Rousing Endgame an Epic Adventure in Comic Book Fan Service
I can say this with conviction: Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) who have studied, analyzed, debated and discussed every little nuance of every film in the series from 2008’s Iron Man all the way up to this past March’s Captain Marvel, all of those who let out shocked gasps of outright terror over the ending of last summer’s Avengers: Infinity War, just about every single one of those individuals are going to stand up and cheer the moment Avengers: Endgame comes to an end. After an unprecedented string of 21 connected motion pictures involving heroes off all stripes, types, cultures, genders, ethnicities and even species across a multitude of genres and filmmaking styles, this 182-minute culmination of a decade of storytelling is undeniably impressive. I can’t imagine anyone who has been waiting for this with baited, hopeful breath walking out of the theatre disappointed, directors Anthony and Joe Russo and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely showcasing a level of narrative confidence that’s nothing short of extraordinary.
All of which makes me moderate emotional indifference to this epic superhero adventure all the more frustrating. Do not misunderstand me here, this is still a good movie. It’s well made, overflowing in spectacle and is anchored in a slew of strong, multifaceted performances (most notably those given by Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd and, somewhat surprisingly, Karen Gillan). The climactic act is suitably thrilling, and I will admit a lump filled my throat as all that the MCU has been, and all it potentially still could be, came roaring to life with such staggering authority.
Be all that as it may, about halfway through I realized that this climactic MCU adventure was all about fan service. As such, while there is one shocking turn of events, even that didn’t catch me that off-guard when I realized where our heroes were and what it was they were after. This movie, in spite of its massive budget and gigantic scale, feels more like the conclusion to a popular television series more than it does a distinct, individualized feature film. Markus and McFeely have a lot of loose ends that have been generated over the past decade that they have to tie up and a whole slew of cliffhangers they need to bring to tidy resolution. While they are successful, they don’t necessarily do any of this in a way that goes too far outside the box. They, as well as their directorial partners the Russo brothers, are content to do everything that their fans expect them to, and as such Endgame can feel more like a raucously produced, energetically structured greatest hits culmination than it does its own unique thing.
It’s possible that’s just fine. A lot of love and care went into this, and the early portions where many of the surviving Avengers try to make peace with their failure while attempting to now live in a universe, not just the Earth, mind you, but the entire galaxy, where half of all life has been eradicated thanks to a single snap of the fingers by the Infinity Stone-wielding mad titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) is nothing less than excellent. Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) is still sitting in the team’s headquarters working in tandem with Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), Nebula (Gillan), James Rhodes (Don Cheadle), Okoye (Danai Gurira) and intergalactic heroine Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) as they work to restore peace and order to a shattered cosmos. Meanwhile, a pudgy Thor (Hemsworth) has set up a new Asgardian colony in Norway, while Steve Rogers (Evans) runs a support group for people trying to get on with their lives after all they knew and loved was taken away from them. As for Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), he’s retreated into a life of seclusion, putting the mantel of Iron Man aside as he grapples with his and his fellow Avengers’ collective failure.
Much to everyone’s flabbergasted shock, from seemingly out of nowhere comes Scott Lang (Rudd). He was trapped in the Quantum Realm while the tragic fight in Wakanda was taking place, and after learning about all that transpired and how much was lost he’s got the faintest glimmer of an idea that could potentially set things right. This, of course, will bring the band back together, including a slightly more emotionally stable Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) as well as a rogue, ruthless Clint Barton (Renner) who has been trying to satiate his bloodlust by slaughtering yakuza and cartel bosses along with their various foot soldiers. Those two original Avengers are reunited with Steve, Tony, Thor and Natasha, the six of them joined by Rocket, Scott, Nebula and Rhodes in a desperate gambit that could theoretically undo all that happened after Thanos snapped his fingers.
That’s all the plot I’m going to talk about. Whether the viewer is a die-hard MCU junkie or just someone who tolerates these movies and finds themselves dragged along to a screening even if they’d rather sit at home and watch Netflix, the less I say about what transpires the more fun everyone is likely to have. Even with that being so, as intricately plotted as this is nothing that happens can still be easily predicted beforehand. For me, this is where I do think the filmmakers somewhat drop the ball. They are all so intent on getting to the moments they think everyone wants to see they don’t appear to feel the need to shake anything up in ways that might make the eventual sacrifices of some of our heroes have an impact that lasts any longer than it takes to walk outside of the theatre.
Other than one big, well-deserved exception, I wasn’t moved by anything that happened during the climactic stretch. It’s all fine, and everyone gives it their all, and in one notable case I loved how the Russo brothers seemed to let all of the sound drain from the proceedings so that what was happening up on the screen got the opportunity to hit home with maximum impact. But because it felt so preordained, because it happened in such a straightforward manner, even this moment didn’t do as much for me as I know it will for so many others, unfortunately undercutting the emotional ramifications of the scene a significant amount.
Can I tell you about the exception or who it involves? No. Can I tell you about the one segment of the story that did surprise me, if only ever-so-slightly? No. Can I tell you why Gillan gives such a superlative performance which ends up making Nebula one of the richest, most pleasingly (and somewhat painfully) complex characters in all of the MCU? No. I can’t tell you any of that, because no matter how much I want to speak about all of this and so much more, doing so just wouldn’t be fair to an audience hoping to discover everything all on their own. Even if I wasn’t necessarily surprised by all that transpired I fully understand that so many others out there will be, and as exquisite as some of these individual moments and revelations might be talking about them in any way whatsoever, even in the most minute sort of detail, just feels wrong.
I like the humor here. I like that this film is willing to slow things down, to spend so much time focusing on the characters and how they are dealing with their grief, how they are trying to face the demons that have materialized since their failure to stop Thanos. I love the opening scene, the shattering power of it, as it reintroduces a character who hasn’t been around since Captain America: Civil War. I like the way it resolves so many of the core friendships and relationships while at the same time introducing new ones that can be explored as the MCU charts unnavigated waters as it sails onward. I like the beauty of its haunting final scene, this dance of pure, everlasting love a gentle reminder to the innate potential for goodness and purity that lurks within the beating heart of every person on the planet, the choice to listen to it and follow its instructions theirs and theirs alone.
None of this means I think Avengers: Endgame is a great movie even if it might be a superlative ending to a decade of interlocked cinematic stories unlike any we have ever seen before. But it’s positives are obvious, and even at three hours watching it is hardly a chore. This is a solid adventure that fans will go nuts for. As for me, the last assembling of the original team of Avengers brought a smile to my face, this curtain call a satisfying final bow for a team of comic book heroes who all deserved this moment in the spotlight standing at the center of the stage.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)