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Front Page - Friday, May 4, 2018

Critic's Corner: Marvel has another winner in ‘Avengers: Infinity Wars’

Here we are at the beginning of the end. After 10 years, we’ve come to the final act of a narrative that has already spanned 17 films. “Avengers: Infinity Wars,” and the “Avengers” sequel that will follow in 2019, have always existed in the distant future, so it’s a little unreal that the first one has arrived.

Regardless of what you think about Marvel’s movies, or comic book adaptations in general, there’s no denying that Marvel has accomplished something no movie studio has. The series has had its ups (“Captain America: Winter Soldier”) and downs (“Thor 2”) in terms of quality, but like a locomotive with a furnace hot with burning coals and a fixed destination, it’s never strayed off course as it wound its way through well over a dozen movies.

The question is if the end game, as Dr. Strange calls it, is going to give audiences the payoff they’ve been anticipating. Based on “Infinity War,” the first of two movies that will bring this phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to a close, the answer is a hopeful yes.

I think Marvel called this film an “Avengers” movie for marketing purposes, because the focus is less on the four characters who formed the core of the original team and more on the heroes who appeared in their wake and the main villain of the series.

Iron Man, Captain American, Thor and Hulk are all there, but they’re surrounded by a sea of newer heroes and secondary characters and never appear as a foursome. You can almost hear the movie’s seams stretching and popping as the filmmakers try to cram these characters into the two hours and 40 minutes between the appearance of the Marvel logo and the end credits.

Led by directors Anthony and Joe Russo (the siblings who wrote and directed “Winter Soldier” and “Captain America: Civil War”), they pull it off, but just barely. If the film has a weakness, it’s the way it jumps from one dilemma and subset of characters to the next and takes almost too long to circle back. As I made mental notes about who was doing what, I imagined the Russo brothers saying, “Pay attention class! There will be a quiz in 20 minutes.”

If “Infinity War” has a strength, it’s the villain. Known as Thanos, he’s been lurking behind the scenes for several films, stirring up trouble but never stepping into the spotlight – until now. His goal: to obtain six elemental stones that will give him the power to wipe out half the population of the universe with a snap of his fingers.

I always wonder why comic book villains want to destroy everything and wipe out all life. It seems counterproductive. But in Thanos, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have created a villain with depth and emotions and given him a task he believes is righteous.

Mind you, it’s still a horrifically murderous quest, but you can hear the conviction in his voice when he talks about how his once thriving home world fell victim to overpopulation and died. In his mind, he’s not killing trillions, he’s saving the universe.

And, unlike most generic villains and madmen, Thanos puts his money where his mouth is and makes a heart-rending personal sacrifice to further his goal. This act represents a level of thought rarely evident in a superhero epic, and it makes “Infinity War” a more compelling film than I was expecting.

I went in anticipating a lot of crowd-pleasing action, given the Russo’s superbly choreographed set pieces in “Winter Soldier” and “Civil War,” and “Infinity Wars” did not disappoint. I did, however, find myself wondering why the special effects weren’t better. This series has grossed over $15 billion, so I’m sure Marvel can afford to pony up enough money for effects that don’t look like a college graduate’s demo reel.

For example, Tony Stark’s new Iron Man suit, which unfolds from a gadget implanted in his chest, is awesome in theory, but it looks like the artists who rendered it just painted it onto him in splotches instead of animating its many individual parts.

That said, I can hardly complain about “Infinity Wars,” which gives nerdy popcorn munchers like myself plenty to smile about and cheer. It also does the work of a master seamstress as it takes the many threads introduced in the preceding movies and stitches them together. Then there’s the ending, which will make the year-long wait for the final “Avengers” movie a difficult one.

Before seeing “Infinity War,” I thought I had the MCU pegged. But the film is brave in surprising ways and takes chances. The last scene, which had everyone in the theater staring at the screen in stunned silence until one woman started to cry, alone is evidence that there’s a lot of life left in this series.

For now, though, I just want Marvel to nail the last “Avengers” film. After 10 years and 18 films, and with a lead-in as strong as “Infinity Wars,” how could they not?

Don’t answer that – especially those of you who saw “Spider-Man 3.”