld, Titan. Although I found it enjoyable, I also found it odd, considering that of all the Guardians, Star-Lord did most of the work against the travelers from Earth . . . and succeeded. I do not know what to say about the battle that unfurled in Wakanda. On a visual level, I found it spectacular. And there were some good moments like Scarlet Witch’s encounter with Thanos; the arrival of Thor, Rocket and Groot; and the brief interaction between Rocket and James “Bucky” Buchanan during the battle. But overall . . . I simply cannot decide whether I loved it or simply tolerated it. Perhaps I loved some parts of it.

As for the movie’s visual effects . . . they were okay. There were a few spectacular scenes. I was especially impressed by Ebony Maw’s arrival in Manhattan, as shown in the following image:

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And I really enjoyed Thor’s initial arrival on Wakanda, in which he killed a good number of Thanos’ forces:

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But overall, I was not particularly dazzled by the film’s visual effects.

No movie is perfect. And I can honestly say that about “THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR”. When I first learned that so many of the franchise’s past characters – especially the costumed heroes – would be featured in this film, my first reaction was wariness. After seeing the movie twice, I believe my initial wariness was justified on a certain level. I will re-phrase my original assessment of the movie – I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it enough to see it at the movie theaters twice. But, “INFINITY WAR” had its problems. And one of those problems proved to be the numerous protagonists that filled the narrative. But wait? Did I not earlier praise the MCU and the screenwriters for creating a narrative that was similar to all-star movie epics like “THE LONGEST DAY” and “A BRIDGE TOO FAR”. Yes, I did. But this narrative style still threatened to spiral out of control. There was no real balance in how McFeely and Markus treated the film’s characters. Not really. A good number of the characters – including major ones – were more or less treated as guest stars in this film.

Most of the characters who had rebelled against the Sokovia Accords – Captain America, Falcon, Black Widow, Winter Soldier, Ant-Man and Hawkeye – were not utilized very often. A major character like Captain America had finally been reduced to a guest star. Falcon, Black Widow and Winter Soldier barely had any lines. And both Ant-Man and Hawkeye were missing in this film. Only the Scarlet Witch seemed to have a larger role and that was due to her being the romantic interest of Vision, who had one of the Infinity Stones embedded into his forehead. I was also amazed how even Iron Man, Doctor Strange and Spider-man seemed to have disappeared and re-appear for a long stretches of time, following their departure from Earth aboard Ebony Maw’s ship. And why did the film’s screenplay not allow Wong to accompany them on the journey to Thanos’ homeworld, Titan. Hell, the inhabitants of Wakanda – Black Panther aka King T’Challa, Okoye, M’Baku and Princess Shuri – seemed to minor players in this film, considering that a major battle was fought within their country’s borders near the film’s finale. Both Samuel L. Jackson and Cobie Smulders managed to appear as former S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury and his assistant Maria Hill in the film’s only post-credit scene. In it, both had witnessed the impact of Thanos’ Infinity Stones snap in Manhattan, before disappearing themselves. And before they did, Fury managed to send a message to a new Avenger – Captain Marvel aka Carol Danvers. That was it? Jackson and Smulders were used as a publicity scene for the upcoming Captain Marvel film? God, what a waste!

I wonder if the reason why the focus on the characters struck me as so unbalance was due to them being scattered . . . all over the universe, really. The reason why movies like “THE LONGEST DAY” and “A BRIDGE TOO FAR” worked so well is that these films kept the focused on one particular setting – whether it were the beaches of Normandy, Frances and the surrounding countryside, or the stretch of road that encompassed three Dutch small cities. “INFINITY WAR” featured more settings than a James Bond movie and all of the major characters were scattered throughout those different locations on Earth and in space. Even a relative of mine found this rather convoluted.

There were other aspects of the film’s narrative that left me scratching my head. I do not know where to begin. Oh yes . . . the film opened with Thanos and his minions in control of Thor’s ship (formerly owned by the Grandmaster), most of the inhabitants dead, Heimdall wounded and a bruised Thor a prisoner of Thanos. And all I could ask was . . . where was Valkyrie, along with former gladiators Korg and Miek? Where did they go? Were they dead? How did Thor, who was the new ruler of the remaining Asgardians and the new Allfather lose so easily against Thanos? As the new Allfather, he should have given Thanos and the “kids” a lot of trouble. I mean . . . not even Thanos’ use of the Power Stone failed to kill Thor. Really? Why did the Hulk wait for Loki to introduce him like some damn circus act? I mean . . . the Hulk is not more powerful than Thor. He never really was, despite the MCU’s effort to pretend otherwise. Why did Loki tried to kill Thanos with a dagger? A dagger? This is the being who managed to cast a mind spell on someone as powerful as Odin. Why did he not consider this, instead of attacking Thanos with a dagger?

The next major scene featured Doctor Strange, Wong, Tony Stark and Peter Parker. Why was it so difficult for Doctor Strange and Wong to defeat Ebony Maw? The latter is an alien with a telekinetic ability. That was his ability . . . telekinesis. A psychic ability and nothing else. Strange and Wong were sorcerers. Which meant they had abilities beyond psychic ones. What happened? Why did they not use . . . magic? He was able to use magic to prevent Ebony Maw from getting his claws on the stone. Why not use magic to defeat Maw? Now that I think about it, Strange was also in possession of the Time Stone. Why did he not use it? And this was way before his ludicrous claim that there was only one out of 14 million chances in which to defeat Thanos. I call bullshit on this, for it seems nothing more than contrived nonsense to justify what happened later in the film. And why did Tony suggest that they continue traveling to Titan? To keep the battle for the Time Stone away from Earth? Ah, does this mean both Tony and Stephen had forgotten about the Mind Stone . . . which was with Vison . . . on Earth?

This movie was filled with characters making dumb decisions – from Gamora deciding to accompany Peter Quill, Drax and Mantis to Knowhere, knowing that Thanos was there and she knew the location of the Soul Stone; to Peter Quill losing his shit and ruining the plan to trap Thanos on Titan after learning about Gamora’s fate; to Steve suggesting they take Vision to Wakanda in order to remove the Mind Stone from the latter’s head and keep him alive; to T’Challa giving them permission to land in Wakanda; to Thor losing his shit during the Wakanda battle and striking Thanos in an area that was bound to allow the Titan to live just a bit longer. Most fans have been dumping most of the blame on Star-Lord. Some of them, including the Russo Brothers, have dumped most of the blame for what happened in the end on Thor. I blame Thanos. As far as I am concerned, he made the dumbest decision to wipe away half of the universe’s living beings for . . . what? To preserve the remaining living beings so that there were enough resources for everyone? This is a stupid plan. He could not think of anything else? Like providing more resources for the universe? Why did he set this plan in motion in the first place? Because he could not save his homeworld? Or what?

And there were other matters. Why did the empathic Mantis, who had managed to control the emotions of someone as powerful as Ego, failed to do so with Thanos? What was the point of including Secretary of Defense Thaddeus Ross in this story? To prove how useless and irrelevant the Sokovia Accords story arc truly was? When I learned that both Clint Barton and Scott Lang were under “house arrest” for violating the Accords in “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR”, I merely rolled my eyes in disgust. By the way, who was financing Steve, Natasha, Sam and Wanda’s activities for the past two years? When did Wanda and Vision finally commenced upon their romance? You mean to say that after eighteen months or so (since the events of “SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING”), Tony and Pepper were still engaged? Where was Nakia? When did Gamora learn about the location of the Soul Stone? How did Johann Schmidt aka Red Skull survive 73 years after the Space Stone transported him to Vormir? Despite having the Dr. Erskine’s formula in his blood, he was never frozen in stasis like Steve and Bucky. Why on earth was it necessary for Thor to go to Nidavellir to create the Stormbreaker axe to be used on Thanos? Why? He should have been powerful enough to take on the Titan on his own in the first damn place. Had McFeely and Markus forgotten that Thor was the new Allfather?

The real problem I have with “THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR” – aside from the plot holes – is that it is not that original to me. Not really. First of all, the idea of a villain plotting to to commit genocide for environmental reasons had played a major role in two recent movies – 2015’s “KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” and the 2016 movie, “INFERNO”. In an Arrowverse crossover event from three years ago, super villain and immortal Vandal Savage managed to kill all of the costumed heroes who were featured in that story – with the exception of Barry Allen aka the Flash. Instead, he used time travel to go back and change the fates of his friends and colleagues. Hmmm . . . sound familiar? How about this? Nearly a decade ago, I had created a series of “Charmed” Alternate Universe stories in which the Charmed Ones befriended another family of witches. Needless to say, among my stories featured a powerful demon who managed to kill most of the main characters, including two of the Charmed Ones. It was very similar to what happened to many of the characters in the finale for “INFINITY WAR”. And guess what? The whole thing was resolved through the use of time travel – which I assume will be used in “AVENGERS 4”. So, how can I be impressed with how McFeely, Markus and the Russo brothers ended the story for “INFINITY WAR”, when both the Arrowverse producers and I did something similar? What I found even more annoying about the film’s ending is that most of Thanos’ victims proved to be those MCU heroes and protagonists first introduced after “THE AVENGERS”. Fury and Hill seemed to be the only pre-Phase II characters that were killed. And there were only a few post-Phase I characters like Rocket the Raccoon, Wong, Princess Shuri, Okoye and M’Baku, who survived. Personally, I found it ridiculous that Marvel could not take the chance to kill off one or two of the original Avengers members.

I wish I could comment on all of the film’s performances, but that would take forever. I will comment on those that caught my attention, both good and bad. I have already commented on Don Cheadle’s very satisfying performance. The movie featured solid performances from those who had – to be honest – provided more memorable ones in past movies, like Mark Ruffalo, Gwyneth Paltrow, Benedict Wong, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Chadwick Boseman, Winston Duke, Danai Gurira, Dave Bautista, Benedict Wong, Benicio del Toro, Jacob Batalon, William Hurt, Vin Diesel and Pom Klementieff. Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch gave solid performances as well, but there were times when both actors seemed bent upon proving whose character was more irritating. Personally, I believe Letitia Wright won this contest in her portrayal of Wakanda’s Princess Shuri. Wright’s character came off as a bit overbearing in her effort to prove her technological knowledge against the likes of Bruce Banner. Tom Holland gave a charming performance as Peter Parker aka Spider-man, but I must admit that I found his last scene, in which Peter was disappearing after Thanos’ “snap”, a bit over-the-top.

Both Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany gave poignant performances as the pair of Avengers lovers Wanda Maximoff and Vision. Bradley Cooper gave a very funny voice performance as Rocket the Raccoon, especially in scenes in which the talking raccoon interacted with both Thor and Bucky Barnes. As for Sebastian Stan, I was more impressed by his last scene, as he conveyed Bucky’s fear and panic, while disintegrating, with one word – Steve’s name. Peter Dinklage gave a memorable performance as the gruff and sardonic Eitri, the giant dwarf (you have to see him to believe it) who created Thor’s Stormbreaker axe. Karen Gillian’s Nebula has come a long way since 2014’s “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY” and I enjoyed how the actress managed to maintain the character’s gruff exterior and at the same time, convey Nebula’s deep affection for her sister Gamora. And then there was Chris Pratt, who did an exceptional job of portraying the emotional gauntlet that Peter Quill aka Star-Lord had experienced in this film. I was especially impressed by his performance in that tender scene in which Peter and Gamora conveyed their love for one another.

For me, the film’s most valuable players proved to be Chris Hemsworth, Zoe Saldana and Josh Brolin. Like Pratt, Chris Hemsworth had the opportunity to convey Thor’s emotional turmoil that the latter had experienced in both this film and “RAGNAROK”. At the same time, Hemsworth was as charming as ever, while portraying Thor’s more familiar and enduring traits. Zoe Saldana gave one of her best performances as one of the Guardians, Gamora, who finds herself torn between her determination to foil Thanos’ plan to use the Infinity Stones and her lingering love and affection toward him. Frankly, I thought Saldana beautifully conveyed this emotional tightrope in one scene in which Gamora expressed her grief after believing she had killed her adoptive father. Although I found Thanos’ plans to cull the herd of the universe’s sentient beings rather stupid, I cannot say the same about Josh Brolin’s portrayal of the homicidal super villain. Brolin gave a superb performance as the Titan, who not only proved to be ruthless and canny, but also affectionate and loving . . . in a twisted way. Frankly, I think Brolin deserve a major acting award nomination or two for his performance. I found him more effectively scary and complex in this film than I did in “GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY”.

It must seem pretty obvious that I do not have a high regard for “THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR”. I do not believe that it is a terrible movie. In fact, it struck me as a pretty damn good movie. I thought the Russo Brothers, along with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and a first rate cast led by Josh Brolin created a memorable and entertaining film. But the movie seemed to be marred by a good deal of plot holes and questionable narrative decisions that have led me to wonder if this film might be overrated by so many movie critics and fans of the MCU. You know what? I believe it is. And yet . . . I would still recommend the movie for viewing.

 

 

Favorite Movie and Television Productions About Journalism

Below is a list (in chronological order) of my favorite movie and television productions about journalism or features journalism:

 

FAVORITE MOVIE AND TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS ABOUT JOURNALISM

1 - His Girl Friday

1. “His Girl Friday” (1940) – Howard Hawks directed this second adaptation of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s 1931 stage play, “The Front Page”. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell starred.

 

2 - Roman Holiday

2. “Roman Holiday” (1953) – William Wyler directed this delightful comedy about a bored European princess visiting Rome on a state visit, who becomes involved with an American reporter after giving her courtiers the slip. Gregory Peck, Oscar winner Audrey Hepburn and Eddie Albert starred.

 

3 - All the Presidents Men

3. “All the President’s Men” (1976) – Alan J. Pakula directed this Oscar nominated adaptation of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s 1974 book about their investigation of the Watergate scandal. Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman directed.

 

4 - Broadcast News

4. “Broadcast News” (1987) – James L. Brooks directed this Oscar-nominated tale about a love triangle between a neurotic television news producer; a prickly reporter, who happens to be her best friend and a charismatic, yet less intelligent news anchorman. Oscar nominees Holly Hunter, Albert Brooks and William Hurt starred.

 

5 - The Pelican Brief

5. “The Pelican Brief” (1993) – Alan J. Pakula directed this adaptation of John Grisham’s 1992 novel about a Tulane University law student and a Washington D.C. reporter investigating the assassinations of two Supreme Court justices. Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts starred.

 

6 - Lois and Clark - The New Adventures of Superman

6. “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman” (1993-1997) – Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher starred in this television series about Superman, which heavily emphasized on Clark Kent aka Superman and Lois Lane’s relationship and roles as journalists for The Daily Planet. The series was created by Deborah Joy LeVine.

 

7 - State of Play 2003

7. “State of Play” (2003) – John Simm and David Morissey stared in this six-part miniseries about a newspaper’s investigation into the death of a political researcher, who worked for a Member of Parliament (MP) investigating the connection between the oil industry and corrupt high-ranking ministers. Created by Paul Abbott, the miniseries was directed by David Yates.

 

8 - Good Night and Good Luck

8. “Good Night, and Good Luck” (2005) – Oscar nominee David Strathairn, George Clooney and Jeff Daniels starred into this historical drama about the conflict between Edward R. Murrow and U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin about the Cold War blacklists of the 1950s. The Oscar nominated movie was directed by Clooney and co-written with Grant Heslov.

 

9 - State of Play 2009

9. “State of Play” (2009) – Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck starred in this movie adaptation of Paul Abbott’s 2003 television miniseries in which a Washington D.C. newspaper investigates the death of a political researcher who worked for a congressman investigating the connection between a private defense contractor and corrupt high-ranking politicians. Kevin Macdonald directed.

 

10 - Spotlight

10. “Spotlight” (2015) – Tom McCarthy co-wrote and directed this account of The Boston Globe‘s investigation into widespread and systemic cases of child sex abuse by numerous Roman Catholic priests in Boston. Michael Keaton, along with Oscar nominees Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams starred.

“Comic Book Movies: Critical Hypocrisy”

I first wrote the following article during the early fall of 2016:

 

“COMIC BOOK MOVIES: CRITICAL HYPOCRISY”

It just occurred to me that none of Marvel’s Captain America films ended on a happy note. Yet, they have never been criticized for possessing too much angst or being depressing. On the other hand, D.C. Comics films like 2016’s “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” have been accused of being dominated by these traits. And I have never understood this contrasting attitude toward the two comic book movie franchises. 

In “CAPTAIN AMERICA: FIRST AVENGER”, Steve Rogers lost his close friend, James “Bucky” Barnes during a mission. He was forced to crash the HYDRA plane into the cold Atlantic Ocean, where he froze for the next 66 to 67 years. Because of the crash, his burgeoning relationship with S.S.R. Agent Peggy Carter abruptly ended, with her believing that he had died. The movie ended with Steve awakening in 2011 New York City as a fish out of water and the world completely changed.

Although I love it with every fiber in my body, “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” proved to be a rather depressing film, if one is completely honest. The only positive thing that came out of it was Steve’s new friendship with Afghanistan War veteran, Sam Wilson. Otherwise, the movie featured the downfall of S.H.I.E.L.D., the very agency that his old love Peggy Carter, Howard Stark and Chester Philips had created, due to a major mistake they had committed. And that mistake turned out to be the recruitment of former HYDRA scientist, Armin Zola into the newly formed S.H.I.E.L.D. agency. Steve discovered that despite Johann Schmidt aka the Red Skull’s death, HYDRA continued to exist and that it had infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. and the U.S. Senate. He also discovered that his former best friend, Bucky Barnes, was not only alive, but also a brainwashed assassin for HYDRA. Everything eventually went to shit by the end of film, including Steve’s career with S.H.I.E.L.D.

“CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR” proved to be another depressing film. It introduced the Sokovia Accords, a United Nations sponsored document that forced enhanced beings like himself and other members of the Avengers to register with and be regulated by various governments. The main drive behind the Accords was Secretary of Defense and former U.S. Army General Thaddeus Ross, who had been the nemesis of Bruce Banner aka the Hulk. The Sokovia Accords finally gave Thaddeus Ross the opportunity to control a team of enhanced beings. The ninety-something Peggy Carter finally died. And the Avengers faced another threat – a Sokovian named Zemo, who wanted revenge for the destruction of his country – an event caused by Tony Stark’s creation of an artificial intelligence (A.I.) called Ultron. And Zemo also used the still brainwashed Bucky Barnes, whose past involved being coerced by HYDRA into murdering Howard and Maria Stark, to get his revenge. Between the Accords and Zemo, the Avengers suffered a permanent split by the end of the movie.

On the other hand, many film critics and moviegoers have criticized about “darker” aspects of the DCEU films. They have accused director Zack Snyder and the production teams behind the DCEU movie franchise of being too depressing or portraying its major protagonists as a bit too angsty. One, I see nothing wrong with morally and emotionally complex comic book hero movies. Also, at least two of the DCEU movies, “MAN OF STEEL” and “SUICIDE SQUAD” ended on a happier note.

“MAN OF STEEL” ended with Clark Kent aka Superman moving to Metropolis and joining the staff of The Daily Planet as a junior reporter and exchanging a knowing smile with his love, Lois Lane – the only person other than his mother who knew of his identity as Superman. “SUICIDE SQUAD” told the story of a group of super villains (two of them, meta-humans) who were forced to battle a powerful sorceress, bent upon world-domination by the director of A.R.G.U.S., Amanda Waller. Although Waller’s right-hand man, Colonel Rick Flagg, had allowed the villains to walk away after she had been kidnapped, the “Suicide Squad” assisted Flagg in taking down the Enchantress anyway. They were repaid with a reduced prison sentence and a few benefits. Also, “SUICIDE SQUAD” was filled with a great deal of humor – something that many critics and moviegoers have complained that the DCEU was lacking.

I find it ironic that “MAN OF STEEL” and “SUICIDE SQUAD” have been criticized for being “depressing and angst-riddled”, along with the DCEU’s boogeyman, “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” (which I also adore with every fiber of my being). Yet, the MCU’s Captain America films have managed to evade such criticisms, despite their ambiguous endings. Why have many critics and moviegoers have been so hard on the DCEU films about their ambiguity and given the Captain America films a pass? Hypocrisy much?

Post-Script:  And the hypocrisy has continued.  As late as the summer of 2018, many moviegoers and critics have either expressed hope that the DCEU would release more light-hearted and “hopeful” films.  They have also expressed hope that Warner Brothers Studios’ upcoming releases – “AQUAMAN”, “SHAZAM” and “WONDER WOMAN 1984” – will feature more fun-oriented plots.

Yet, during the same year, Marvel Films/Disney Studios released three MCU films – “BLACK PANTHER”, “THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR” and “ANT-MAN & THE WASP”.  The first film proved to be an angst-filled and political family drama.  The second film ended on a catastrophic note in which the main villain achieved his goal and wiped out half of the universe’s population – including many familiar characters.  And although the third film proved to be a lot more light-hearted, its post-credit scene ended on a devastating note – a residual of what happened in the second film.  Hardly anyone complained about this and instead, complimented the MCU franchise for its willingness to be more serious.

Like I said . . . the hypocrisy has continued.

“Irrelevant Bashing”

 

“IRRELEVANT BASHING”

I am another moviegoer who is getting sick and tired of the regarding Marvel/Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films and Warner Brothers/D.C. Comics’ D.C. Extended Universe (DCEU) films. I have come across articles in which fans of both movie universes have accused the other of excessive bashing. 

I never understood this rivalry between Marvel and DC Comics movie franchises. To be honest, I find it unnecessary. And I believe today’s audiences are getting too caught up in this so-called rivalry, thanks to the media, the studios and the two comic book conglomerates. I have seen both DC Comics and Marvel since “SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE” first came out in 1978. Why do certain films from one comic book company need to be better than those from another one? I have seen films from both that I found very impressive. And I have seen films from both that left me feeling disappointed. For me to decide whether the Marvel films or the DC films are better strikes me as ridiculous.

Some fans have claimed that since the MCU films perform better at the box office, they are without a doubt, the superior series of films. One major problem with this reasoning was the box office performance of the five major comic book movies released in 2016. Marvel’s “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE CIVIL WAR” proved to be the second (or third) biggest box office success of that year. Yet, D.C. Comics’ “BATMAN v. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” proved to be that year’s fifth biggest box office success. Although both the DCEU’s “SUICIDE SQUAD” and the MCU’s “DOCTOR STRANGE” never reached those heights in terms of box office, both were successful and ironically, the DCEU movie proved to be a bit more successful.

However, I believe that box office performance is not a true reflection of a movie’s worth. No one knows the true reason behind the critics’ current and more positive reaction to the Marvel films. Not really. True, some film critics might honestly believe they are better. Then again, it is possible that some film critics were bribed to praise the Marvel films to the sky and/or bash the D.C. Comics movies. Personally, I had stopped regarding their opinion as fact a long time ago. After all, their opinions are dictated by personal tastes, or . . . other means, just as the opinions of moviegoers are dictated by personal tastes. – Yes, there might be more people who believe that the current Marvel films are better. But I have encountered a great number of opinions that favor the current DC Comic movies. And I cannot help but wonder if the MCU fans are simply the loudest. Also, judging a film based upon box office success or the number of fans for a certain franchise strikes me as irrelevant. There are a lot of fans of the “TRANSFORMER” films. A lot. Which is why those movies generated a good deal of money. In the end, it is all subjective.

I am fans of both the MCU and the DCEU. I have been aware of some bashing of the MCU films by certain DCEU fans. However, their bashing seemed to be minor in compare to the consistent and excessive stream of criticism and bashing directed toward the DCEU films … and I believe this bashing is getting out of control.

Sometimes, I get the feeling that a lot of Marvel fans (or perhaps I should say the Marvel/Disney company is threatened by the three movies released by DC Comics between 2013 and 2016. These three movies signaled the end of the Marvel/Disney’s monopoly on a series of comic book movies based upon a collection of titles. The bashing for the DCEU has become utter ridiculous and excessive. I am also beginning to wonder if those who had accused Disney/Marvel of paying off the critics to bad mouth ALL THREE DCEU movies that have been released so far … had been right after all. Because this criticism has become over the top. It has now extended to both “WONDER WOMAN” and “JUSTICE LEAGUE” and they have yet to be released. Has bashing the DCEU movies become the “in” thing to do? Just as bashing the “STAR WARS” Prequel films is still a popular past time? I hope not. For I had almost bought it myself.

When “MAN OF STEEL”“BATMAN v. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” and “SUICIDE SQUAD” first hit the theaters, I was reluctant to see all three, because I had stupidly accepted the bad opinions about them. Yet, I overcame my reluctance and went to see them, anyway. And when I finally saw those three movies, I enjoyed them. All of them. Very much. In fact, I regard “BATMAN v. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” as one of the best comic book hero movies I have ever seen. And that was when I finally realized that a film critic’s opinion was worth dog shit. No more. I am simply going to form my own opinion of any movie I am interested in seeing. And I refuse to be some mindless drone and accept the views of others simply because it is the in-thing to do.

The idea that we are supposed to be accept that the Marvel or MCU films are better than the DCEU films, because many film critics or movie fans say so is irrelevant. It is irrelevant, because their views are matters of opinion. Preference. I do not accept this view “numbers matter” regarding the artistic quality of a film, because I do not share it. I have watched a lot of comic book movies in my time. From my perspective, only my opinion of an individual movie count. I do not care whether any those movies are based upon the titles of Marvel, DC Comics or any other comic book company that exists. And considering that art and entertainment are subjective in the end, what is the point in declaring that MCU films are better or that DCEU movies are better? It seems like a waste of time to me. I think we all should focus on which individual movies that appeals to us and not bother on which company makes the better films.

Warner Bros./DCEU is scheduled to release two movies in 2017. Disney/MCU has scheduled three to be released. I plan to see all five movies this year. And I will be damned if I pay attention to any film critics or moviegoer . . . until after I have seen these movies. Regardless of who performs better at the box office, I am the one who will decide which films I want to see and which ones I want to buy, regardless of whether they came from DC Comics or Marvel.

“DOCTOR STRANGE” (2016) Review

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“DOCTOR STRANGE” (2016) Review

Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) scored its first big box office hit of 2016 with the release of “CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR”. Six months later, the organization and producer Kevin Fiege scored another hit with its first adaptation of the Marvel Comics character, Doctor Strange.

Directed by Scott Derrickson and starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the starring role, “DOCTOR STRANGE” told unveiled the origin story of a successful New York City neurosurgeon named Dr. Stephen Strange, whose career ends when he loses the use of both hands in a traumatic car accident. Despite emotional support from his former lover and colleague Dr. Christine Palmer, Stephen vainly pursues one experimental surgery after another in the hopes of mending his hands, so that he can regain his medical career. When all else fails, he learns about a paraplegic who was mysteriously able to walk again named Jonathan Pangborn. The latter directs Stephen to a community in Tibet called Kamar-Taj.

Upon reaching the Tibetan city, Stephen meets a sorcerer named Karl Mordo. The latter recommends Strange as a potential student to his former mentor, a sorceress named The Ancient One. The latter displays her abilities with the mystic arts to Stephen, revealing the astral plane and other dimensions such as the Mirror Dimension. An amazed Strange begs her to teach him her abilities. The Ancient One reluctantly agrees, despite her wariness over his arrogance, which reminds her of a former student named Kaecilius. The latter and his new group of zealots had recently broke into Kamar-Taj secret compound, beheaded the librarian and stolen a secret ritual from a book that belonged to the Ancient One. With this stolen ritual, Kaecilius hopes to learn the means to acquire the power of eternal life. And it is up to The Ancient One, Mordo, the new librarian Wong and Stephen to stop him.

Superficially, “DOCTOR STRANGE” proved to be a different kettle of fish for Marvel. One, due to the abilities of the main protagonist and other supporting characters, this movie marked the MCU’s first foray into magic. Well … not really. The two previous “THOR” more or less stated that at least two of its characters practiced magic. But the subject of magic was never fully explored until “DOCTOR STRANGE”. Also, the movie marked the first time in which the main character practiced magic. Second, the method in which Stephen defeated the main antagonist’s goals did not rely upon violence of any kind. Our magical hero basically resorted to magic and cunning to win the day. To be honest, I cannot recall any other Marvel hero or heroine who did not resort to brute force to defeat any of the main villains in the past thirteen films. And although the MCU movie had its share of unusual visual effects – especially 2015’s “ANT-MAN”, those for “DOCTOR STRANGE” has to be the most visually stunning effects I have ever seen in any Marvel film so far.

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As for the narrative itself … well, it is not bad. Aside from the unorthodox manner in which Stephen defeated the villain(s), “DOCTOR STRANGE” seemed to be your typical, paint-by-the-numbers superhero origin story. And I noticed that the film borrowed a good deal from other movies. Considering Stephen’s arrogant and witty personality, the movie bears a strong resemblance to the 2008 film, “IRON MAN”. In fact, like Tony Stark, Stephen’s arrogance remains intact by the last reel. Also, some of the visual effects reminded me of those found in Christopher Nolan’s 2010 movie, “INCEPTION”. And one of the villains that Stephen has to defeat in the end, Dormammu, reminded me of the villain called Parallax from the 2011 D.C. Comics film, “THE GREEN LANTERN”. Perhaps the originality found in “DOCTOR STRANGE” is limited to the MCU movies.

Although the topic of magic allowed the special effects team to provide moviegoers with some astounding visuals, I must admit that I found the movie’s portryal of magic to be a little … well, limited. Most of the magic presented in “DOCTOR STRANGE” seemed to consist of jumping through portals – either from one spot on the Earth to the next or to another dimension. If the movie’s magic practitioners were not jumping through portals, they were utilzing magical objects like the red Mystical Cloak of Levitation from the New York City sanctum that attached itself to Stephen; and the Eye of Agamotto, a relic containing an Infinity Stone that can manipulate time – which Stephen had used against Dormammu in the final action scene. Only one spell had appeared in the movie – the one that Kaecilius used to summon Dormammu.

The movie’s narrative suffered from one major aspect – characterization. One, the story lacked a strong leading lady. I personally have nothing against Rachel McAdams as an actress. But it seemed obvious that director/screenwriter Scott Derrickson and his fellow writers, Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill did not know what to do with the Christine Palmer character. She was there to simply there to comfort Stephen following his accident and tend to his wounds, later in the film. At least McAdams had more lines than fellow cast member, Michael Stuhlbarg. The latter portrayed fellow surgeon, Nicodemus West, who seemed to exist to receive caustic criticism and needling from Stephen. Otherwise … what on earth was he there for? I realize that Marvel has a history of wasting some of its supporting character, but … good grief! And then we have poor Mads Mikkelsen, who had the bad luck to be cast as one of the most badly written villains in the MCU franchise. The Danish actor portrayed The Ancient One’s former student, Kaecilius, who resented the Ancient One’s method for maintaining a long life and long to do the same … even if it meant threatening the world by summoning Dormammu, the inter-dimensional being responsible for his former mentor’s long life. That is basically Kaecilius’ goal – to extend his life. That is what his attacks on the Ancient One’s sanctums in different parts of the world were about. Quite frankly, I was not impressed and believe that Mikkelsen was wasted in the role. Two actors and an actress wasted in one film. I find this disturbing.

And then … we have Tilda Swinton in the role of “The Ancient One”. In the Marvel comics, the Ancient One was a Tibetan man. In the name of “diversity”, Marvel decided to re-write the character as a Celtic woman … and still have her located in Tibet. Hmmmmm. Mind you, Swinton gave a first-rate performance as the mysterious and somewhat ambiguous spiritual and magical leader. But … “whitewashing!”. Marvel committed a major act of whitewashing. It is not the first time. But this was the most obvious example, considering the arguments that Derrickson and his two co-writers Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill used to excuse their changes. They had claimed that they wanted to avoid the stereotypical portrayal of Asians – namely the “Dr. Fu Manchu”“Dragon Lady” or the “young Asian woman sex fetish” types – by re-writing the Ancient One role as a non-Asian. So, they cast Swinton in the role. Frankly, I did not buy the arguments. The filmmakers did NOT have to re-write the role as a Westerner in order to avoid the Asian stereotypes. Any good actor or actress of Asian descent worth his or her salt could have done wonders with the role without resorting to stereotypes. A good example would be James Hong and Victor Wong’s outstanding performances in the 1986 movie, “BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA”. But if Marvel was that determined for Ms. Swinton to portray “The Ancient One”, they could have re-located the character’s main sanctum somewhere in Scotland, Ireland or Wales.

However, “DOCTOR STRANGE” did feature some interesting performances that I had enjoyed. Benedict Wong, who could have easily been cast in the role of “The Ancient One”, managed to give a subtle and wry performance as the Kamar-Taj Sanctum’s librarian, Wong, despite his minimal screen appearances. Benjamin Bratt gave a brief, but very memorable performance as Jonathan Pangborn, a paraplegic who learned how to heal himself under the tutelege of “The Ancient One”. The movie’s mid-credit sequence also featured an amusing appearance by Chris Hemsworth as Thor. I can only assume that this was Marvel’s way of introducing the next film featuring the “God of Thunder” and the fact that Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange will be appearing in that film.

When “DOCTOR STRANGE” first hit the movie screens, many filmgoers had complained about his American accent. To be honest, Cumberbatch’s accent seemed to lack any traces of his British ancestry. But I thought his accent had a trans-Atlantic vibe that I found rather bland. I could not regard his performance as the imaginative, yet arrogant Dr. Stephen Strange as bland. Like Robert Downey Jr. before him, Cumberbatch managed to create a character that was both infuriating and likable. But I thought that Chiwetel Ejiofor’s portrayal of Karl Mordo, another sorcerer who was trained by the Ancient One, proved to be the most interesting one in the film. Ironically, there was no outcry over the Karl Mordo character being changed from an Eastern European to a person of African descent. Considering the difficulties that many non-white actors and actresses still face in acquiring work in the movie and television industries, I am not surprised. But the best thing about Ejiofor is how he transformed Karl from an amiable sorcerer with a deep faith in the practices taught to him by the Ancient One to a potentially dangerous fanatic who became embittered by the Ancient One and Stephen’s willingness to use magic to defy nature. It is a pity that his performance has not garner much notice, except by the Evening Standard British Film Awards.

Overall, “DOCTOR STRANGE” is a solid entry for the Marvel Cinematic Universe that featured decent direction by Scott Derrickson and solid performances from a cast led by Benedict Cumberbatch. But aside from the movie’s visual effects, I would not consider to be particularly mind-blowing. I also believe that the movie was hampered by some poor characterizations and a misguided casting choice for one particular character. Oh well, Marvel cannot always hit it out of the ballpark.

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