AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR. Why a superhero movie, of all things, should need to start from a screenplay of Dickensian bulk — teeming with characters and settings but lacking the wit, vitality, sense of time and place, and joy of language that made that author's work significant and occasionally enjoyable — continues to elude me. I don't know if I am alone in this but if I'm not, we are drastically outnumbered. Infinity War has by now had the largest opening weekend of all time and will, like its lumbering (but admittedly nuanced) antagonist Thanos (Josh Brolin), to attempt to remake the world as we know it.
As anyone within the sound of my whinging could attest, I'm no enemy of doom nor gloom, nor narrative heft and complexity. But from the beginning of the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe, those have been the most troublesome, least appealing and, now, apparently, foremost elements of the whole damn thing. Infinity War even goes so far as to all but undo the fun, color and occasional light-heartedness that brought such relief to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spiderman: Homecoming and Thor: Ragnarok (all 2017), dragging their characters into this darkly clattering mechanized morass. It's too much and not enough, and I was challenged to stay engaged by it.
So Thanos, a sort of stone-faced, purplish world-eater, has a theory about restoring balance to the universe. (In practice, this amounts to killing half of the population of every settled planet therein). To do so, he needs to collect all of the Infinity Stones — and so begin our troubles. Said stones are, of course, scattered around the universe: One is inside the Tesseract; one is in Vision's (Paul Bettany) forehead; Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) wears one inside a funky steampunk medallion; the Collector (Benicio Del Toro) might have one, but he's a known prevaricator; Gamora (Zoe Saldana) seems to know where one is, which is made more complicated by the fact that she has family ties to Thanos, whom she hates. So now there's a framework in place for almost every Marvel character to get involved — Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) are on house-arrest, we're told, but they still get name-checked —and for the story to galumph along from one overwrought digital backdrop to another. Spiderman (Tom Holland) goes to space, Captain America (Chris Evans) has a beard, Peter Dinklage appears as a giant dwarf blacksmith commissioned by Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to make an ax that can destroy ... anything, I guess? It's almost as exhausting trying to call up all the characters and plot threads as it was sitting through it the first time. And about that. This thing is two and half hours long, perhaps as a sop to the value-minded, and would have been well-served to be split into two movies.
To their credit, the brothers Russo manage to keep most of the plates spinning most of the time and viewers with a higher level of personal investment in the property will likely have an easier time keeping up with the constantly shifting storylines and settings. But the directors have succumbed here to the entropy inherent in the Marvel cosmos, drawn into the dour, chaotic swirl. At the time, I thought their entries into this enterprise (Captain America: The Winter Soldier, 2014 and Captain America: Civil War, 2016) were surprisingly sure-footed, the self-importance offset by a mildly subversive political undercurrent and a sense of sympathy cutting against the gloss and pretense of their counterparts working on other Marvel movies. Those are elements of the past, though, as Infinity War, unbelievably vast and ambitious though it may be, still exists in the vacuum that is the specific world of The Avengers, wherein the positive attributes of its inhabitants (and of their previous movies) are subsumed by all-encompassing seriousness. PG13. 149m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
—John J. Bennett
For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
BAD SAMARITAN. A valet (Robert Sheehan) who discovers a hostage while robbing a house becomes the target of the kidnapper (David Tennant, who's only evil now). R. 107m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
TULLY. Charlize Theron plays an exhausted mom of three reluctantly accepting and bonding with a nanny (Mackenzie Davis). R. 95m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (1975). The Brit comedy classic from back when a witch hunt was a witch hunt. PG. 91m. BROADWAY.
THE DEATH OF STALIN. Steve Buscemi as Khrushchev, plotting and maneuvering for his life in a Soviet regime-change comedy. R. 107m. MINIPLEX.
BLACK PANTHER. Ryan Coogler's big, exhilarating Marvel movie has a fascinating, nuanced story and visual style, but some of it's lost in requisite superhero noise. PG13. 134m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
BLOCKERS. John Cena and Leslie Mann play parents struggling with the looming adulthood/sexual activity of their kids in a raunchy slapstick comedy that can't quite pull off the balance. R. 102m. BROADWAY.
I FEEL PRETTY. Amy Schumer stars as a woman with accidentally inflated self-esteem in a well-intentioned but muddled rom-com that fumbles its message. PG13. 110m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
ISLE OF DOGS. Wes Anderson's stop-motion tale of dogs in dystopian Japan showcases technical and storytelling skills for a very Anderson experience. PG13. 101m. BROADWAY, MINOR.
A QUIET PLACE. This effective horror about a family surviving amid creatures that hunt by sound goes beyond scares for emotional authenticity about trauma and the distance between people. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
RAMPAGE. Dwayne Johnson wasted again among giant animals, a weak story and unspectacular effects that suck the fun from a popcorn action movie. PG13. 107m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA.
READY PLAYER ONE. Steven Spielberg's immersive, impressive, self-referential adventure about revolution via virtual gaming fries the audience's eyes and patience. PG13. 140m. BROADWAY.
SUPER TROOPERS 2. Broken Lizard's drinky, druggy, bawdy, prank-based humor returns with its uniformed dorks battling Mounties and busting smugglers. R. 100m. BROADWAY, MINOR.
A WRINKLE IN TIME. Ava DuVernay's adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle's fantasy novel is visually stunning but lacks the narrative coherency needed to appeal to those not already devotees. PG. 92m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill