F9 Review

Make no mistake. We don’t watch the Fast and Furious movies because they have any resemblance to the real world. For a franchise that I cannot imagine was envisioned to reach nine entries deep, we can park our logic immediately and settle in for a thrill ride. Surprisingly it’s a formula that’s usually worked (certainly at the box office and often with the quality of the product). In F9, the luster has gathered rust. This is the first Fast feature since part 4 that I wouldn’t recommend as a guilty pleasure. We’ve reached the long-lost brother stage of the storyline. We also have characters blasting into outer space. So it’s time to stop being polite about what’s going on in this fading fantasy world.

Returning director Justin Lin (who made parts III-VI) and his cowriter Daniel Casey have swapped out ex-wrestlers turned thespians. Gone is Dwayne Johnson (a result of a feud with Vin Diesel), who brought a jolt starting in Fast Five. Tagging in is John Cena as the aforementioned and previously never mentioned sibling Jakob Toretto. As we are told in overdramatic and overlong flashbacks, he played a role in the late 80s racing death of his father. This doesn’t sit well with brother Dom (Diesel) and the two haven’t been on speaking terms since. Jakob reacts as most would with the family estrangement by becoming an international mercenary and obtaining a deadly computer system that will wreak global havoc. His employer is the son of a dictator (Thue Erstad Rasmussen) who’s working with part 8’s hacker bad girl Cipher (Charlize Theron).

The return of the banished brother causes Dom to interrupt his farm life seclusion with wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and their 5-year-old son. The band, including Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Chris Bridges), and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) reassemble for the forthcoming sequences where automobiles do things they have no earthly business doing. Also back are the thought to be dead Han (Sung Kang) and a trio of street racers from Tokyo Drift who are now (somehow) rocket scientists. Jordana Brewster (as Dom and Jakob’s sister Mia) hops a flight home. This is where I’ll address a sensitive issue. When Paul Walker died in 2013, the filmmakers were faced with the unenviable task of dealing with his character Brian who served as co-lead for the previous entries. They handled it deftly in Furious 7. However, in a saga that constantly beats the drum of helping your teammates, the explanation of Brian simply being retired and not taking part in the action strains credibility. We’re told he’s babysitting while wife Mia is away. I know it might seem silly to discuss credibility in a Fast flick, but it is an unfortunate minor distraction.

F9 takes too long to get its motor running. The 143 minute runtime (bogged down by those flashbacks of young Dom and Jakob) is a momentum stopper. Part of the intrigue involves a super powerful magnate (think more than fridge quality grade) that whips anything in its path towards it. It’s cool the first time we see the hurling. And then we witness it again and again. Cena has shown considerable comedic chops elsewhere. That magnetism is nowhere to be found here. Dwayne Johnson is missed as is Jason Statham as sparring partner Shaw. Theron, Kurt Russell as government agent Mr. Nobody, and Helen Mirren as Shaw’s mum are barely seen (though the latter’s brief appearance is kind of a hoot).

What we’re left with is a mopey family dynamic that the franchise didn’t need. Roman’s character brings self-reference to the screenplay, often commenting on the ridiculousness of everything – how come no one ever gets a scratch on them? As I said, that doesn’t matter much when we can mindlessly settle in and enjoy it. F9 doesn’t achieve that like the bulk of its predecessors. Put another way, my tank was half full for parts V-VIII and now it’s half empty. By the time Roman and Tej enter moonwalking territory, it should feel ludicrous in a positive way. Instead we’ve had to slog through over two hours of make it up as you go along nonsense to get there.

** (out of four)

July 23-25 Box Office Predictions

Blogger’s Note (07/21): I am revising some predictions from my original Monday. Taking Old from $22.8 million down to $19.8 million; Snake Eyes from $21.2 million to $17.2 million; and Space Jam: A New Legacy from $14.8 million up to $15.8 million.

We could see a real battle for the #1 position this weekend as M. Night Shyamalan’s Old and the G.I. Joe reboot Snake Eyes both debut. I have both nabbing similar grosses and you can peruse my detailed write-ups on each right here:

Old Box Office Prediction

Snake Eyes Box Office Prediction

My estimates have the pair landing in the low to mid 20s and I’m giving Shyamalan’s latest a slight edge. Truth be told, either one of them could over or underperform so this lends some genuine suspense to the forthcoming results.

Assuming both manage to reach high teens to $20 million, that should mean Space Jam: A New Legacy will drop to 3rd following its better than expected debut (more on that below) with a dip in the 50-55% range. Black Widow, after experiencing a larger than anticipated sophomore drop, should fall to fourth position. There could be a close competition for the five spot between  Escape Room: Tournament of Champions and F9. I’ll say Vin Diesel and his merry band of racers triumphs since Escape might lose around half of the opening audience from its lackluster start.

And with that, let’s do a top 6 this time around:

1. Old

Predicted Gross: $19.8 million

2. Snake Eyes

Predicted Gross: $17.2 million

3. Space Jam: A New Legacy

Predicted Gross: $15.8 million

4. Black Widow

Predicted Gross: $12.9 million

5. F9

Predicted Gross: $5.1 million

6. Escape Room: Tournament of Champions

Predicted Gross: $4.5 million

Box Office Results (July 16-18)

In a surprise development, Lebron James and the Tune Squad dunked over Scarlett Johansson as Space Jam: A New Legacy opened ahead of projections with $31 million. That’s well above my $22.7 million estimate as the long in development sequel (which is also available on HBO Max) clearly brought in families and the nostalgic fans of the 1996 original.

Black Widow was anticipated to repeat at #1, but it fell to second with a massive 68% drop. The MCU stand-alone feature took in $25.8 million compared to my more generous $32.1 million prediction. The pic stands at $131 million as theater owners are griping about its simultaneous streaming  showings on Disney Plus.

Horror sequel Escape Room: Tournament of Champions couldn’t emerge with an impressive start with $8.8 million. That’s about $10 million below what the 2019 original achieved and under my take of $11.4 million.

F9 held up better than I figured in fourth with $7.6 million (I lowballed it at $6.2 million). The four week tally is $154 million as it has become to second COVID era flick after A Quiet Place Part II to reach $150M+.

The Boss Baby: Family Business was fifth with $4.7 million (I said $5.2 million) and it stands at $44 million.

And that does it for now, folks! Until next time…

Summer 2001: The Top 10 Hits and More

My annual recounting of the cinematic seasons that preceded 30, 20, and 10 years prior continues on the blog today with the summer of 2001! It was a frame dominated by an animated jolly green giant that kicked off a massive franchise for its studio.

As is tradition, I’ll run through the top 10 domestic grossers as well as other notables pics and some flops. If you missed my post covering 1991’s May-August output, you can find it here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/06/26/summer-1991-the-top-10-hits-and-more/

Let’s get to it!

10. Dr. Dolittle 2

Domestic Gross: $112 million

Eddie Murphy returned as the doc who talks to animals in this sequel that managed to cross the century mark, but failed to approach the $144 million earned by its 1998 predecessor. This would mark the end of Eddie’s involvement in the franchise, but a direct to DVD third helping came in 2006.

9. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Domestic Gross: $131 million

Angelina Jolie (fresh off an Oscar for Girl, Interrupted) headlined the video game adaptation that, despite weak reviews, spawned a sequel and an eventual reboot with Alicia Vikander that will soon get its own follow-up.

8. The Fast and the Furious

Domestic Gross: $144 million

We first saw Vin Diesel and Paul Walker and those souped up whips 20 years ago. Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or haven’t heard of The Rock), this begat a franchise which is still running strong today. F9 is currently the #1 movie in America in this series that has topped a billion bucks.

7. American Pie 2

Domestic Gross: $145 million

Universal quickly green lighted this sequel to 1999’s smash hit comedy. The gross out gags in part 2 (which resulted in another theatrical effort in 2003 and numerous direct to DVD entries) stands as the largest worldwide earner of the bunch.

6. Planet of the Apes

Domestic Gross: $180 million

Tim Burton’s reimagining of the 1968 classic didn’t result in the new franchise that 20th Century Fox hoped for. Critics had their knives out for Mark Wahlberg’s lead performance and the surprise ending that didn’t pack the wallop of Charlton Heston’s encounter with the Statue of Liberty. The studio would get their successful trilogy a decade later beginning with Rise of the Planet of the Apes (which will be covered in 2011’s blog post).

5. Jurassic Park III

Domestic Gross: $181 million

Joe Johnston took over directorial duties from Steven Spielberg is this threequel. Sam Neill was back in this dino-tale that (while profitable) failed to reach the heights of the first two commercially. A reboot 14 years later would get the series back in billion dollar good standing.

4. Pearl Harbor

Domestic Gross: $198 million

Michael Bay’s romantic war epic failed with reviewers but still approached $200 million domestically and $450 million worldwide. Its six Golden Raspberry nominations topped its four Oscar nods.

3. The Mummy Returns

Domestic Gross: $202 million

Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz returned for this adventure sequel to the 1999 hit that topped part 1 domestically by nearly $50 million. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would join the fun here and was rewarded with his spin-off (The Scorpion King) the next year. A third Mummy landed with disappointing results in 2008.

2. Rush Hour 2

Domestic Gross: $226 million

It was the best of times for director Brett Ratner and stars Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan as this action comedy built upon the grosses of the 1998 original. A third would follow six years later.

1. Shrek

Mike Myers as the title character ogre, Eddie Murphy stealing scenes with his voice work as Donkey, and Cameron Diaz as Princess Fiona proved that Disney wasn’t the only animation game in town. Shrek even competed for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in this DreamWorks game changer that resulted in three sequels and a stage musical.

And now for some other notables flicks from the summer that was:

The Princess Diaries

Domestic Gross: $108 million

Disney’s live-action fairy tale served as a breakout role for Anne Hathaway and a return to the studio for Julie Andrews for the first time since Mary Poppins. A 2004 sequel followed.

The Others

Domestic Gross: $96 million

With its own Sixth Sense style twist ending, this gothic horror pic with Nicole Kidman earned solid reviews and got genre fans to turn out.

Legally Blonde

Domestic Gross: $96 million

Shrek isn’t the only feature to spawn a Broadway treatment. So did this Reese Witherspoon hit which also resulted in a sequel and a third Blonde that is slated for May 2022.

Cats & Dogs

Domestic Gross: $93 million

Dr. Dolittle wasn’t the only animal game in town. This kiddie pic featuring featuring talking creatures also began a franchise.

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

Domestic Gross: $78 million

Long planned as a project for Stanley Kubrick (who passed away in 1999), Steven Spielberg directed this sci-fi visual feast with Haley Joel Osment. The film elicited strong reactions from critics and crowds (both positively and negatively). It may not have reached $100 million domestic, but it’s still a picture people like to debate about today and that’s more that can be said for most titles on this list.

Swordfish

Domestic Gross: $69 million

Hugh Jackman and John Travolta headlined this action pic which somewhat underperformed expectations. This is mostly known as the film that paid Halle Berry an extra $500,000 to go topless during a few seconds of screen time.

Moulin Rouge!

Domestic Gross: $57 million

Baz Luhrmann’s postmodern musical with Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor scored 8 Oscar nominations and has its legions of fans that have endured over the past two decades.

Sexy Beast

Domestic Gross: $6 million

This crime drama is mostly known for its menacing supporting turn from Sir Ben Kingsley, who was rewarded with an Oscar nod.

Ghost World

Domestic Gross: $6 million

Terry Zwigoff’s dark comedy (based on a late 90s comic book) earned raves for its screenplay and for costars Thora Birch, Scarlett Johansson, and Steve Buscemi.

And now for some pictures that did not meet expectations:

America’s Sweethearts

Domestic Gross: $93 million

Yes, it may have approached $100 million, but this rom com starring Julia Roberts and featuring John Cusack, Billy Crystal (who cowrote), and Catherine Zeta-Jones didn’t come near what her previous blockbusters like My Best Friend’s Wedding, Notting Hill, and Runaway Bride managed.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire

Domestic Gross: $84 million

Disney’s animated sci-fi adventure was a letdown that didn’t recoup its reported $100 million budget domestically. A hoped for franchise with TV spin-offs and Disneyland ride attraction never rose to the surface.

Scary Movie 2

Domestic Gross: $71 million

This rushed horror spoof follow-up to the 2000 surprise smash couldn’t get close to the $157 million of the original. However, this didn’t stop several sequels from following that achieved greater success.

Evolution

Domestic Gross: $38 million

Director Ivan Reitman and supernatural comedy sure worked well in 1984 with Ghostbusters. Not so much here in this DreamWorks flop with David Duchovny which earned less than half its budget in North America.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within

Domestic Gross: $32 million

Tomb Raider was an example of a video game adaptation that made money. Not so here with this rendering of the popular role playing fantasy series that didn’t score with audiences.

Ghosts of Mars

Domestic Gross: $8 million

It wasn’t a good day at the box office for this science fiction flop from director John Carpenter and Ice Cube.

Pootie Tang

Domestic Gross: $3 million

Moviegoers didn’t turn out for this comedy written and directed by Louis C.K. that originated from a sketch on The Chris Rock Show (who costars). Despite the failed run at the box office, it has since become a cult hit.

And that does it for 2001, folks! Look for my post about summer 2011 in the coming days…

F9 Box Office Prediction

F9 is widely expected to drive traffic into theaters in a way we have not witnessed since late 2019 – before anyone knew what COVID-19 was. The ninth official entry in The Fast and the Furious franchise appears poised to have the largest domestic opening since Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker a year and a half ago. It opens June 25th after a series of pandemic related delays. Justin Lin returns in the director’s chair for his fifth Fast flick and first since Fast & Furious 6. Long time and newer series regulars returning include Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Jordana Brewster, Nathalie Emmanuel, Helen Mirren (reprising her role from spinoff Hobbs & Shaw), Kurt Russell, and Charlize Theron. Newcomers to the mix are John Cena, Michael Rooker, and Cardi B.

Sporting a budget of at least $200 million, F9 has already made a fortune overseas at $270 million and counting. In 2015, Furious 7 nabbed the largest opening of all the pics (by far) at $147 million ($353 million overall). Tragically, part of that can be attributed to audience curiosity as it dealt with the final appearance of Paul Walker following his passing. 2017’s follow-up The Fate of the Furious debuted to $98 million and an eventual $225 million domestic haul (good for third overall in the ennead). Hobbs & Shaw, meanwhile, made $60 million for its start in 2019 with a $173 million final tally.

With capacity issues mostly having fallen by the wayside, F9 will be a test as to just how high first weekends can go in this market. A Quiet Place Part II set the initial benchmark at $57 million over the four-day Memorial Weekend frame. This is anticipated to zoom beyond that. Furious 7 set a mark that any sequel is unlikely to come close to. A debut in the neighborhood of Fast Five ($86 million) is certainly achievable. Yet I still think some multiplex resistance could stall that possibility. I’ll project $60-$70 million is the more likely range. My estimate puts this a few million under the $70 million made by Fast & Furious in 2009.

F9 opening weekend prediction: $64.8 million

June 18-20 Box Office Predictions

F9 is likely to give us the biggest box office premiere since late 2019 and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker… but that’s not coming until late next week. For this weekend, we could see another frame like this latest one where no picture reaches the teens. We have one newcomer and that’s action comedy sequel Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard with Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, and Salma Hayek reprising their roles from the 2017 original. You can peruse my detailed prediction post on it here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2021/06/08/hitmans-wifes-bodyguard-box-office-prediction/

Bodyguard opens on Wednesday and I’m projecting its five-day count gets it high teens. That likely means low double digits for the traditional Friday to Sunday frame. That should be enough for it to open at #1 due to the disappointing returns for In the Heights this past weekend (more on that below).

We could see a showdown for the runner-up slot between A Quiet Place Part II and Heights. Both should experience declines in 30s range (there’s certainly the chance that the latter doesn’t fall that far due to solid word-of-mouth). Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway may stay in fourth position after its lackluster start and that would put The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It in fifth.

So as we await the return of Vin Diesel and his space bound vehicles, here’s how I have the top five shaking out:

1. The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard

Predicted Gross: $12.6 million (Friday to Sunday); $17.7 million (Wednesday to Sunday)

2. A Quiet Place Part II

Predicted Gross: $7.9 million

3. In the Heights

Predicted Gross: $7.7 million

4. Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway

Predicted Gross: $6.6 million

5. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

Predicted Gross: $6.1 million

Box Office Results (June 11-13)

In a surprise development, A Quiet Place Part II returned to the top spot in its third frame with $12 million (ahead of my $9.4 million forecast). I had it pegged for third and the soft debuts of the newbies prevented that. The critically acclaimed horror sequel made some history along the way by becoming the first feature in the COVID era to reach $100 million. Its current total is $109 million.

Back to those disappointing newcomers as In the Heights came in on the very lowest end of expectations with $11.5 million… or not even half of my $26.8 million projection. Despite mostly glowing reviews and awards buzz, Heights simply didn’t come close to maximizing its potential. There’s plenty of theories as to why (including the fact that its streaming on HBO Max and the challenge of audiences going to theaters for non-sequels), but it’s tricky for Warner Bros to spin this. As mentioned, its best hope is for sturdy legs in the weekends ahead.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It dropped from 1st to 3rd with $10.3 million compared to my $8.7 million prediction. The 57% drop isn’t too shabby for its genre and it’s taken in $44 million during the first ten days of release.

Family audiences didn’t hop to the multiplexes for Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway. It placed fourth with $10.1 million. I was far generous at $15.9 million. Considering the 2018 original took in $25 million out of the gate, this is another hard one for its studio to explain away.

Lastly, Cruella rounded out the top five with $6.7 million (I said $6.3 million) for an overall tally of $55 million.

And that does it for now folks! Until next time…

Bloodshot Box Office Prediction

Two months before F9 (the latest edition of his wildly successful Fast & Furious franchise) debuts, Vin Diesel hopes to kick off a new series with Bloodshot next weekend. Based on the Valiant Comics superhero, Diesel is tasked with the title role in this directorial debut from David S.F. Wilson. The supporting casts includes Eiza Gonzalez, Sam Heughan, Toby Kebbell, and Guy Pearce.

Diesel is certainly a franchise man with three under his belt: Furious, xXx, and the Riddick pics (four if you count his voice work as Groot in the MCU). The $42 million budget is low for the genre and probably the catering cost for an Avengers epic. So while the pic hopes international grosses make it profitable, this could struggle stateside.

Outside of the aforementioned films, Diesel has had some disappointments. 2015’s The Last Witch Hunter was developed with sequels in mind, but sputtered with just under $11 million for its start. 2008’s Babylon A.D. couldn’t even reach double digits in its premiere.

With muted buzz, I expect Bloodshot to fire blanks with high single to low double digits. At least the headliner has his signature role on deck in short order.

Bloodshot opening weekend prediction: $9.6 million

For my I Still Believe prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/03/03/i-still-believe-box-office-prediction/

For my The Hunt prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/03/05/the-hunt-box-office-prediction/

For my My Spy prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2020/03/05/my-spy-box-office-prediction/

Hobbs & Shaw Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (07/31): My estimate has dropped from $82.6 million to $72.6 million

Two of the most popular characters from the venerable Fast and Furious franchise get their  own spin-off (the first of the long running series) with Hobbs & Shaw next weekend. The action extravaganza comes with a reported $200 million budget and is headlined by the title characters respectively portrayed by Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. David Leitch (co-director of John Wick and sole director of Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2) is behind the camera. Costars include Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby, and Helen Mirren (reprising her maternal role from 2017’s last entry The Fate of the Furious).

Despite the absence of Vin Diesel and other actors associated with the franchise that started 18 years ago, Hobbs & Shaw is likely to perform similarly to other pics in the canon. The largest opening was accomplished in 2015 with Furious 7 with a gross of $147 million. Tragically, part of the reason its start was significantly more than the others was due to the untimely death of Paul Walker and that picture representing his swan song. Follow-up Fate of the Furious two years later landed the second highest start of the eight features at $98 million.

This might fall a bit under those gaudy numbers and I think low to mid 80s is most feasible. That would put it in line or a just bit below the $86 million accomplished by Fast Five in 2011.

Hobbs & Shaw opening weekend prediction: $72.6 million

Avengers: Endgame Movie Review

**There’s really no way to write a review of Avengers: Endgame without some minor spoilers. You may wish to read this post viewing…

The word “epic” can be overused by those who review movies like me, but it unquestionably applies to Avengers: Endgame. It’s epic in its running time (none of the other 21 MCU pics run three hours) and epic in the number of well-known thespians reprising their superhero and villain characters. It doesn’t seem feasible that so many characters could manage to coexist in this vast universe without seeming like a gimmick. If you happen to think predecessor Infinity War was overcrowded, you’ll get whiplash here. Truth be told, there are moments when this borders on playing like a greatest hits reel based on what’s preceded it during the last eleven years.

Yet Endgame figures out a rewarding way to stick the landing and honor the dozens of faces that we’ve spent billions of dollars visiting since 2008. At the conclusion of Infinity War, bad guy Thanos (Josh Brolin) had collected his precious Infinity Stones and decimated half the intergalactic population into dramatic looking dust particles. What’s left is mostly the core of the OG Avengers – Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). There’s others as Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) is the sole surviving Guardian of the Galaxy. And we have the two notable characters that were MIA last summer – Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd).

One might think this whole saga might be about the original band and some newer friends taking on Thanos. You would be wrong. Endgame has plenty of time bending tricks up its endless story arch sleeves. The first is an unexpected resolution that comes very early. However, that climax is just a set-up to further complications.

This is indeed a time travel movie in which the screenwriters almost sheepishly concede the contrived nature of such a device. The survivors set upon a course of multiple back in time ways to retrieve the Stones and bring back their loved ones. It doesn’t happen overnight and the lengthy nature of the plan coming together provides funny and poignant moments. Tony is off the grid with his beloved Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) and a new addition. Bruce is in full Hulk mode, but kindler and gentler. Thor is rounder and drunkenly grappling with his losses. Hawkeye is a full-blown vigilante. When the gang revs up their figurative DeLoreans, it gives us a chance to revisit lots of MCU personnel. And it’s a LOT of former players. Some are genuinely surprising. During this lengthy stretch, the film walks a fine line of not devolving into nostalgic sugar shock amidst the action sequences. By the final act, it rises above it.

We know the battle scenes will be well choreographed and well-directed (with the Russo Brothers handling duties once again). The final one is rather jaw dropping with the mixing of so many known quantities. Thanos is one of the stronger villains in MCU history and he remains so here, though there’s nothing fresh to add about his character. His daughter Nebula (Karen Gillan), on the other hand, continues her evolution as a fine addition to the roster.

The comic relief comes more from Thor as opposed to Ant-Man or Rocket and Hemsworth is up to the task. Captain America and Black Widow are given their emotional moments that we’re invested in from their backstories. To this writer, it’s Tony who’s always been the damaged beating heart of this franchise. The Marvel Cinematic Universe simply wouldn’t exist as it is without Downey Jr.’s brilliant work. That’s never changed. The quality of the movies he’s appeared in has. His performance has always been fantastic. If we’re ranking, I would put Endgame as an overall experience just under the first Avengers in 2012 and Infinity War. I can’t promise that thinking about all the shifting time plot points might raise as many questions as answers. I won’t deny that its emotional payoff is real and we have Downey and an amazing group of technicians bringing these comics to life to thank for it.

***1/2 (out of four)

Avengers: Infinity War Movie Review

A decade into its multi-billion dollar cinematic universe, Avengers: Infinity War invites viewers to marvel at its gathering of superhero titans to fight another – a villain from planet Titan who reverses  one frequent MCU debit (a weak villain). It’s an experience that yields many positive results packed with the action and humor we’ve come to anticipate from the best of this franchise. This movie is massive and it feels that way. The 19th entry in the MCU that started with 2008’s Iron Man, here we have nearly all the significant characters from its catalog banding together. If you ever wondered how Thor (Chris Hemsworth) would get along with the Guardians of the Galaxy, the answer is humorously provided. How do the egos of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) meld? You’re about to find out. What happens when the original Avengers and others pick up their weapons alongside Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) in Wakanda? Giddyup!

All of this runs the risk of Infinity War coming off as gimmicky, but it mostly doesn’t. That’s because directors Anthony and Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely do a remarkable job sticking these giants into the blender and creating something that goes down smooth. This is not necessarily a sequel to 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron or 2016’s Captain America: Civil War (essentially the third Avengers flick). Rather it’s a follow-up to almost every MCU title. It’s important to know what happened in the actual Avengers pics and Civil War, but I’d suggest having knowledge of the Guardians, Panther, and so on. Lucky for Disney and Marvel Studios, you probably do. The gathering of these comic book and box office behemoths leads Infinity War to often feel like the continuation of a long running TV serial – albeit one with huge stars and an unlimited budget.

What brings all the characters together is Thanos (Josh Brolin). He has the proportions of the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and a similar sized ambitions of world destruction. Thanos is hell-bent on collecting the Infinity Stones, six potent gems that would render him all-powerful and capable of wiping out populations of many galaxies. After the breakup of the Avengers in Civil War two years ago, it’s Thanos that causes Mr. Stark and Captain America (Chris Evans) to put their differences aside. Thus begins the jigsaw puzzle of matching up Guardians and Asgardian gods with Wakanda kings and mystical doctors and your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man (Tom Holland).

As you may recall, Thanos has history with one particular character – Gamora (Zoe Saldana). She’s his adopted daughter after he decimated her home planet when she was a little girl. For those who might have assumed the Guardians of the Galaxy would have a glorified cameo in this universe, that is certainly not the case. It’s Gamora’s backstory with Thanos that puts meat on his character’s bones and assists in making him one of the franchise’s best villains. Brolin, for his part, gives the performance his menacing all in crafting him.

Delving too far into what happens in Infinity War would feel like cheating in any review. Part of the fun here is discovering just how these dozens of heroes and villains coexist. Some general observations: Thor alongside Groot and Rocket is a joy, as is witnessing Groot as a bratty teen with its attention rooted to a video game device. The return to Wakanda and its whip smart inhabitants feels welcome just weeks after Panther’s stand-alone effort. And after 10 years of Tony Stark onscreen in numerous MCU titles, Downey Jr.’s portrayal of him is still as strong as ever. There’s never been a moment in the decade where it felt like Downey was slumming it. He’s the heart of this franchise.

The conclusion of Infinity War leaves a lot open for the sequel that will arrive next year. When the credits roll before the inevitable post-credits sequence, we witness something both powerful and perhaps not as powerful as it seems after careful thought (saying more would be a spoiler). There’s no doubt, however, that this comic book all-star game is a winner.

***1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch – Avengers: Infinity War

This weekend is all about Avengers: Infinity War at the box office as it barrels toward a potentially record-setting debut. The film looks, at the least, poised to set the all-time opening weekend record for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is the 19th picture in the MCU as the multi-billion dollar franchise is about to hit its ten-year anniversary. 

Infinity will certainly make its mark financially, but could Academy voters take notice? In short – probably not. The pic stands at 85% currently on Rotten Tomatoes. That’s a bit below the original Avengers from 2012 (92%) and a bit above 2015 sequel Age of Ultron (75%). No MCU title or any comic book adaptation has managed a Best Picture nomination and I see no reason to think this will.

Having said that, the Marvel folks stand their best opportunity yet to score a nod in the biggest category of them all. And that would be Black Panther, which was released in February. It stands a real shot. Looking through the Oscar history with this franchise, The Avengers scored a Best Visual Effects nomination in 2012 and lost to Life of Pi. No nominations were given to Ultron.

Bottom line: Infinity War could find itself in the mix for Visual Effects and possibly even the Sound categories. Yet any real MCU love from voters will go to King T’Challa.