Avengers

⭐⭐⭐⭐½ averaged across 3 films.

tl;dr: The crossover events that defined the modern superhero genre and became a series of incredible films in their own right.

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Marvel Cinematic UniverseMarvel

Avengers Assemble

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

Just as funny and action-packed as I remember from the cinema, plus crammed full of Easter Eggs now. It's fascinating going back and watching a film from so early in the now universally known MCU and seeing background characters that you recognise from major roles in other films or the TV shows. The amount of known Hydra agents on board the helicarrier is insane in hindsight. Serious props to Fiege and everyone else involved for maintaining that level of continuity.

Otherwise, the introduction of Loki is kind of odd now. He's become such a well-known character, but at the time we'd only seen him in Thor, so some of his mannerisms now seem a little off. Still, the overall acting is spellbinding and the casting is fantastic, so I'll forgive the occasional "yeah, you'd do that better now" moment.

It also remains incredibly tight and funny. Marvel has had a run of brilliant films since the first Avengers, each upping the ante of the last, so it's impressive just how upped the ante already was at this point. The action still holds up to more modern films, the plot still works, and the humour is just as unrelenting and brilliant as I remembered.

It was a little funny re-watching one of the earliest post-credit scenes that really had people excited, though, as the Thanos reveal now just seems corny. However, the line by the leader of the Chitauri is not something I'd picked up on before; he specifically states that attacking Earth isn't as easy as promised, in fact it is like "courting death itself". That's a pretty huge statement, given Thanos' character background. In the comics he spends most of his life in service to, and in love with, Death (which, in the Marvel universe, is a real person; a woman). "Courting death" is what Thanos sees himself doing during the original Infinity War, which is done in her name to win her respect. So, saying waging war on Earth is like "courting death itself" is a pretty clear indication that Thanos now sees Earth, out of all of the planets in the galaxy, as a target worthy of his crusade.

Rewatch

Finally busted out the Bluray! Of course The Avengers still holds up, but going back to it with the full arc now done was a lot of fun. Not sure I agree that Loki has any "off" moments any more, but it does bug me a little now that Thanos effectively sends Loki to Earth to retrieve an infinity stone with another infinity stone. I'm not sure how much of a retcon the staff is but it just feels a little odd. I was also surprised at how well the Hulk's initial CGI still works; I'd actually say it's aged better than some of the later films, which increasingly creep towards the uncanny valley of looking too much like the underlying actor.

Oh, and that end credits sequence gets sillier each time. The fact they teased Thanos coming that early I think was a mistake; tease Thanos, sure, but it's the line saying he's coming himself which makes no sense. And yeah, I picked up on that whole "courting death" thing this time around, too, feels funny that they went in a totally different direction in the end. I'd also forgotten the opening sequence entirely, which felt a little weird now.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

Definitely the awkward middle child, Age of Ultron hasn't aged badly but the flaws are still very present. It definitely sits in the middle of the three heavily inter-related films (Assembled, Ultron, Civil War) and, as a bridge, it's not awful. As a standalone film though, it is far more forgettable then the source material should be.

I will say, though, that unlike Civil War, Age of Ultron seems to have fewer plot holes on rewatch. The twin's introduction makes more sense, as does their actions within the first Hydra base and on discovering Ultron's plan. I still feel the film doesn't do enough to patch up their relationship with the Avengers for Wanda to switch sides entirely by the movie's ending (especially after her brother has just died), but they came across as much more complete characters than I had remembered. Ultron equally benefits from a rewatch, feeling more like someone spiralling into madness then a talking deus ex machina to move the plot along to the next fight scene. In fact, the Hulkbuster scene also now feels a lot less tacked on and more integral to the plot. Plus the Vision remains completely awesome and worth the entire film just to have him pick up Thor's hammer.

However, Ulysses Klaues' introduction is a lot more dubious then I remembered, with Stark just seeing a photo and magically guessing that he is the lead they should chase down. Similarly, whilst very cool, Fury's reappearance with a helicarrier and a whole fleet of S.H.I.E.L.D personnel makes no sense. Beyond Maria Hill and himself, all of the others should either be dead, wanted or reemployed at other federal agencies that wouldn't exactly grant leave for that kind of thing. I know the existence of the helicarrier is explained in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, but the staff is not and bugged me a lot more than I remembered. Also, obligatory issue with the fact that this was a prime example of when the TV and movies could have crossed over seamlessly. Coulson may not be able to meet the Avengers again, but why not stick a couple of the others on the bridge? Even just in the background! They are the best agents S.H.I.E.L.D has but they weren't brought in for something important enough to blow Fury's cover as dead? Not buying it, Fiege, not buying it at all!

Rewatch

Rewatch

We've found a number of the earlier Marvel movies get better now that you have a more complete picture of who these characters are and how their arcs ultimately resolve (or have resolved so far, I guess). Age of Ultron turns out to be the same. I still think it's the weakest Avengers movie by a wide margin, but it's continuing to grow on me and I actually really enjoyed watching it again. Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver feel a lot more reasonable on each viewing, as does Ultron's motives. Yes, the Klaue moment is still a little dumb, but I minded the helicarrier a lot less this time around.

I did find the omission of Falcon from the final fight a bit weird. You bring in War Machine but not Falcon, the other dude who flys and is already in the movie? What's up with that? It also remains a massive waste of potential with Baron Strucker to me, even if that initial assault is an excellent set-piece. We also watched some of the extras which help explain what is going on with Thor's trip to the weird black pool, which I kinda wish they'd kept in, as well as some additional scenes with Wanda that help build her character out.

Overall, though, I find myself increasingly happy to forgive this movie its flaws just because of the big external plot points it helps hit. The introduction of Barton's family, the creation of Vision, the severing of the final act of the Hydra arc. Age of Ultron is a turning point in the MCU, the moment when the universe expands beyond the original core six heroes, stops focusing on the past and begins looking to the future, and ultimately becomes something much, much larger than it was. For that reason alone it's a great watch.

Avengers: Infinity War

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

Well, who would have thought that 2008's Iron Man would ultimately lead us here? Sure, it was a great superhero film, but that it would kick-off what has become, arguably, the greatest franchise ever and (partially) culminate in a record-breaking giant crossover? Seriously, no-one predicted that.

Because "giant" doesn't even begin to do Infinity War justice. Here we have a film which stars Robert Downey Jr, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christ Pratt, Scarlet Johannsen, Vin Diesel, Josh Brolin, Zoe Saldana, Chadwick Boseman, Peter Dinklage, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Paul Bettany and so, so many more that huge A-listers like Gwyneth Paltrow and Benicia Del Toro have roles that are practically uncredited! For sheer number of actors alone, it's crazy, but when you consider who they're playing, from Spider-Man to Nick Fury to Captain America to freaking Thanos... I mean, has there ever been a better time to be a comic book fan. Sure, Iron Man did well in cinemas, but to lead to big screen, beloved versions of Groot, Shuri or Ebony Maw? That's just awesome.

So with all that going on, Infinity War could, easily and understandably, have been a complete mess. Heck, even in the comics, events of this scale leave you feeling like plots are pushed forward at break-neck speed and favourite characters are left behind, and they're only restricted by page count. The fact that Infinity War avoids, pretty much across the board, those same kinds of criticism is nothing less than amazing. Yes, some characters get less screen time than others and, yes, there are even a couple of notable absences (on which, see below) and, final yes, you can argue that very few characters get real arcs or development, but the magic is that you don't notice. I notice it when I'm reading these types of events, but I didn't notice it at all here (again, see below for the couple of exceptions).

Somehow the Russo brothers have performed an almost perfect balancing act, bringing together a huge cast, each with their own desires, emotions and cinematic tones, and blended them together almost seamlessly. The teams that form largely feel organic, allowing plots to be broken apart and paced out naturally; the humour or emotions from one set playing off another, allowing them to remain distinct yet feel like part of a whole. Let's just say I'm extremely impressed and move on.

For the most part I feel like the character interactions make sense, picking up well from where we last saw each group in their own movies. I really liked that Wanda and Vision had been having a tryst and their conversation around it, whilst being a little forced for exposition in hindsight, did fill the viewers in nicely to the in-world timeline. Similarly, moments like Banner meeting Widow again after the events of Ragnarok and Civil War set them on such wildly different trails felt right and in keeping with their respective pasts. Others, where characters met for the first time, were largely well done, particularly Iron-Man's introduction to both Doctor Strange and the subset of Guardians on Titan. Seeing Stark have a battle of wits and intellect with Strange was brilliant, setting nice groundwork to build on in the future if required, whilst putting Tony right in the midst of friendly aliens (ignoring Thor for now) gives his own worries more nuance. Plus the humour in these sequences felt pretty spot-on; we still get the trademark Marvel punchlines, but they felt less intrusive than in previous Avengers instalments.

But what about those exceptions I mentioned above? Well, there are a couple. We have the absences of Hawkeye and Ant-Man, which I feel are explained well enough to be given a pass, but also individuals like Korg which I feel were just overlooked. At the end of Ragnarok we have Thanos arrive at the Asgardian arc; cut to the start of Infinity War and the battle is over, Heimdall and Loki are killed, Hulk cast back to Earth and Thor left for dead. So where are Korg and Valkyrie? They've just gone up against, and beaten, the living goddess of death, but they're completely absent here! Perhaps, as some have speculated, it was a deliberate decision and we'll see them in the fourth Avengers film, but it felt like a loose thread that was unnecessary. Even a shot of a departing escape pod would have been sufficient! Then there's the Hulk, who takes a brief beating before refusing to come back out. Sure, it leads to some memorable moments and great humour, plus it gives us more of slightly-manic Bruce Banner, which is fun, but it better have a pay-off in the next movie.

These are minor quibbles, however, and will hopefully be resolved in future films. Otherwise, there are a few lines of dialogue that miss the mark, a moment when Quill does the one thing that assures their destruction, which feels a little unfair, and a missed opportunity for Wakanda to unveil some more interesting weapons (at the very least some more battle rhinos!), but little that I disliked. The Vision feels a little under-powered for someone who is normally borderline omnipotent, but I'll forgive it because it makes the Black Order that extra bit menacing and it gives the final moments with Wanda and Thanos extra punch (plus Paul Bettany is a brilliant actor). I also really enjoyed the nod to fan theories that placed Red Skull back in the modern MCU, and to the general development of Thanos as a character with much more nuance than was strictly necessary (DC take note).

In fact, one of my few remaining niggles about the film was the ending. On the one hand, they killed off too many key characters for there not to be a mass-resurrection in the fourth film, which did reduce the sting of the loss somewhat, despite brilliant moments from the remaining cast. On the other, whilst I realise that I should be rooting for the good guys next summer, they almost did too good of a job showing Thanos' reasoning... to the point I almost agree. Sure, he's mad, and the film does a good job of creating a counter-point with the Vision and Cap's discussion about how any sacrifice of life is abhorrent, but he also has a fair point and a seemingly decent track record of testing his theories.

Still, am I psyched for film four and the true conclusion? Absolutely! Given which heroes remain (plus the couple extra ones that were skipped over and a special reveal at the end) it looks certain that we're getting ready for a big shake-up next time around. It will basically be the OG Avengers, plus Rocket, Nebula and War Machine (and Ant-Man, Wasp and Captain Marvel) working out how to revive the heroes from phase 2, 3 and 4... that seems like a perfect "passing of the torch" plotline to me. Whilst I believe all of the fallen heroes from Infinity War will be back (with the possible exception of two Asgardians) I think several of the remaining cast won't be making it to phase five, so it's still all to play for. Which is just yet another clever decision by the filmmakers.

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