Movie reviews: 'Avengers: Infinity War' delivers eye-popping, high-stakes action
Published Friday, April 27, 2018 6:00AM EDT
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR: 4 STARS
In the world of the Avengers, less isn’t more. Bigger is better. The newest instalment, “Avengers: Infinity War,” the nineteenth in the Marvel Universe, is their most epic film yet. Taking place all over the universe, it pits daughter against father, challenges the true nature of love, all while saving the world from certain destruction.
Set two years after relations soured in the Avengers camp — “The Avengers broke up,” says Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) — the new Avengers spectacle sees them put aside their differences to once again save the world. Iron Man (Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and a laundry list more, including all the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), band together to prevent intergalactic despot Thanos (Josh Brolin) from collecting the six powerful Infinity Stones hidden on earth. “He is a plague,” says Bruce Banner. He is the strongest creature in the universe, so pumped up he can toss Hulk and Thor around like they are rag dolls.
With the half dozen gems, Thanos can decorate his bad-guy golden gauntlet. Not only fashionable, the artefacts, once collected, will also enable him to bend reality to his will. “The entire time I knew him he only ever had one goal,” says Gamora (Zoe Saldana), “to wipe out half the universe. If he gets all the Infinity Stones he can do it with a snap of his fingers.” Gah! Simply put, “He’s from space,” says Stark, “and came here to steal a necklace from a wizard [Dr. Strange a.k.a. Benedict Cumberbatch).”
“Avengers: Infinity War” is where good and evil and franchises collide. The good guys — essentially everyone but Thanos — put aside their grievances with one another for the common good. From far and wide, from outer space and the mystical realms, they unite, trade quips, kick butt and try to beat the odds. “There are 14,000,605 possible outcomes,” calculates Doctor Strange, “but only one where the good guys win.”
Then there’s Thanos, whose twisted idea of tough love involves a genocidal solution for overcrowding on planets, and his nasty minions. The big man is a get-the-job-done kind of guy, but he’s not simply evil. He’s a villain who feels the psychic weight of his evil doing. His conscience doesn’t slow him down much — he still does terrible things — but he is more layered than your usual CGI baddie. Brolin shines in a MoCap performance that gives the character depth despite his cartoon appearance.
Combined, they create a primal battle of good and evil on a scale that makes all other Avengers movies pale by comparison.
The sheer number of cast members brings to mind the old Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer slogan, “More stars than there are in the heavens.” Iron Man, Thor, Scarlet Witch and the Guardian gang are put to good use, but too often the superheroes are set dressing. There are so many characters and interactions that even at two hours and forty minutes, the film struggles to find meaningful things for all of them to do. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow does little more than grimace and say things like, “Let’s do this!” Tom Holland as Spider-Man is given a cool new suit and a couple of action scenes but, like many others, including Falcon (Anthony Mackie), he doesn’t seem to be there for any reason other than to bulk up the marquee. Even the main players check in and out, often disappearing from the narrative for substantial chunks of time.
There has been much speculation as to which characters live and who dies. All I’ll say is that there will be some actors looking for work after “Avengers: Infinity War” opens.
Many of the actors may not get much to do character-wise, but most are in almost constant motion in some of the largest Avengers fight scenes ever. For the most part, they are CGI fests, geared to make your eyeballs dance. They are expertly realized, but many of them feel familiar, like larger versions of the smash ‘em ups from the other films. If the fight scenes are your favourite bits of the Avengers movies, then you’ll be pleased. If not, look out, they eat up a good piece of the film.
What makes “Avengers: Infinity War” compelling isn’t that it is bigger and louder than its predecessors -- it’s that there are high stakes for everyone. Once again the world is in peril, but we’re used to that. The powerful work is interpersonal between characters. No spoilers here, but the lives of characters we’ve followed for years are changed, and it brings humanity to a film that could have been computer-generated overload.
“Avengers: Infinity War” is a cliffhanger that leaves much up in the air. The final scene — after credits so long it seems like everyone in the world worked on this movie — gives a hint of the worldwide consequences of Thanos’s plan, but gives no hint as to what’s to come. For that, you’ll have to wait until part two hits theatres on May 3, 2019. The dangling nature of the story will be frustrating to some. For fans, however, the movie should deliver in a big way.
ADVENTURES IN PUBLIC SCHOOL: 3 STARS
According to the dictionary, the definition of “helicopter parent” is, “a parent who takes an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child or children.” That definition is stretched to the point of breaking by Claire (Judy Greer), overbearing mother of home-schooled teenager Liam (Daniel Doheny), in the new comedy “Adventures in Public School.”
Liam has a head full of stars. His dream of becoming a physicist, going to Cambridge to study with Stephen Hawking, is fully supported by his enthusiastic mother, who has prepped him academically. Before jetting off to England — with mom in tow — he must take a high school equivalency exam. Within minutes of his first time in an actual school, the guileless Liam falls for Anastasia (Siobhan Williams), a schoolgirl who lost a leg to cancer. In a moment of teenaged hormonal impulsivity, he makes the decision to purposely flunk the exam so he can become a student at the school. Mom is displeased — she sees her alma mater as the root of much of what went wrong in her life — but comes to understand that Liam needs to be socialized before moving on to higher education. A fish out of water, Liam enrols — under an absent student’s name — and gets schooled in the mysteries of teen life.
“Adventures in Public School” succeeds as well as it does due to a heartfelt script that finds a new view of the kind of awkward teenaged character we’ve seen time after time in coming of age films. Doheny is an amiable presence, gawky but genial, who brings a great deal of charm to the quirky role. Similarly, Greer is a charismatic actor who shapes her character’s random assortment of personality quirks into a real person, both compelling and comic.
Director Kyle Rideout (who also co-wrote the script with Josh Epstein) wrangles the almost-too-close-for-comfort relationship between mother and son. What could have been a story of over-dependency is, in fact, grounded by just enough sincerity and affability to save it from becoming an a matriarchal “Great Santini.”
A SWINGERS WEEKEND: 3 STARS
Can a couple be greater than the sum of its parts? That’s the question raised by “A Swingers Weekend,” a new dramedy starring Erin Karpluk, Jonas Chernick and Mia Kirshner.
Set at a spiffy lake house owned by Dan (Randal Edwards) and Lisa (Karpluk), the action begins when the couple invites their married friends Teejay (Michael Xavier) and Skai (Erin Agostino) over for a consensual mix and match of sexual partners. A swingers weekend. Things get complicated with the arrival of others, Geoffrey (Jonas Chernick) and Fiona (Kirshner), a bickering couple who didn’t realize they were walking into a sexual swap party.
To say anything more about “A Swingers Weekend’s” plot would give away the character’s personal journeys. Suffice to say, the story is less about the actual sex and more about the motivations of everyone involved. What begins almost as a sex farce becomes a deeper exploration of the character’s lives, both individually and as couples. It’s about relationship dynamics and how, when you scratch the perfect veneer, you may find rot underneath.
“A Swingers Weekend” may not be the most searing look at interpersonal relationships to hit big screens, but an engaging cast creates and sustains enough sexual tension to keep things interesting.
PANDAS: 3 STARS
The title of “Pandas,” a 40-minute documentary, pretty much says it all. There’s some scientific content, a heroic biologist or two, a whimsical score by Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh and narration by Kristen Bell, but mostly there are pandas in IMAX and in 3D. That is both all you need to know and essentially my review.
Pandas are, Bell tells us, the King Kongs of cute who “inspire a frenzy of adoration around the world.” Beyond the cute, however, is a serious problem. Lack of genetic diversity, fragmented habitats and isolated panda groups could lead to extinction of pandas in the wild. To remedy this, a group of scientists at Chengdu Panda Base in China, inspired by a black bear breeding program in New Hampshire, are cultivating giant pandas with an eye toward introducing cubs to the wild. The film follows Qian Qian, a panda born in captivity destined for the wild.
To a soundtrack populated by Baby-Boomer hits from ZZ Top and The Ramones, we watch as connections are made between people, cultures and animals, all united to save wild pandas. The photography, in beautiful full-screen IMAX, is breathtaking, the message is intriguing -- but it’s the cute that lingers. You have never enjoyed anything as much as Qian Qian enjoys eating bamboo shoots, and if oversized pictures of him snacking is what it takes to alert you to the crisis facing his species, so be it.
Come for the pandas, their soulful eyes and playful nature, stay for the ecological message.
“Pandas” is confirmed to open in Toronto on April 28th, 2018 at Ontario Science Centre.