Two Centers Assemble for AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick

Spoiler note – this Film Club article includes SPOILERS for Infinity War — but not for Endgame.

It’s easy to forget this, but 11 years and over 20 movies ago, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was a gamble that no one was sure would pay off. The idea of doing long-form superheroic storytelling in cinematic form, complete with crossovers, special events, and ongoing narrative arcs that would play out over several years, was so radically different from anything else anyone had ever done before that it was no wonder much of Hollywood sat back and waited to see whether or not Kevin Feige’s radical idea actually paid off.

Cut to now, a world where any movie with “Marvel Studios” in front is guaranteed to be some kind of commercial juggernaut and mainstream audiences flock to theaters in massive droves to see the adventures of characters who previously occupied only the fringiest of fringe-nerd affections.

Avengers: Infinity War represented a new peak in the movie factory’s ambition, with the Joe and Anthony Russo directed sci-fi action spectacular uniting characters and stories from *deep breath* the Iron Man movies, the Captain America movies, the Thor movies, Black Panther, the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, Dr. Strange, Spider-Man, as the various heroes of the MCU united to try and stop Thanos, the mad Titan (Josh Brolin), in his quest to claim the Infinity Stones and wipe out half of all life in the universe.

An extraordinary financial success even by the standards of the MCU, Infinity War became instantly iconic for its devastating cliffhanger ending, with audiences storming their local theaters this weekend to enjoy Avengers: Endgame to find out how it all works out.

Well, we’re as excited for that as anyone else, so along with some friends, we’re pre-gaming for that spectacular with this one.

Next Week’s Pick:

Kim Jee-woon has long been a luminary in the golden age of South Korean cinema, alongside his countrymen Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho. For years, one of Kim’s most acclaimed films was also one of the hardest for North American audiences to get out hands on.

The highly stylized story of a high-ranking gangster whose life falls apart when he doesn’t follow instructions, A Bittersweet Life has now arrived on Amazon Prime.

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at) anytime before midnight on Thursday!

Our Guests

Husain Sumra:

Infinity War feels like a miracle. It’s not because it’s a flawless piece of storytelling, or perfectly in sync with previous films in the MCU. Upon close inspection, it isn’t either of those things.

But the Russo Brothers and team have crafted something that feels good to watch. It’s breezy and fun, and it knows how to let its characters take center stage. Everyone gets a moment, and you can feel the weight of Thanos’ goal. Infinity War ends on a cliffhanger, but it doesn’t feel like a cop out or unsatisfying. It all feels cohesive, it feels like a great time with great characters with an emotional punch at the end. That’s why this movie is a miracle. (@hsumra)

Brendan Agnew (The Norman Nerd):

It’s easy to write off Avengers: Infinity War as half a film, especially with Endgame being positioned as a definitive, well, end to the saga begun in 2008’s Iron Man. However, while Infinity War is unconventional in many ways (the film positions Thanos as arguably the main character, for one), it functions more like the middle chapter of a trilogy like Back to the Future, and still follows some very basic storytelling rules. The opening poses a very simple narrative question:

Will Earth’s Mightiest Heroes be able to keep Thanos from assembling all six Infinity Stones and wiping out half the life in the universe?

And while the cliffhanger nature of the film means that everyone knows there’s still more to come, Infinity War answers its story question very definitively — No. They lose, and lose hard, and the screenwriters as well as the Russo Bros. make sure you feel those losses by tying the wider cosmic stakes to very familiar ones. Thanos enters the film by mercilessly slaughtering fan-favorite characters and reducing both of the strongest Avengers to battered shells, and the film then quickly introduces the major stones in play (Time, Mind, and Soul) as being linked directly to characters we are already invested in. While the scope of the film could have used widening to show the reach of events beyond “people with capes and costumes,” the fact that the film is able to both trade in and handily re-establish (the entrance of the Guardians of the Galaxy is brilliant writing and film-making) these already-familiar characters lends ample weight to the apocalyptic finale.

Infinity War is somewhat messy and rushed, but it also packs an undeniable emotional wallop even a full year later. No amount of hopeful “to be continued”s can take away the feeling of being right, of knowing how these things are “supposed” to play out, but seeing certainty turn to ash and losing all the same. (@BLCAgnew)

The Team

Justin Harlan:

I’m not as intensely excited about most MCU films as the average nerd. I’ve always found the primary members of The Avengers to be less interesting than many other seem to. I don’t hate any of them, but I’m also not a cheerleader or any of them. While Hemsworth’s Thor has become a favorite of mine, beginning with his third installment, and the Guardians fucking rule, I’m not all that concerned about what happens to the others…

Enter the Russo brothers. Armed with a great script, these guys brought to life characters that I previously didn’t care much for and raised the stakes (which is hard to do, seeing as nearly every MCU film has a plot that includes numerous moments the world could literally be destroyed). I found myself caring far more than I ever had in any of the previous Avengers team-ups in the MCU era.

While Infinity War wasn’t a top film of the year for me, it does what it does better than most films can. Rewatching it has me pretty stoked for Endgame, though I’m still counting down the days until the GOTG 3.(@thepaintedman)

Brendan Foley:

Infinity War is a hell of an achievement, but as a movie, it is one of the overall weakest in the MCU, and it betrays some of the fundamental shortcomings of this new form of cinematic storytelling. Namely, because we only see these characters every couple years, and because each movie has to be an earth-shattering Event, characters arcs and important emotional beats are left up to the audience to make sense, rather than seeming organic to the narrative of this particular film. The best example is the Vision/Wanda romance around which the entire film hinges. It’s not a bad idea to use a doomed love story as the beating heart for a sprawling intergalactic epic, but neither Vision nor Wanda are especially well-developed characters, and their romance comes almost completely out of nowhere (they had a couple nice interactions in Civil War, but that’s all we saw, and now we’re meant to believe they’re soulmates who will go to the ends of the earth for one another?). It’s frustrating, especially because you can see how all these threads and beats would work like gangbusters in an outline or a summary, but because there’s just so much stuff going on in Infinity War, there’s no room for anything to be developed any deeper than that outline.

If it sounds like I’m nitpicking, that’s because I am. I’m a die-hard fan of the MCU, and if nothing else, Infinity War is stuffed stupid with the characters we know and love meeting/bickering/bantering/fighting together/against one another. It’s a hoot, but it too often feels like disconnected fun moments without enough meat on the bones to totally work as its own movie. (@theTrueBrendanF)

Austin Vashaw

Even avoiding spoilers and whatnot, Infinity War’s downer cliffhanger ending was something practically the entire audience, especially the subset familiar with the Thanos of the comics, was half-expecting. And yet, the film still manages to strike a balanced tone that brings lots of laughs, heart, and big character moments across its sprawling cast while tying together a decade’s worth of storylines on both terrestrial and cosmic scales. To the chagrin of some of the more clueless movie reviewers out there looking for a decade’s worth of exposition, it dives right in, skipping any halfhearted attempt to introduce the characters — at this point, you’re either on board with Marvel’s ongoing storytelling format, or you’re not.

“The Snap” was criticized for its transiency — what does it matter in a comic book universe where death is only temporary? Or in the more transparent real world of business, contracts, and press releases which seem to all but guarantee a neat resolution? And yet, rewatching Infinity War several times hasn’t lessened the impact of the film for me, but solidified it. Having seen the follow-up Endgame, I can confirm that my faith in this franchise was rightly placed. (@VforVashaw)

Next week’s pick: A Bittersweet Life

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