For a re­view of “Avengers: In­fin­ity War,

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Ev­ery time I re­view a Marvel movie ( with the ex­cep­tion of “Black Pan­ther”), I can’t help but use a sim­ile that popped up while re­view­ing “Cap­tain Amer­ica: Civil War.” These movies are like eat­ing at a chain restau­rant. It’s com­fort­ing be­cause you know what you’re go­ing to get, but it’s never any­thing new or ex­cit­ing. To ex­tend the metaphor to “Avengers: In­fin­ity War” — which is a Part One, even if it isn’t named as such — this of­fer­ing is a lot like or­der­ing the sam­pler plat­ter. It’s the stuff we know and like, in different com­bi­na­tions, but you’re not go­ing to get a full meal of any­thing you par­tic­u­larly love.

But “In­fin­ity War,” writ­ten by Christo­pher Markus and Stephen McFeely, di­rected by An­thony and Joe Russo, isn’t all com­fort food. In fact, it’s a very dark film about loss and grief, fol­low­ing our group of su­per­heroes through the trau­mas and vi­o­lence they’ve en­dured. It also at­tempts to pull the rug out from un­der fans that have fol­lowed these char­ac­ters from film to film for a decade.

Don’t wor ry though, there’s still a healthy amount of easy hu­mor threaded through­out ( one of the hall­marks of the Marvel su­per­hero films, where the he­roes crack wise as much as they crack heads). The film al­most plays like a com­edy in a crowded theater, es­pe­cially with some of the more in­spired pair­ings. Tony Stark ( Robert Downey Jr.) finds him­self team­ing up with Dr. Strange ( Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch), and the two cocky ge­niuses trade dry barbs. When Thor ( Chris Hemsworth) crashes into the wind­shield of the Guardians of the Gal­axy, the Star­lord ( Chris Pratt) is in­stantly emas­cu­lated by the im­pres­sive God of Thun­der.

The pair­ings and deft hu­mor are the best part of the film, and the plot, help­fully, leaves a lot of room for that to breathe. With so many char­ac­ters and back­sto­ries to weave to­gether, the story isn’t all that com­pli­cated. Gi­ant pur­ple space ti­tan Thanos ( Josh Brolin) has some strong be­liefs about over­pop­u­la­tion and re­source man­age­ment. The prob­lem is he thinks ran­dom geno­cide is the only way to solve this. He’s try­ing to col­lect six pow­er­ful in­fin­ity stones, el­e­men­tal gems that will make it that much eas­ier for him to dis­ap­pear half of the be­ings in the uni­verse. Crys­tals are hot right now, but this is tak­ing it a bit far.

Although the Avengers have bro­ken up, flung to the out­er­most corners of the uni­verse, they do, well, as­sem­ble, to fight Thanos and pre­vent him from get­ting all his cov­eted pre­cious jewels. It’s tremen­dous fun watch­ing the band get back to­gether, in­tro­duc­ing some new mem­bers and see­ing them all jam. The di­a­logue is smart, fast and highly self­aware, and it adds much needed pizazz to a back­drop that’s largely just blasted gray space rocks ( a trip to Wakanda is a wel­come respite).

But “Avengers: In­fin­ity War” isn’t all fun and games. These he­roes are tired, they’ve lost loved ones, they seek re­venge, they’ve torn them­selves apart. They are com­mit­ted to one last gig to save ( half) the uni­verse, but it doesn’t seem joy­ous. They’re all deal­ing with grief in some form or an­other, and re­la­tion­ships are tested, bro­ken apart and de­stroyed.

These themes are a bit of a bell­wether for fans, who, at the end of the film, just might be deal­ing with these own emo­tions them­selves. And that is the most sur­pris­ing thing about “In­fin­ity War” — that Marvel goes dark. But they do so in such a way you can’t help but con­sider they haven’t pitched the stakes quite right ( overblown stakes are yet an­other hall­mark of the Marvel cinematic uni­verse). But de­spite any nag­ging im­plau­si­bil­ity, the emo­tions there are real, be­cause, truth­fully, these char­ac­ters have earned it.

“Avengers: In­fin­ity War,” a Marvel Stu­dios re­lease, is rated PG- 13 for intense se­quences of sci- fi vi­o­lence and ac­tion through­out, lan­guage and some crude ref­er­ences. Run­ning time: 200 min­utes. ½

“Kings”

The French- Turk­ish di­rec­tor Deniz Gamze Ergüven stunned with her first film, “Mus­tang,” the Academy Award nom­i­nated por­trait of an un­bri­dled Turk­ish girl­hood strain­ing at the stric­tures of pa­tri­archy. Her fol­lowup film, “Kings,” was orig­i­nally in­tended to be her di­rec­to­rial de­but, but the more am­bi­tious project was side­lined for the in­ti­mate “Mus­tang.” She’s fi­nally brought her vi­sion to the screen, but the hard truth is the screen­play should have stayed on the shelf, as there’s only one word for Ergüven’s sopho­more ef­fort: baf­fling.

The film it­self — the story of the LA ri­ots as seen through the ex­pe­ri­ence of sin­gle mother Mil­lie Dunbar ( Halle Berry) and her large fam­ily — is baf­fling, but what’s even more baf­fling is that a di­rec­tor who turned in such an as­sured and spe­cific de­but would miss the mark here in such a spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion.

There are some the­matic sim­i­lar­i­ties in Ergüven’s films. She has a ten­dency to­ward lyri­cal de­pic­tions of youth in re­volt strug­gling against op­pres­sive sys­tems of power. That’s the cen­tral beat­ing heart of “Kings,” even when it spins out of con­trol. Mil­lie’s gag­gle of chil­dren drives the film, a wild, di­verse bunch. Mil­lie is un­able to re­sist tak­ing in strays, and she keeps her tribe of chil­dren, fos­tered and adopted, close, even when they wreak havoc at home and in streets. Berry spends the en­tirety of the film vac­il­lat­ing be­tween hys­ter­ics and hugs.

The film opens with a se­quence de­pict­ing the mur­der of Latasha Har­lins, shot and killed by a liquor store owner when she was stopped for shoplift­ing. Latasha’s story is so of­ten for­got­ten as one of the main mo­ti­va­tors in the up­ris­ing, and Ergüven’s ap­proach is thought­ful and ar­rest­ing. Latasha’s pres­ence hangs over the rest of the film omi­nously, as we fol­low Mil­lie’s kids, and the mother who loves them dearly, but can barely keep track of them.

Ergüven uti­lizes an antsy, roam­ing hand­held cam­era style that only height­ens the anx­i­ety of the set­ting, and in the back­ground of the whirling fa­mil­ial chaos is the con­stant sound­track of the news — Latasha’s mur­der and the ver­dict, the trial of the four of­fi­cers who were video­taped beat­ing Rod­ney King. Ergüven weaves archival news footage into her tale that builds and builds to a loud crescendo un­til it bursts like a dam on the day of the ver­dict.

Ergüven’s fa­cil­ity with imagery never wa­vers, though she makes some bold cre­ative choices that both hit and miss. For all of its ges­tures to­ward re­al­ism, the film is also sometimes ab­stract, hal­lu­ci­na­tory and sur­real. She’s never afraid to be to­tally weird, whether it works or not.

The hec­tic story splits in two dur­ing the ri­ots, which we don’t see much of, be­yond a few scuf­fles in the streets. Mil­lie ends up with her can­tan­ker­ous writer neigh­bor Obie ( Daniel Craig), look­ing for her younger boys, while her older son, Jesse ( La­mar John­son), sets off on his own. He’s locked in a love tri­an­gle with his friend Wil­liam ( Kaalan Walker) and a troubled girl, Ni­cole ( Rachel Hil­son), and the trio’s ex­pe­ri­ence is moody and tragic, a dark, violent jour­ney that’s near- Lynchian in its style and tone. Cut­ting be­tween this se­quence and Mil­lie and Obie’s screw­ball meet- cute over hand­cuffs is jar­ring at best. The film is ton­ally a mess.

The down­fall of the film is the script, which Ergüven also wrote. It lacks nu­ance and sub­tlety, the char­ac­ters plainly stat­ing their in­ten­tions, thoughts and feel­ings. Sub­text does not ex­ist here. It’s an out­sider’s view of the event, and un­for­tu­nately, it’s naive and re­duc­tive. It doesn’t fur­ther il­lu­mi­nate any­thing about the events, and only serves as a loose de­pic­tion of a woman’s ac­tual ex­pe­ri­ence of the ri­ots ( it’s in­spired in part on a real woman and her grand­son). Ergüven’s vi­sion is a wild, melo­dra­matic jour­ney that of­fers no an­swers or in­sights, and by the end, it only leaves one feel­ing, well, com­pletely flab­ber­gasted.

“Kings,” a Barn­stormer Pro­duc­tions re­lease, is rated R for vi­o­lence, sex­ual con­tent/ nu­dity, and lan­guage through­out. Run­ning time: 92 min­utes.

TRI­BUNE NEWS SER­VICE

Halle Berry stars in “Kings,” a story of the LA ri­ots as seen through the ex­pe­ri­ences of a sin­gle mother.

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