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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Thunderous laughter – Thor: Ragnarok (2017), dir: Taika Waititi

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This was such a blast! Laughing out loud throughout and being impressed by the charisma in the air. And… let’s all admit that the film’s poster could not have been any cooler!

Vivid colours, excellent visual effects, classic but effective storyline drawing the battle between good and evil, right and wrong, bravery and cowardice, the old and the new, etc. And all these given under the 70’s rock and electro musical influence that enriches the action scenes with a particular kick-ass dimension. The film’s tone although inspired by almost four decades ago is refreshing and beguiling. The action is tightly connected with transitory scenes that are purposeful in that one can even detect a laconic intention in directing from Waititi.

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There were moments when I felt that Ragnarok is all a comic-book film should be, a feel-good picture that leaves no opportunity for laughter unexploited but importantly so by not crossing the limits to ridicule. Of course, there are also films like Logan that again seem to be the pride and joy of the genre but found on the other side of the emotional scale of course.

There were a few amazing scenes, like the Valkyrie’s memory which is a slow motion, visual effect masterpiece. Valkyries and Hela seem as if they’ve jumped out a painting in an Arts Museum. The opening dialogue between Thor and the Fire Demon Surtur. Anthony Hopkins’ Asgard scene, where he imitates Loki’s lightness of speech and elegance of movement. Scenes shared between Thor and Loki are effortlessly funny and moving thanks to Hemsworth’s and Hiddleston’s chemistry. Thor’s attempts to take Hulk under his influence project childness and playfulness that keeps you interested. Banner’s first scenes after putting Hulk to sleep are pure enjoyment.

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Thor: Ragnarok is one of the funniest comic-book adaptation films, perhaps the second most self-mocking movie of the genre after Deadpool. Breaking the third wall is not necessary here however, with Thor being more than well-known amongst this audience who have countless references to rely on for ample laughter and excitement as it is.

Hemsworth proves himself as a gifted lead man with a surprising flair for comedy that does justice to the brilliantly entertaining dialogues. There’s also a sweetness in the character, his goofiness and comical predisposition are marked by a timid modesty, predominantly seen in the classic Hollywood leads of the likes of Rock Hudson, James Stewart and Cary Grant. The physicality of the part is again, a wonderful achievement: an integral part of how realistic the “strongest of the Avengers” should look like and of course, a great pleasure for us to behold (!)

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Tom Hiddleston puts a great deal of emotional charge in his performance; he plays along with the ridicule and parody of the damaged, competitive and mistrustful relationship of the brothers but at the same time he seems to have decided to delve deep into Loki’s psyche and deliver an exquisitely complex villain (considering the limitations of the nature of the project of course…).

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Cate Blanchett on the other hand, focuses more on Hela’s body language and delivery of lines to establish a powerful and distinct presence in the film. Blanchett’s Hela walks decisively and beautifully, swinging her body softly from side to side like a proud, seductive deer. Make-up and costume contribute massively to her transformation to a slim, elegant, deadly demon with shiny horns and piercing eyes. I caught myself looking forward to seeing her on screen; there was nothing of older roles of hers in Hela, it felt such an original approach.

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And what about Jeff Goldblum? How did he invent a Grandmaster so absurd and at the same time unpretentiously hilarious?! If you ask me, his scenes were amongst the funniest of the entire film; the intonation he delivered his lines with show a precious instinct for comedy while maintaining a certain naturalness. The way he fixes his jacket, the playfulness of his speech and other details composing this persona made me adore his presence on screen and left me wanting more. Incredible he was!

Mark Ruffalo was also a pleasure to watch both as Hulk and Banner; playing two parts with entirely different requirements each, the former being demanding on physicality and the latter accentuating fear and vulnerability.

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After the film you might attempt to imitate Hemsworth’s accent because we all know… Australians are simply the coolest, be tempted to do the “get help” trick with a friend at some point just for fun, stick the phrase “cause that’s what heroes do” after practically everything, you might ponder about what god/goddess you’d be of, would you be a peaceful or a wroth one, what signature costume you’d wear, powers etc., and finally, you might think about Banner’s situation for a second, how it resonates with most of us to some extent and also, trace the triggers that brings out the Hulk in you.

Godly Strength & (Com)Passion; Wonder Woman (2017), dir: Patty Jenkins

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There was something empowering, reassuring and bitter into experiencing even as a viewer the society made solely for and by women. These women, called Amazons have courage, kindness and bravery in their hearts, unique strength in their bodies and flawless technique in their minds. The film managed to recreate a utopian place where we get to first encounter our heroine, when it could easily have turned into a kitche setting. A slow motion spectacle of well-built legs, never-ending pony tales, round shields, sharp swords, elegant bows, shiny horses and white sand gives us an indulging first battle scene.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman is the embodiment of her superhero name; she is a godly creation, the perfect woman: beautiful, strong, powerful, brave and kind. She lacks diplomacy and experience but she’s equipped with an unwavering belief in a simplistic story she was taught as a child (not unlike many of us…) and a formidable devotion to her altruistic mission.

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Gadot’s performance is interspersed with small details that bring out the naturalness and purity of the heroine’s spirit. In the scene where she pays her mother the bitter farewell, we can see how Gadot uses her eyes wisely to take us though the character’s emotional transitions throughout the scene.  Bringing her eyebrows together, although used predominantly to express her persistence, focus and at times, frustration did not serve as an overworn mask for her.  Our heroine has a multi-layered personality, a heart-warming smile and a compassionate nature that starts her journey into the world of men entirely pure and hopeful, only to end up realising that good and evil bleed into each other inside the flesh of every human. Diana of Themoscera, Princess of the Amazons is sincere and compassionate but also, a fearless fighter with a mission to defeat the father of all suffering and evil, Ares.

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Chris Pine is equally exquisite to watch as his Steve is funny and ingratiatingly natural in a role that has been portrayed countless times in a shamefully cliché manner. Pine, on the other hand manages to build an intense character with a piercing look that projects his agony and urgency to see evil dominating the world to an end. Similarly to Gadot, little details in his performance makes it a refreshingly sincere one, a great example of which is the boat scene where a disarmingly naïve Diana reassures him that she will restore good in the world with her magic sword. There, between his awkwardness and discomfort, there is a precious glow in his eyes partnered with a shy smile, that of a miserable child that unwillingly surrenders to the hope of happiness for a brief moment.

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It is much in the details of both their performances that I felt most immersed into the story, such as the moment when an emotionally-charged Steve explains the duality of human nature to a disappointed and broken in spirit Diana and suddenly, pushes away a lock of hair blocking his eyes, or when Diana with a broken and sweat voice appoints Charlie as the singing member of their group.

Wonder Woman offers fresh humour that feeds on the contradictions between Steve and Diana, stemming from their different background (literally, worlds apart…), their beliefs and temperament. In addition, the warm feeling of companionship and genuine friendship is guaranteed when Steve and Diana group up with Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), Charlie (Ewen Bremner) and the Chief (Eugene Brave Rock) to set out for their dangerous journey to the front.

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The film has feminism in its core but without adopting a didactic tone and that makes Wonder Woman inspiring and powerfully evocative. I enjoyed Diana’s sharp criticisms on our society: the slavery of time, the dynamics defining the relationship between women and men, the cowardly position that nation leaders occupy, especially in critical times for their people, etc.

Even the romance is not a typical, cheesy love story but a rather original one, with the comical element replacing unnecessary smoochy encounters between the two. The friendship, admiration and respect for one another supersede lust, thus adding authenticity to their story. Also, their electrifying chemistry and humour support the main storyline without tricking our focus away from the film’s thematic spine.

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Wonder Woman presents an assembly of great and memorable scenes that prove the quality of the script and masterful directing from Patty Jenkins:

Diana’s spontaneous reactions to the clothes she’s trying on is a comical magnifying glass on the oppression suffered by 19th century women and the outrageousness of certain social norms. The entire boat scene is once more a funny statement against societal restrictions and unnecessary rituals and rules.  In parliament where Diana shames men politicians for their disregard of human life when it is not themselves who will be sacrificed in the name of power, we are reminded that true leaders see themselves as no different than their fellow man and that this is unfortunately true only in Themyscira (and other utopian places, where humans are nowhere to be found….).

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Finally, a glorious scene that honours the character’s 75 year-old legacy and pays credit to its iconic status is where we find Diana bravely embracing her inner need to help others by attempting to cross No Man’s Land. I dare you try not to get goose bumps when Diana first steps outside the fortress and takes a rain of bullets in a thrilling, CGI, slow motion spectacle. The score composed by Rupert Gregson-Williams  is not blameless either as its raw, dark and heroic tone enhances the impressive visuals.

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After the film you might feel too emotional and a little numb, admit that perfection might be achievable after all, or admit that there are gorgeous Aliens among us, consider starting horseback riding or sword-fighting, use coloured tablets to make your bath water look extraordinary, have an inner dialogue about whether Ares’s intentions were slightly misunderstood and finally, fantasise the day when men are extinct and women rule this beautiful world.