The 19th entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is also the 3rd movie with the word “Avengers” in the title. Yes, having knowledge of the previous 18 films would certainly help going into it. The writers here are Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the two guys who have written all the films with “Captain America” in the title, but they were able to build upon the other 15. It’s a great juggling act. Along with directors and brothers, Anthony and Joe Russo, they balance and give a decent-enough spotlight on the dozen or so characters. Most of whom are stars in their own individual movies. The pacing is great. The film jumps or skips from action scene to action scene with fairly good alacrity. It also does what few MCU movies do and that’s create a really terrifying villain who isn’t at the end of the day a joke but a true nightmare that’s scary.
Josh Brolin (Milk and No Country for Old Men) stars as Thanos, the villain of this film. He gets or should get top billing here. This movie is really his story. He wants to euthanize the universe, at least partially. From his perspective, he sees suffering all throughout the stars. He sees wars and starvation all due to finite resources and all because there are too many people in it. It’s the same logic as the villain portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson in Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014). Thanos’ solution is to remove half of the people in the universe. He sees it as mercy. He sees mass murder as mercy. Oddly though, despite his huge, purple look, Brolin comes across as less cartoonish than Jackson did. Unfortunately, there is a gap in Thanos’ logic or a counter-argument that’s very apparent, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
In order to wipe-out half the population in the universe with a snap of his finger, Thanos needs all six of the Infinity Stones. Each stone is a different color. The blue stone is the Space Stone, which allows Thanos to travel anywhere in space or in the universe. There’s the Power Stone (Purple), the Mind Stone (Yellow), the Time Stone (Green), the Reality Stone (Red) and the Soul Stone (Orange). Having each allows Thanos to control each of the things the stone represents. When he has all six and combines all six on his gauntlet, which he wears on his left hand, he can snap his fingers and wipe out half the people in the universe, which are trillions upon trillions of people.
The gap in his logic or the counter-argument is that if the Infinity Stones can give him the ability to destroy on that massive a scale, it can also give him the ability to create. The Mind Stone, for example, can control the minds of people. If there are wars, he can make them stop. If there is starvation, he could snap his fingers and make food for everyone. If there is not land for people to hold, he can make planets.
Now, the movie makes us understand why Thanos would come to his genocidal conclusion. His life experiences and actions thus far have led him to that conclusion. Why no one else makes the argument or presents the option to Thanos of creation rather than destruction even of the dozens of characters here is this movie’s chief failing. Another counter-argument is Thanos’s solution only delays the inevitable. If we take Thanos’ problem genuinely, then he’s only postponed the current problem as he saw it. Wiping out trillions of people is something he’ll have to do again, so instead of wiping them out partially, he’d either have to do a complete genocide and eliminate everyone in the universe not half or put them all under mind control. Yet, this film doesn’t want to have that level of intellectual thought. Fighting and seeing destruction on screen are all this movie has on its agenda, and as such, it works. It’s thoroughly entertaining in that regard, the best of the 19 for sure.
The film certainly sets the tone with its chilling and haunting, opening scene. It sets the stakes and establishes Thanos for the terror that he is. It also sets up the pathos that the movie manages to weave effectively into this narrative of people constantly having to make sacrifices and facing not this existential loss but real, personal loss.
At the same time, the comedy here is integral and incorporated in equally effective ways. Benedict Cumberbatch who plays Dr. Strange, a powerful wizard, starts the comedy with his stiff-upper-lip manner as well as his loyal cape. Tom Holland who plays Spider-Man brings the pop culture references from Star Trek (1966) to Aliens (1986). Mark Ruffalo who plays the Hulk hams it up as the super-hero with performance anxiety or a kind of erectile dysfunction. Chris Hemsworth who plays Thor delivers a kind of regal but manly Pollyanna, a stalwart himbo. Chris Pratt is still doing his Han Solo-thing, but just a little jealous of the aforementioned beefcake also named Chris, and then there’s Robert Downey Jr., still doing his smarter-than-everybody, arrogant shtick. Luckily, it’s in small doses, a nice paprika to this film.
The women in this story don’t get a lot of the comedy. The women actually do a lot of the dramatic heavy-lifting with the exception of Danai Gurira who gets a couple of funny lines. Otherwise, Zoe Saldana who plays Gamora and Elizabeth Olsen who plays Scarlet Witch both have difficult life-and-death decisions to make regarding the men they love.
The ending here was also pretty bold. None of the previous MCU films have ended on a downbeat. Captain America: Civil War (2016) came close, but it wasn’t as sad or depressing as this. This film is even more downbeat than The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Even The Dark Knight (2008) had a happier ending. Of course, 2019’s installment will settle or possibly re-write things, but for now, I applaud Marvel Studios for leaving us with this sad and mostly ambiguous closing shot.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, language and some crude references.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 29 mins.
The nerd in me can’t let this monumental film go by without a few nitpicks, probably because I’ve seen too many videos by CinemaSins. The following will make no sense if you haven’t seen the film.
–Heimdall, played by Idris Elba, teleports the Hulk all the way back to Earth, but why not teleport himself as well or why not have done it earlier?
–Iron-Man calls for a special suit for Spider-Man, so he can breathe in outer space, but why not call additional suits like he does in Iron Man 3 during the battle against Maw and Obsidian?
–Dr. Strange says he sees every possible future and only one where they win, so does his actions from that point forward reflect that?
–When Iron-Man and Spider-Man are trying to pull the gauntlet off Thanos, since the gauntlet is stuck, why doesn’t Iron-Man simply cut off or sever Thanos’ whole arm?
–Why doesn’t Dr. Strange create a time-loop to trap Thanos like he did Dormammu? Or, why doesn’t he travel backwards in time and destroy the other Infinity Stones?
–With the ending as it is, this film is basically a prequel to HBO’s The Leftovers.