Film Review: “Avengers: Infinity War”

Starring: Josh Brolin, Chris Hemsworth and Robert Downey Jr.
Directed By: Anthony and Joe Russo
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 149 minutes
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

I can’t fathom the immense pressure the creators, directors, writers, producers and studio had going into “Infinity War.” Marvel has spent the past decade crafting content that not only stands on its own two feet, but was meticulously building towards this moment. Since Thanos first reared his ugly purple head in a post-credits scene in the first “Avengers,” fans knew that this monumental occasion was eventually going to happen. With lofty expectations, I’m happy to report that “Infinity War” delivers on nearly every level.

I usually type out a short summary or try to set-up the plot at some point early on in my reviews, but I feel like it’s a moot talking point because if you’ve kept up with the Marvel movies or have a good idea of what’s going on in them, you don’t need me to paint a picture about the Infinity Stones, the Infinity Gauntlet or the fight to save the universe. But I also know you don’t need me spoiling anything, so I’ll stay quiet on the specifics. However, I will say that it only takes the first five minutes of the film for “Infinity War” to knock viewers right in the jaw and set the tone.

Getting every character in one film, give or take a few, is an impressive feat on its own. But what’s cleverly done by Marvel’s creative crew is dividing our favorite heroes into different groups to tackle different tasks. The film pairs similar personalities that bounce or conflict well with each other. It also keeps the movie from being inordinate and having too many egos talking about the same thing or over each other, something that “Age of Ultron” ultimately suffered from. So there’s the possibility that fans of certain characters might be disappointed by the lack of screen time for their favorite hero or character.

That being said, Marvel’s gotten a lot better recently at villain building and Thanos (Brolin) may be the pinnacle. Not only is he fierce and overwhelmingly magnetic in his scenes, he’s a sadistic joy to watch stomping around the scene as he articulates his thoughts on death and the balance it creates. There’s also this shocking amount of softness to the character that we’ve rarely seen before with any other Marvel bad guy, except for maybe the one in “Black Panther.” While most of Marvel’s villains have been evil for the sake of being evil or because of their own vanity, Thanos seems genuine in his wickedness, because he’s not only a conqueror, but views himself as the universe’s scales of justice.

There’s a surprising amount of emotion and laughs mixed into the film’s bleakness and knockdown fights. “Infinity War” is never crushed under the utter weight of its own ambitions, serving up a worthy spectacle for audiences along with a captivating storyline that feels rich in content, but never bloated. This ambitious project, 10 years in the making, is not to be missed, but also raises the stakes even higher for when the Avengers assemble again in 2019.

Film Review: “Gifted”

Starring: Chris Evans, McKenna Grace and Jenny Slate
Directed by: Marc Webb
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 1 hr 41 mins
Fox Searchlight

Our Score: 4 out of 5 Stars

Here’s one for you: What do you get when you pair up the star of the Captain America films with the director of a couple Spider-man movies? I have no idea what your answer is but mine is you get one hell of a fine film.

Frank Adler (Evans) seems like your normal single dad. He lives with his daughter, Mary (Grace) outside St. Petersburg and repairs boats. But this is not your typical family and, as the formerly home-schooled Mary prepares to head off to public school, you can sense the fear, and anticipation, in both of them. You begin to understand the worry when, after challenging her teacher (Slate) after being asked to add one plus two, Mary herself is challenged, dropping jaws all around when, using only her brain, she quickly computes 53 x 127. Now do you see why the film is called “Gifted?”

A perfect gift just in time for Easter, “Gifted” could have easily been a two-hankie made-for-television Lifetime movie. However it rises thanks to the work of the cast, especially soon to be 11-year-old McKenna Grace. You may recognize her as the President’s daughter on television’s “Designated Survivor,” but her limited work on the series will not prepare you for the tour-de-force performance she delivers her. Whether interacting with Frank (who we soon learn is actually her uncle), her kindly neighbor Roberta (Octavia Spencer) or her overbearing Grandmother (Lindsay Duncan), Mary is the emotional heart and soul of the film. Evans is equally strong here. If the only time you’ve seen him is when he’s wearing Spandex, you may be surprised by the emotional depths he reaches here. As the film progresses, and we learn more about the lives on-screen, the deeper our own emotional depths are reached. You find yourself struggling to understand the decisions made, sensing how each one will affect the other.

If you have no desire to watch Vin Diesel drive a car this weekend (guilty!), I recommend you give “Gifted” a try. You won’t be disappointed.

Film Review: “Captain America: Civil War”

Film Review by Jeremy Werner

Starring: Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson
Directed By: Joe and Anthony Russo
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 146 minutes
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Our Score: 5 out of 5 Stars

Warner Bros. worst nightmare has come true. A much better comic book movie has been released with Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice still fresh in moviegoers minds. Actually, let me take that statement back. A near-perfect comic book movie has been released a month afterBatman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, further solidifying Zack Snyder’s cinematic attempt as the shiny turd it is. Warner Bros. executives listen up. Purchase a ticket to Captain America: Civil War and see how comic book movies are really done.

This doesn’t feel like a Captain America movie, but more like a prequel to the next Avengers movie, and that’s perfectly fine. The loss of life and human casualties has finally caught up to the Avengers as the Secretary of State and the United Nations demand authority over the team. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey) is soaked in guilt, feeling that he’s done more harm than good. He believes the Avengers need a leash before they gallivant around the world fighting evildoers.

On the flip side of the coin is Captain America (Evans). He believes politics, as well as the looming threat of Hydra’s infiltration, would inhibit their ability to save the world at the drop of a hat. Both sides have their merits, but Captain’s opinion is tossed out the window when Bucky, the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), commits a terroristic act at the U.N. killing dozens. Captain and Tony are at ends after this. Tony wants Bucky taken in and imprisoned, or killed, and Captain rightfully suspects something else is at work.

While Age of Ultron felt overwhelmed with over a dozen characters to juggle, Civil War seems to handle it with a calm demeanor. Even the introductions of Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Spiderman (Tom Holland) are fluid, fun, and properly handled. The additions of a sleepy Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), a conflicted Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), a stoic Vision (Paul Bettany) and a handful others never overwhelms the viewer.

For Marvel fans who’ve watched every movie, and possibly every show, their fan service is paid off throughout. As for the villain; He appears to be a little lacking, but upon further inspect, the bad guy says a lot about the fabric of comradery between the Avengers and how easily it can rip. It seems like every Captain America is a game changer. The first prefaced the Avengers assembling. The second movie scrapped S.H.I.E.L.D. to its bare bones. Now Civil War rearranges the chess board after flipping it off the table.

I feel like I say this nearly every time a new Marvel movie is released, but Marvel has seriously outdone themselves once again. Civil War is a near-flawless cinematic experience that neatly packages one of the most pivotal story lines in comic book history. As for what Marvel has up its sleeve before 2018’s release of Avengers: Infinity Wars, is anyone’s guess. But I assure you it’s in good hands. The same directors and writers behind Civil War are piecing together the next Avengers and if this movie is any indication, it’s going to be fantastic, if not a satisfying conclusion to decades of story building. I wish I could tell you more about Civil War, but it’s something you’re just going to have to see for yourselves. Like, right now.