Review: “Avengers: Infinity War”

This review is spoiler-free–I promise. #ThanosDemandsYourSilence

The screen is crowded and the stakes are high for all (well, most) of our favorite “Marvel Cinematic Universe” (MCU) superheroes in Marvel Studios’ ambitious and engaging superhero mashup Avengers: Infinity War.

Avengers: Infinity War is a culmination of a series of character arcs, themes, and storylines that have been going on for the past decade from the prolific and talented folks at Marvel Studios. It’s taken 10 years and 18 films to get us to this point, but with Avengers: Infinity War, we finally get to truly meet the big baddie who’s been pulling the strings and wreaking havoc on Earth and elsewhere in Marvel Studios’ carefully crafted and intertwined plot line–the mean purple people killer from outer space, Thanos (excellently voiced by Josh Brolin; pictured above).

Thanos has one goal–to kill half of the residents of Earth and every other planet. In order to complete his nefarious task, he needs the six “infinity stones”–each with their own color and power and most of which have been introduced at one point or another within the MCU films–placed within his Infinity Gauntlet glove which will make him powerful enough to get the job done. (Refer to this Time article for an infinity stones primer/recap.) While up until now Thanos has been relying on and manipulating others to collect the infinity stones for him, he’s finally had enough of waiting and is hell-bent on getting all of six stones himself, no matter the cost.

Cover for Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet comic saga. (Image ©️ Marvel)

It’s going to take a lot to bring Thanos down, so thank goodness there are lots of Marvel superheroes throughout the MCU galaxy that are up to the task. Everybody from Iron Man (again played with great aplomb by Robert Downey Jr.) to Captain America (Chris Evans) to the-new-to-the-Avengers Spider-Man (Tom Holland) to Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) to Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) and his “Guardians of the Galaxy” team are reunited and on-board to try to take out this dastardly and devastating villain wherever he may be in the universe.

The whole gang is back in action for AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. (Image ©️ Marvel)

The results are pretty great. What could have easily turned into a convoluted mess, with so many characters and plot lines converging into one massive film, is a successful and fun action picture of the first order. Watching the film feels like reading a comic book (and I mean that as a complement); the action is brisk, the dialogue is crisp and clever, and the pacing is rarely plodding and always purposeful. One of the big strengths of the MCU films is the cast and that continues–the actors are so appealing and the terrific banter between them is a big part of the continued enjoyment of the experience of the MCU series of films.

Kudos to Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (aka the Russo Brothers) who directed the film along with screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (who also successfully collaborated with the Russo Brothers on Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War) who all had the unenviable task of putting together this massive and high-profile project. Hardcore MCU fans should hopefully feel rewarded by the choices made by the filmmakers. And while casual MCU fans might get a little confused with all of the characters and all of the mayhem happening on the screen, there’s still enough exposition that the film really should be a fun and entertaining ride for anyone and everyone who sees it.

One thing to keep in mind (and I don’t think this is a spoiler), but the Russo Brothers and team filmed this movie and another Avengers movie at the same time. Originally when announced, the films had the titles Avengers: Infinity War Part One and Part Two. Currently, this next film’s working title is Avengers: Untitled (title TBA) and it is scheduled to be released  in May 2019. Just sayin’.

My score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) by the Motion Picture Association of America for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, language and some crude references.

As an added bonus, here are some cool Avenger: Infinity War posters with five of the six infinity stone colors represented. (All images ©️ Marvel)

Review: “Black Panther”

Marvel Studios’ latest film Black Panther is a marvelously entertaining and engaging film that works on many levels–levels of plot, character development, symbolism, and meaning that make this more than your average superhero movie.

Created by comic book legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, T’Challa, a.k.a. the Black Panther, first appeared as a Marvel comic book character in the 1960s in an issue of Fantastic Four. T’Challa comes from the fictional African country of Wakanda, home to an unusual substance called “vibranium” which has allowed the country to prosper in remarkable ways–so remarkable, that its leaders decide to keep the country’s very existence a secret from the rest of the world. T’Challa has some mad physical skills and abilities achieved through drinking a special “heart-shaped herb” exclusive to Wakanda; he also relies on his own hard work with his studies and physical training to take out his enemies and to protect his people.

Black Panther’s first comic book appearance (Image ©️ Marvel)

Black Panther’s first appearance in a film within the current Marvel Studios’ “Cinematic Universe” was his memorable introduction in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War (highly recommended viewing if you haven’t seen it). For this new film, the story picks up shortly where Captain America: Civil War left off: T’Challa/Black Panther (played by Chadwick Boseman) is grieving the death of his father, King T’Chaka (played by John Kani), who was tragically killed via the big baddie of Civil War, Zemo (played by Daniel Brühl). T’Challa returns home to hidden Wakanda to take his rightful place as king. However, trouble and intrigue lurk when T’Challa’s cousin Erik Killmonger (played by Michael B. Jordan) decides to travel from America to Wakanda and make his move on the throne, too.

Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther/T’Challa, and Danai Gurira as Okoye in BLACK PANTHER (Image ©️ Marvel)

As T’Challa is about to face this serious threat, he is taking on the heavy burden of deciding the fate of his country–should Wakanda stay hidden to the world or should it share its abundant wealth and technological resources with other nations  and, importantly, other Africans around the world to help them with their struggles and needs, too?

Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger and Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther/T’Challa in BLACK PANTHER (Image ©️ Marvel)

What follows is a genre swirl of a political and family drama, a high energy action film, and a Shakespearean tragedy that all work surprisingly well together. The script is so solid on every level. And the entire story is presented with unflinching honesty and generous humanity towards African history, racial strife, and many other challenges facing people around the world today.

The cast of BLACK PANTHER includes (L-R) Forest Whitaker as Zuri, Daniel Kaluuya as W’Kabi, Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger, Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther/T’Challa, Angela Bassett as Ramonda, Danai Gurira as Okoye, and Letitia Wright as Shuri photographed exclusively for Entertainment Weekly by Kwaku Alston on March 18, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Image ©️ Marvel. All Rights Reserved. Used without permission.)

Writer and director Ryan Coogler pulled together an incredible team both in front of and behind the camera. The cast is universally terrific. I was also taken with the stunning African-inspired art direction and production and costume designs. This letter penned by Ryan Coogler after the film’s record-breaking opening weekend has been making its way around social media this week.

#WakandaForever

A post shared by Marvel Studios (@marvelstudios) on

“Wakanda Forever” is not only a battle cry, but an idea, a hope, and a prayer for a better future for all people of African descent, and, hopefully, for all mankind. Black Panther shows through its levels of excellent storytelling and filmmaking that the struggle is real, compassion and charity never fail us, and that a positive outlook on the future far outweighs carrying forward the sins of the past.

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

As an added bonus, here’s a Black Panther poster I love by artist Kaz Oomori.

(Image ©️ Marvel)