Review of “Avengers: Infinity War”

Thanos (Josh Brolin) is on a quest to find all the Infinity Stones and put into motion his plan to kill off half the humanoid life in the universe. His plan is to end overpopulation and stretch available resources for the survivors improving the quality of life. His world of Titan suffered from overpopulation and a lack of resources destroying his home. One of the stones, the Tesseract, is in the possession of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) on the ship with the survivors from Asgard. Bruce Banner in the form of the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) tries to stop him but fails and Heimdall (Idris Elba) opens a portal and sends Hulk to Earth where he crashes into the Sanctum Santorum of Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) who possesses the Time Stone. Dr. Strange opens a portal and gets in touch with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and he and Banner tell him about Thanos. Thanos sends his “children” to Earth to find the Stones that are on Earth while he heads to Knowhere to find another of the Stones and destroys the Asgardian ship as he leaves. An unconscious Thor (Chris Hemsworth) lands on the windshield of the Guardians of the Galaxy’s ship. When he regains consciousness he tells them about Thanos and learns Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is his adopted child. The Guardians split up in an effort to stop Thanos while Stark, Dr. Strange and Peter Parker (Tom Holland), a.k.a. Spider-Man, hitch a ride on one of Thanos’ henchmen’s ships heading off to Titan.

“Avengers: Infinity War” is a massive film running two and a half hours and featuring practically every main character from all 18 preceding movies. It doesn’t waste any time with unnecessary backstory as it expects you to bring some knowledge into the theater with you. This movie should be no one’s entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You need to have done your homework before you sit down to watch. Some might consider that a weakness but I believe it is a tribute to the fans that have invested their time and money into a franchise that developed a vision over the course of the last decade. This is the prize for their loyalty and it is a very well-crafted prize at that.

There are moments that will take the audience aback in “Avengers: Infinity War.” There are surprising choices that fly in the face of conventional superhero filmmaking, including an ending that can only be considered a downer. Sniffles coming from some members of the audience I saw the film with are also an indication this isn’t your average special effects and spandex endeavor. There are universe-shaking events in the film. While I’m well aware we are getting a second film currently scheduled for release on May 3, 2019 that may completely undo everything that has happened in “Avengers: Infinity War” I don’t believe it will be a complete reset to where we were prior to this film.

There are some real-world practical reasons for this. First, actors are coming to the ends of their contracts. Chris Evans says the next movie will be his last for Marvel. The relentless passage of time means it’s getting harder to get in the kind of shape Chris Hemsworth and several other actors have transformed their bodies into for these movies. There are also the artistic desires of the actors to do something else that doesn’t require them to stand in front of a green screen for months at a time and pretend to fight giant alien monsters.

Then there’s the money. According to the website boxofficemojo.com, including “Avengers: Infinity War’s” opening weekend, the 19 Marvel Cinematic Universe films have a worldwide gross of over $15-billion. Actors may sign early contracts that pay fairly small amounts of money to start but as they sign new deals their paycheck demands get bigger. Walt Disney Studios, which owns Marvel, is willing to pay up to a point but they also know there are actors that would sell their souls to be in a successful franchise film. Eventually the established actors price themselves out of a job and since their characters often have multiple variations (like Captain America having been at least three different people in the comics) it is fairly simple to replace a highly paid actor for someone cheaper. All these reasons are why the Marvel Cinematic Universe prior to “Infinity War” will likely look different after the next film.

All of that may play a part in the behind-the-scenes drama but all the fans care about is the drama up on the screen and “Avengers: Infinity War” certainly has more than enough to keep them interested. Probably the most interesting character in the film is the Big Bad, Thanos himself. While his methods are clearly evil his motive is in a twisted way noble: He’s trying to improve the quality of life for everyone left alive if his plan is successful. He sees himself as brave for making the hard choice for every intelligent being in the universe. His own world wouldn’t listen when he suggested this plan and it is now a barren and lifeless wasteland. His methodology is to save the world you have to destroy it first. Of course those most affected by his plan, that is the half that will die, have no say in what happens to them. Thanos considers that fair since who lives and dies is decided by random chance. Your wealth and power or lack thereof isn’t a consideration. He sees himself as a universal savior with a mission so important he will not let anyone interfere. It is similar to an episode from the original run of “Star Trek.” The episode is called “The Conscience of the King” and tells the story of a colony facing starvation and the leader killing some of the colonists to save the rest. The main difference is not every world is facing the same problems as Titan and they don’t all need this drastic solution. It’s rare for a superhero movie to bring up such heady ideas and vexing moral dilemmas but “Avengers: Infinity War” does just that.

While all this might sound very dour the script written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely has lots of lighter moments and jokes peppered through the first half. Everyone from Tony Stark to Dr. Strange to Mantis gets a chance to make the audience laugh. While not as joke-packed as “Thor: Ragnarok” or “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2,” “Avengers: Infinity War” still manages to find some lighter moments until the darker parts of the plot kick in.

And there is darkness in the film over and above Thanos’ plan to wipe out half the intelligent life in the universe. There are cruel choices some characters make that are mind-blowing in their effect. It is once again a wildly unconventional choice for a superhero film and Marvel should be commended for not sticking to the tried and true formula they’ve implemented since 2008’s “Iron Man.”

The main problem with the film is its sheer size. The story jumps from planet to planet and hero to hero very quickly. There are times when you’re not sure where you are in the story and what happened the last time you were with this particular group. There are multiple battles going on simultaneously so all the action tends to become muddled despite the various fights’ different locations. The CGI-heavy battles also make it difficult at times to tell what each character is doing, especially in hand-to-hand combat. A scene set in Scotland at night is particularly muddy. No event in the film really gets a chance to breathe despite its emotional heft or importance. These are minor complaints but they became more noticeable as the film went on.

“Avengers: Infinity War” is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence, action throughout, language and some crude references. There are numerous battles on both large and small scales. We see a couple of characters impaled on various spear-type implements. A character is thrown from a cliff. Numerous monster-like creatures are killed in battle in various violent ways. Many of them are shown being cut in half by a protective energy shield. Several characters turn into dust. Foul language is scattered and mild.

Whether you like superhero movies or not you have to be impressed with the technical and logistical achievement of “Avengers: Infinity War.” The movie’s Wikipedia page lists approximately 50 actors with roles of various sizes, some of which could be considered walk-ons at best along with thousands of extras. There were filming locations in New York City, Atlanta, the Philippines, Scotland, and England. There were numerous visual effects houses used to bring Thanos, his children and all the other alien creatures to life and produce the environments where all the action takes place. The estimated production costs “Avengers: Infinity War” are estimated to be between $300-million and $400-million, likely making it the most expensive movie ever made. With all these moving parts and the enormous cost it’s a wonder it was released on time or ever got made at all. The fact that the film lives up to its enormous hype and is very entertaining and emotional affecting is nothing short of a miracle.

“Avengers: Infinity War” gets five stars.

While it is likely the Avengers will take the top spot at the box office for at least the next couple of weeks there will be three new movies hoping you are looking for something different this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Bad Samaritan—

Overboard—

Tully—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest in movie, TV and streaming entertainment news. It’s available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Doctor Strange”

Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a brilliant but arrogant neurosurgeon. He takes on cases that are difficult but he feels he can help the patient recover and live while turning down cases he is concerned might besmirch his perfect record. His former girlfriend Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) is a trauma surgeon in the same hospital. While they are no longer in a relationship they are still friends. While driving to an awards banquet in his honor, Strange has a car crash that severely damages his hands. The nerve damage is so severe he can no longer operate. Strange is lost and searching for some kind of remedy while at the same time driving Christine away with his self-pity and lashing out. His physical therapist tells Strange about a former patient of his named Jonathan Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt) who had a spinal cord injury that confined him to a wheelchair but had found a treatment that let him walk again. Finding Pangborn playing basketball with his friends, Strange begs to find out how he was cured. Pangborn tells him to go to Kamar-Taj in Tibet. As Strange is walking through the streets of Kathmandu asking people if they know where Kamar-Taj is, he is seen by Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Saving Strange from some street thugs looking to rob him, Mordo takes Strange to Kamar-Taj to meet The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a teacher of the mystic arts. Showing Strange there are other realities besides the one he knows, Strange begins to study and soon is able to cast spells that conjure shields and weapons as well as open portals that allow instant transportation to just about anywhere on the planet. The Ancient One also teaches Strange about the dangerous realms where creatures of great evil dwell and to avoid being seduced by their power. She tells him of one of her former students, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), who was tempted by a dark power and is trying to use a forbidden spell stolen from The Ancient One’s library to open our world up to being taken over by this evil creature. Kaecilius and his followers have attacked and destroyed one of the three sanctums that protect the Earth from threats of the metaphysical kind. It’s now up to Strange to use his newfound powers to protect the Earth from Kaecilius and a dark evil from another dimension.

“Doctor Strange” is a middling entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It doesn’t have the emotional punch of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” of even the first “Iron Man” film. It has some interesting ideas about realms beyond this universe and terrific performances from Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong. It also has some of the same problems as many other comic book movies.

My biggest issue with the movie is the miscast villain. Mads Mikkelsen is a great actor as he has shown in the TV show “Hannibal” and numerous movies. Kaecilius is a role that doesn’t allow Mikkelsen to use his great ability of quiet menace. Kaecilius is a flashy villain that casts spells and makes a big show of his power. While Mikkelsen does an admirable job of portraying Kaecilius as both thoughtful and ruthless, the part doesn’t match up to the actor’s strengths. Either the role needed to be written with less action, allowing Kaecilius’ acolytes to do all the fighting and running and he gets to be quiet and menacing, or another actor should have been cast. The part of the action villain doesn’t really fit Mikkelsen.

The story also lacks emotional heft. It never made me feel like the characters were the kinds of people that I was concerned for. At times, I wanted worse things to happen to Strange as after the accident he becomes even more self-obsessed and cruel, especially to Rachel McAdams’ Christine Palmer who shows him nothing but concern and compassion. I realize the character has to be portrayed as selfish in order for him to come around and be a hero but the script by director Scott Derrickson along with Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill does almost too good a job at making Strange a monster before putting him on the path or redemption.

Speaking of McAdams, she is criminally underused in the film. While her character, which shares the name of a comic book character known as the Night Nurse, might have a recurring role in future films, it will likely be either as a damsel in distress or as a love interest for the hero: In other words, more of the same for women in comic book movies. McAdams does a great job in the limited time she has on screen but both the actress and the character could have done a great deal more other than being a stereotypical doormat for Strange.

Aside from those problems, “Doctor Strange” is at times a visual acid trip. While I’ve never personally used a hallucinogen I can’t imagine the sights being much different than those when The Ancient One sends Strange on a quick journey into the multiverse. Between that and when Strange and Mordo battle Kaecilius and his followers in what looks to be a M. C. Escher-inspired New York landscape, “Doctor Strange” has some of the most inspired visuals of any MCU film. The non-acid trip parts of the movie look great too, including the car crash that ironically starts Doctor Strange on his journey and the introduction of the Cloak of Levitation which seems to have a personality that both matches and clashes with the wearer. There are some genuinely amazing sights to see in “Doctor Strange.”

I saw the IMAX 3D version and while the added dimension really never pops off the screen in an entertaining way, the larger format certainly made the movie feel more immersive. Still I don’t know if the added cost was worth it.

“Doctor Strange” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action throughout, and an intense crash sequence. The violence is both fantastical and intense. Kaecilius and his followers conjure spears that look like glass. There is also a whip that is made of orange energy that looks like it burns. While it isn’t directly shown, one character is beheaded. Another character appears to lose an arm. There are numerous fights of both the magical and non-magical kind. Blood is minimal. The car crash, while clearly computer generated, might scare smaller children. Strange is shown being thrown around inside the car and his hands being crushed. Foul language is scattered and consists of words often heard on basic cable shows.

For all its mind-bending visuals and talk of the multiverse, “Doctor Strange” is a pretty conventional superhero origin story. Stephen Strange is a flawed character that needs something extraordinary to open his eyes to the world (and worlds) beyond his knowledge. Most who become super beings from relatively normal beginnings bring along some kind of flaw or issue that needs to receive an other worldly kick in the pants to straighten them out. Much like Tony Stark and Thor Odinson, Stephen Strange was presented with a problem he couldn’t fix and had to set aside his ego to become a better person. As superhero origin stories go “Doctor Strange” isn’t breaking any new ground. It also doesn’t give us an emotional connection to the characters that would set this film above the middle of the Marvel pack. It isn’t great but it is pretty good.

“Doctor Strange” gets four magical stars out of five.

This week, the holidays arrive early, the help arrives to find strangeness afoot and the aliens just arrive. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Almost Christmas—

Arrival—

Shut In—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.