Death Is on the Hunt – Avengers: Infinity War (2018); Anthony & Joe Russo

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Anthony and Joe Russo give us the third Avengers film, the penultimate of the series that will be completed in 2019 with the final chapter that will “restore the balance” in our crippled universe. If you’ve seen the film, you should be able to get my reference as restoring the balance pretty much summarises the ambition of the movie’s villain, Thanos.

Thanos does credit to his name, the derivation of “thanatos”, the Greek word for death given that he had been wiping out planets for years and now he’s on the verge of fulfilling his destiny, as he likes to call it, that is to grant an omni-galactic half-genocide to combat over population. Josh Brolin does an excellent job at breathing life into the character and although GCI-assisted, it’s striking how detailed and powerful his emotions come across. We’ve seen this before of course, with the great Andy Serkis’s Caesar in the Planet of the Apes trilogy but it is quite remarkable here as Brolin is portraying an odd-looking, huge, purple alien.

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It is right to say that the movie is set around the man, as several (five or six) sub-plots see the usual characters gradually joining forces to fight him. It is outstanding how the Russo Brothers managed to put all these characters (20 main, 76 in total) in one movie and not make it feel disjointed or awkward. This is true especially for the first half of the movie, when the threat is still fresh and our heroes are tracing allies and old friends, and the thrill builds up nicely with the transitions between the different storylines. As we move in the second half, there is an ambience of doom and despair sweeping across all fronts that try to stand on Thanos’ way.

Infinity War is a good movie overall as it surprisingly combines smoothly several sub-plots in one narrative and remains interesting and fast-paced throughout its’ 149 minutes. The movie is rich in visual effects and tight action that escalates tension, especially as we get to realise that Thanos is an omni-potent enemy and won’t be dealt with easily. In a way, the film feels epic and important thanks to its scale and cast ensemble but doesn’t really reach that level of enjoyment and cinematic craft (at least not from a directing point of view…).

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Dialogue is emphasised, with many close and dramatic takes. Vision and Wanda, and Gamora and Peter offer the basis for melodrama and tearful declarations of love in theatrical close ups. And then we also have the emotionally-charged scenes involving paternal figures and their “children”. Thanos and his adopted daughter, Gamora share a complicated relationship (that gives us one of the most moving scenes).

Their story imitates Greek mythology as Gamora attempts revenge for the death of her people (and mother) as a reversed Electra and ends up being sacrificed by her father like another Iphigenia. Tony and Peter on the other hand, have a heart-warming relationship fuelled by Peter’s admiration and gratitude for Stark’s faith in him and by Tony’s awakened paternal instincts that subconsciously made Peter his protégé.

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It is fair to say that there are a few jokes here and there but classic banter between heroes dominates the comedic writing style (that ends up being cheesy and predictable at times…), with only exception the fantastic interaction between Thor and the Guardians that produce the most genuinely funny scenes of the movie.

Also, considering the fact that Infinity War has an overall heavy and serious tone, and the comedy suffers from unoriginal writing, the movie might have benefited by embracing its’ darkness and staying loyal to it. I believe that for a film that aims to devastate and crush the audience with fear and loss, humour as it was used here looses its power and to make matters worse, damages the emotional credibility for drama.

When the Guardians rescue Thor, the sequence of jokes feels appropriate and true to the characters because of the established and unique style that their own films are set in, however when Peter Quill jerks around Tony when he’s trying to come up with a plan at a critical moment, it simply feels out of tone. Interestingly enough, despite my argument on Thor’s ownership of actual fun in the movie, it is remarkable that he also delivers one of the most emotionally-charged scenes as well.

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After Avengers: Infinity War, you might feel a bit down, need some time to process the tight, rich spectacle you’ve just witnessed, reconsider who your favourite Avenger is, place a bet with friends about who is actually going to die in the next movie, and look up Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel. Also, you might have learnt a lesson about group work and anger management, seeing how it takes only one person losing their temper for the mission to be jeopardised. Finally, you might compare your courage to that of Cap and his clan, and reflect upon the purpose of stories with so outrageously courageous individuals and how these may affect our Ego Ideal?

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Tunes, feelings and colours; Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 (2017), dir: James Gunn

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One thing’s for sure; James Gunn knows how to capture our fantasy and engage us with laughs and effortless cuteness right from the opening credits. Baby Groot’s dance number is performed in a CGI celebration of colour, humour and music, and sets you in the right mood for the adventure you’re about to witness.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 is great fun thanks to the striking visuals, the chemistry among  the  cast and  also, because the action plays on character development by taking advantage of everyone and splitting screen time almost equally. And so the diverse gang that protects the Galaxy returned with Vol.2 to bring a spectacle of robust CGI scenes, a breadth of feelings and clever, well-written dialogues that respect the characters evolution. Needless to say I loved the film because in its plot’s simplicity and predictability, it’s a fun ride to yet another strange and fun Marvel Universe.

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Michael Rooker delivers a memorable performance as the blue-skinned buccaneer Yondu. He is a man of multiple layers and that makes him incredibly relatable and likeable. Yondu’s biggest mistake was to betray the trust of his fellow Ravagers which leaves him exiled by their community and utterly hurt, regretful and tormented. Nothing compares to the effect on the audience when a crude and shielded character unveils his emotions and unspoken truths, by revealing where his heart truly lies and by seeking redemption by all costs.

Mantis (Pom Klementieff), the empathic sole companion/habitat of Ego is fresh, funny, sweat and surprisingly strong. Her flourishing friendship with Drax is heart-warming and amusing. Bradley Cooper does once more great voice work with Rocket, the piece-of-work modified raccoon whose wild nature and bad temper tries the patience of his friends. The scene where Yondu confronts his trouble-making nature and pushes him to admit his vulnerabilities is impactful and memorable.

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The film has weaknesses like any other; every time Chris Pratt, the Star-Lord himself delivers a line on a dramatic tone, I find it funny, I can almost see him smile while yelling at his Ego-maniac father, or blaming Gamora for not being a supportive friend, or freaking out over Rocket’s theft… I simply can’t take him seriously. Although, I understand the rationale behind casting him as Peter Quill, I believe he is a comedy actor who fails drama, as it was recently proved in Passengers (2016). In addition, Guardians Vol.2 doesn’t achieve the laughs of its predecessor, with sarcastic hints and jokes that are dragged for too long and were not that funny to begin with, e.g. the Taserface teasing that had the whole crew bursting in tears of laughter (?), Drax’s share of funny comments (nope…), etc.

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Speaking of striking scenes, I believe the film gives one of the most colourful and heart-breaking funerals in cinema. Baby Groot’s torture and subsequent mission serves laughter upon tears, Yondu’s revenge is diabolically satisfying, Nebula (Karen Gillan) sharing her plans with Kraglin (Sean Gunn) is oddly devastating and funny and finally, Yondu’s ascend to space with Peter in his arms draw the simplicity of love and silence. Also, Groot (Vin Diesel) is the most adorable, one-sentence speaking, constantly teary-eyed wooden baby ever created and I feel constantly manipulated by how this little cute twig makes me feel…

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Guardian’s USP consists of the stunning spectacle of colourful visuals along with incredible 70’s mixed tapes that mark the action and inner dialogues. The film also emphasises the absolute need for respect to diversity and explores the concept of family, by placing friends as surrogates in the absence or incompetence demonstrated by blood-relations.

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After the film you might listen to Fleetwood Mac’s anthology, put on your most colourful outfits, think how cool it would be to be blue, green or purple (or any other skin tone of crazy colours and shapes you can imagine), try to imitate the way Mantis and Yondu talk and finally, think of the “crazy shit” you would built if you were a half-Celestial.