For a review of “Avengers: Infinity War,
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
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.
Halle Berry stars in “Kings,” a story of the LA riots as seen through the experiences of a single mother.