FORGET TEAM CAP VERSUS TEAM IRON MAN – ARE YOU TEAM AVENGERS OR…TEAM THANOS?

SHORT TAKE:

Amazing Part One of the two part Marvel culmination of 10 years, 19 movies, and 3.5 BILLION dollars spent exploring the Superhero Universe.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Anyone old enough to have seen the previous Marvel movies. There is no inappropriate sexual activity and the language is kept to a few mild profanities – with the exception of a "reference" to a raw word and "only" the first part of Samuel L Jackson’s now "signature" choice of obscenity. There is a LOT of cartoon violence, with some sudden and brutal deaths of humanoids but without any graphic displays of gore. There ARE some gory deaths but of monster "critters". So roughly, "tweens" and up – but parents, please, check it out yourself before taking the younger and those especially sensitive to emotional scenes.

LONG TAKE:

First, did you know that EVERYONE on the planet could live in Texas? If you want to know why I ask that, read through to the latter part of this review.

SPOILER FREE PORTION:

The premise is that all of the super heroes from the Marvel Universe assemble to fight a Universe-sized threat, Thanos, played by Josh Brolin.  Brolin's villain gives as good as he gets. His is not a caricature but a legitimate character with his own motivations and goals. Brolin is an excellent actor, featuring not only here but as Cable in another upcoming Marvel movie, Deadpool 2, from what has been "dubbed" the R (for R rated) Marvel division. Just for the record, my favorite of Brolin's roles has nothing to do with Marvel, but is a Cohen Brothers movie – Hail Caeser!, the loving homage comedy about the '50's and '60's era Hollywood. In Hail, Caesar! Brolin plays a faith filled decent man simply trying his desperate best to keep the studio for which he works from self destructing. In Infinity War Brolin's role is quite the opposite on all points. 

Avengers: Infinity War is NOT your average Marvel movie. This is an extraordinary achievement and a unique historic cinematic accomplishment. This studio has invested ten years, and billions of dollars to fund 19 movies all revolving, like a galaxy unto itself, around this centerpoint in which most every major hero and several villains who have graced a Marvel movie appears.

Because I am a BIG fan of superheroes, I could never tell which was Marvel and which DC. My kids were constantly chiding me for getting them confused. Not any more. Aside from Antman and Hawkeye, who are signed up for Avengers 4, pretty much every major and medium Marvel superhero you’ve seen in the last 18 movies is in this one. So if they are not in Infinity War, they are not Marvel.

This is also probably the most spoiler vulnerable movie I have ever reviewed – if not ever SEEN. Tom Holland, who plays the most recent and the absolutely best incarnation of Spiderman, is notorious for giving away spoilers, so they had to send Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr. Strange) with him on the interview circuit to verbally intercept. The interview I heard demonstrated this, as the interviewer asked Holland what it was like to work with the Guardians of the Galaxy group. As Holland opened his mouth, Cumberbatch jumped in with a good natured and comical set of static imitations and Holland snapped quiet immediately. You see, Infinity War takes place all OVER the galaxy. Different planets, different locales with different groups, so even saying whether or not you were part of a group or made it to a particular planet could give away CRUCIAL details you don’t want to know before watching.

The special effects are spectacular. From the brightly lit super technology of Wakanda, to the dark interiors of Thor’s Asgardian ship, from the humorous "body language" of Dr. Strange’s cape to the viciously feral attack "dogs" brought by Thanos’ henchmen, the details are lovingly layered and conveyed to manifest a beautiful, frightening, stunning and very believable world.

The acting is terrific. These characters, even and especially those who are later versions – like Ruffalo’s Banner/Hulk and Holland’s Spiderman – have truly made these characters their own. Newbies to the group like Boseman's T'Challa and Gillian's Nebula have fit in seamlessly. Others, like Johannson’s Black Widow and Evans’ Captain America, move in these skins so comfortably that, on screen, they ARE those characters – irreplacably …… at least for the next generation or two. Most of these actors have been working on these Marvel films together for over 10 years. So when I say the chemistry amongst them comes very naturally and it seems as though they have known each other for a very long time, it is because they HAVE.

Downey’s Stark and Jackson’s Fury, for example, go all the way back to the very first Marvel Easter egg in 2008's Iron Man.

The interplay of emotions between the different dramatis personae have such long and complexly interwoven backstories that the actors now have the theatrical palette to approach every conversation with subtle intimacy of long acquaintance – like old married couples or childhood friends, college roommates or combat buddies – even if the couples have divorced or the friends have had a falling out.

It’s not surprising that the quality of the writing is excellent because Christopher Mankus and Stephen McFeely’s pedigrees, between the two of them, include all three Captain Americas and the Narnia movies. These are writers who know how to work with a large ensemble of characters, using intelligent, even heightened, language with humor and a core sense of morality, instilling in their creations’ dialogues an irrefutable understanding of what is right and what is wrong.

And since I have mentioned it – one of the things I think shines out beautifully in this script is the unspoken, undiscussed assumption that there IS a right and a wrong. There are some points on which there IS no gray area – nor should be. The heros in Infinity War do not really care about Thanos’ motivations, nor do they care to engage in an intellectually elite roundtable discussion on the pros and cons of his plan. They do not even care if Thanos is correct. All they know is that what Thanos is DOING is WRONG and evil. That there IS a good and bad in the Universe and that no amount of situational ethics or moral relativity can justify it. What Thanos wants to do is BAD, end of debate. And they will do everything in their power to stop him. Because what he is trying to do is, prima facie, EVIL. They don’t even need to talk about it and it is not even brought up, but the rightness of the cause for which the heros fight is a constant background hum against which they measure their every conversation and every plan.

Some condemn super hero movies as formulaic or repetitive. But the moral compass with which these extraordinary and idealized men and women sail NEEDS to be reiterated, especially, now, as often as we have breath.

And, again, without spoilers, it shines through in our heroes. Revelations are to be had about Thanos’ plans and reasons behind them. He is made an understandable, if not sympathetic character and his reasons, to him, seem logical. And if you want to know what they are and what Texas has to do with it – continue reading.

SPOILER – BUT ONLY OF THANOS’ MOTIVATION

Did you know that everyone on the planet could live in Texas?

To explain this I need to warn you of one spoiler – but ONLY A SPOILER OF MOTIVATION – not of what happens to anyone.

The battle plans of Thanos, the big blue bad guy hovering on a throne since the Easter Egg at the end of 2011's Thor, should be no surprise anyway – his very name means DEATH. Thanos plans to kill half of every sentient creature in the Universe. Why?! Because – he actually says – he thinks the Universe has finite resources. Therefore, he reasons that to allow half of the universe to live with "full bellies" and to keep the worlds from being over harvested, over mined, over used – half of everyone should be randomly chosen to die. He claims to have saved Gamora’s planet by doing this and that his planet of Titan was reduced to a lifeless waste because this was not done. He sees himself as a hero who the Universe will later thank.

If this idea sounds familiar, it is because it should. It is in the mission statement of every population control, zero population growth, global warming, and pro-abortion organization that has crept in out of the cracks in our moral fabric over the last 100 years. The likes of The Sierra Club, Green Peace, Planned Parenthood, Zero Population Growth, many of the U.N. proposals, Stop Population Growth Now, Church of Euthanasia (shockingly it really is a thing), Center for Biologic Diversity, Captain Planet, and hundreds of others, were all either conceived or co-opted by people who would align themselves with the evilly misconceived (if you’ll excuse the pun) idea that ……human life is bad.

If you swallow the propaganda that there are "too many" people, then the logical conclusion would be to have fewer of them. This means either ones here should die (assisted suicide and Dr. Kevorkian), those that are sick or disabled should be denied assistance that would prolong their lives (eugenics/Hitler’s Holocaust, "death with dignity," Terry Schiavo, Charlie Gard, Isaiah Haastrup, and Alfie Evans – the latter four all murdered in either the U.S. or U.K. against their parents’ wishes because they were assessed by the courts as too inconvenient to live), or that future generations should be deliberately truncated (abortion and birth control).

If you believe there are "too many" people on Earth, then you have to side with Thanos – so put on your subservient face and get your lottery ticket from him.

Thanos never considers the possibility that, even were what he says is true now, that the creativity and intelligence and energy of the amazing minds against whom he fights could be better used to find ways to feed and comfort multiple times the number of people in existence. The technology available a thousand years ago could feed and clothe and shelter only a tiny fraction of those we can feed and clothe and shelter now using the same resources. Everything from antibiotics to sprinkler systems to knowledge of crop rotation and hydroponics makes increased production a no brainer.

This, of course, begs the question that every human life is a valuable, irreplacable gift from God which must not be discarded no matter the rationalization for it. That the moral imperative of humans should be that innocent life must be protected.

This also disregards the fact that what has been proposed by these population control advocates is merely a global sized pile of what Harry Truman might only refer to in polite company as….manure.

But did you know that everyone on Earth could fit into Texas?

I’m going to throw some numbers at you to demonstrate this, but to give you an aim to where I am headed: Everyone on the entire planet Earth could theoretically live in families of four in houses four times as large as the average house in England and ALL still fit into the State of Texas?

The current Earth population is 7.6 billion. The State of Texas land mass is roughly 7.5 TRILLION square feet. If you placed the world population into groups of four people each, this would give you 1.9 billion groups. If you assigned the square feet out evenly amongst those groups, each group could have a minimum of 3,947 square feet to call their own.

The average sized plot of land on which a British home rests is the same size. The average home in England is only 915 square feet.  The average New York apartment high rise contains only 750 square feet.  But without having to endure cramped high rise life, everyone could, theoretically, live in a Harry Potter-type suburban area like this real one shown here from a satellite photo of Barton Le Clay.

Support areas such as roads, hospitals, schools, stores, business areas, even recreation centers such as parks, hotels, restaurants, ice cream parlors, old fashioned libraries and community swimming pools could GENEROUSLY be accommodated by about nine times the area needed to accommodate the homes.

The tally of the world’s only needed suburban area plus the support structures could handily be fit into 2.7 million square miles. There are 2.9 million square miles just in the lower 48 states of the United states.

The world’s only suburb could be fit into Texas.  The world’s only city could fit over the contiguous portions of the U.S.A. with considerable room to spare.

Keep in mind, were this to happen, the rest of the world would be completely and totally people free. India – uninhabited, China – zero, Russia – vacant, Europe – no one, England – empty, Australia – deserted.

This doesn’t EVEN take into account the possibility of ingeniously designed floating cities.

Of course, no one is suggesting we all move into the confines of the US. But to offer perspective, this World City could be fit into but HALF of Europe. Or less than a third of Russia. Or Australia, which is about the same size as the contiguous part of the U.S., WITH room to spare. And note how incredibly much land mass is left in the world – laughably vast stretches of thereby uninhabited areas would remain "people free" if we all just suburbed ourselves to Australia in neat little homes and their support buildings. The room we take up would be about 2.7 million square miles. The planet’s surface is 196 MILLION SQUARE MILES! 57 million is land mass.

So – those who propose to eliminate any of our human brethren for the sake of global overpopulation are planning genocide on bad information.

IN CONCLUSION:

A profound question arises from a bunch of comic book characters in a brilliant analogy to a real life monstrous philosophy seeking to crush out human life – all for the sake of a lie.

So I ask you again as you go to see this brilliant best that Marvel has to offer – Are you Team Avengers or….Team Thanos?

BLACK PANTHER – GOOD BUT FLAWED

 

SHORT TAKE

A solid entry to the Avengers universe and enhanced by the sterling performance of Chad Boseman as Black Panther, though handicapped by mistakes made by other sci-fi franchises.

WHO SHOULD GO: Family friendly with cartoon violence, no sexual activity, a few minor profanities, but has very loud music and special effects sounds.

CHECK OUT DETAILED AND SPECIFIC CONTENT STATISTICS AT SCREENIT.COM.

LONG TAKE

It is unfortunate that there has been SO much hype leading up to the release of Black Panther. For one thing there is no way any movie could possibly live up to everyone's world wide expectations. For another it leaves no room for analysis. Before anyone gets their panties in a wad, let me go on record as saying I liked Black Panther. I have been a big fan and advocate of Chad Boseman since I saw him in Marshall and I think the Black Panther character will be an excellent addition to the Avengers franchise.

That being said let me tell you a story. Once upon a time there was a British  actress comedian named Jennifer Saunders. She and Dawn French were staple comedians in the 1980's and by 1992 Saunders and the replacement co-star for French, Joanna Lumley, were able to parley a 14 minute1990 skit into a 6 year BBC show called Absolutely Fabulous. However, as my son has pointed out about the Roman Empire, in her victory was her downfall. By the early 2000's she had become so popular no one wanted to criticize her and her comedy had become so strident, bitter and redundant she lost  the audience she had worked so hard to gain. But during this fall she had so much clout no one had the nerve to tell her she was making mistakes. So the Emperor – or the Empress in this case – continued to wear "invisible" clothes and no one dared say she was naked.

Raise your hand if anyone reading this has even heard of Jennifer Saunders. Point made. Saunders became so successful that everyone thought it prudent to keep what should have been helpful and constructive criticism to themselves.

And so, I fear, it could go with Black Panther if reviewers are not honest and thoughtful. There has been so much wildly anticipated excitement about the “first” black super hero – everyone seeming to forget collectively the awesome Idris Elba’s Heimdall from the Thor franchise – that no one wants to take an objective look at it.

Don’t get me wrong – it is a welcome addition into the superhero universe, but it isn’t perfect. While there is much to commend it, it suffers from weaknesses other similar movies have had.

SPOILER WARNING

I want to lead this review by saying that the plot was very good. When contemplating the premise – that Wakanda is a secret kingdom flourishing in impoverished Africa – one might reasonably wonder why the beneficent leaders did not work to improve the plight of their desperately poor and suffering countrymen over the last several hundred years. The compelling theme of Black Panther examines why clandestine African Wakanda withholds aid from other Africans while the rest of the world donates billions in food and medical supplies? FYI the pictures of suffering Africa are not from the movie but real photos.

Does one keep such high tech secrets from the rest of the world or risk exposure and possible plunder in an effort to bring aid to others? And if one DOES decide to reveal the Wakandan advancements to the outside world should it be under the flag of conquest or compassion? Do the Wakandans emerge into the rest of the universe as prideful aggressors or humble aid workers?

This is the struggle which is personified  between T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) the rightful king successor to his father, murdered during Captain America: Civil War, who longs for peace, and his opponent/cousin Eric Killmonger (Michael Jordan) who hungers, like the Biblical Ishmael, to use these wonders to make war against the entire world.

And it would make an interesting sequel to explore the fall out from the Wakandan neighbors when it is discovered that much of the death, disease and starvation of their fellow Africans could have been ameliorated by a watching but silent Wakanda.

I think Chad Boseman is great. He is a joy to watch and can effortlessly generate chemistry with any actor he works with whether he is King of a futuristic African nation or a cortexaphan subject with powers to control energy in Fringe or Thurgood Marshall. Not bad for a fellow southerner. (Boseman is from South Carolina.) Like Michael Caine, Meryl Streep or Bruce Willis he brings a natural ease to his characters which makes him likeable and three dimensional. And yes, I know – Willis is not in the same league as Caine or Streep. Willis is a one note actor who plays the same person in every movie he is in with variations. But it’s easy to enjoy that one character and Willis does it extremely well. In addition, Willis creates that wonderfully comfortable ebb and flow with his fellow performers which Caine and Streep also manage that make it fun to watch them in whatever they are in. You don’t have to be a brilliant actor to be one who can create good chemistry with their fellow actors. And by the other side of the same coin, even some brilliant actors can not manage it – like Lawrence Olivier who was gifted but stiff…….but I digress.

 I want Black Panther with Boseman to be a successful franchise. And when the dust has settled down from the novelty of this movie there needs to be some close examination of its flaws if it is to do better than the first stabs at Spiderman or Hulk.

First  – if you have to do five minutes of blunt exposition just to bring your audience up to speed before the first scene of the movie, then you’re not being very clever with your story telling. This is the same weakness in Thor: The Dark World. Lengthy exposition marred the beginning of Dark World and helped relegate it to the weakest of the Thor outings and Black Panther makes the same mistake.

Second –  it is about 45 minutes too long. Some of that is due to the excessive emphasis on showcasing Wakanda and the tribal costumes, dances, accessories and artifacts. One is reminded of the first Star Trek movie where there were nerdgasms over the extensively long and loving fly over of the Enterprise  as well as extremely long sequences of the planet-sized V’ger. In an effort to overwhelm the audience with the splendor of both the flagshp and the opposing mechanical nemesis, the result, in 1979's Star Trek,  was ultimately the opposite and did not age well, weighing that first Star Trek movie down to one of the lesser ranked installments. There is only so much build up and pay off of the same material you can sit through until, like surfing a wave which eventually crests, after a while you wonder when the ride will be over.

Similarly, there is too much dependence on the “wow” effect of Wakanda and repeated recurrences of the character-citizens commenting about how beautiful it is, how much they longed for another view of it, how much they missed it – all followed up by multiple extended views of it.

    The presentation of the African color and lore and costumes, tatoos and plates in distended lips, ancient impractical traditional garb and spirit walks get to be so much that after a while it becomes at risk of being a parody of itself. It is understandable that the film makers wanted to take full effect of their first opportunity to demonstrate and showcase this new universe, but, as Donald O’Conner once said – you should always leave the audience wanting more. Instead the writers of Black Panther went at the movie like an excited child who tries to tell of an adventure in one breath as though afraid people will stop paying attention before he gets to the end.

Another problem with the length is the same flaw found in the Man of Steel – too much fighting. There are two lengthy hand to hand combat scenes, one very exciting car chase, as well as battles royale (literally) between the two princes, along with various and sundry skirmishes, an aerial combat and the final confrontation between the two opponents on a magnetic monorail. There are high tech spaceships shooting tasers and cables, power staffs, Bullet/ French Connection quality car chases, Spiderman quality leaping and jumping during the car chases, photon firing artificial arms, and – I kid you not – vibranium armoured rhinoceroses. While all super cool it was just…too…much for one movie. 

The writer and director should have had the confidence in their story to not bury it under so much of what Bishop Barron refers to as “whiz bang”.

Third – there were unnecessary incongruities in the Wakandan kingdom. While their labs, travel modes and medical facilities would rival those at Star Bases, their exchange of goods took place routinely in outdoor marketplaces wound through with dusty dirty streets. This didn’t make sense.

And the uniforms of the Amazonian guardswomen were too culturally reflective of Africa to be practical. All this high tech and the best they could do was sticks with a sonic boom effect? Now to be fair the island from which Wonder Woman emerged was similar in its cultural armament impracticalities and Asgard of the Thor franchise also had an odd juxtaposition of high tech and ancient (in that case medieval) trappings. But both Wonder Woman and Asgard were alien cultures, and both based in familiar Earth mythologies, so can be given a wider range in suspension of belief and peculiar behaviors and traditions. But Africa in general and Wakanda in particular are right here on Earth so can’t get that much leeway.

Fourth – Thor, Wonder Woman and Aquaman, for example are based respectively on established: Norse myth, the Greek Amazons and the Roman god of the sea Poseidon, all of which date back thousands of years and are part of the shared cultural background noise. So when origin stories are concocted using them as foundations it is an easy bridge into that world. There is no corresponding panther myth that I could find in Africa outside of the Black Panther comics which came upon the scene only about 50 years ago in 1966. The only established mythology I could find in Africa revolved around reptiles. So unless you are a serious comic book afficiando you wouldn't have known what they were talking about in Black Panther without exposition. But the writer, instead of weaving the background into the warp and woof of the story inelegantly chose to dump the entire story on the audience's head like — well — Thor's Hammer.

All that being said Black Panther is a fun though flawed adventure. I look forward to future installments and hope the film makers will gain confidence from the warm open armed reception they have received from the wider movie going audience and do a better job with the next one. Otherwise Black Panther will not age well or inspire longevity for the franchise – and that would be a shame.