Film and drama

Screen Themes: Comic book movie villains and Avengers: Infinity War

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It’s almost 2.5 hours long and has over 50 major characters — but how does it stack up from a creative perspective? Entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out Avengers: Infinity War and ponders great bad guys.

Avengers: Infinity War

Directed by Joe & Anthony Russo (2018)

You have to hand it to Kevin Feige. The uber-producer and current head of Marvel Studios got his start in movies as an associate producer on Blade and the first X-Men film due to his extensive knowledge of comic books and geek culture. Less than 20 years later, he has built Marvel Studios into a juggernaut and been responsible for producing some of the highest-grossing movies in history. Feige was also smart enough to hire the relatively untested Russo brothers to take the Marvel universe in a darker direction.

Featuring almost every superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (with a couple of notable exceptions), Infinity War is the 19th film in current continuity and tells the story of the Avengers battle against godlike supervillain Thanos (Josh Brolin). With a mission of radical population control that would make Dick Smith blush (or simply kill half the population), Thanos sets his sites on Earth — putting him on a collision course with Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and the extended Avengers team.

In terms of tone, Infinity War is akin to The Empire Strikes Back and may well be the darkest Marvel movie since Captain America: The Winter Soldier (also directed by the Russo brothers). There is action aplenty, some nice character beats and some laugh out loud moments (mainly from Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy), but overall Infinity War is about the sacrifices of conflict rather than the glory.

While it is hard to nominate standout players in such a packed cast, both Evans and Downey Jr are excellent, as is Benedict Cumberbatch as third-lead Doctor Strange. Tom Holland continues to balance humour and heroism as Spider-Man and Chris Pratt is able to have some fun at his own expense as the least-buff Chris in the film. Balancing out all the testosterone, Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) and Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch) are great, but perhaps the most surprising performance in the movie comes from the bad guy.

Gradually maturing into one of the best actors of his generation, Josh Brolin portrays a nuanced Thanos, equally convincing as the merciless conqueror and conflicted father. The fact that the Russo brothers (along with the 11 credited writers) give Brolin adequate screen time to build a rounded character is admirable, although it does add to the already lengthy running time.

Of course, with the plethora of main characters, some are going to get less screen time than others and viewers hoping for an insight into what makes War Machine (Don Cheadle) tick will be sorely disappointed. Likewise, Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) and Drax (Dave Bautista) don’t have a lot to do — but at least they fared better than a certain Ant-Man, who didn’t even get invited to the party.

Oh, and for the sharp-eyed fans who noticed that Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) didn’t appear on any of the promo materials, despite having a major role in the last Avengers movie… there’s a reason for that. Not a good reason per se, but a reason all the same.

Well worth seeing on the big screen, Avengers: Infinity War is a blockbuster with heart and a decent villain, which is something of a rarity in comic book movies.

Avengers: Infinity War – 8/10

Top Five Comic Book Movie Villains — The Best

It has been said that everyone loves the bad guy, but that is less true if the bad guy is a CGI nightmare with all the personality of a potato. Here are some of the best and worst villains from comic book movies.

5. General Zod (Terence Stamp) — Superman II

There is something indisputably classy about Terence Stamp’s General Zod. The classically trained actor embraced the role of the superior being and elevated Superman II to legendary status. If a superhero is only as good as their nemesis, then General Zod brought out the best in Christopher Reeves’ Superman — which is more than you can say about the CGI monstrosity at the bottom of this article.  

4. The Vulture (Michael Keaton) — Spiderman: Homecoming

I have spoken at length in the past about the renaissance of Michael Keaton, marked by bravura performances in movies like Birdman, The Founder and Spotlight. The former caped crusader brings believability and a subtle menace to his Vulture — he’s like every over-protective father who also happens to be a psychopath with a mechanical wing-suit.

3. Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina) — Spiderman 2

It’s easy to picture Alfred Molina as a Merchant/Ivory-type actor, but the classically trained Brit has covered an enormous amount of territory in his career, from high-end fare like Frida and Chocolat to more populist fare like Boogie Nights. He’s also done a huge amount of TV and voice work including Robot Chicken and Rick & Morty, which shows he has a decent sense of humour. He is also the best thing in the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man series by a significant margin.

2. Thanos (Josh Brolin) — Avengers: Infinity War

A giant purple CGI creation who looks like Mr Potato Head, Thanos could have gone the way of Steppenwolf or Doomsday. Instead, the galactic warlord is presented as a complex character, motivated not by power but what he perceives as the greater good of the universe. Sure, he’s a mass murderer, but Josh Brolin imbues him with a sense of tarnished humanity and genuine pathos.

1. The Joker (Heath Ledger) — The Dark Knight

Prior to The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger was an actor on the rise, having broken out from teen fare like 10 Things I Hate About You to more challenging roles like Monster's Ball and Brokeback Mountain. Despite his growing acting chops, few could have predicted Ledger’s incendiary turn as The Joker, taking a familiar character and turning him into a force of nature. Absolutely magnetic every time he’s on screen, Ledger essayed the definitive Joker and reduced Christian Bale’s Batman to a supporting character in his own movie.  

Honourable mentions: Erik Killmonger (Michael B Jordan), Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Magneto (Ian McKellen).

Top 5 Comic Book Movie Villains — The Worst

5. The faceless hordes

From scores of Ultrons, hundreds of Parademons, battalions of Chitauri warriors and a shitload of whatever the hell those things were in Suicide Squad, the faceless horde trope is so prevalent that it’s hard to find a big comic book movie that doesn’t rely on it for the climactic action scene. The problem with this is that it’s hard for a viewer to care about Aquaman punching the latest disposable bad guy and there is zero plausibility that one of these randoms will make a dent in our heroes.

4.  Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) – Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice

Forever destined to be known as the Lex Luthor who wasn’t as good as Gene Hackman but at least wasn’t a child molester, Jesse Eisenberg plays the tech super genius like Mark Zuckerberg after a dozen cans of Red Bull. Only saved from being the worst part of a bad movie by the star of this list, Isenberg’s twitchy performance makes you think of Lex Luthor as a petulant teenager rather than a master manipulator.

3. Mr Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) — Batman & Robin

Four words: Ice to see you".

2. Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) – Justice League

When I heard that Ciaran Hinds had been cast as the bad guy in the new Justice League movie, I was excited. The Irish actor known for his intensity in movies like Munich and TV shows like Rome and Game of Thones had the potential to do something a little different and then they rendered him in crappy CGI and gave him one of the most generic bad guy scripts ever. Nice work, DC.

1. Doomsday (Robin Atkin Downes) – Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice

Comic book Doomsday was terrifying, a genuine threat who would kill the most powerful superhero in the world after a battle like none before. Movie Doomsday looked like Mr Hankey on steroids and had as much menace as a newborn puppy. It would be unfair to blame voice actor Robin Atkin Downes for the performance, as he did a perfectly serviceable line in unintelligible growling, but unfortunately, his name will be forever linked with the worst villain in comic book movie history…

Dishonourable mentions: Electro (Jamie Foxx), The Joker (Jared Leto), Dr Doom (Julian McMahon)

Books by John Turnbull are available on Amazon and Kindle, including supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame; action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: EuropeDamnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in paperback in the IA store HERE (free postage).

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