Avengers Infinity War review

Is it any less painful to watch a villain – made fallible due to his warped petard of principles – make an Abrahamic sacrifice? The Marvel heroes (the Guardians crew, Iron Man, Hulk, the Cap, Spiderman, Thor, Black Panther, Dr. Strange and more) unite against Thanos to bring an end to his stone-collecting ambitions, through which we see his trading of a soul for a soul. There are similar exchanges made or offered in this movie by the heroes.

Thanos’s population culls will be ameliorated by the acquisition of the infinity stones to empower him to commit his sustainability-inspired genocides at a fingersnap rather than by the bullet. With more than one stone still to acquire, it allows for a lot of spinning plates in this movie, kept up through humour and character-driven action. (At least) four narrative strands – involving Thor, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Iron Man and Spiderman, and the earth-centred Captain America, Vision, Black Panther et al, are woven around the battle against Thanos.

The beauty of previous movies in this universe is that many are almost standalone. However, a passing familiarity with what’s gone before in the MCU is a likely necessity here. It’s also a definitive cliffhanger, so expect a sequel to tie all the loose ends up.

The characters exchange quips and barbs with aplomb. RDJr brings the existential weariness to Tony Stark that we’ve seen since perhaps Iron Man 3. Thor is as thoughtful as ever in his use of language, labelling his allies morons and more. The Guardians crew are on form as always.

 

 

The Greatest Showman: Movie Review

This movie-musical has had a critically mixed reception. I have not read the reviews. For good and bad, the music is of the “musical” variety with (from what I can discern) a fine awareness of current chart trends. Hugh Jackman does what he’s best at (and what he’s probably known least for) and he does a great job. His marching band uniform shares an aesthetic with Michael Jackson’s more militaristic stage costumes, and the performances are on a similar par throughout.

What’s the movie all about? Artistic endeavour of all kinds is sophistry. Whether we’re watching computer-generated lions, or we’re reading fiction that actually happened, it’s the creator’s vocation to convince us of the truth (or fact) of the creation, to persuade the audience.

The film certainly succeeds, on a level, through PT Barnum’s belief in this same artistic tendency. Alongside his love for family, Barnum’s a huckster and a showman, happy to ride on the coattails of the critically lauded and to promote those who’ve yet to succeed (or would have little chance of success without him). His talents, his decency, self-awareness and lack of same – mainly filtered through the prism of his sense of entrepreneurial spirit and will to succeed – are also apparent; this ambiguity is driven by an awesome performance from Jackman.

Zac Efron plays the more level-headed business partner (with a powerful falsetto in a great duet) who falls for one half of one of Barnum’s acts, a gorgeous lash-face of a trapeze artist played by Zendaya (the other half of Efron’s duet).

Adding a more moralistic element to play against the mild cynicism of Barnum, their arc is equally powerful.

Michelle Williams is on form as Barnum’s wife, and while Barnum’s shallower spin-doctoring skills occasionally broach his personal life to cause crisis, there are similar equally pressing issues in the other elements. There’s a complexity in Barnum and (having just seen a quote from one critic with whom I disagree) it’s wonderfully revealed as the movie progresses.

Blink and you’ll miss it moment:

In Efron’s first duet with Jackman, where they negotiate their first partnership, a nineteenth-century prophylactic flies from Efron’s pocket as they dance through a public house. (Just kidding. I was outside having a smoke. Nothing fell from Efron’s pocket. That’s why I missed that whole scene.)

I’m glad the critics didn’t enjoy this because I was pleasantly surprised. They can be a fickle bunch. Very enjoyable if (seemingly) long. (Note: As with all musicals, you need a long movie to fit the song-and-dance numbers in.)

Black Panther Movie Review

MILD SPOILER ALERT

Jeffrey Wright, a black Brit, plays American CIA agent Felix Leiter opposite Daniel Craig’s Bond.

Here, Martin Freeman, a white Brit, plays a CIA agent opposite Chaswick Boseman. The photo-positive – because you turn the colour up – nods to Bond continue in a casino sequence.

Black_Panther_film_poster

The entire movie subverts that franchise’s purported misogyny. The strength of the female characters is awesome, and there isn’t a bad performance among them. Angela Bassett as a matriarch is a presence of stability. Danai Gurira leads the Dora Milaje, a group of women comprising the royal guard, in a role where she places civic responsibility over the personal.

There’s a cultural richness to the Africa-set film that the continent itself shares, and it’s a movie aimed at everyone, and speaks to everyone. It pokes fun at racism in numerous ways. It shows how vested interests might win out temporarily – illustrating it in a hilarious fashion – but ultimately, humanity is all on the same team. This is played up by the fact that Michael B. Jordan takes the role of chief villain. Viewer expectation is confounded wonderfully by the performance.

Patriarchal roles are taken by Forest Whitaker as the avuncular antithesis to Idi Amin, and John Kani (previously seen in Captain America) playing the murdered king.

There are nods to Hollywood blockbusters and tv series where people of colour are rarely the stars, and perhaps nods too to dynastic (white, male-dominated) US politics, the Star Wars franchise, and even Newton’s Third Law. The humour is universal. And it stays true to the mildly glib tendency of the Marvel movies to use backstories such as the war in Afghanistan or the Holocaust as plot devices.

In truth, Africa’s resources have been pillaged and exploited by the powers to the east and west of it. Here, Wakanda’s resources have been protected by its status as an African El Dorado, as described by Klaue, a South African thief played by an excellent and deranged Andy Serkis.

Letitia Wright as Shuri takes the role of sister to Boseman’s hero with a sense of fun and warmth that will touch you if you have such a relationship with a sibling. There are beautifully funny scenes between the pair.

Lupita Nyong’o is another powerful female presence as ex-girlfriend Nakia. If everyone had an ex to rely on like T’Challa/Black Panther has, the world might be a better place.

It’s a testament to the movie’s depth that there’s so much to unpack, so many facets to admire, so many arcs that could have carried a trilogy, so many rounded and well-drawn character archetypes with which to identify, so much wonderful subversion. Yet the movie has a very solid resolution.

This origin story has so much going for it, and establishes multiple possibilities for the future of the franchise. Move over, Guardians of the Galaxy. This may be our favourite Marvel movie to date.

Movie Review Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Mild spoilers:
The most creative “Destroy the Death Star” type plan since Return of the Jedi is thrown away in this sequel. In terms of such plans, it’s not derivative the way ROTJ, The Fanta Lemon, or Abrams’s’s efforts are.

For originality alone, it is worthy, although it has a dash of the chase after the Falcon in Empire Strikes Back. Beyond that, though, the fact that this movie can afford to toy with viewer expectations in such a fashion is a breakthrough. And beyond pissing this subplot against the wall of the trash compactor Finn and Rose don’t escape through, the movie confounds expectations in other ways. This is ultimately impressive.

There’s social commentary, particularly at the movie’s end, a look at what constitutes a hero as things are femsplained to Poe, and a terrific performance from Benecio del Toro.