The Beginning is the End is the Beginning

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SPOILERS AHEAD

What else can I say about Avengers: Infinity War that hasn’t already been said? Truly, it’s one of the year’s first triumphs, and in my loving and critical eyes, an early candidate for Best Motion Picture of the Year – pick your ceremony.

The stakes are as high as they’ve ever been in this film; Thanos (Josh Brolin, True Grit) has brought planets to their knees in the name of finding the Infinity Stones, and we open with his massacre of the Asgardian survivors (last seen in Thor: Ragnarok). Thor (Chris Hemsworth, Rush) is left for dead, but Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo, Begin Again) manages to escape. Sheer luck lands him in the New York sanctum in front of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, Parade’s End) and Wong (Benedict Wong, Marco Polo). With all hell about to break loose, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr., The Judge) is called in to help, but his won’t be enough – scattered, The Avengers must reteam after their Civil War and ally with the Guardians of the Galaxy to fight a war that will determine the fate of existence.

The heroes of this equation are at their best – Spider-Man (Tom Holland, The Lost City of Z) continues to prove his worth as an Avenger and is no longer the annoying Jamie Bell clone he once was in Captain America: Civil War. What’s more, Stark is well-written this time around (and it only took two writers!), and is once again a character I care about. Returning to the films is, at last, Captain America (Chris Evans, Puncture), now bearded, pissed off and ready for round two with an alien menace. Unexpected standouts include Vision (Paul Bettany, A Knight’s Tale) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen, Kodachrome), the star-crossed lovers of the MCU, facing their hardest test yet – remember, Vision holds the Mind Stone in his head. The lynchpins, however, to this film are Star-Lord (Chris Pratt, The Magnificent Seven) and Gamora (Zoë Saldana, Star Trek Beyond), who hold the key to survival or death of all they love — Saldana especially is at her best as Thanos’ adopted warprize, seeking vengeance and then some.

Again, this is the ballsiest film in the history of comic book movies; more daring than Watchmen or even The Avengers, if for nothing more than this is a saddening film. True, there are jokes in this film, but not in the Justice League sense; they bring some levity to the film, but by and large, this is a David and Goliath story where Goliath wins — mercilessly. The emotion is sold to the audience by both the sincerity of its heroes as well as its villain — Brolin is at the top of his game as the sadistic titan, obsessed with balancing life in the universe through xenocide. He brings to a 2D drawing the drive and mania of a terrorist mastermind sight unseen since the late Heath Ledger’s Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight — exuding menace and filling the IMAX screen the movie was designed for, but all you can do is wonder what his next move will be.

Speaking of, if you live within the vicinity of an IMAX theater, cough up the $20 and see it in the way it was shot — this is the first major motion picture to be filmed entirely in IMAX; to see it in a lesser format is a waste of money. All this innovative story and tech is thanks to three people — Kevin Feige, erstwhile producer and president of Marvel Studios, and Joe & Anthony Russo, directors and favorite sons of Cleveland, Ohio. These men dare to dream big for characters they so love and aren’t afraid to both let us have fun and make us cry. Grounded in fantastic realism, we believe in the morals of these heroes, and when they fall, we mourn for them, but heroes rise again — they always get the last word, and you haven’t heard the last of The Avengers yet.

Rating: 5/5

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The tribute is only… logical!

If space is the final frontier, may it go on forever! Under the unexpected hands of the Fast & Furious series’ Justin Lin, the rebooted Star Trek films have hit a series high in this year’s 50th Anniversary Extravaganza — Star Trek Beyond. The film’s predecessor, Star Trek Into Darkness, represented a disappointment for many fans, myself included — from a white Khan to a cop-out ending, Into Darkness was a misstep on almost every front. That is not the case with this film!

With three years into the Enterprise‘s five-year mission, not all is well aboard. Her captain, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), is burdened with doubts about his ability to lead the crew and live up to his late father’s reputation — how’s that for a birthday present? — while Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto, American Horror Story: Asylum) is doubled down with the death of an old friend and a break-up with his girlfriend/crewmate Nyota Uhura (Zoë Saldana, Guardians of the Galaxy), and the rest of the ship’s compatriots aren’t faring much better. On arrival to a starbase to resupply, the crew is tasked with a mission on a distant and uncharted planet, where old dangers and new allies await.

The production history behind Star Trek Beyond is a fairly tumultuous one — once set to be written and directed by Roberto Orci (co-writer of the previous installments), his  departure warranted both a new director and, in Paramount’s eyes, a new script, this time from Scotty himself, Simon Pegg (Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation), and relative newcomer Doug Jung. Their script channels the best the series has to offer, and still offer a film that may well be remembered as a classic. In point of fact, I was reminded more than once of two classic films — The Great Escape and Stalag 17 — that no doubt played a great hand in the writing of this film, as a prison camp setting with a motorcycle chase scene is no doubt cut from the same cloth!

My only gripe with the story is the villain, a dark and creepy one (what else?) called Krall. Played by the one and only Idris Elba (The Jungle Book), we never seem to know his motivation or the full circumstances of his being a villain. He seems something of a mashup between Star Trek‘s Nero and Star Trek: Insurrection‘s Ru’afo — make of that what you will — but we know littler about Krall than we do the aforementioned two.

Still, the decision to hire Pegg and Jung paid off brilliantly, as bringing new blood to this film only helps it shed the ghosts of its predecessor while bringing a fresh eye to the franchise in the form of director Justin Lin. Those fearing the “car chase” mentality of the Fast & Furious films need not worry — if anything, Lin brings his knowledge of a series’ cast and the feeling of family it implies, both during and after a take. Sign him for more, Paramount!

Speaking of family, a new addition to the crew in this film is a welcome one in the form of the mysterious hunter Jaylah (Sofia Boutella, Kingsman: The Secret Service), who takes a shine to engineering and, of course, to Scotty! Ms. Boutella brings some much-loved mirth and ingenuity to the film, and I do hope we see more of her in coming sequels! The remaining crew, most notably Bones (Karl Urban, Dredd) and Ensign Chekov (Anton Yelchin, Green Room), are given much greater material than they had in Into Darkness, and redeem the beloved nature of their characters. On that note, be prepared to cry buckets in regard to a couple of tributes to their respective crewmembers.

I was reminded by a friend recently about how Gene Roddenberry was a visionary ahead of his time, and on the 50th Anniversary of his series’ genesis, I feel he’d be proud of this tribute, both to his work and his belief in the endurance of the human race. I can’t wait for more Trek following Beyond, but if producer J.J. Abrams is anyone to go by (and he is), it truly will go where no one has gone before!

Rating: 4.5/5