Saturday, April 27, 2019

Avengers: Endgame (2019) Is A Fine Finale But Not Marvel's Finest Hours

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
With The Snap of Thanos’s fingers, Avengers: Infinity War flipped from a typical superhero flick into an unforgettable event that no Marvel fan or casual movie-goer would ever forget. To say that Avengers: Endgame has been an event of its own is massive understatement. Its unbelievable hype has a lot to live to up since we saw half the universe dusted into oblivion in 2018. As Marvel draws its Infinity Saga to a close, this twenty second film is without-a-doubt a funny, action-packed and tender farewell. But in good ways and bad, it doesn’t necessarily capture the same magic of its sister flick.

As Paul Bettany once wisely said, “Snitches end up in ditches” if they spoiler Avengers: Endgame. Taking my fate into my own hands, I’m breaking with the requests from the Powers that Be (Marvel Studios and co.) to say: this review contains massive spoilers. Read it your own risk.

Following the fallout of Avengers: Infinity War, half of our beloved characters were turned to dust, while the other half were left to find a way to move on. Together and apart, the original Avengers - Tony Stark, Captain America, Black Widow, Hulk, Thor, and Hawkeye with newbies Rhodey, Ant-Man, Rocket Raccoon and Nebula - embark on a series of time travel heists to rebuild the Infinity Gauntlet. Creating their own quantum realm pod, they dive into the past to steal the stones across the universe and reuse them to bring everyone back. By returning to pivotal moments in The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Infinity War, they  reignite their showdown with Thanos and are forced to try to beat him once and for all. Whatever It Takes.

Endgame is primarily a people-movie – one that was made for the fans by the fans. Outside of the plot putting so much on the line, its release has an undeniable finality. Us fans know that certain actors' contracts are up, and we've been steadily watching Marvel's new eras begin for the past few years. Even before heading in the theater, our hearts are on their sleeves anxiously waiting for  what Marvel will throw our way. More than any other movie in its twenty-two “season run”, this finale invites a celebration of everything that has become before it and passing the torch to a newer generation. How lucky are we that we get to be right in the middle of it all?

Focusing on the OGs first and foremost, writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have an amazing track record with all three of Captain America’s movies and Infinity War. They manage to not only embed their films with great action, suspense, and comedy, but also create deeply moving character portraits. While Infinity War honed in on the consequences of our superhero’s actions and the disharmony of the universe, Endgame is less of a straight-up sequel and more of a post-war film that dives deep into our characters reconciling the worst and best of themselves; vengeance against Thanos takes a backseat to reconnecting with the franchise's history to start over.

For the first two acts, The Avengers are getting used to leading a Post-Thanos life. The atmosphere is unlike anything we’ve seen in Marvel so far – filled to the brim with grief as society rebuilds itself in a post-apocalyptic setting. The Avengers we love so much are scaled back to who they are when they are not Avenging: Natasha Romanoff becomes her own SHIELD of sorts monitoring crises around the world; Steve Rogers leads a survivor’s support group; Tony Stark settles down with Pepper and their daughter; Bruce Banner marries his own personality to the Hulks; Hawkeye becomes an assassin; Thor falls into despair by letting himself go. They’ve all moved on in one way or another, but not entirely; the loss of their friends and family still weighs heavily on everything they do. They can’t pass up the opportunity to bring them back.

What essentially drives Endgame is the cast and story acting as a love letter not just to beloved favorite characters, but varying plots that have popped up in the past eleven years. Despite how grim the movie starts, the time travel plot enacts all kinds of goofiness and serious character development. Captain America celebrating his American ass, hailing Hydra, and fighting himself? Check, check, check. Tony running into Howard Stark before he was born? *sobbing Check*. Thor confiding in his mother before she dies. *sobbing into the void Check*. Easter eggs – Screen Crush has counted 209 to be exact - from previous franchises make the first two hours a truly entertaining ride; something to just sit back and relax for the thrill of walking down memory lane. The dynamics between the original Avengers is absolutely incredible –  seeing Bruce Banner in Hulk’s body and living up his status as a so-called celebrity; Thor managing his grief by turning into a Big Lewbowski 2.0; the camaraderie between Tony and Steve recovering from the pain they caused each other in Civil War. It's impossible to not recognize the homages and feel like cheering, gasping, and crying over and over again.

As much creativity is packed into the different time heists, the overall film focuses on its three biggest characters - Tony Stark, Captain America, and Thor. Having been given the most attention from their own spin-offs, each one has the fullest arcs in Endgame too – Tony’s unable to leave his Avenging behind for the family life he’s always wanted; Steve’s striving to move on as a soldier but wants something more; Thor bears the burden of losing everyone he’s loved. For the most part, the story relies on how they’re exiting Marvel, and the actors (Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth) deliver some of their most poignant, funny, and heartbreaking performances so far (with close-seconds coming from Scarlett Johansson, Karen Gillian, Paul Rudd, Gwenyth Paltrow, and Tom Holland). Their individual endings totally fit their entire journeys so far and prove to be the biggest beating hearts of the movie, if not the entire Marvel saga, so far.

With that said, the movie garnering hype and praise as the absolute perfect entry of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, to me, is a massive overstatement. As much as I love pieces of the puzzle, I don't love the whole picture.

Ever since The Snap last year, theories and questions revolved from Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Captain Marvel – things that I felt like we were going to get fascinating stories from. Like how big of an impact was Captain Marvel going to have since Nicholas Fury waited ten years to call for her help; how was Scott going to get out of the quantum realm; where did everyone go once they were dusted – were they really dead or just in another timeline; how was Wakanda going to move on from losing their king.

Surprisingly, within the first thirty minutes, the film solves these questions with some of the least clever answers: Captain Marvel arrives for a hot minute before leaving for the rest of the film for an unknowable mission (probably to be explore for her sequel), and then returns just in time when they need her again. A rat steps on a few buttons on Scott’s quantum realm thingy to bring him back – what was five years for everyone else was only a few hours for him (he’ll have a lot to talk about with Hope, Hank, and Jane in his sequel). “The Fallen” were kind of just hanging out in a cool afterlife hangout as if no time had passed at all, (which will probably be explored in Spider-Man’s sequel). And, we never get to learn anything about Wakanda (which will be answered in Black Panther’s sequel). On the one hand, I get why some of these were simplified - Endgame had a lot of time travel travel plot and the epic battle to contend with. However, on the other hand, these and other plots felt rushed, and made the film feel less like an ensemble piece.

While the script and direction is one of the most imaginative concepts in the MCU, key characters simply weren’t given their due. For all the hype about Captain Marvel joining The Avengers, she’s written out of the plot except for a few ass-kicking gestures. Same thing goes for a few others: the fan favorite Valkyrie from Thor: Ragnarok, who everyone wondered what happened to, appears to establish a new Asgard in Norway, and she’s named the queen of Thor’s people when he leaves (again more things for a sequel probably). Despite how heartfelt and funny Paul Rudd’s performance was, Scott Lang was still disregarded because he’s an Ant-Man, even though he helped The Avengers devise the time travel sequence and his own troubles to deal with. It felt like anticipation won out on characters that we were looking forward to seeing more from.

The film's dirtiest deed is the throwaway death of Black Widow. Despite the messy writing of her development throughout the Avengers and Captain America series, she was as much of a constant in the series as Nick Fury and the rest of her clan. I didn't mind her death because she got the Soul Stone, so everyone comes back because of her. But the story blows by that realization. There’s no memorial, no wreath floating along Tony's in the lake, no conversation between Nick Fury and Steve about what happened, just nothing. Her “moment” is ultimately overshadowed by other showstoppers like the epic Lord of the Rings-esque battle scene, Tony’s death, and Steve’s departure. With Captain Marvel written out of the film, Black Widow’s death, and Scarlet Witch barely fighting Thanos, and Okoye's appearance lasting two seconds long (despite the poster fiasco), the MCU took major steps backwards with its female characters.

While it's expected that most Marvel movies leave hints for other material, especially with Disney+ on the way, some of the creative decisions with supporting characters left me with a nagging feeling of how much potential was left on the table to make this story fuller.

Infinity War and Endgame are both similar movies in a lot of ways.

Mainly, all the characters are divided into groups to protect/retrieve the stones and unite to face-off against Thanos. And their most memorable moments are their third acts (The Snap and the Lord of the Ringsesque battle against Thanos / final goodbyes to Tony Stark and Steve Rogers). Nobody will ever forget where they were when their favorites were dusted, and everyone will always remember the epic action scenes in facing off against Thanos again. From Captain America using Thor’s hammer and his shield being broken, to Peter Parker’s return, to all the women fighting together, to Iron Man making the sacrifice play – the final climax is undeniably one of the best, heartbreaking, and relieving moments to go down in Marvel history.

But both movies are also drastically different. Infinity War is more tightly composited in script and story where the stakes are drastically higher as all of the different characters are on their own missions but still apart of a whole. Also, the ending cutting to black immediately after The Snap  leaves the audience with hopelessness as well as curiosity to see how they'll recover. Endgame’s script is paced magnificently with a lot great moments leading up to its adrenaline-rushed clash between heroes and Thanos. Brilliantly, the writers chose moments that weren't so intricate to the past twenty-plus movies that the MCU canon isn't affected too much, but its challenges are mostly a collage of zany 'What If moments'. The ending itself is rushed as new and older characters don't have proper goodbyes or reunions. Endgame is a rollercoaster ride that I absolutely love in the moment, but afterwards, I can’t stop thinking about potential developments (and plotholes) that makes it feel like it’s missing that something extra.

Having directed four of these gargantuan films before, The Russo Brothers already know how to balance the action with the humor and meaningful character insights. While this isn't drastically different from their past work, this one continues to prove how they’re some of the best additions to the MCU. Probably more than most Marvel movies, Endgame offers laughs, heartbreak, triumph, and nostalgia from beginning to end. The culmination of Tony, Steve, and Thor's stories, in particular, leave us in such a fantastic puddle of catharsis, heartbreak and wonder, it's hard to put into words. The film is an absolute blast and emotionally satisfying curtain call, but I don’t know it would’ve worked as well without Tony’s death and Captain America’s redemption with Peggy. After reaching the end of this fandom, Avengers: Endgame is a fine finale, but it’s not the studios finest three hours.

Rating For The Holy Trinity: ★★★
Rating for the film: ★★
Have you seen Avengers: Endgame? What do you think?

No comments:

Post a Comment