(*homocinematically inclined)

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Dearest Reviews: Avengers Disassembled

With its string of blockbusters piling up on the list of all-time box office champions, it looks like superhero fatigue isn't much of a threat to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (at least not yet). And with the overwhelming success of Black Panther and the surprisingly deep characterization of the big bad in Avengers: Infinity War, plus the upcoming female-led Captain Marvel and hints of a long-awaited Black Widow solo outing, it appears that Marvel is (slowly but surely) addressing all of the biggest complaints against them from their first decade of existence, at least in regard to ethnic and gender diversity and its rogues gallery of underwhelming villains.

Granted, there's still the issues of convoluted plots (thank god this business with Infinity Stones is almost over), rushed storylines (the Sokovia Accords) and questionable motivations (the Sokovia Accords), not to mention the film division's snobbish disregard for the entire TV side of the MCU (by the by, forget those drama queen "defenders" on Netflix and tune in instead to the criminally underrated, recently renewed Agents of SHIELD on ABC, where the terrific ensemble of Phil Coulson and Co. are currently facing an apocalypse of their own). No, the biggest threat to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that they just can't help cracking a few jokes.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with a little "funny" in these "funny pages"-based movies, but that's the point: the jokes should be funny. Starting around the time boy scout Captain America chastised rich playboy Iron Man for his salty language in Avengers: Age of Ultron, the attempts at injecting humor into the superheroic fray began to become forced, often corny, and increasingly embarrassing. Just look at Doctor Strange playing straight man to a sentient cloak and try not to stop your eyes from rolling out of your head.

Nowhere is this increasing overreliance on humor more evident than in Thor: Ragnarok (now available on DVD and Blu-ray). Who knew the Norse God of Thunder was such a quipster? Yeah, Chris Hemwsorth (apparently more than willing to take on the mantle of "funny hunk" for the rest of his career) has always imbued his Thor with a healthy dose of self-aware humor, but he nearly OD's here. But then again, maybe he's overcompensating for losing his mighty hammer and golden locks to the baddies played by, respectively, Cate Blanchett and Jeff Goldblum, each out-camping the other as the film (directed by Taika Waititi of What We Do in the Shadows cult fame) goes on. And then there's Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner, who here (and continuing in Infinity War) has been transformed into the Marvel version of (parent company) Disney's Absent-Minded Professor.

Even that overpraised overperformer Black Panther (available on DVD and Blu-ray today) isn't immune to these lame attempts at laughs, most cringingly with the silly "don't freeze"/"did he freeze"/"he froze" running gag. To superhero sagas in the way that Get Out was to horror flicks, Black Panther has been given a lot of extra credit for simply being a good genre offering that just so happens to have a black protagonist. Its real strength lies not in Chadwick Boseman's (let's face it, kinda dull) King T'Challa but his trifecta of Wakandan Woman Warriors™ played by The Walking Dead's Danai Gurira, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o and Letitia Wright (not to mention Angela Bassett as a fierce Queen Mother). Black Panther did manage to illicit a few chortles out of me... of derision, that is... for its "wonder element" vibranium, an all-purpose substance that does all sorts of nifty things; no matter what the script dictates, have no fear, vibranium can fix it!

The saving grace for all three of these films is that once the plot starts rolling, the jokes peter out and the action amps up, giving us what we all want from a superhero movie: some kick-ass fight scenes. Infinity War does this best, with several climactic set pieces unfolding at roughly the same time (reminiscent of the final battle(s) in Return of the Jedi), and relatively seamlessly at that. Speaking of which, kudos must be given to directors Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely for not only managing to bring all these characters together and (mostly) serving each one well, but also for keeping the huge scope of the movie from consuming itself; just take a look at Ready Player One to see how easily a massive clusterfuck can happen when you have a cast of pop culture thousands.

With the biggest feature film cliffhanger since The Empire Strikes Back (what, two Star Wars references? Wait, doesn't Disney own that too...?), it's not hard to look at Infinity War as incomplete, and ultimately irrelevant once the next Avengers flick comes out and un-dos < insert "tip-toe around the spoilers" here > (come on, it's been out for over two weeks now, go see it already!). But, unlike the three year wait for Empire, at least we only have to hold on for a year to find out how they do it, and hopefully without the use of a "screenwriting equivalent of a "Get Out of Jail Free card" like the Time Stone, or vibranium. Or too many jokes, for that matter.

Dearest Ratings:
Thor: Ragnarok: 6/10
Black Panther: 6/10
Avengers: Infinity War: 7/10

Reviews by Kirby Holt, Movie Dearest creator, editor and head writer.

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