Look, I’m well aware that the Internet doesn’t need another person talking about Avengers: Infinity War. I have no defense. But I saw that and I saw Solo, and I’m going to go on a bit. Since Infinity War has been out for a while, there will be spoilees. Solo has only had a couple of weekends so I’ll be a little more delicate in that case.
So here’s the thing. Infinity War is really fun. And it’s good. The thing is, though, it really shouldn’t be. You can quibble that it’s half a movie, but that’s dumb. Yes, the next one probably should be called Infinity War Part 2, but it’s as much a full movie as a Kill Bill or the last installments in the Harry Potter or Hunger Games series. I mean, once the follow-up comes out they’re going to be paired together for the rest of time, but you pay your money and you get an entire moviegoing experience.
But there are so many reasons why it shouldn’t work. The massive cast, many of whom brought supporting cast along for the ride. And the fact that it’s the 19th Marvel movie and there are no concessions fore anybody who hasn’t seen at least 13 or 14 of the others. Given how successful they’ve been, that’s not an unrealistic assumption, but it’s still a risky move. And, well, it incorporates some pretty dumb stuff from Marvel’s history. Some people venerate the Infinity Gauntlet miniseries that inspired the movie, but I’m not one of them. It’s a bunch of very well-drawn nonsense. And I’ve never once been excited about one-note villain Thanos showing up in anything ever. They even get Spider-Man’s “Iron Spider” suit, which was an eyerolling misstep in the comics. But just like with Civil War, where they turned some mean-spirited and dumb as rocks comics into something genuinely fun, Infinity War turned out to be good.
It’s dangerous – Marvel the publisher pushed themselves into bankruptcy with constant crossovers and big events that required you to read twenty comics that you wouldn’t have read otherwise. Because once that happens, more and more people are going to decide not to read zero issues of that crossover. Marvel the studio has seemingly unlimited goodwill, but if we keep getting big events that require you to watch everything, they’re going to burn through it pretty quickly. This is something they can do once, and so they have to do it right. Fortunately, Marvel the studio seems a lot smarter than Marvel the publisher and makes consistently better choices.
The other potential source of worry is, well, death. A lot of people die in this movie. Most of them, true, in an easily overturned way which will definitely be overturned unless you think next year’s Spider-Man sequel is going to be all about Ned and Aunt May reminiscing about Peter. There are more concrete deaths in there – Loki and Heimdall seem to be out of the picture and Gamora certainly seems dead (though my prediction is that she’s in the Soul Stone since they never really say what that one does). They have to be careful about treating death as a temporary state – the funeral of Yondu works because Yondu is dead. In comics, we’d all be ready for him to return inside of six months. Once you lose that impact, it’s gone.
Beyond that, there are plenty of rumors that some of the O.G. Avengers are going to die in a permanent way because their contracts are up and Chris Hemsworth would like to eat a carb. If they do that instead of recasting, I think the worst thing they can do is pass the mantle on to another character. You know, Winter Soldier becomes the new Captain America. Shuri becomes the new Iron Man. That kind of thing. The problem with doing that is that you create the idea that anybody can be (fill in character name) and what’s important is just a name and a costume. That’s a mistake that Marvel the publisher has made again and again, to the extent that there are multiple people who are Wolverine at any given time. The movies work because we care about Tony Stark or Steve Rogers as people. And, you know, turning an existing character into another existing character means now you have one character generating stories (and revenue) instead of two. It’s bad business. But these are all things that might happen. They haven’t yet and for now we have this long as hell movie with a downer ending that’s still genuinely fun.
It’s fun to see characters meet for the first time. In comics, all these people have met dozens of times and Spider-Man goes to space a couple of times a year. But here they find real joy in Stark meeting Stephen Strange or Thor running into the Guardians of the Galaxy. And as great as the Thor / Star-Lord stuff was, Hemsworth went and did the best acting of his life opposite a CG raccoon. Everbody sounds and acts like they’re supposed to, which is an achievement in and of itself. Drax is recognizably Drax. Peter Parker is the guy we all watched last year. It works very well on that level and finds some really clever character bits. (Rocket really wants Bucky’s mechanical arm.)
The jokes land and the action scenes are good. Even when everything is chaos, the Russos have everything in its place. There’s a bit where Iron Man and his motley crew are fighting Thanos on the other end of the universe and man, that is a really solid fight scene. All of the moving parts make sense and everything fits together with an identifiable strategy. It’s fun to watch.
There are some nice surprises along the way, most notably the Red Skull showing up. That drew an audible gasp. Nobody expected to see that guy again. There are fun Easter Eggs like Tony suggesting “Morgan” as a good baby name. (At one point, it was established future continuity that Tony’s son was Morgan and his grandson was Arno Stark, the Iron Man of 2020. And yes, I go back to when that seemed like a long time in the future.) Peter Dinklage’s appearance is really effective and the nature of his character was a nice surprise. And no matter who your favorite character is, they probably got a “Hell yeah!” moment.
And while Thanos’ servants were maybe not as well developed as I’d like, it’s pretty rad that they got Carrie Coon as Proxima Midnight. And with the Leftovers-style ending, I have to think that was an intentionally clever bit of casting.
It’s a big crazy corporate movie where everybody is on their game, and it is blowing my mind that it exists. This could have been just an open cash grab and still made a jillion dollars, but the fact that they made something fun and clever and satisfying is laudable. And man, am I ever looking forward to seeing Ant-Man and Hawkeye get involved. I mean, Captain Marvel, too. But she’s being presented as the person who can save them. I want to see what those two weirdos bring to the table.
As for Solo, well, it was a blast. The change in directors was a troubling sign (though turmoil didn’t seem to have hurt Rogue One) and yeah, the people who are mad about The Last Jedi have decided to be mad at everything about Star Wars because they don’t actually like the franchise and only care about things that reinforce their worldview. So Solo was going to have its haters. (Hilariously the anti-TLJ crowd, especially the ones who want all their heroes to be white men, are turning on the first Disney Star Wars movie with a white male lead.)
But put that aside. Forget the politics and the behind the scenes, and it’s a really enjoyable movie about young Han Solo. Is it a story that demanded to be told? No. It’s a minor side-story, but a relatively low-stakes space heist is right up my alley. In fact, with all the talk about a gangster on Tattooine trying to make a name for himself, I desperately want to see Jabba’s Eleven. You know what? I want to write Jabba’s Eleven. Let’s make it happen, Kathleen Kennedy!
The thing is, despite the pre-emptive hate, Solo is a love letter to the franchise. And not just the parts everybody likes. We get mentions of Aurra Singh (a minor character created mostly for merchandising) and Teras Kasi (a martial arts style from a very bad PS1-era fighting game). It’s the first time anybody in a movie actually says the name “Bossk”. My Expanded Universe knowledge is fading fast (but not fast enough because I still remember Dash Rendar), but the much more knowledgeable Jordan Scott informed me that Han’s brief time as an Imperial and the way he meets Chewbacca is in line with previously established EU lore. They cover why Billy Dee Williams pronounced “Han” with a short “a” all the time. (Short version: Lando’s kind of a dick.) We see the Kessel Run, and there’s an explanation for the “twelve parsecs” line.
I’m a big fan of original directions Philip Lord and Chris Miller, and there are bits that jump out as being theirs. (“That’s a rock. And you just made that clicking noise with your mouth.”) But replacement director Ron Howard is a pro, and he’s a guy who doesn’t really have a signature style. His style is clear storytelling and being good at directing. So you’re not going to spend the whole time picking out who directed what. Except for Clint Howard’s cameo. You know full well who made that happen.
It’s good to see a Star Wars movie that’s not about the fate of the galaxy. If the franchise continues after Episode IX, it’s going to have to get into stories that aren’t about the Rebels vs. the Trade Federation / Empire / First Order. And it’s the first movie not to mention the Force or Jedi at all. Which is smart because the original Star Wars treats it as a long-forgotten religion (Han himself calls it ancient) and then the prequels have Jedi as a prominent force in the universe less than twenty years earlier. But Solo tells a story divorced from that and you buy that original Han maybe wouldn’t know much about it. It’s also the first thing outside of, believe it or not, the Star Wars Holiday Special to show us even a glimpse of what daily life is like under the Empire. Also, at one point it looked like Solo was going to explicitly contradict the Holiday Special, but then it doesn’t. In fact, there’s an appearance by a Wookie with a weird face that looks a lot like one of Chewbacca’s chintzy family members. Make no mistake, the Holiday Special is very bad, but the idea of keeping it in continuity is hilarious.
Alden Ehrenreich has a tough job ahead of him, playing an icon line that. But he also stole a Coen Bros. movie from Channing Tatum and George Clooney, so he’s got something. I thought he did a great job of selling Han’s swagger before he had the talent to back it up. But then I realized that every time that Han thought he was going to talk or bluff his way out of trouble in the original trilogy, he failed spectacularly. That’s kind of the glory of Harrison Ford. We grew up thinking Han Solo and Indiana Jones were amazing and the fact is that they blow it a lot. He is, of course, overshadowed by Donald Glover as Lando because that’s exactly the sort of genius casting that everybody can get behind. Woody Harrelson and Paul Bettany are very good at what they do, and Bettany’s Dryden Vos in particular is a welcome addition to the galaxy. Emilia Clarke’s Qi’ra is definitely in her comfort zone, but she’s still good. And Fleabag‘s Phoebe Waller-Bridge steals the dang movie as activist droid L3-37. Holy cats, do I ever love that character. Also, she did the motion capture on set, so I hope she and Donald Glover had a chance to bond over what its like to be good at everything.
I feel like it’s maybe a little longer than it needs to be, but that’s what movies are these days. It’s a fun addition to the canon and maybe the weirdest thing they’ve done since Disney took over. I think something that’s overlooked about the recent movies is the way they let Darth Vader (in Rogue One) and now Chewbacca be the way we’ve always pictured them. In the original trilogy, their movement is pretty limited because they’re played by giants in uncomfortable and restrictive costumes. But now we get to see Darth Vader tear through a hallway of dudes and we get to watch Chewbacca actually fight. We always knew it was cool when he threw punches and now it actually happens.
And I’m going to keep this vague, but a prequel character turns up in a surprising way and I’m genuinely interested to see where their story goes. That’s when I realized something – I don’t hate the prequels anymore. I’m not a fan and I can’t imagine sitting down to watch them again, but they’re just movies that I don’t like. They used to be half of all the Star Wars movies, so the fact that I didn’t like them pretty much took me out of Star Wars fandom, which made me mad. (Not the kind of mad where I hassle people – there are some a-holes in fandom who made and still make the lives of people who play characters they don’t like miserable. I don’t like Phantom Menace, but don’t pick on Jake Lloyd, you know?) Now there are ten movies that I like in varying degrees. They’ve largely smoothed over the parts where the prequels mess with the themes of the series, and now they’re just movies that don’t mean much to me but if you like them, cool. I dreaded seeing any prequel elements pop up, even rolling my eyes at the mention of Darth Sidious in TLJ. But this character turned up and I was happy to see him. Turns out, the Star Wars franchise is very big and you don’t have to love all of it. Nobody expects you to be a fan of every James Bond movie. So prequels, I have no beef with you. I still think Jar Jar Binks is a horribly misconceived character but he doesn’t ruin the movies he isn’t in. That may be a spoilee that the character who turns up isn’t Jar Jar, so that’s my bad.
The point is, the sheer amount of Star Wars means that the stuff I don’t like doesn’t bother me anymore. And Solo helped me realize that, so not only did I have a good time watching it, I may be more mentally healthy as a result. That’s a lot to ask of a movie, frankly.