Avengers: Infinity War
Bruce Steele: So, I've always hated those darn infinity stones. Little plastic trinkets with undefined magical powers are always the lamest crutch for superhero movies. In previous Marvel films, they've been bit players (so to speak) in more complex story lines in which the conflict was clearly character-based. But this time out it's all stones, all the time, with a giant blue Jay Leno trying to bejewel his glove and murder half the universe for some misguided ecological reason. After all the richness and humanity of Captain America: Civil War and Black Panther, this was an embarrassment. Were you more taken in than I was?
Edwin Arnaudin: Apparently so! I see it as the giant mashup that's been teased ever since Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) popped up in Iron Man's tag scene. It's an exercise in throwing together all the remaining core MCU characters and I was impressed with how well writers/directors Anthony and Joe Russo balanced it all. Clearly, you feel differently.
Bruce: I think it remains to be seen. A lot of the established Marvel story lines and characters do blend well for an entertaining hour or so, with moments of wit. Then it gets bogged down in the stupid stone quest and lots of indestructible, undefined villains beating up the Avengers over and over. And basically trashing everything good about Black Panther. You think audiences will want to see this relentless destruction? I think the repeat viewership will be close to zero.
Edwin: As we discussed leaving the theater, both of us think another factor will make it a one-timer for most. But the action is as well-staged if not better than anything in Civil War and Black Panther, offering diverse heroics and plenty of hope that all-powerful Thanos (Josh Brolin) can be defeated. Plus there remain copious mid-battle jokes, something I think the MCU has excelled at since the start.
Bruce: Thanos may be all powerful, but he's both boring and inconsistent. Sometimes he can defeat multiple enemies with his mind, sometimes he can't. And he's given absurd parental emotions for Gamora (Zoe Saldana) that I don't buy for a second. As for the action sequences, there's nothing new here. The final assault on the Avengers' redoubt is a huge, messy retread of Black Panther and countless better CG war scenes. And for all the juggling of characters and maybe-deaths, the filmmakers were clearly holding back a lot (Hulk, for example) for next year's sequel.
Edwin: I like to think of Thanos and his minions as more unpredictable than inconsistent, and that keeps them from being dull for me. Plus the character combinations make the various showdowns feel fresh. Most of the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy have new toys and/or motivations thanks to deeper interpersonal emotions forged in recent films like Spider-Man: Homecoming and Guardians Vol. 2.
Bruce: I can't think of a single standout performance in this movie. Tom Holland is fun as Spider-Man for a while before being sidelined, and Elizabeth Olsen is more fleshed out as the Scarlet Witch. The Iron Man-Dr. Strange rivalry is fun for a while, but most everyone else is in a holding pattern. Saldana has an impossible task as Gamora, trying to connect emotionally to the essentially 2D Thanos. Oh, and she's also one of what — 5 or 6? — characters who readily put the fate of the universe in jeopardy because one other person is suffering temporarily. That was the most tiresome and oft repeated plot device: Give me an infinity stone or I'll shoot this dog. Um, no. Shoot the damn dog already.
Edwin: No one is given an opportunity to shine too richly, but that feels like the point: It's a team effort. Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner plays a bit rickety this time around thanks to awkward dialogue and Captain America (Chris Evans) could have been given a few more scenes, but no one else stands out in a negative way. I was especially taken with Robert Downey Jr., whose Iron Man is far more enjoyable outside of his own movies. And, yes, the selfishness in decision-making with the fate of the universe at stake grows a little stale, but I also think it's an honest reflection of the bonds that have developed with this crazy bunch of kids over the past decade. There's a lot to sort out in Part Deux.
Bruce: This movie is nothing but a teaser for next year's sequel and there's no reason to see it at all until April 2019, at home, like the DVD "extra" or "previously on" fragment that it is. (The 3D was wasted too.) Even the shameless Twilight and Harry Potter franchises, dividing a climactic story in two parts, didn't bungle the first half this badly. It's a big "screw you" to fans. It has a few nice moments, even if they go nowhere, so I'll be generous and give it a D.
Edwin: Other than the startling way Infinity War leaves things dangling, I don't agree with that assessment much at all. I was thoroughly entertained and there's next to nothing I'd want to change beyond another case of the Russos' bungling handheld camerawork, a glaring issue since The Winter Soldier. I mean, I got to see Thor make a triumphant entrance with Groot and Rocket, spend time with a giant Peter Dinklage, plus see Spider-man crack a joke about made-up names — just a few of the many, many enjoyable moments this film has to offer. I'm good for a year. B-plus for me.
Grade: C-plus. Rated PG-13. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande, Carolina Cinemark and Grail Moviehouse.
(Photos: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)