Short takes: Avengers: Infinity War & You Were Never Really Here

Avengers: Infinity War — My distaste for the third Avengers film is due in part to my overall fatigue with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Since 2008’s Iron Man, the MCU has become an ubiquitous presence at the movies. Over the last decade, we’ve seen at least one, and often more, of these movies almost every year. They built toward 2012’s The Avengers, uniting the core characters of the previous movies (if you’re not familiar with them at this point, congratulations) for a city-destroying epic. Then they continued building (and destroying), with individual installments culminating in another Avengers film in 2015.

These movies are often exhausting in their mediocrity; generically constructed, often interchangeable battle sequences are peppered throughout blandly sinister attempts to destroy the world. The best movies in the MCU (Ant-Man, Black Panther, the second installments of Captain America and Guardians of the Galaxy) are often the ones that have narratives that hone in on building a specific cinematic world rather than a universe. Directorial personality doesn’t hurt, either.

More than either of the previous Avengers installments, Infinity War is a nauseatingly overwrought story that builds to a pummeling, world-destroying climax. There is too much of what makes these movies blur together and not enough of what makes some of them stand out. Mashing together the Avengers with crews from Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther et al turns Infinity War into an unassailable colossus not unlike its central villain, Thanos (Josh Brolin).

As he journeys across space in a continued search for Infinity Stones (magical rocks that will allow him to control the universe), directors Anthony and Joe Russo hop between various super hero factions as they try to stop him. Many of the characters converge in Wakanda, the hidden African utopia of Black Panther, where they clash with Thanos’ menacingly ugly alien minions.  Though this crucial sequence is directed with intensity and urgency, nearly everything that precedes it is relentlessly dull exposition. There are flairs of personality, especially in the segments that involve Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy, but they are overwhelmed by the movie’s generic excess. Grade: C-

You Were Never Really Here– The films of Lynne Ramsay are splintered journeys into troubled psyches. The elliptical editing and often overwhelming sound design that define Morvern Callar and We Need to Talk About Kevin show her protagonists’ psyches both fractured and in the process of fracturing. They are fever dreams about violence and its aftermath, as is her latest, You Were Never Really Here.

Structured around the disturbed war veteran Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) and his attempt to free a Senator’s young daughter from sex trafficking, You Were Never Really Here avoids catharsis, instead burrowing into Joe’s deliberate, increasingly unhinged world. Ramsay punctuates the bloodshed of his present with brief flashes of past traumas during war and when he was a child. Phoenix gives a quietly volatile performance that erupts with moments of uncontrollable shaking; he and Ramsay show that Joe’s violence against the movie’s institutional grime is a distraction from self harm. He doesn’t quite teeter into full madness, but the edge of it is terrifying enough. Grade: B

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