With Doctor Strange I began to feel that the Marvel Movie Universe had “jumped the shark” in a way that echoed what happened to their comics line more than thirty years ago; and now Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 proves me right. It has considerably less entertainment value than a second-rate MARVEL TEAM-UP ANNUAL from the early ‘80s, cost about ten billion dollars more to produce, and takes three or four times as long to consume.
The thing that made Thanos such an interesting villain in the comics was that he was In Love: with the female Personification of Death. Literally, he was a moon-eyed Romantic who was killing off large swaths of the universe as an Offering to his Beloved Lady Death. That whole element has been washed clean in this movie, replaced by the thoroughly insipid "daughters with Daddy Issues" trope — this might resonate with teenage girls, but it’s nowhere near as compelling for anyone over the age of sixteen, and does a disservice both to the character, and to the character's creator, Jim Starlin. As my friend Bruce Canwell (editor extraordinaire at The Library of American Comics) pointed out to me, it changes Thanos from a Champion of Death to a Champion of Life, albeit a Life Champion with a twisted way of going about things.
People who never read comics back in the day mocked the medium as being silly and childish, but the fact is that this Marvel Movie Dumbs Down the comics source material in ways that I can neither accept nor forgive. I parted company with Marvel Comics way back in the early eighties because they broke faith with their audience and stopped being Relevant. Now in 2018 I part with the Movie Universe for the same reason.
Another Big Recent Disappointment was the Netflix-backed sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It just does simply not have the magic of Ang Lee’s original film, and wastes both Michelle Yeoh and Donnie Yen, two normally dazzling stars who turn in inexplicably lifeless performances here. I was looking forward to this because the original film is a big favorite of mine, and because the source material is so vast as to warrant a whole pantheon of movie adaptations. The new movie isn't egregiously bad: but where the original flies, this one lands like a dead lump of lead.
Traveling back and back down the spiral of time, we find things that are still well worth the viewing. I was ready either to sneer at or fall asleep on The Absent-Minded Professor, having never seen it before… but damn. It may not be Lawrence of Arabia, but there’s just something so pleasing about a perfectly realized and assured movie that accomplishes with flying colors the simple thing that it sets out to do… and this falls confidently into that category. Professor never fails to entertain from start to finish, and although it probably marked the end of his career as a serious actor, Fred MacMurray is top-notch here; smooth, confident, assured… delivering what’s needed in every single shot, bang on target whether the scene is comic or dramatic. If you grew up watching him on My Three Sons, rather than being exposed to his earlier work, you’d never imagine that he was so very proficient as a movie leading man.
The Absent-Minded Professor is a better movie than anything to come out of the Marvel Movie Universe in at least a couple of years now, by a wide margin. Of course it was made while Walt was still in full control over the studio. It reminds us that Walt was a talented showman above all else, who cared about the value of the product that he put out under his name. The Disney Company, the entity that has now existed independently of Walt for more years now than Walt himself ever controlled it, could learn a lot by studying the life and works of the man whose name they bear gracelessly and without dignity.
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