Movie Review – Avengers: Infinity War

#ThanosDemandsYourSilence

[THERE WILL BE NO SPOILERS OR MAJOR PLOT DETAILS IN THIS REVIEW, ONLY WHAT WAS REVEALED IN TRAILERS AND INTERVIEWS]

[It is not required, but is highly recommended that you read this piece before continuing on]

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Avengers: Infinity War is the 19th installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and is the beginning of the end of the era informally known as the “Infinity Saga”. For those who don’t know by now, the past 10 years and 18 movies have all been pointing towards this. Each one has been building to the plot for this particular film and the untitled Avengers follow up film to be released in May 2019. As I’m writing this review, the movie has already broken all records for “biggest opening weekend”, surpassing the previous record-holder, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It is safe to say that this is one of those movies that are more of a cinematic event and cultural phenomenon than a simple blockbuster. Its obvious that so many people wanted to see every MCU hero all in one place, but it was also common to speculate if such a balancing act could even be done properly. So how does it stack up as a movie?

Much like the MCU, let’s start with the smaller things and build up. First off, writers Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (from Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War) have delivered once again. This script is compact, and almost every line accomplishes something to drive forward either the plot or a character’s motivation/feelings. With a movie so huge in runtime it would’ve been easy to feel like some time would be wasted, but I didn’t feel like any part was a drag. The movie follows different groups of characters on different locations, and will then bring them together or separate them with a sense of fluidity. The structure of the film is of course supplemented by the beautiful visual effects with one or two shots that were absolutely breathtaking. However, the structure was also tied together by very specific theming that was prominent throughout the film, although being more specific about this would be a spoiler so I’ll move on.

Perhaps some of the best parts of this movie are directing choices by the Russo Brothers (also from Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War). As you may have read in some of my pieces before, I’m very big on directors and executives actually handling these famous and iconic characters with a sense of care. I was pleased to see that the directors let the moments between these characters sit and sink in. What makes comic books so fun is that you have an assortment of characters, so many that are larger than life, all interacting with each other. It was understood by the Russo brothers that these interactions and moments were important to making this film happen.

Aside from good moments with our heroes, a project of this size also needed the villain to have a sense of grandeur and to be threatening enough, and I’m very happy to say that the Mad Titan Thanos fully delivered on this expectation. This version of Thanos is much more understandable and grounded than his comic counterpart, making him more concerned with real issues than with his love for Mistress Death (seriously, look it up). While being clearly insane and menacing, an audience can still feel sympathy for him during certain scenes where his arc is depicted. As mentioned up above, the Russo brothers take their time to make sure viewers understand what Thanos actually is.

My complaints with this one are pretty minimal, and they’re mostly understandable with how insanely difficult this whole thing was. There were some details or one-liners that were included that I felt were unnecessary, mostly because I wanted those precious minutes to go towards some other aspects that didn’t get as much attention. I’m keeping this review short because there really isn’t a lot I can say without giving away important things about the movie.

All I really can say is that this movie is equally a cinematic spectacle and a real story about something. It’s well balanced and accomplishes everything it sets out to do by keeping things simple and elegant at the same time. Anyone who’s seen even a few of the MCU movies will find something to appreciate here, and it overwhelms you in a way that only a few films can.

Knowing that I’ve fully ousted myself as an MCU fanboy, and knowing that my review can be taken from a very particular point of view, I’m still going to give Avengers: Infinity War a 9.5/10

 

 

Dear Marvel Studios,

It’s been 10 years since you started me, and millions of others, on this incredible journey with the first Iron Man movie. From technically being an independent studio, to being acquired by Disney, to the massive success of every project in Phase 3…it truly has been marvelous (pun intended) to be a loyal and enthusiastic fan since day one. My friends keep worrying that the hype I have for every movie is going to fail me eventually, but it truly doesn’t…especially as of late. Make no mistake, this 18-movie (including the ones I actually dislike) franchise is near and dear to my heart.

You see I had no choice, growing up as a kid with no friends, but to believe in heroism. When I would go to school and try to fit in, and when it became apparent that I wouldn’t, I went back home to sit in front of the TV and watch someone like Spider-Man struggle with the same thing. I would read about the different comic book arcs and the stories of Captain America, the Hulk, Iron Man, and more. Thanks to you, now those same heroes are these characters that suddenly everyone is familiar with (much to my confusion and happiness).

I still remember the day you came into my life like it was yesterday, even though it was 2008 and I was 13 years old. That was an old enough age to know that most comic book movies before that point were massive piles of hot garbage, with a few being atrocious, and a few being amazing. So when my Mom told me to go hang out with some family friends for the day in another city, and when they said the plan was to watch Iron Man, I remember thinking “Oh, wonderful, this will be awful”. A few hours later, I found myself clapping after Tony Stark delivered the final line that still gives me chills to this day… “I am Iron Man”. You did that.

But we didn’t leave the theater just yet. All the other kids already had texting plans and fancy phones, and somebody’s friend said “make sure you stay after the credits”. I had never done that before, but I didn’t complain if it meant less people to deal with on the way out. I didn’t know it at the time, but that’s when you changed my life.

“Mr. Stark, you’ve become part of a bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet…I’m here to talk to you about the Avenger Initiative”.

I don’t know what reaction you were going for from the audience, but I immediately lost all sense of composure and started to scream. One of the other moms definitely thought something was wrong with me as I managed to babble something along the lines of this:

“OH. MY. GOD. GUYS, THEY’RE GOING TO DO AN AVENGERS MOVIE? DOES THIS MEAN WE’RE GONNA HAVE ALL THESE MOVIES LEADING UP TO ONE BIG ONE? DOES THOR GET HIS OWN? DOES CAPTAIN AMERICA? IF THEY DO HULK IT BETTER NOT BE LIKE THE 2003 ONE. HOLY CRAP WHAT IF THEY GET WOLVERINE AND SPIDER-MAN?? WOULD HUGH JACKMAN AND TOBEY MCGUIRE DO IT?”

Seeing as how you really only had the rights to B-list heroes at that point, the other kids could not understand me at all. They genuinely thought I was making stuff up about a team called the Avengers, and about an entire comic series based on a Norse God. I had stopped talking about super-heroes since the 3rd grade because that’s when they stopped being cool to the other kids, and I had just released 5 years of pent-up-fanboy on four teenagers who thought I was insane. I didn’t care. All I could think about was you had planned for the future. Four years later, you delivered.

My patience would finally pay off in May of 2012, the release of The Avengers. I had just finished my AP Statistics Exam, and immediately bolted to the theater for a mid-afternoon show. I still remember how much pure bliss I felt when I saw the shot of all the heroes grouped together, ready to fight Loki’s army. You made this thing that I had thought would be silly to most people, and it ended up being one of the highest grossing movies of all time. You ended up making my “useless” knowledge of superheroes be a “cool thing” about me instead of something I’d be ridiculed for. The best part? You revealed Thanos at the end, which confirmed my suspicions that none of this would end any time soon.

Six years later, I’m a bigger fan than ever despite being a very different person. You have made quite the journey yourself since then: The Disney acquisition, some very disappointing movies, trouble with directors and management, actors wanting an “out” of their contracts. All of this was then followed by a major change in management, followed by an awesome six-movie run of success, two of which I was privileged enough to attend the red carpet premieres for.

There shouldn’t be any denying that you managed to do something incredible and change the landscape of Hollywood. Even more impressively, you keep breaking records and getting new fans while many other studios have tried the same concept and fell flat. From what I understand, it’s because you care about these characters and the impact they have on kids like me. The same kids who needed heroes in their lives. The same kids that are still “running around believing in fairy tales”.

You’ve given us a character like Tony Stark, whose desire to improve himself and do the right thing will always be his strength, despite his struggle with mental illness.

Thor, who taught us that it’s not enough to simply be powerful, and that only with a good heart can we truly ascend to greater heights.

The Guardians of the Galaxy, who make us remember that it is always better to take on the world with your best friends by your side.

You’ve given us characters that prove that even a regular human can stand amongst Gods.

You’ve given the spotlight to strong women, young adults, and POCs, and even highlighted some philosophies in my own faith.

Finally, and most important to me, you’ve given me a personal role model in Captain America. Someone who will always stand for justice and is already what I strive to be every day of my life…a good man.

I know things are going to change after the “Infinity Stone” storyline is over next year. I don’t even know if I’ll be a fan of whatever new direction the universe takes afterwards. However, I will always know that in these past 10 years you’ve been a largely positive force in my life and that I will cherish this journey forever.

So, Marvel Studios, I guess what I’m trying to say is “thank you”. Thanks for growing up with me and inspiring me every step of the way.

Thanks for making sure I never stopped believing in heroes.

Movie Review: Isle of Dogs

You really emBARK on a journey!…..shut up.

[THERE WILL BE NO SPOILERS OR MAJOR PLOT DETAILS IN THIS REVIEW, ONLY WHAT WAS REVEALED IN TRAILERS/INTERVIEWS]

“Isle of Dogs” is a stop-motion animated film written/produced/directed by the famous Wes Anderson, and it stars some big names like Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, and Jeff Goldblum as some very good boys (dogs). Set in a futuristic Japan, the conflict involves young Atari Kobayashi, nephew and ward of the corrupt Mayor Kobayashi, searching for his dog on the isolated Trash Island, where all dogs have been exiled to due to a dog-virus that causes everyone to be scared of their own pets.

Personally, I’ve actually never seen a Wes Anderson film before (that might surprise some of you, but anyone who grew up in the area that I did could vouch that none of us were really talking about that style of film when we were in high school) but I do love stop-motion animation and I do understand Anderson’s credibility as an artistic filmmaker. Upon seeing trailers I was also interested due to the setting being in Japan, especially since I enjoyed Laika Animation’s “Kubo and the Two Strings” (2016), a stop-motion film having a Feudal-Japanese setting. Besides, despite me being a “cat person” (because you apparently have to pick one), who doesn’t love good dogs?

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The film follows characters in two settings, Megasaki City and Trash Island. Starting with the latter, Atari crash lands on the island and is found by the five dogs who roam in their own pack. All are enthusiastic about helping Atari except Chief (Bryan Cranston), but he reluctantly accepts the task anyway and the crew travels deeper into Trash Island to find Atari’s old bodyguard dog. Meanwhile in the city, we see the political side of the decision to outlaw dogs with dictator-like policy from Kobayashi, opposed by a “Science Party” that is making strides to cure the dog viruses and bring the pets back. The film also spends time on a foreign exchange student named Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) who is the only student vocalizing concerns over the Kobayashi dynasty.

Throughout these different sub-plots and stories we get, I personally enjoyed the moments with Atari and the dogs. Anderson takes the time to give these dogs different personalities and backgrounds and the interactions they have with the boy Atari make this a very charming film. For example, Chief tends not to get along with the other dogs or always has a different opinion because he’s a stray. Anderson makes sure that the audience’s immersion is through the dogs themselves by giving them very human characteristics. The animation itself is precisely executed and ended up being very visually appealing and a contributing factor to the movie’s adventurous feel.

Anderson makes an artistic decision to have mostly all the human characters only speak Japanese, and I liked this for two reasons. One being what I mentioned earlier, the audience’s perspective is further drawn towards that of the dogs. Secondly, it gives the animation more time to shine because you start to look for visual storytelling rather than exposition. I also think the film is structured very well with a relatively short runtime of 1 hour and 41 minutes, because there are elements to unpack and I didn’t feel dissatisfied with any sub-plot being ignored or incomplete. Everything does seem to tie up in the end and I’ve gotta give it to Anderson for that one.

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While I did enjoy this film and don’t think this movie had any malicious intent or should cause any rioting, I do have to point out what I thought was a little problematic with the use of the Japanese setting. After the movie was done and my brain went into “what was wrong with it?” mode, I ended up asking myself one big question: “Why Japan?”

This movie is about a psuedo-facist leader outlawing a largely innocent group and getting away with it by brainwashing the public that doesn’t seem to know any better. To be completely honest, this sounds a lot more like America than Japan. While Anderson used things in the culture like taiko drums, haikus, cherry blossoms, etc…all of this seemed to serve no real purpose other than to be an aesthetic. Think of it like when you have this amazing picture ready to upload to instagram, and while searching for the right filter there was one called “Japanese” and that’s the one you decide to go with. Again, I highly doubt any of this was intentional, but using the “Japan implies that a foreign setting was required to make us believe an outrageous policy like fear-mongering the public to dislike dogs…and unfortunately Japan took the fall on this one for a story that I could have very much believed happening in the Western world (apparently Anderson has done a similar thing with India in “The Darjeeling Limited”…guess I should check that one out).

I’m all for having an homage to another culture and for having more movies be international, but the culture or its members didn’t play the significant role in the movie that I was led to believe…it just coexisted while we focused on the Dogs. This is so odd to me because I commended Anderson for being more focused and humanizing the dogs, and having the humans speak only Japanese up above…but at the same time it feels a little gross because you dehumanize the people of the culture but still use the culture as a setting for the film.

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Truthfully, I could’ve ignored ALL of this if it weren’t for one thing that tipped me over the often blurred line between appreciation and appropriation…and that is the use of Greta Gerwig’s character, Tracy Walker. The fact that a character from Ohio (because Lord knows OHIO is the most woke place on the planet) is the only one amongst the masses that can see the corruption of the Kobayashi dynasty really leaves a sour taste in my mouth, similar to when I see the “White Savior” trope. Sure, Atari is the hero to the dogs…but he spends most of the movie with them on Trash Island being out of the spotlight to the rest of the characters while Tracy is over in Megasaki City actually getting people to rally behind the cause. By doing this, the film really does show that the use of Japanese culture is poorly thought-out despite the use of Japanese actors and imagery, because at the end of the day they could’ve done this with ANY foreign culture and it wouldn’t have made a difference. This belittles everyone into this one bubble of “Eastern” rather than showing what is unique about the hundreds of cultures that aren’t in the West.

While definitely being a little problematic, “Isle of Dogs” still manages to be a technically impressive and positive story with its own unique charisma. With all things considered, “Isle of Dogs” gets a 7/10.

 

Guest Post – Movie Review: Ready Player One

Don’t Think Too Hard, “Ready Player One” is Just a Video Game

[THIS IS A GUEST POST BROUGHT TO YOU BY MY GOOD FRIEND (and my co-host of the “Overrated Podcast”) UDAY MEHTA. SHOW HIM SOME LOVE AND FIND HIS COLUMN, HIS SOLO PODCAST, AND OUR PODCAST AT HIS WEBSITE]

I remember seeing the trailer for Ready Player One. I was in theaters, absentmindedly on my phone waiting for the actual movie to start. It was upon hearing one word that my eyes flickered to the screen. Parzival. An alternate spelling of Percival, Parzival is the titular character in the story of the Holy Grail, and one of the Knights of the Round Table. It was a strange tidbit to recall in that moment, but it was enough to pique my curiosity. A sci-fi movie that made semi-obscure historical reference?

 I promptly forgot about the entire thing until a few weeks later when I found out it was a Steven Spielberg-directed movie. Yes, Steven Spielberg, best known this decade for his work on films such as The Post, Lincoln, and War Horse, was directing an adventure role playing movie. Now that was enough to get me to the theater.

The Plot

 The movie follows a lonesome teenager with an alliterative made-for-film white-dude name (Wade Watts) and his avatar (the aforementioned Parzival) in the Oasis, a virtual world whose creator James Halladay has since passed. Halladay is revered in a Jobs/Musk-like fashion, where his followers pore over every aspect of his life. By participating in fights and other competitions, you can earn coins, make customizations to your avatar, and purchase weapons. There’s one catch – if your avatar dies in the Oasis, you lose everything. Your money, your weapons, your upgrades, all of it. You’d respawn as a bare-bones character and have to work your way back up.

 Parzival’s crew is a bunch of lovable misfits, including the beefy mechanic Aech, steely swordsman Daito, and some dude named Sho (they don’t really spend a lot of time on him). The primary driver is the presence of an Easter egg – depicted as an actual Egg in the Oasis – hidden somewhere in the game by Halladay before his passing. Accessing the egg requires the successful completion of three challenges blah blah blah. There isn’t much overall depth to the plot, as we collectively proceed from challenge to challenge, with one of our heroes finding a way to complete each one. The crew is opposed by a faceless corporation “Innovative Online Industries” (IOI) headed by generic boss Nolan Sorrento. IOI has access to plenty of money and weaponry, but they naturally lack the innocence and spirit that make Parzival and co special.

Parzival – and by extension, Wade – is your average guy, no cool upgrades or abilities, just someone looking to find an escape from his life of poverty and bad family dynamics. Pretty relatable, right? Oh, and there’s a love interest, Art3mis (the Greek goddess of hunting), who Parzival falls in love with by virtue of healthily cyber-stalking everything she does. He’s a really nice guy, you just have to get to know him! She warns him that he’d be “repulsed” if he saw her in real life, which is slightly disingenuous because they cast an attractive actress with… a birthmark?

The Verdict

Despite its predictability, even with the tired tropes, it’s still an incredibly fun ride. The movie is relatively self-aware of the stereotypes it’s playing out – from the wise wizard avatar Anorak that represents Halladay, to the guy in a suit that represents CEO Sorrento, to the random-person-you-encounter-on-your-quest-that-turns-out-to-be-an-important-ally. It’s good for what it is, a dystopian action film which focuses on the enduring importance of friendship and its triumph over greed. Like with any book-to-film adaptation, there are facets of the story on which they didn’t have time to spend (the loyalty centers, the death of Wade’s family, Ogden Morrow’s background), but elements that are definitively improved (hacking Sorrento’s headset, the use of TJ Miller’s I-R0k). It’s not a set of puzzles where you as a viewer are trying to figure out what’s coming next, but rather a relaxing journey through the furthest reaches of a virtual world. You may not care about the “war for control of the future”, but you want to find the Easter Egg just as much as Parzival does.

 This is the movie that Adam Sandler’s 2015 shithole ‘Pixels’ should have been.

Pacman, Galaga, Centipede, Tetris, Duck Hunt, Frogger – all these classic arcade games were built into the film as characters, which just might have worked if some other minor details (plot, dialogue, character development) were better. But Ready Player One incorporates the nostalgia trips in an inconspicuous, blink-and-you-miss-it fashion. While Pixels sets up Donkey Kong as Sandler’s final villain behind a ‘We Will Rock You’ soundtrack and a weirdly placed dick joke, Ready Player One flashes through its homages, from a Tron motorcycle during a race, to the magic spell from Excalibur, to a brief costume change into Clark Kent. Avoiding using these references as plot devices – apart from an extended sequence from The Shining – is what helps this film invoke the desired amount of hazy nostalgia.

The Memory

To me, the basic construct of the movie was evocative of a reference they didn’t even mention (or didn’t have the rights to) – Megaman. In the mid-2000s, it aired as a TV show (Megaman NT Warrior) and was released as a long series of video games (Megaman Battle Network). The main construct of the show is a virtual ‘net’ that humans can log into with their ‘net navi’ (short for navigator), where humans interface with their navis by uploading battle chips and weapons. A later season has an arc where humans can fully synchronize with their net navis . The show’s antagonists were textbook villains that wanted to take over and/or destroy the net, headlined by Dr. Wily, an original creator of the net. There’s even a reddish-pink love interest and a big buff friend! Vaguely familiar, isn’t it?