To Infinity – And Beyond!

And so, after 18 movies over the course of 10 years, we come to the end of the current Marvel Universe. It’s all been leading up to Avengers: Infinity War, with teaser appearances by big bad Thanos (Josh Brolin) salted through several of the previous movies. There was a certain amount of peril inherent in this strategy. What if Thanos didn’t measure up on the big screen? What if the climax proved anticlimactic?

The good news is Infinity War truly adds an exclamation point to the previous films. While a Marvel film is a hugely collaborative endeavor with plenty of oversight from producer and Marvel president Kevin Feige, along with Marvel’s owner, the Walt Disney Company, they do balance involvement with allowing their directors and screenwriters to breathe. Infinity War benefits from having Anthony and Joe Russo in the director’s chair – well, chairs. The brothers had worked on TV shows like “Arrested Development,” “Happy Endings,” and “Community,” along with films like Welcome to Collinwood and You, Me, and Dupree, before helming one of the best Marvel movies, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and following it up with the equally exciting Captain America: Civil War. They’ve shown an ability to tap into emotional truth and convey complex plots while still making an exciting and engrossing film.

Infinity War boasts the full roster of Marvel movie superheroes with two exceptions – Antman and Hawkeye. The massive cast could have created a headache for anyone trying to follow the story. However, Marvel veterans Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (who wrote all three Captain America movies, as well as created “Agent Carter” for TV) subdivide the cast and the action. The story shifts between several locations – some familiar, some new – with a contingent of the cast in each locale. Think of a large, succulent steak dinner sliced up into bite-size pieces, and you’ll get the idea.

I won’t go into any specifics of the plot, since there’s too great a chance for spoilers – that is, if you happen to be one of the few people who haven’t seen the movie yet. It blew up the records for opening weekend gross for both domestic and international box office. It has been mentioned in the past, though, that Infinity War represented the end of the series of movies over the past decade, meaning that no character had their future assured. Markus and McFeely underscore that in the very first scene.

There had been some criticism of Josh Brolin’s Thanos, based on his brief appearances in the other films. Some thought the embodiment was cartoonish (you could say). However, those concerns are squashed in the opening scene of Infinity War. What’s unexpected, though, is the fine performance Brolin gives, even beneath the CGI embodiment. While he’s an obsessed madman on a galactic scale, there are moments of aching sadness and signs of humanity – hopelessly twisted, but humanity all the same – deep within him.

The main characters are well-established now, but there are standouts in the movie. Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man started the whole Marvel Universe, but he had his best turn as the character in Captain America: Civil War. The screenwriters build on that experience as he is faced with a devastating loss. Tom Holland is one of the newest members of the Universe, yet his Spiderman is a pivotal part of the story. Thor: Ragnarok was a huge success for Chris Hemsworth a few months ago, and that movie sets up a large part of the arc of Infinity War’s story as he goes through the classic heroic plot of recreating himself to face a greater threat than he’s ever faced before.

The trailer I’ve attached does feature one scene that doesn’t appear in the movie. That’s often a negative for films – think Twister – though in this case it was important to keep a plot point hidden. (When you see the movie, you’ll understand,) While you have to be aware to catch it, Markus and McFeely have also answered what happened to the Red Skull after the climax of Captain America: The First Avenger.

Marvel has turned tags at the end of their movies into an art form, and they usually feature two these days, though Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was greedy and included six. Some are just fun, such as the last tag of Spider-man: Homecoming, but others build toward the next film or films. Infinity War has only one tag at the very end of the credits, but it’s a doozey, and leads directly to two films next year: Captain Marvel, with Brie Larson as the titular hero, and the still-untitled Avengers 4.

The only problem is, now we must wait a year.


The Best Revenge

Comics have not been kind to Ryan Reynolds. His first foray in a movie based on a comic book was 2004’s Blade: Trinity, where he was hard to see behind Wesley Snipes’ ego. In 2011 he starred as the DC Comics Green Lantern, which was a major misfire. The only good thing to say about it was it was the entrance to the DC Comic world of screenwriter and producer Greg Berlanti, who has since adapted Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow for the small screen. The less said about 2013’s R.I.P.D. the better – the title is almost too much by itself. Saddest, though, was 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, because he got to play a role he’d wanted to do for years, mercenary Wade Wilson (a.k.a. the Merc with a mouth and, more importantly, Deadpool). The movie messed with the character, grafting on other X-Men powers to Deadpool and, worse, sewing his mouth shut. For a character whose dialogue is a large part of his appeal, silencing him was a blunder – nothing unusual for that movie. But Reynolds continued to hope to redo the role, even doing a 3-minute test film in 2012. 20th Century Fox, the studio with the rights to the X-Men system of the Marvel Universe, showed the test to fans two years later and it garnered great excitement. Based on that response the studio finally greenlit Deadpool, with Reynolds as both star and producer.

Fox didn’t make it easy, which is something they have historically done (as fans of “Firefly” or “Dollhouse” can attest). They gave the film a miniscule budget in comparison to other superhero movies, and then cut additional millions from it so the final amount was around $58 million. In comparison, X-Men Origins: Wolverine had a budget of $150 million. Reynolds cut his own salary to make the movie, and they had to rewrite the script to take out other X-men characters as well as scenes that they could no longer afford. First-time director Tim Miller had only made two short films in the early 2000s, though one of them was nominated for a short subject Oscar. Following that he went into visual effects for games, developing “Mass Effect 2” and “Star Wars – The Old Republic”. The movie is rated R rather than PG-13 like almost every other superhero movie. The last superhero movie to get an R was Punisher: War Zone, which bombed in 2008.

But the best revenge is to prove the doubters wrong, and that’s what Ryan Reynolds has done. Deadpool grossed almost triple its budget in the first weekend, and it received a 8.7 out of 10 rating from IMDb and a Rotten Tomatoes audience rating of 95%, a better score than Marvel’s The Avengers. Miller now has the record for the highest grossing debut feature film ever, beating out the co-director of Shrek the Third. And as a final payoff, a sequel has been announced, likely for next year.

The basic plot is the Deadpool origin story. Former Special Forces soldier Wade Wilson is a mercenary who survives by taking enforcer gigs in New York City. If you need someone to stop a stalker who’s been threatening you, Wilson’s the guy. He frequents a bar run by his friend Weasel (TJ Miller) where he meets Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). He falls hard for her, and she for him. They’re deliriously happy until Wilson is felled again, this time by cancer that has spread through his organs. At the bar he meets the Recruiter (Jed Rees) who offers to heal the cancer and give him super powers. Wilson agrees, but then discovers the head of the project, Ajax (Ed Skrien), and his assistant Angel Dust (Gina Carano) intend to turn him into a super slave. A forced mutation turns him physically ugly while giving him the power to heal and even regenerate limbs. Wilson manages to escape and takes the name Deadpool while he seeks out Ajax for revenge.

The great fun with both the comic book and the movie, though, is that Deadpool knows he’s a fictional character. He constantly breaks the fourth wall by addressing the audience directly with his snarky comments as well as referring to items outside the comic book world. For instance, when the X-man Colossus says he’s taking Deadpool to Professor Xavier, Deadpool shoots back, “Which one: Stewart or McAvoy?” The audience knows right from the start this is not your typical movie, since the opening credits are from Deadpool’s perspective with generic descriptions (such as “Producers: A Couple of Asshats”) while the camera pans through violent close-ups in the middle of a car crash, all set to the song “Angel of the Morning” by Juice Newton. There are so many items referenced in the movie, the DVD commentary will likely run three times the length of the movie.

The crazy thing is, it works as an adventure story, a superhero original tale, and as wicked comedy – you could even throw in romance story and Hollywood insider commentary as well. Director Miller has pulled off a high-wire balancing act the equivalent of the Flying Wallendas. It helped that the comic was adapted for the screen by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who pulled off a similar trick with Zombieland. (The opening credits call the screenwriters “the real heroes here.”) Reynolds also did some uncredited work on the script, and the actors were allowed to improvise in some scenes, but it all blends together into a movie that’s fresh, irreverent, exceptionally violent but also heartfelt.

The bottom line is it’s fun. It won’t be everyone’s shot of wry whiskey (pun intended), but if you like Marvel movies, or comedies such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, you’ll likely get to the end of Deadpool with your mouth hurting from smiling and laughing so much. And do make sure you watch all the way to the end of the real credits – it’s worth it.