Avengers in April (Round Table Round Up)

Christopher Maher: Okay, round table time. This month we’ll be tackling the Avengers with all the spoilers we want, so if you haven’t seen it yet and somehow haven’t read a zillion think pieces about it, beware! I guess we better start with the ending. As I’ve said to both of you it’s sort of a weird doubly crippled ending. We know these heroes will be back, because of the many sequels already announced, which robs it of its emotional punch. But if we didn’t know that, I feel like it’d be way too brutal. Overall I do think it works, especially from a mechanics standpoint (cleverly clearing the table for the next film and tightening the scope). Brian, know you weren’t a fan.

Brian Russell: Well, not a fan of the ending, but I actually liked this movie quite a lot. I was also very surprised that it didn’t feel long to me. My visceral dislike of the end is entirely because I’m worried it has severely limited the stakes. As you said … we know with certainty that most if not all of these characters will be back. We saw the broken gauntlet, so I am really praying they don’t just resort to my least favorite sci-fi trope, the time-reset gimmick. Though I agree with you that it makes a great setup for the next movie … having the original Avengers back together to help the Hulk get over his PTSD and kidnap Hawkeye away from his family will be a great way to launch Avengers 4!

CM: Is it PTSD we’re pegging for Hulk? I feel like he’s embarrassed because Thanos wrecked him and now he’s all sullen. As for stakes I actually think this was a good way to raise them, not lower them. I expect all these folks to come back, but if they were still alive I’d also expect them to survive, so either way I expect them to be safe. By disintegrating characters like Bucky/Falcon, or Groot, you take this nebulous fight to “save the world (again)” and can instead give Steve Rogers a “hey you murdered my friend I finally got back” story – much smaller but with higher personal stakes.

BR: I do think it’s PTSD more than embarrassment. The Hulk was trounced … he is no longer “the strongest one there is.” One of the things I genuinely love about this film is how emotion factors into all facets of the story. Even if the characters don’t all stay dead, maybe the real stakes manifest in the toll this level of violence and powerlessness takes on the psyche. After all, these are “Earth’s mightiest heroes.” The loss is staggering. I do believe Loki is gone, and Gamora is gone. And still, restoring the universe will have further cost. It’s long been rumored that Steve Rogers and Tony Stark will die, and what could be more fitting than a sacrifice to save the cosmos. It could be so amazing and does leave me genuinely excited to see what happens, and where the next installment goes (providing they avoid the cheap Sci-fi tricks!)

CM: Oh for sure, I think the living heroes at the end of this one are the ones we actually have to “worry about”. Let’s talk about the deaths that’ll actually stick, though. Loki and Hemidall were both expected and people in not particularly sad to lose, but Gamora was a rough (albeit good) choice.

BR: I do also believe Loki is gone, and Gamora is gone (but could care less about Hemidall.) And still, restoring the universe will have further cost. It’s long been rumored that Steve Rogers and Tony Stark will die, and what could be more fitting than a sacrifice to save the cosmos. It could be so amazing and does leave me genuinely excited to see what happens, and where the next installment goes (providing they avoid the cheap Sci-fi tricks!)

CM: I found Gamora’s death convincingly sad: first she convinces Star-lord to kill her (which he actually tries to do, which, honestly kudos to him) and then she tries to stab herself and still ends up dead at Thanos’ hand. Vision too has a pretty one track “murder me” mindset and again is successful at convincing a loved one to kill him only for it to be futile. The horror on Scarlet Witch and Vision’s faces was sold well, and was much better than the disintegrating. Maybe it landed particularly well for me because they’re my two favorite Avengers.

BR: Totally agree. Given the serious situation in which our hero’s find themselves, I am wondering what you both think about the humor in this movie? While I loved a lot of the banter and thought it was clever and funny, I couldn’t help but feeling a lot of it was out of place. Characters are dying from the get-go, and the galaxy is literally facing genocide on an unimaginable level, and the quips never stop. I guess I just felt maybe it was just too much.

Sam Russell: In my Thor: Ragnorak review I talk about my main issue with Marvel’s jokes, which is that they’re not really funny, and often they’re not jokes. “Quips” is probably a better way to describe most of them.

I do think that the tone of these movies is a difficult thing to balance. They’re supposed to be light, fun, entertainment, but they also always involve violence and death. It’s kind of a problem inherent with the genre, as those two things are necessary and simultaneously at odds.

BR: I hear you … I do think I connected with Thanos as a villain more than the average super-baddie. And for some reason — despite some of my complaints above — I felt like there was a much greater than average chance of characters dying. In most super hero fare, we KNOW with certainty that our hero isn’t taking the final ride.  Logan perhaps is the rare case where we think the super may fall, but that movie successfully balanced some humor with the seriousness of events at hand. I think the humor worked in Logan more than here because they save it for quiet moments, and times when the threats are low, and avoid the humor as the threat level rose. Certainly in the case of Infinity War, it felt a little much to me as they were facing imminent defeat.

CM: The characters always think they’re facing potential defeat (even if the audience knows that’s not true) and they’re always quipping.  As Sam said they’re not varied and they’re barely jokes (I guess cloak of levitation verges on a visual gag?). Maybe I’ve reached the final stage of mourning, but nothing in this film really bothered me. Marvel movies are never what I want them to be, but I feel like I met this movie with total acceptance I haven’t had for previous ones. It was sheer escapism, because Marvel movies are never about anything outside their exact plots, and so I just sat through it and enjoyed it and let it wash over me and that was that. Reading stuff about it afterward I felt two reactions: either “you’re buying too much into this”, or “you’re far too cynical.” It’s a bad place for a “reviewer” to be, maybe, but Marvel has finally beat me into submission where I’ll give them my money and then that’s it. Which maybe in itself sounds cynical, but I’m perfectly happy with it – it’s what they’re offering and what I like paying for.

BR: I actually don’t think that is cynical at all. Despite my love of talking about these movies to death, and the need to pry apart the flaws and the illogic, at the end of the day it is a miracle they exist at all. People keep asking “Why aren’t Marvel movies better? And Is this the best Hollywood can do?” While these are certainly valid critical questions, making a good move is HARD.  Really hard. Not all films can be Logan or Mad Max: Fury Road. And in truth, sometimes I just want mindless entertainment. I’ve had a really good time at pretty much every Marvel movie I’ve ever seen (including the “off-brand” ones like X-Men, and yes even Ghost Rider and Fantastic Four!)

I do have a couple other things I’d love both your takes on:  1) The creatures attacking Wakanda looked like Vemon rip-offs to me; 2) I loved Peter Dinklage as a giant! I know Sam thought that whole axe-building sequence could go, but I really loved it; 3) I really wanted to punch Star-lord … while keeping true to character, his behaviors showed a complete inability to rise to the occasion; 4) Nick Fury’s death and distress call in the post credits scene … this actually gives me some hope for an active solution … I’ve read the symbol on the beacon means he’s contacting Captain Marvel, maybe in the past.

CM: As much as I’ve “accepted things as they are” big ol’ CGI baddie armies will never excite me. And I agree with Sam – the axe stuff was sort of pointless, especially given that it simply didn’t play into the plot in any meaningful way. As for Star-lord, I actually sort of loved that – it’s the final point I did want to raise: the consequences of this movie are ultimately the fault of the Avengers & Co. Iron Man does suggest to Strange that they just destroy the Time Stone. Vision wants to destroy the Mind Stone and Cap nixes it. There are a number of outs offered before Star-lord makes his mistake, so there’s plenty of blame all around, which is how it should be.

BR: In general I agree on the CGI armies, but they did work for me once — way back in Lord of the Rings.  And I think that is because they gave us some insight into that army … it’s creation, the orcs fighting over eating the Hobbits legs, etc. The creators at least made an effort to template of faces to the army beyond faceless drones. But agree totally that in general, this mechanism exists only to give our heroes something to fight.

SR: The massive army of disposable monster tropes needs to be banned. It’s incredibly boring to watch. The best action beats in that Wakanda battle were between characters we know (even if we just recognize them as one of Thanos’ cronies) and characters with interesting and diverse super abilities. Why not just have a small handful of very powerful Thanos cronies trying to capture Vision?

BR:  As far as fault or blame, I suppose all these failings are actually quite human. Maybe that’s why I am still paying to see, and by-in-large still enjoying, these films. I still want to punch Star-lord. And why would Gamora even like him anyway?

CM: Because he taught her about 70s music?

BR: Watch this for Special Guardians-Inspiried Musical Treat (but keep reading after the jump!)

BR: Oh yeah – and did you guys bye Thanos as it fully realized character who actually thought he was doing what is best for the universe?

SR: I bought Thanos’ motivations far more than any of the other genocidal maniacs in the MCU. It’s a pretty low bar, but he did rise above it. His relationship with Gamora worked really well. It made we wish we had more scenes between the two of them in the Guardians films. For all the set-up and teasing these movies do, it’s not always where it counts. Going into this film that relationship could have been a lot more developed if they didn’t need to basically build it from the ground up here.

But that said, it does totally work. Thanos’ abusive and ultimately destructive, but sincere love for Gamora really effectively humanized him.

CM: I agree with all that. I said in my initial review we don’t learn a ton about him, but I think Brolin‘s performance gave him enough personality that we care about him. Gamora and his relationship had to be established pretty quickly, yes, so I agree it wasn’t as deeply felt as it could have been, but was still effective in the time it was allotted. Not blown away, but definitely one of the better villains we’ve had (and we get another movie of learning about him!).

BR: He does seem pretty far removed from the guy sitting in a rock chair in space in the Post Credit Scene of The Avengers.  And that is to the good … I love the fact that he most definitely isn’t “pure evil bent on galactic domination.” I think Josh Brolin (combined with the pulled back Thanos character design) helped make up for the lack of time to develop the relationship with Gamora. I want to see the film again (which I have not waned to do since The Winter Soldier) and am stoked to see what comes next.

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