Monday, May 21, 2018

DEADPOOL 2 (2018)

A Cinema Knife Fight review with L.L. Soares (a review that seems to go against the general grain around this film!):

(WARNING: THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS!)

(THE SCENE: Outside the X-MEN’s mansion. LL SOARES has a bullhorn)

LS: Come out, come out whoever you are! I know there’s got to be more X-Men in there than just Colossus!

(Turns to face the audience) Oh, hi. You kind of crept up on me there. Here I am, trying to get the X-Men riled up so maybe we can have a little action this time in the column. But they’re not taking the bait. Either that, or nobody’s home.

(A figure finally emerges from the house. It’s DAN KEOHANE, with metal skin)

LS:  It’s IRON DAN!

DK:  Titanium, actually. You’re wasting your time, by the way. Nobody’s here except me.

LS: You’re an X-Man now?

DK: Trainee. They make me wear a shirt that says it and everything. It’s kind of embarrassing.

LS: Well, why don’t you take a break from house-sitting and review the new movie with me?

DK: DEADPOOL 2? Sure. I haven’t got anything better to do.

LS: Gee, thanks for the enthusiasm.

DL: No offense. It’s just that the X-Men don’t give me anything to do. I could use a distraction.

LS: Okay, great. I’ll start.

For the record, I loved the original DEADPOOL movie (I gave it three and a half knives – I’m surprised I didn’t give it more, check out the review here). It was a real breath of fresh air among all the formulaic superhero movies that Marvel and DC were putting out at the time. Not to say those other movies were bad, they were just a bit predictable. DEADPOOL, by definition, was unpredictable and fun. And the superhero genre needed a shot in the arm. Still does.

Of course, DEADPOOL was a huge hit and the rest is history. And now, we’ve got the inevitable sequel, DEADPOOL 2. A movie I was really excited about.

DK: Me, too. I tried not to watch the trailers, but they were too funny not to, unfortunately like all trailers they gave a lot of the fun stuff away. Not all, but I hate going in knowing too much about a movie. Still, I was pretty excited to see this. I agree, the original DEADPOOL was refreshing, both in its approach to the fourth wall, and the R-rated-ness of the violence and language.

LS: In fact, I’d even heard some buzz that Number 2 was even better than the first one! Wow! I couldn’t wait...but that buzz was wrong.

DK: I didn’t expect it to be better. To be honest, few sequels (such as TERMINATOR 2, 1991, and ALIENS, 1986, ever have been), but I did expect it to be fun.

LS: For the record, T2 wasn’t better than the first one. It just had a bigger budget. And it introduced the whole “Arnold, you’re not allowed to kill anyone” bullshit. I hated that! ALIENS was good, but not better than ALIEN (1979). Although, compared to everything ALIEN-related that came after ALIENS, it was a pretty good sequel.

DK: T2 was light years better, but I’ll give you ALIENS wasn’t better, but just as good.

LS: So, back to DEADPOOL 2. Let’s start out with the story. I actually thought the plot for this new one kinda sucked. We begin, pretty early on, with something really sad happening (I won’t say what) and it brings all the comedic, fun stuff to a grinding halt.

DK: Yes! Though I figured what happened would happen—there was too much of a setup you see in so many movies—it wasn’t surprising. And there was never an explanation as to who the culprits were.

LS: They were the drug dealer bad guys he started the movie off fighting with! You need to pay attention. But man, DEADPOOL movies are supposed to be fun. And this early tragedy was kind of a buzzkill. I know it was meant to add gravitas to the whole thing. But I don’t go to a DEADPOOL movie for gravitas.

Then, our buddy Deadpool becomes a trainee X-Man thanks to Colossus bringing him into the fold. This should be really funny, and there are some good moments, but then we come to his first big assignment. Trying to calm down a kid who shoots fire from his hands, named Russell (Julian Dennison), calling himself Firefist.

If you thought that “tragic event” early on brought things to a halt, then you haven’t met Firefist. He hits the movie’s brakes in a screeching, whiplash-causing way. Because, frankly, the kid sucks. As a character, as a plot device, as a potential villain,  I absolutely hated this kid. And, jokes on me, because he’s a MAJOR player in the movie, so I’m gonna see a lot of him. Whether I want to or not.

I say “not.”

DK: Did you have a bad week or something?

LS: No, just had my expectations crapped on, is all.

DK: In a way, we all expected the tone throughout to be goofy, violent fun, with no darkness filtering through the script’s light, to be poetic for a moment. Maybe all this dark stuff was deliberate, a way to shatter the expectations of the die-hard fans.

LS: There’s dark for a purpose, and then there’s dark just to tug at our heartstrings in a sappy way. Oh boy, this off-the-wall wacky character can cry, too. Gee, isn’t that precious. Frankly, I can do without that.

DK: I didn’t have as much of an issue with Russell. I understand why he was in the plot based on what happens in the earlier scene, and it gives Wade Wilson (Deadpool’s actual name, following the comic book penchant for using alliteration for names) motivation to live throughout the plot. One thing I liked about the casting was that this kid isn’t your typical child character. He’s a tad overweight, not well spoken, and for some odd reason developed a New Zealand accent halfway through.

LS: I had no problem with the actor played Firenose. It’s his character I despised. And the whole Edgy-Character-Bonds-With-Misunderstood-Kid crap. The kid works with the plot, because the plot was lame. Reminds me of that little girl in LOGAN (2017), except I didn’t mind her as much. First off, she was a better actor. Second, she actually had some edge to her. But what’s with all these R-rated superhero movies and bonding with kids? Just strikes me as a bit odd. You remove restraints on language and violence and then add emotional ones. Save that for the PG-13 crowd. I want ANARCHY!

DK: Are you done with the tirade?

LS: Yeah, sure. Where was I? When things go awry during the stand-off, because it just has to if Deadpool is involved, both the “Merc with a Mouth” (don’t all mercenaries have mouths?) and Firethumb…

DK: Firefist

LS: …whatever, getting his name right isn’t high on my “to do” list for today. They end up in some mutant-unfriendly prison where they have collars on their necks to negate their powers and are pretty much mistreated by the “humans” who run the place. Although they’re not very humane. Gosh, no wonder mutants hate us.

DK: I was starting to get concerned here. Not sure why them being thrown into mutant prison bothered me, and it makes sense to further the plot that this kid was going to be forced to the “dark side” as it were, by his treatment thus far. But I went with it. Besides, I was a little distracted at this point because the tick I’d pulled out of my pant leg at the beginning of the movie and flicked towards the people a couple of rows up came back and was crawling back on my ankle. Those things die harder than Deadpool.

LS: Remind me not to go to the movies with you.

Anyway, in prison, Deadpool is still riffing on that earlier tragedy, and isn’t really into self-preservation and actually doesn’t care if he dies in the big house. But, for some inexplicable reason, he does care about Firefinger.

DK: Fire… never mind.

LS: So, he tries to look out for the kid. Maybe he sees something of himself in the tyke. Or maybe he just has to follow the sub-par script.

That’s when Nathan Summers (Josh Brolin) pops up from the future, intent on killing Firebutt because the kid grows up to be some major badass supervillain in the future who kills his family. Oh, and Nathan goes by the superhero name of Cable, because – I guess the name Direct TV was already taken.

DK: I assume his original comic creator figured since he was a cyborg with “cables” and gears it was a fitting (and catchy in a marketing way) name.

LS: Yeah, keep telling yourself that. I bet they just called him that because they thought it was a cool name. And, I guess it kinda is.

Anyway, Robocop ™ walks around with humungous guns trying to kill Firebum, and Deadpool tries to stop him, while contending with that collar that makes his powers unworkable. I guess Deadpool figures that if he dies, he dies, since he’s already suicidal anyway.

DK: That’s another interesting—if a bit of a down—thing about the film. Deadpool just doesn’t want to be alive. He tries, and succeeds, in blowing himself to pieces in the opening scene, but since he can’t die, this is his chance to finally make it permanent, since with his “powers” he’s again dying of stage 4 cancer.

LS: Now, it’s bad enough that I don’t like our buddy Firefarts, and that he’s a MAJOR player here in Deadpool land. But then Cable finally shows up—the big, badass guest star of the movie—and what is he here for? He’s hunting down Firefist! Which makes the kid even more important to the plot. And, in turn, makes it all about him, as Deadpool tries to keep the kid alive.

DK: I’m beginning to think you might have had an issue with Russell’s character. Just a feeling. Again, I thought he was fine, and a different take on the hero trying to save a young ‘un. If you want a better comparison, the storyline reminded me of THE INCREDIBLES (2004) more than anything else. (“Go home, Buddy”)

LS: Another family-friendly flick comparison. I don’t see DEADPOOL movies for family-friendly.

DK: But he says right at the start that it’s family-friendly!

LS: I thought that was a joke.

Has anyone noticed that the whole Cable-comes-from-the-future-to-kill-Russell storyline is a complete retread of the plot of TERMINATOR? Well yeah, sure, the movie itself notices, and Deadpool makes a lot of wisecracks about it, but it doesn’t change the fact that this plot is a total boring ripoff of another movie. At one point, Deadpool turns to the audience (in a kind of unrelated conversation) and says “Now that’s just lazy writing.”

Well, DUH!

DK: Well, oh, comic history guru, don’t forget Cable is from the future in the comics, except he uses a flying spaceship/tardis thing to bounce back and forth between his time and ours.

LS: Actually, it’s some kind of gizmo on his arm. Unless we saw a different movie.

DK: Funny you mention that line about lazy writing, because Deadpool says that in the trailer for something entirely different, and the trailer quip was funnier. He used this line twice, actually. So, between the trailer and film, the line was used three times. (Now that IS lazy writing).

LS: This movie has too much lazy writing. For real. That’s the problem.

DK: Let’s take a break from LL’s anger issues for a moment so I can be whiny about something, too. And this might surprise you. One aspect of the first DEADPOOL movie was how Wade aka Deadpool constantly breaks the “fourth wall” by talking to the audience, and going farther than some TV shows that do it all the time by talking as if he’s in a movie, a Marvel movie, and going completely out of character. Of course, he does it here, too, but, I felt, way too often. The jokes about the X-Men, and the Marvel universe, and DC comics, etcetera, were funny, but you can’t pull the viewer from the imaginary bubble of the plot so often the story never gets any grounding. Moderation, my friends. Everything in moderation. Granted, “moderation” was probably a curse word in writing this film, but still.

LS: I loved that the jokes pulled me out of the plot. Because, as I may have mentioned, I hated the plot.

DK: You mentioned that? Really?

LS: And it’s bad enough that Josh Brolin plays Cable as this scrawny little guy –

DK: Scrawny little guy? Were you accidentally wearing 3D glasses in the theater? He wasn’t scrawny. Granted, he wasn’t Thanos-CGI’d, but he had some bulk to him.

LS: In the comics he’s bulked up, armored, and pretty formidable, a lot more than he was here. In the movie, he looks like a regular guy with a metal arm. Wow. Scary! Why not just have a crossover with Bucky Barnes!

Anyway, Cable mops up the prison with Deadpool, but he still doesn’t get the kid, who moves on to find another friend who can protect him better. The identity of this big “friend” whose hidden behind a big door in the first part of the movie, is actually one of the best things about the movie, since it’s a character I love and who has been badly portrayed in a previous movie, and this makes up for it.

DK: Boy we are disagreeing about everything in this review aren’t we? Granted, I really liked how this character looked in the last act when he was revealed, but to be honest with such a build up to his identity I expected an actual monster, not a nostalgic old Spider-Man bad guy (I remember him more from Spidey comics). Once I got over that, he was OK, just a bit of a letdown from how much I’d built up my expectations.

LS: Obviously, you’re not a fan of his. Which is fine, but don’t rain on my parade.

Since the movie goes to great pains to hide his identity until the second half, I’m gonna avoid spilling the beans and giving any spoilers. Though this particular spoiler was one of my favorite parts of the movie, and makes up for a lot of the crappy problems with it.

Okay. So, Cable is trying to kill Russell. Deadpool is determined to spring the kid from prison and keep him safe because…I’m guessing he wants to redeem himself and prove he’s a good guy, which in a Deadpool movie SHOULD NOT FRIGGIN MATTER because he’s a snarky, obnoxious anti-hero who should be making us laugh, not be all obsessed with redemption and saving some stupid Firesnooze kid who isn’t worth the effort.

And for some reasons, those uniformed soldiers who run the mutant prison called the Icebox are moving their prisoners to another, supermax prison. I guess so they can go on the road and give Cable a chance to attack them again.

DK: Cable pretty much destroys the entire prison, so they have to. Of course, with such maximum security in the prison, I thought moving them all in a convoy of trucks was a bit lame. Though I don’t suppose there’s any other way of doing it, since this seems to be in a different universe than the rest of the non-XMEN MCU, so no S.H.I.E.L.D. heli-transport-thingies to fly them around the globe.

LS: Deadpool finds out and plans to attack the convoy and liberate the kid, but he can’t do it alone. So, he gathers a team. Mostly of idiots. The thing is, some of these characters are actually cool in the comics, but are reduced to sight gags in the movie. There’s Bedlam (Terry Crews, BROOKLYN NINE-NINE TV series) who can short-circuit electrical currents; Zeitgiest (Bill Skarsgard, IT, 2017), who vomits acid (isn’t that what that winged girl in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, 2011, did? They must be running out of ideas!); Vanisher, who vanishes (and we see him just once in visible form, but I’m not gonna give away who plays him); Shatterstar (Lewis Tan) who’s from another planet and has a cool name; Peter (a dad-looking guy with no super powers); and Domino (Zazie Beetz from the FX series ATLANTA), whose power is she’s super lucky. Which turns out to be much more impressive and cinematic than you’d think.

Deadpool calls this team X-Force, which is setting things up for a sequel, since X-Force is a real mutant superhero team from the comics, which includes Deadpool and Cable, but this is the beta version that Wade tests out first.

DK: This is, by far, my favorite part of the movie, as the members of the X-Force are interviewed one-by-one and then they take off to save the kid. As much as, yes, the characters are comic relief, that was exactly what this film needed. How things go wrong right off the bat is hilarious and I was roaring. Unfortunately, and I have to agree with you on this high-level complaint, there simply wasn’t enough gut laughing in this movie. Wade’s “mouth” can only carry things so far. This scene was so slapstick funny it was a ray of light (as horrible as what happens).

LS: Yeah, the assembling of X-Force is one of the things I liked a lot about this movie. It almost made up for the rest of the story. And yes, I wanted many more laughs. Isn’t that why you go to a Deadpool movie in the first place?

DK: Wade is also, in a strange way, the grown-up one in the cast, in many respects, which is a change. He’s so depressed and fed up with the world at large, one would almost expect him to be out of control and (in a DEADPOOL kind of way) the funniest one of the bunch, but this time around he really isn’t.

Beetz’s Domino is the best of the bunch, with her “lucky” powers. She carries herself well and her character has some awesome scenes.

LS: She’s a scene-stealing knockout.

So, let’s see. Firetoe is on a convoy with other mutants, along with a surprise guest star who almost makes the movie worthwhile all by himself. Cable is set on killing the kid (and boy, I wish he’d just do it already) and Deadpool and his merry band of (mostly) idiots are intent on stopping him.

DK: I have to admit, knowing why Cable is back in our time, I had to agree in principle with his mission. Deadpool’s reasons for trying to stop him are honorable, but we fall back to the “saving the one” principle which was so prevelant in INFINITY WAR (2018). Is it worth it, considering the consequence of failure? Speaking of using other movie plot points, coming back to stop a terrible killer in the future by killing him as a boy (and someone else trying to save him) is right out of LOOPER (2012) as well. I was thinking of this as DEADPOOL 2 rehashed this.

LS: Later on, Collossus (CGI character, voiced by Stefan Kapicic) comes back into the story, along with Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) from the first movie, whose only cool aspect is her name, because she doesn’t do much in this movie, and her new girlfriend, Yukio (Shioli Kutsana), who does just as little.

DK: I really wanted to see these two do more in the film. They seemed to only be there so that Yukio can be cute and wave to Wade and say hi or bye. They had one moment, but that was it. Wanted to see more of them.

LS: What, and take away from the boring plot about Firesnout? Throw in an evil orphanage run by the zealot who tortures mutant kids called, well, The Headmaster (Eddie Marsan, from the shows RAY DONOVAN and JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL, and who is totally wasted here), lots of one-liners, and a fast-moving but pointless plot, and you’ve got the makings of a sequel that takes your money and runs with it.

DK: I have something major to say about the orphanage but I’m going to hold off for a moment so we can dissect the goodness and badness of the film. I think you should start with the good, since you’ve been such a bummer so far, man.

LS: If I’m a bummer, blame the movie, not me.

Anyway, the good stuff.

Ryan Reynolds, of course, returns as Deadpool, and that, in itself should be enough to make this entire movie worthwhile, and it kinda is. He’s still the quick, funny, constantly joking, foul-mouthed hero we’ve grown to love. Even if they dampen that jokey, funny stuff with some weak, forced plot elements. There’s Josh Brolin (NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, 2007, SICARIO, 2015, and doing double duty in the MCU as Thanos in AVENGERS: INFINTIY WAR, 2018) as Cable, who has the attitude down pat! There’s Zazie Beetz as a very cool and badass Domino, and there’s that cool-ass guest star who I keep mentioning but won’t name (no, it’s not the Hulk).

DK: I almost expected it to be Hulk, but quickly remembered there’s a contractual wall between these universes. I agree, aside from my complaints above about some things, Reynolds is absolute perfection as Deadpool. When he’s done with this role, I can’t imagine anyone else coming close. As mentioned, I thought Brolin’s Cable was pretty bad-ass and plenty buffed up, but I never read the comic. Though, really, can anyone in these live-action comic films be as muscular as they draw them on paper (not counting CGI effects)?

LS: Now the bad stuff.

DK: Well, the good stuff was fun while it lasted.

LS: Our jokey, funny hero is saddled with a tragedy that stubs the movie’s toe early on, and he spends too much time feeling sorry for himself. When he starts to get his mojo back, our jokey, funny hero is saddled with a tragic kid in search of a big brother, instead of making us laugh and having a fun time for two hours. We get the debut of Cable, a bad-ass character, who spends all his time trying to re-live an Arnold Schwarzenegger film instead of getting a cooler, more original plot of his own, and who, despite being a formidable super soldier from the future, cannot kill one stupid, annoying kid.

DK: When he first tries to kill him in the prison, the way they had Deadpool relentlessly on him was realistically keeping his aim off. Usually the “convenience” of the bad guy missing the good guy is a stretch, but they did this pretty well.

LS: And we get a boring storyline about a headmaster and an evil orphanage which is never fully developed, seems tacked on, and made me yawn.

DK: OK, now I’ll jump in with a big complaint about the orphanage. When Russell and Wade first meet, he acknowledges that they “hurt” him. In flashbacks we see the headmaster regularly tortures the kids to “cure” them of their mutancy. Never is any sexual abuse admitted to or implied. Why mention this? Well, in the climactic scene—and this really isn’t giving any spoilers—X-Force fights the staff of the orphanage in very brutal, violent ways. They are constantly referred to as pedophiles (supposedly Deadpool is joking), and it became obvious, to me at least, that this was being used as a rationale in the script for the mass slaughter going on. They might have been mean, or perhaps just following orders, but calling them pedophiles so often just felt like a way of making their violent deaths justifiable.

LS: Interesting thoughts there. But you do realize that you just spent more time analyzing the orphanage subplot than the people who WROTE THE SCRIPT did. If they don’t care enough to develop the storyline, why should we?

Oh, and we get some X-Men, but it’s just Colossus (a major character unjustly ignored in the X-MEN movies), who deserves better, but since the other X-Men movies aren’t using him anyway, he might as well keep showing up for these flicks.

DK: There was a mass-cameo in one brief scene with the cast of the rebooted X-Men which I thought was very cute.

LS (laughs): I liked that, too.

There ‘s also an incredibly minor character from the comics (Negasonic Teenage Warhead) named after a cool Monster Magnet song, who does just about nothing. What, they couldn’t even get Jubilee to be in this one?

The cast is a mixed batch, too. Ryan Reynolds is still “the man” as Wade Wilson/Deadpool, Josh Brolin is cool as Cable. And Zazie Beetz is terrific as Domino. Also Morena Baccarin is still good as Wade’s girlfriend Vanessa…

DK: considering the opening scenes, she was in this a lot, though in a very limited way. She was very very underused because of this.

LS: Leslie Uggams has a few funny moments as Blind Al, Deadpool’s visually-challenged friend and sometime roommate from the first movie.

DK: Leslie Uggams? I thought Blind Al was being played by Nichelle Nichols of the original STAR TREK TV series all this time!

LS: Stefan Kapicic (as the mostly CGI Colossus) is good. As is that special guest star I mentioned, who, also, is mostly a CGI creation (and thankfully so).

T.J. Miller, the wiseass who plays Weasel, owner of the hit man bar that Deadpool hangs out in, is back, but he seems very subdued this time around. Probably because he’s had some sexual harassment allegations hurled his way in real life and they might be phasing his character out. Who knows?

DK: He was in quite a few scenes early on, I thought, and lived up to his weaselly name.

LS: And Karan Soni is back as cab driver Dopinder, who has a few funny moments, but can also be annoying. It’s not like they develop his character much over the course of the movie.

DK: Agreed. He comes across as someone who is bursting with talent, but who is vastly underused here.

LS: The rest of the cast—ahhh—I can take them or leave them, especially Julian Dennison as Firefist, who I wish Cable had taken out the first time he shows up, even if it means we don’t get to see that cool special guest star.

DK: He wasn’t the strongest actor in the bunch, but to be honest, I liked his character. Comes across well as a troubled kid right on the bursting point. Just wish he didn’t remind me so much of Buddy from THE INCREDIBLES.

LS: The direction by David Leitch is good, and mostly fast-paced. The script by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick and (guess who?) Ryan Reynolds has some great jokes and gags in it, and a lot of boring stuff thrown in to make a decidedly nihilistic anti-hero more of a warm-hearted, boring, softy who almost loses the very qualities that originally made him so damn cool.

DK: Visually it was, as always, very cool to watch. A little over the top at times with the CGI, but for what was done, you need these effects. Wade even makes a crack at one point to the effect of “here comes an awesome CGI battle.” But again, it was one of too many broken fourth walls in my opinion.

LS: More breaking the fourth wall and less “serious” plot elements would have been just fine with me.

Oh, and there’s a special scene in the end credits, and I have to admit, this is the first time I thought the whole “secret scene” thing really worked and I actually loved the results. Most of the time these things are just throwaway bits I couldn’t care less about, but this one is very funny and worth sticking around for.

DK: There are actually about three, until the regular rolling credits started (at least that’s all I stayed for). In some ways the first one was a bit of a cop out, but it left things open for hopefully a less morose script in whatever follows this film. The others were just more for the sheer humor of them, and they worked well.

LS: I don’t remember. I thought it was one long secret scene, but it could have been broken up by credits. Either way, I loved it!

Look, I love the character of Deadpool, and I really wanted to love this movie. But the lame storyline ruined my enjoyment of the film somewhat. Why did they need to water the movie down with all this extra stuff we didn’t need or want? I give this one two and a half knives.

DK: Wow, from the way you’ve been crying in your soup this whole time I’m surprised there’s even one knife from you.

LS: It’s still Deadpool, and there were times when it worked. Keep in X-Force and Cable and jettison the rest of it, and it would have been a great movie.

I wanted pure, unbridled Deadpool, but instead I got compromised, redemption-seeking, kind-of-sad Deadpool, and that was a disappointment. But Deadpool movies aren’t really about the story, are they? So why was there so much useless story jammed into this one?

Get back on track guys! I don’t want DEADPOOL 3 to be another clunker!

What did you think, Dan?

DK: I had many mixed feelings this time around, as well. For a potential franchise which built itself on breaking sterotypes of superhero movies, this one did fall into a few usual tropes, story-wise. Remember one thing, though: the first DEADPOOL actually had a plot, a climax, and resolution, which did fit into the usual Marvel fare.

LS: His origin story in that creepy lab was actually kind of boring. But the first movie got past that. This one never really outruns what’s bad about it.

DK: Everything stuffed in around it is what made it so unique. And these stuffings, though at times funny, weren’t frequent or funny enough to make DEADPOOL 2 as huge a winner as its predecessor.

Funny thing is, I was thinking two and a half knives as my rating, but I enjoyed it a lot more than you did, and you gave it as your rating. Now I have a conundrum. Do I give it three? Well, I suppose I will. If you take this film on its own merits, it was good, just not as original or carefree as the original. So, yea, three knives.

LS: Don’t wimp out. Give it the rating you want to. We just took different journeys to reach the same conclusion.

DK: Naw, I’ll stick with three.

LS: (To Audience) And that’s our review for this one. We would have pumped in more gags and jokes ourselves, but this one has gone on long enough, and I wanna go home. So, if you don’t like it, too bad.

(LS sticks out his tongue)

DK: You really did have a bad week.

LS: Just tell me how the hell you got turned into IRON DAN!

DK: Titanium. And it’s from a radioactive tick bite.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares & Daniel G. Keohane

Monday, April 30, 2018

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)


A Cinema Knife Fight review with L.L. Soares:


(THE SCENE: A ravaged alien world. From beneath the rubble of a crashed spacecraft, LL SOARES and DAN KEOHANE emerge. LS is wearing a “Team Thanos” T-shirt and DK is wearing a “Team Iron Man” T-Shirt)

LS (spies something shiny on the ground): That wouldn’t be an Infinity Stone, would it?

DK: No, I don’t think there are any of those left.

LS: Too bad.

DK: So why did you ask me to board the spaceship that just crash landed on this desolate planet anyway?

LS: To review the new Avengers movie, of course. A lot of people have been anticipating this one, where the Avengers finally come face-to-face with the “Mad Titan” himself, Thanos. Why don’t you bring us up to speed, Dan.

DK: So here we are, ten years after Marvel Studios released IRON MAN (2008), its first (of many) epic motion pictures in its self-proclaimed Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the release of what is without a doubt the culmination of years of carefully-crafted (and, at times, complex) storylines around the most powerful objects in the universe, the Infinity Stones, and the sociopathic alien genius Thanos’s (Josh Brolin, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, 2007, SICARIO, 2015, and as Cable in the upcoming DEADPOOL 2, 2018) pursuit of them in order to… well, until sitting down to watch the epic AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018), all we really knew was that Thanos wanted the stones in order to wield the ultimate power in the universe.

LS: Yeah, that’s all you know if you only know Thanos from the snippets we’ve seen of him so far in Marvel movies, mostly in “Easter egg” scenes in the end credits. These movies have been building up Thanos’s big arrival for a long time now. Remember that he was behind the alien invasion of earth way back in the very first AVENGERS movie in 2012. It’s about time the sneaky purple people eater came out and showed his face.

DK: He eats people?

LS: Huh?

DK: You called him a purple people eater.

LS: Like the old novelty song. I didn’t mean it literally.

DK: Okay, I thought I missed a scene.

LS: Although it would be cool if he ate people, wouldn’t it? On top of being a murdering madman.

DK: Now—and you need to really pay attention to this film, especially Thanos’s story—we finally understand the reason for this lifelong, evil quest: Thanos thinks he’s actually helping everyone in the universe, by killing half of all sentient species, and thus freeing up resources to allow the other half to live wonderful, happy lives. Pretty big task, and admittedly very frightening.

LS: What a sweet guy! He just wants to help!

In the comics, he actually does all this mass killing to impress his sweetheart, none other than the personification of Death. He’s trying to woo her by delivering as many dead souls as he can. But I guess that didn’t really translate well in a big blockbuster movie.

DK: INFINITY WARS opens just a few minutes after THOR: RAGNAROK (2017) ends. Or, I should say, after the first post-credits scene of RAGNAROK ends, as the last survivors of the destruction of Thor’s home planet, Asgard, are approached by a massive, ominous spacecraft. This ship, of course, belongs to Thanos and his powerful cadre of henchpeople. As the scene opens, they’ve just murdered half of the ship’s population (after a few more moments the other half die too, not to worry). Only Thor (Chris Hemsworth, GHOSTBUSTERS, 2016), his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, KONG: SKULL ISLAND, 2016) and gatekeeper Heimdall (Idris Elba, THE DARK TOWER, 2017) are left, and currently being tortured by number one henchman Ebony Maw (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, LOVE/HATE TV series).

LS: Well, actually Gaping...er Ebony Maw is more like a CGI creation with Tom Vaughan-Lawlor’s voice. And I guess he acted for the motion capture effects, too.

DK: The way technology is progressing, it wouldn’t surprise me in a few years if they make everyone run around with green tights and polka dots on their face, so they can CGI the cast any way they want. But we digress. For this discussion, though, let’s just say he plays Ebony Maw.

LS: Okay.

DK: Mr. Maw is torturing them to learn the location of an Infinity Stone, which everyone watching THOR RAGNAROK knows was lifted by Loki just before the destruction of his homeworld. It does not go well for most of our heroes, and anti-heroes. And this is just the first scene for crying out loud.

This is the first of many extremely dark and violent moments in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. Thanos and his minions are quickly established as murderous, powerful creatures with a single focus: acquire all six Infinity Stones, and heaven help you if you get in their way.

And get in the way our heroes do (just about all of them, with a few exceptions). The movie is two hours and forty minutes of one insanely beautiful and clever battle scene after another. It is relentless, all the way until the credits roll.

LS: And beyond, because there’s yet another of those “end credit” secret scenes. But just one this time, at the very end of the credits. People are so used to these things that the entire sold-out audience where I saw the movie stayed in their seats through every last drop of the credits, knowing a big end scene would pop up. Have I mentioned how much I hate the fact that Marvel has made all of us have to sit through all the credits?

DK: I used to love watching the credits. All those people who worked on the movie. Someone had to give them their due.

LS: Yea, but you told me once you love watching grass grow, too.

DK: Surprisingly, I didn’t find all the non-stop action to be too much. Unlike much of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016), which was another non-stop action movie/political argument, I personally found it all a bit tiresome near the end. I think I’m in the minority thinking this, however. In this case, though INFINITY WAR started with a bang (literally) and did not let up, I was riveted to every second of it.

LS: Come on, CIVIL WAR was one of the best of the Marvel flicks! But you’re right about INFINITY WAR. Despite the long run time and abundance of battles and action scenes, it does keep you involved throughout. The only time I got even a little bored was when a horde of nameless creatures swarmed over Wakanda. But even that lag didn’t last long.

DK: A lot of this had to do with the smart, quick dialogue between the characters, and the exceptional performances by just about everyone in the cast. Unlike much of the performances in the final HOBBIT film, where everyone seemed very tired and ready to go home, the actors in INIFINITY WAR absolutely brought their A-game, including directing brothers Anthony and Joe Russo (who also directed all three CAPTAIN AMERICA films so far).

LS: Now I’m glad I didn’t see the HOBBIT movies. But yeah, there sure are a lot of superheroes in this movie. Someone should call the Guinness Book of World Records.

DK: After some shuffling and relocating of the cast, we basically end up with three distinct groups: Thor, who, after meeting up with the Guardians of the Galaxy, goes with Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper, AMERICAN SNIPER, 2014) and a sullen teenaged (and as funny as always) Groot (sparingly voiced by Vin Diesel), heading to an ancient forge planet called Nidavellir, manned by none other than the always-awesome Peter Dinklage (GAME OF THRONES TV series) as the last surviving dwarf Eitri.

LS: That’s some big dwarf!

DK: The irony was not lost on me. But Dinklage’s shattered, brooding Eitri was fantastic, even if he was only in the film for a little bit. Meanwhile, hunting down Thanos himself are the remainder of the Guardians of the Galaxy: Peter Quill (Chris Pratt, the upcoming JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM, 2018), Gamora (Zoe Saldana, STAR TREK, 2009) Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Drax (Dave Bautista).

LS: With Bautista’s Drax still stealing every scene he’s in! That guy always cracks me up. And who knew Thor and Rocket would have such cool chemistry together? They’re my favorite team in the movie. And, for once, Gamora has a major role in this one, since she is Thanos’s daughter and all.

DK: Well, she’s really his adopted/abducted daughter. But it’s nice to see Zoe Saldana’s Gamora get so much screen time in this movie. And I agree, the scenes with Thor and the Guardians were, as always, show stealers and very, very funny.

Also hunting Thanos through space, though only because of events beyond their control, are Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, SHERLOCK TV series), Spider-Man (Tom Holland, HOW I LIVE NOW, 2013) and Iron Man (Robert Downy, Jr, WEIRD SCIENCE, 1985).

LS: With more funny banter, and the clashing egos of Strange and Stark.

One thing that puzzled me. They end up on Titan, Thanos’s homeworld. Everyone keeps saying it’s a planet. But isn’t it really the largest moon of Saturn?

DK: Nobody cares.

LS: What, no astronomers in the audience?

DK: Meanwhile, back on earth, the rest of the Avengers (remember, this is an Avengers movie) gather together after a couple of Thanos’s groupies try to steal the Infinity Stone embedded in the forehead of the android Avenger, Vision’s (Paul Bettany) head. This group includes Captain America (the third Chris); the Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olson); the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson); a Hulk-less Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo); the Falcon (Anthony Mackie); Wong (Benedict Wong) who is Doctor Strange’s assistant; and Don Cheadle as War Machine.

And we haven’t even gotten to the second act’s introduction of the country of Wakanda, Black Panther and everyone there.

LS: Yeah, this movie jumps all over the place, from different parts of Earth, to different parts of the galaxy.

DK: I have to admit, this may be an Avengers movie, but it really didn’t feel like it. I mean, there’s every major character from every major Marvel film, sans DEADPOOL and ANT-MAN…

LS: Well, Deadpool makes sense because he, and the X-Men universe, are still controlled by 20th Century Fox. But imagine if all those mutants were here as well! As it is, the excuse for why Ant-Man and Hawkeye weren’t in this one didn’t make much sense to me. I mean, how could it hurt to add two more superheroes to the already huge mix?

DK: There are still a whole lot of heroes here, and they all had a major part to play. It felt less like an Avengers movie than a Marvel Team-Up on steroids.

LS: Oh, you remember that comic book series, do you? You know who else I wish was here? The Fantastic Four. I’m still waiting for a Thing/Hulk team-up in the movies! But once again, they’re tied up in legal mumbo jumbo, which I hope comes to an end when Disney finally gets control of the Fox movie rights. That’s still going to happen, right?

DK: I hope so. I would be great to see the FF get themselves entwined in these MCU Malays. Even in the comics, though, they’ve always been sort of a stand-alone group (except The Thing, who liked to wander from one Team-Up to another… yea, I loved that series).

LS: You’re thinking of the other team-up series, Marvel Two-in-One! The difference was, in Marvel Team-Up, the star was usually Spider-Man, teaming up with someone else (although there were a few issues where the star was the Human Torch instead, but they were seldom). Marvel-Two-In-One was a different series starring The Thing, where he teamed up with other superheroes each month.

And then there was Super Villain Team-Up, where every issue was Doctor Doom and Namor, the Sub-Mariner! How is that a “team-up” book, if it’s the same two guys every issue? And Namor is more of an anti-hero than a villain! Toward the end, they actually included some other villains, but then it got canceled. But I digress.

DK: You certainly did. What do Dr. Doom and Namor have to do with this movie?

LS: I wish they were in it!

DK: Oh, okay. But, for what it is, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR works; it really, really works. I had to smile early on when Captain America made his appearance. Everyone in the sold-out theater burst into applause. I didn’t clap, and not just because I was taking notes. All I could think, after such an intimidating setup of Thanos’s insanely huge power, was, what can Captain America do? He isn’t even wearing his helmet?

LS: I experienced the same thing. I mean, yeah, it’s cool that Cap’s so popular—my audience applauded his entrance, too—but he seems like small potatoes in the face of a cosmic threat like Thanos. Besides, I’ve always been much more a fan of Thor and Hulk, two guys who could give Thanos more of a challenge.

And you’re right about the helmet. That happens a lot in these movies, because vain actors want to show their faces onscreen, even when it doesn’t make sense. They’re never happy wearing a mask for all the appropriate scenes. The only guy who actually sticks to the mask in all logical ways is DEADPOOL. Who knew Ryan Reynolds would turn out to be the least-egotistical superhero star.

Hell, when Hawkeye is in movies, they never even bother with his cool mask, dammit!

DK: You’re digressing again!

Never mind how Black Widow should have had her neck snapped in the first fight scene because she doesn’t even have super human powers.

LS: Despite the power-levels of each character, they give it their all to protect the Earth! Besides, I just enjoy watching Scarlett Johannson in action, so I’m not complaining.

DK: Hear, Hear!

Aside from every moment the Guardians of the Galaxy were on screen with their newest ally Thor, some of my favorite moments in the film were when Bruce Banner tried like hell to convince Hulk to come out of hiding, and never succeeded. Now and then, Hulk will almost come out, only to say “No” in his endearing Hulk voice, then go away, much to Banner’s frustration. Mark Ruffalo has to be one of the best casting choices in Hollywood history, ever. At first glance he seems so wrong for the part, but he nails it every time!

LS: Now you’ve happened upon one of my few problems with the movie. As a big Hulk fan, I HATED the way Banner was handled this time around. I could understand, where in the plot of RAGNAROK, Hulk could stay the Hulk for long periods of time because of the planet they were on. It didn’t totally make sense, but hey. But there was no reason why Banner couldn’t hulk out in this movie. He’s back on Earth. And Hulk is all about being angry. You’re telling me Banner couldn’t get angry enough in these battle scenes to transform? Hulk and Banner aren’t supposed to have a choice in these things. The way the Hulk refused to come out struck me as majorly stupid. It’s almost like they purposely kept Hulk out of the fight because they wanted to give some of the weaker Avengers a chance to seem more heroic. Or maybe they were implying Hulk was too scared of Thanos to come out. Either way, it pissed me off. And when Banner was put inside the big “Hulkbuster” Iron Man costume, that just added to the embarrassment.

DK: I agree with you there. Him in the Hulkbuster suit was odd, and yeah, it seemed to be more for comic relief (unless they were hoping it would piss off Hulk enough to come out).

LS: When I go to an Avengers movie, I want to see The Hulk! And, except for a brief battle scene early on, Hulk fans get cheated. I’m sorry, I’m just not as big a fan of Banner, and I actually found Ruffalo a bit grating this time around. They tried to make him a comic relief character, and frankly every time he was onscreen it just made me realize how much I missed the real, gets-stronger-as-he-gets-angrier Hulk.

DK: Back to Wakanda. As good as he is, Chadwick Baseman (42, 2013) gets outshone again by the other Wakandans (especially Danai Gurir’s Okoye, Letitia Wright’s Shuri and Winston Duke’s M’Baku), not to mention a couple dozen of his fellow superheroes.

Ok, what else?

LS: You tell me.

DK: A complaint of my own. Yes, I know that early on the theme is that we don’t sacrifice the one for the good of the many, but everyone pretty quickly understands that if Thanos succeeds, half the population of the UNIVERSE is going to die. Knowing this, too often people give up the fight (and whatever Infinity Stone they’re carrying) in order to save one person. I’m sorry, as much as I love my wife, for example, if handing over something to a bad guy would mean a billion, trillion people die, I wouldn’t do it. I’m sure she’d understand.

LS: I found that annoying, too. Some characters make some very dumb choices in this one. I get that there are emotions involved, but it really annoyed me.

DK: In one instance—near the end, so I won’t say who and why—one character, based on the last line they spoke in the film, might have done this deliberately. But again, can’t say any more without spoilers.

LS: Yeah, let’s not go there. Let people have some surprises.

DK: I loved seeing the film in a packed theater. As much of a geek that I am, until now I’d never attended the first showing of an opening night of any MCU film and was amazed how enjoyable seeing the movie in a packed house (which was across the hall from another packed house). Of course, I missed some of the lines spoken, usually because so many people were laughing their butts off.

LS: There were a few funny moments. But not all of the humor worked. Like, the whole Iron Man/Spider-Man patter, started getting on my nerves pretty quickly. I’m getting sick of Spider-Man being treated like an idiot, and I’m getting really tired of Robert Downey, Jr. at this point. His Tony Stark has passed his expiration date. He’s not so cool anymore.

DK: This is also a dark and violent movie, bordering on an R rating (for the sheer volume of the violence, though it’s not super graphic), but I thought it was also very, very funny in spots. Watching the scenes with the Guardians, I wondered how much input James Gunn (who wrote and directed their solo movies) had in the dialogue. He has no writing credits, but their interactions were so spot-on I wonder if this is true. It was also refreshing to have characters curse now and then. While not enough to push the rating beyond PG-13, it was enough to add an extra bit of realness to them.

LS: It only went so far, though. Sometimes the “cursing” was just plain silly. If you’re caught up in the middle of a life-or-death battle, are you really going to tell someone they “Effed up!” like Peter Quill does at one point? Or at one point someone says, “Screw you!”  Come on, give us more believable dialogue! I would have liked it a lot more if it had really pushed over into R-rated territory. But that’s just me.

DK: And the plethora of tween-aged kids sitting around us would have been pretty disappointed they had to stay home, as well.

LS: Who cares!

DK: Disney and the box office. Quick nod to the late, great (in most people’s opinion) comic book artist and writer Jack Kirby who, with Stan Lee, created most of the characters we’re seeing now. Personally, I didn’t like Kirby’s style of artwork, every character was too square and the surrounding scenery too full of weird bubbles (look his stuff up to see what I mean).

LS: Sacrilege! Kirby was one of the best artists in the history of comics precisely because his style was completely his own. Nobody drew like him, and his pure creativity was astounding! Lee might have written the words, but Kirby brought a lot of these characters to life by making them visual for us. But go on…

DK: When they created Thanos for this film, they did so right out of a Kirby comic frame.

LS: That’s funny, because Kirby didn’t create or draw Thanos. Jim Starlin did. And he gets a shout out in the credits. Starlin created, or gave us the definitive versions of, a lot of Marvel’s cosmic characters. Then again, I can’t totally make fun of you for that, because Kirby did create the character Darkseid for DC, who shares a lot of similarities with Thanos. He even has his own powerful henchmen. Remember Steppenwolf from JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017)? He’s a Darkseid henchman. But that’s a discussion for another time.

DK: (Humbled at his writing partner’s encyclopedic geekness!) Though I assume Brolin was there during the shots and read his lines (only have his voice deepened to make it sound more Thanos-like), Thanos himself looks like a CGI character. Even so, it’s easy to let that go because among so many bad guys in films, this one gets some decent development. You may not like him at all by the end of this film…

LS: I did!

DK:…but you do come away understanding him better.

LS: Yeah, one major problem with a lot of the Marvel movies is the lack of a compelling bad guy. It’s a flaw that’s turned up in several of the movies. But Thanos corrects that in a big way. He’s complex, fleshed out, and even if his plans are totally reprehensible, they’re portrayed in a way that at least makes you understand him. And there are even a few moments where you might feel a tiny twinge of sympathy for him (or maybe not).

I also liked his henchmen in this one, who consisted of Cull Obsidian (also known as Black Dwarf in the comics, and played by Terry Notary), Proxima Midnight (Carrie Coon, from the TV shows FARGO and THE LEFTOVERS—I love her!), Corvus Glaive (Michael Shaw) and, of course, the best of the bunch, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as Ebony Maw.

DK: Yea, he was creepy.

LS: And Thanos and his creepy henchmen might be CGI characters, but the point here is, the CGI effects in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR look terrific! So, it didn’t matter at all.

Another thing that’s different about this movie is the fact that some of the characters actually die this time around. It’s not just a lot of fighting with no big consequences. We’re not going to say who dies, or how, because we’re not going to step into spoiler country, but let’s just say the stakes are higher than ever in INFINITY WAR.

So, I think we’ve said enough about the movie, and what happens. Let’s let people find out the big stuff for themselves. But, overall, what did you think of AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, Dan?

DK: I was completely blown away by this. I could not imagine the filmmakers keeping so many characters interesting and fresh throughout, but they did. It helped a lot to have them all focused on one storyline, but even then, like I said earlier, the actors and crew brought their A-Game to this one. I can honestly say AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR lives up to its hype. As the culmination of the MCU’s ten-year life (so far), I can’t give it any less than 4 Knives.

LS: I have to agree with you. Despite any complaints I had, this one was terrific. Non-stop action, great characters, A-list actors, amazing effects. I give it a big four knives as well.

You know, it’s funny, anyone who has never seen a Marvel movie, and didn’t read comics, and who decided to start with this movie would have absolutely NO IDEA what is going on. There are so many characters and locations and concepts from the comics and previous movies, and INFINITY WAR does not stop for a second to explain any of these things.

It’s amazing that the comic books we grew up with (and which got us labeled nerds) are now so imbedded in popular culture that most people know all of these things now! And it shows the pure storytelling power of Marvel that people have stayed aboard from the beginning through all these movies, enough so that they didn’t need any explanations of what was going on in INFINITY WAR.

In a way, it justifies a big chunk of our childhoods, sitting around reading “funny books.”

DK: Yeah, it kind of does. Hey, are you choking up about this?

LS: No, of course not. Just breathed in some space dust by accident.

DK: Which reminds me. We just crash-landed on an alien planet, that looks uninhabited. How are we going to get home?

LS (looks up at the darkening sky): Well, Dan, I think we’re going to be late for dinner.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares & Daniel G. Keohane