Episode 107: Avengers Infinity War

After 10 years and 18 films, Marvel’s ambitious, unique interconnected world of superhero films comes to this, a team-up movie the likes of which we have never seen before. Historic in its scope and in its box office success, Avengers: Infinity War is a special blockbuster and one that provides plenty to discuss. We’ve been chomping at the bit to talk about this one, its place in the MCU, and where Marvel goes from here.

Avengers: Infinity War Review – 0:02:33

The Connecting Point – 01:27:30


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MOVIE REVIEW: Avengers: Infinity War

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)

2 Hours and 29 Minutes (PG-13)

Marvel and The Russo Brothers had a very daunting task before them. Paying off the culmination of a decade of build-up and backstory, stretching over 18 films, is a challenge unlike any studio or director in Hollywood had ever faced. And to accomplish this feat, they worked with what has to be the largest cast of known stars ever assembled for a movie. The ambition of Marvel and its commitment to the cinematic universe it pioneered is worthy of praise and respect.

If there’s one thing I was looking for in Avengers: Infinity War, it was raised stakes. Much like the comic books these films are based on (in which characters rarely die and cities are destroyed without much afterthought), Marvel films have not fully dealt with loss in a way that seems realistic. Right from the start of Infinity War, though, Marvel makes it very clear that has changed. The potential consequences of a Thanos (Josh Brolin) victory are evident and the film progresses with an emotional weight and sense of urgency that it could not have attained if the studio followed its same old formula. This also creates much more investment in characters and the worlds they inhabit, and thus pays off quite a few very moving scenes in a much bigger way. If you haven’t cried in a Marvel movie before, you’re not alone, but this may be your first. I had genuine chills a few different times. But don’t worry, that trademark Marvel humor and witty one-liners are still there and won’t have you depressed for too long at a time.

Another area that Marvel outdoes previous films in their own franchise is with Thanos himself. Make no mistake, this is his film and his story. He is a fully developed villain with more screen time than any before him, and it helps to create a character with whom the audience can both despise and yet struggle with feelings of empathy for. Brolin’s talent is very obvious in this performance despite the incredible looking CGI that encompasses him. His Thanos is not just some loud, angry, destructive villain. He is intelligent and calculating. He is nuanced. He is cold, yes, but when he gives his reasons for what he wants to do with the Infinity Stones and why, in a very warped way it makes some sense. His presence as the foil to the Avengers and Guardians gives this film something unique and memorable.

With a cast this large it is inevitable that not everyone’s favorite will have the responsibility or amount of action they hope for. The Russo’s do an admirable job of balancing these heroes, however, and somehow left me feeling satisfied. Sure, a little more backstory or deeper character moments for them all would be nice, but it’s also unrealistic to expect in a single film of this length. By managing to give everyone at least one small moment in the sun, the Russo’s succeed where I believe many would have failed. Another result of keeping most character development small is that the film moves fast, pausing a few times for majorly impactful storyline beats, but mostly cutting between different groups of heroes working to accomplish different tasks. By keeping the heroes in smaller groups, we get to feel more focused when we’re with them, and enjoy the new forms of dialogue that emerge between characters who previously had not interacted.

The action in Avengers: Infinity War is, as expected, fantastic. Seeing heroes fight together with new gear and weapons, or teaming up in ways never experienced by movie goers before, was a huge treat. In one major battle that involves a host of heroes and countless alien attackers, the Silvestri score and rising stakes create a feeling similar to that in the Battle of the Pelennor Field from The Return of the King. While Avengers: Infinity War never quite reaches that level of epic, it comes much closer than many (myself included) ever thought possible.

VERDICT

If you’re thinking that this review is a but vague, please know that is by design. Fans have waited 10 years for this and going in with as little information possible is going to result in the best viewing experience. Avengers: Infinity War isn’t entirely unpredictable, but it’s got some surprises too. The historic puzzle that the Russo Brothers have put together is nothing short of amazing and will lend itself to multiple viewings. Perhaps that’s the highest praise possible for a film of this kind, that after it finished I immediately would have sat through those 2.5+ hours again. To sum it all up, Avengers: Infinity War lived up to the hype by being both entertaining and emotional. Well done, Marvel. Well done.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 106: Moneyball

Baseball season is back so we’re celebrating the start of America’s favorite pastime by discussing Moneyball with Chad Hopkins from The Cinescope Podcast. It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball and we hope to capture that in this conversation about a wonderful film based on Michael Lewis’ book of the same name.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:02:50

(Aaron – La La Land Film & Theology, The Cat Returns )
(Patrick – Teaching Podcasting to 6th Graders)
(Chad – Fan Expo Dallas )

Moneyball Review – 0:13:43

The Connecting Point – 1:07:29


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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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Guardians of the MOVIE REVIEW: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

For weeks, the Disney/Marvel marketing machine has been dropping 30-second nuggets of hype on our television screens, promising copious amounts of adorable Baby Groot shenanigans and Drax the Destroyer punch lines. And while Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 makes good on those promises, this is a decidedly different experience from Volume 1, mostly in that there is a lot less galaxy guarding and a lot more reconciling with daddy issues. It’s a cinematic equivalent of spending two hours on a therapist’s couch, with a few action sequences thrown in to appease any of the natives who might be getting restless.

Spending time addressing personal relationships between characters shouldn’t surprise anyone up to date with Marvel’s film library. Marvel historically uses sequels as association points for their future cinematic plans. In order for the Guardians to move forward, it was necessary to take a step back to fine tune some character arcs and throw a few lingering contrivances to the curb. Despite somewhat fidgety pacing and Director James Gunn’s compulsion to wring many of his gags of every last drop of usefulness, Guardians Vol. 2 mostly succeeds as a fun, humorous addition to the Marvel pantheon, and a workable catalyst for the summer 2017 onslaught of blockbuster entertainment.

When Guardians Vol. 1 premiered in 2014, only ardent Marvel comic book fans were in the loop on this collection of characters, none of whom looked like any of the Avengers we had become accustomed to seeing on screen. It was considered a big risk for Marvel Studios- stepping out of their cinematic comfort zone- playing with toys from the back of the closet- hoping audiences would embrace these second tier creations. And it worked. But whenever something works, it undoubtably comes with an added burden to carry forward…. expectations.

So what is Gunn & Co. to do, now faced with the unenviable task of taking this ragtag cast of B-list characters to the next level? Fanboys are a brutal lot. Just look at the backlash lobbied against nerd demigod Joss Whedon when his vision for Avengers: Age of Ultron didn’t meet with the ridiculous standard set forth from within grandma’s basements across the globe. Gunn could have taken the easy route. He had his golden ticket to fall back on- Chris Pratt, who’s boyish charm and charisma elevate even the most outlandish of flawed premises. He could have served up another helping of intergalactic cheese, ending with a typical, “and I’d have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling kids,” mustache twirling villain meets a predicable and mildly anticlimactic demise. Make no mistake, all of this exists here, but Gunn also layers in some emotional character beats that add a depth and complexity to these characters both as individuals and as a team.

Guardians Vol. 2 lays a lot of its chips down on dealing with family conflict, the need for acceptance, and the power of redemption. In Peter Quill (Pratt), questions about his past are answered, not necessarily to his liking, but in a way that allows him to determine the type of person he ultimately chooses to become. His curiosity about his father has always consumed him, yet what keeps him whole is the memory of his mother and the Walkman she gifted him. She was the one that was always there for him, until she wasn’t. Not even an all powerful, scene chewing Kurt Russell wielding promises of immortality is going to stand between that.

For Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan), sibling rivalry- a construct of a father with ulterior motives- comes to a violent head, where festering animosities collide in a burst of emotion and enlightenment. Gillan’s tortured, angry Nebula is a stand out, and the catharsis she and her sister work toward is earned in every respect.

For Rocket (Bradley Cooper), the facade of being a wise talking douche-bag is challenged. What he discovers about himself is a true need for others- a compulsion to be a part of a family- and his propensity to distance himself from others is a wall of his own construct to shield himself from having to admit as such.

Refreshingly, much of the emotional weight of the film falls on the dark blue shoulders of Yondu (Michael Rooker). He is the Severus Snape of the series, altogether loathed and loved within the course of an hour. His is the redemptive spirit that holds court over the film, ultimately rebinding the family unit that has been tested.

Don’t be concerned with all of the Freudian psychoanalysis however, for when these themes start to weigh the film down, you can count on another influx of Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) antics or a bout of infectious Drax (Dave Bautista) belly laughing to lighten the mood. Gunn is fully aware that a need to see spaceship battles and explosions are requisites he cannot ignore completely, even if his dual commitment to developing his characters and his need to sate his audience’s desire for action sometimes struggle to play nicely together.

Visually, Guardians Vol. 2 sticks with the same motif that worked in the first film, using a color palate and set designs that feel like a space opera created by Dr. Seuss. The battle scenes are ambitious, but sometimes feel a bit too busy and suffer as a result from a cacophony of sight and sound that is impossible to decipher. The soundtrack is becoming an important “character” in the series as well, and again regales us with an eclectic mix of 80’s nostalgia, eagerly ripped from the stereo of our parent’s sedan or from the “middle-aged white persons” list in karaoke bars. Seriously, you know you’re cranking “Brandy” when the opportunity presents itself.

I suppose it’s apropos that Guardians Vol. 2 would be the film that topples The Fate of the Furious from the domestic box office perch. A series that roots itself in family, supplanted by another. Guardians and Furious seem to be kindred spirits, both harboring in over the top action yet allowing for room to breathe and grow. Guardians has positioned itself to move nicely forward, having rid itself of much of the personal baggage leftover from Vol. 1.

Yet, there will be a bit of backlash against Guardians. It’s standard for these types of films. I don’t like to throw around the term critic proof, as films like this are usually categorized. Everything should be considered for subjective analysis, even if it will rake in a mountain of cash regardless. Don’t tell me I need to lighten up, or that it’s a “popcorn movie.” Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking any blockbuster film shouldn’t be held to the highest standard. The minute we stop caring about characters and how they fit into ongoing stories is the minute we start enabling studios to churn out cinematic chum that blind masses of filmgoers will swarm towards in any regard. Do you really think the majority of people flocking to the theaters for Marvel movies are looking for something with depth? Ask yourself…how many people got up after the screen went blank, oblivious to the five post credit sequences still to come? How is this still a thing with Marvel movie audiences? Marvel doesn’t have to try anymore. They could easily cater to the lowest denominator, and yet, they don’t. They still care about the fans, unlike that Michael Bay franchise that somehow continues to gorge itself on the shekels of middle class Americans. They still see a need for character development and conflict. I’m not saying don’t criticize, just be careful what you’re criticizing. Be upset about the way that Guardians handled Quill’s daddy issues if you need to, but don’t be upset that they brought them up and fleshed them out. Know the difference between criticizing and whining. We should always want the best effort, and I think for the most part Marvel has delivered. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 being no exception. We are Groot.

Episode 056: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

It’s The Fast & Furious, in spaaaaaaaace. Well, maybe not quite, but it’s close. With a strong theme of family resonating throughout, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 gives us much more to discuss than just really cool space battles (but there are plenty of those, too). The character depth here is a real strength and it’s clear that director James Gunn knows exactly the tone he’s going for. In our opinion, he mostly nails it. We have a fun conversation about this one. WE ARE GROOT.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:54

(Patrick – The Way, Way Back)
(Aaron – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Psycho-Pass, La La Land)

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review – 0:20:26

The Connecting Point – 1:08:45

Download this Episode


Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

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