A Cinema Knife Fight review with L.L. Soares CKF reviews are two or more reviewers going toe to toe on a single movie, agreeing or not, with a healthy dose of sarcasm. In the following review, Lauran and Dan Keohane discuss the Magnum Opus (so far) of the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
(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?
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.
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