In Avengers: Infinity War, Joe and Anthony Russo accomplish many small miracles on the way towards crafting one of the most interesting films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Though previous iterations of the Flagship Get-Together Movie have buckled under the weight of too many characters with too much to do (Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: Civil War, especially), Infinity War deftly isolates characters into distinct groups, thereby localizing their stories, goals, and actions. Furthermore, though practically every film in the MCU brandishes a makeshift villain, Infinity War finally gives us Thanos, a three-dimensional and fascinating villain with a cabal of sadistic and distinct generals. The action set pieces are all up to the same high standard that we have come to expect from the MCU, and the new interactions between old characters add some nice spice to the film. Avengers: Infinity War shouldn’t work; it should be too big, too busy, and too safe, bursting for the seems with one too many formulaic superhero movie tropes. Instead, it is the perfect distillation of what the MCU should be: fun heroes, terrifying villains, and high stakes.
The first quarter of 2018 is squarely in the books, and a State of the Blog post here on Plot and Theme is long overdue. If you do not recall from earlier, I decided to move these from a monthly basis towards a quarterly basis, which basically just means that there’s way more to talk about. First, I’ll delve into the cool flicks that I saw early this year. Then, I’ll detail the neat things to look forward to over the next quarter (so, through June). Finally, we’ll go over some bookkeeping here on the blog.
In Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan tells three inter-twined stories of differing lengths and at different speeds, showing how the terrors of war and heroic acts associated with it can exist on various time scales. There are instantaneous acts of heroism, the bread and butter of war films, but also more considered, lengthy heroics on day or week-long scales. Nolan ties them all together by interweaving all three timelines into three separate but related stories of the Battle of Dunkirk. This structure is the overwhelming brilliance of Dunkirk, but Nolan also manages to pack each story line with startling action film-making on land, sea, and air. The result is a masterwork of structure, pacing and storytelling, replete with themes of warfare, heroism, and the true meaning of victory.
There’s an underlying kernel of irony at the center of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The film is the freshest film in the Star Wars franchise since George Lucas decided to add to the original trilogy. For all its flaws, it pushes the boundaries of the universe in many different directions, intent on being something new. At the same time, it is the tenth film in the franchise (three originals, three prequels plus the Clone Wars animated film, and the two Disney films). The routine solution for the tension between old and new has always been to side with the established lore of the franchise, occasionally to ridiculous levels. To the chagrin of many fans of the franchise, writer-director Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper) bucks this trend violently.
The Thor franchise may be the most unbalanced in all of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), home to what is perhaps the worst film in the whole MCU (Thor: The Dark World) as well as one of the stronger and more distinctive origin stories. Counting those two films and the Avengers movies, Thor: Ragnarok would be the fifth appearance of the God of Lightning, at it was entirely possible that the character and the particular comedic tone surrounding him would start to feel a little stale. Fortunately, we have Taika Waititi – a visionary comedic filmmaker perfectly at home playing in the MCU’s ever-expanding sandbox.
Remember how Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a James Franco-laden disaster with John Lithgow wandering around forgetting everything and apes rampaged over the Golden Gate bridge being attacked by police helicopters? How far we’ve come. This Planet of the Apes reboot may be one of the most artistically successful reboots of a beloved franchise in the history of Hollywood, and it is almost entirely on the strength of the final two films – first with 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and now with War for the Planet of the Apes.