for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language
Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson
Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Walt Disney Pictures on
Minimal spoilers. There are some references to things that happen and the usual discussion about plot elements available via trailers and pre-release clips, but I have tried to remain as "spoiler-lite" as possible. As always, however, if you're concerned about maintaining the "virgin" experience, avoid reading this until you have seen the movie. (Also note: the review is very spoiler-heavy when it comes to Avengers: Infinity War; the assumption is that if you're reading this review, you have seen the 2018 release.)
And so it has come to this. Eleven years after Iron Man introduced movie-goers to the MCU, Avengers: Endgame, the fourth movie to bear the "Avengers" moniker in the title, has brought this superhero cycle to a close. The MCU will continue but, following this extravaganza to end all extravaganzas, it will never be quite the same. That's not a spoiler. It's a fact of life that fans of the movies will have come to grips long before sitting in a seat to immerse themselves in the three-hour spectacular that is Endgame.
Long before it went into production, Infinity War was never intended as a stand-alone story. It was viewed as part one of an epic adventure that would be concluded in "Infinity War (Part 2)," which was eventually re-titled as Endgame. Taken on its own terms, Infinity War was daring: a balls-to-the-walls multi-superhero smackdown that ended with the good guys losing. And by "losing," I mean losing decisively. More than half the roster, including such popular characters as Black Panther, Scarlett Witch, Star Lord, Spider-Man, and Doctor Strange weren't merely killed, they were wiped out of existence with the snap of a finger. Not since The Dark Knight has a comic book-inspired movie had such a bleak ending. Two MCU films have been released since Infinity War but neither has substantially advanced the story. The heavy lifting has been left up to directors Joe & Anthony Russo. They have brought back their cast and crew from Infinity War. That includes screenwriters Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (to ensure narrative continuity), cinematographer Trent Opaloch (to ensure visual continuity), and composer Alan Silvestri (to ensure musical continuity).
Comparing the two latest Avengers movies, Infinity War has a stronger narrative and better overall impact. There's nothing in Endgame that matches the shock to the system that occurs when Thanos snaps his fingers. Endgame does a good job melding dramatic elements with big, special effects-laden battle scenes (with a little humor thrown in for good measure - Hulk and Thor are the reliable go-to guys for this). There are several rousing, crowd-pleasing moments and the ending offers the right balance of closure and setup for the future.
Endgame has some pacing problems. After starting strongly, it falls into a lull (one that involves a three-pronged quest) before ramping up for the expected orgy of sound and fury that closes things out. At three hours in length, the movie is easily the longest entry into the MCU, and there are times when it feels like the editors should have been less indulgent. The quiet, dramatic scenes aren't Endgame's problem - those are well-acted and often affecting. What makes the movie sometimes feel like it's on a treadmill are the by-the-numbers middle sequences in which the Avengers break into smaller teams to go on what amounts to a treasure hunt. A lot of this material feels like padding.
Endgame begins around the time that Infinity War concludes, showing how Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) was impacted by The Snap. Then, with the strains of Traffic's "Dear Mr. Fantasy" playing over the Marvel Logo, we're shown how the survivors are (and in some cases aren't) picking up the pieces. (Three lines from the song are germane to the mood: "Dear Mr. Fantasy play us a tune, Something to make us all happy. Do anything, take us out of this gloom...") We are shown how Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) escape their dire predicament in the depths of space. Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) finds a way out of the Quantum Universe (courtesy of a rat). Everyone else - Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), War Machine (Don Cheadle), and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) - is going through the motions, trying to reconcile survivor's guilt with the depth of their failure. Their only plan of action, unrealistic as it may seem, is to locate Thanos, take the Infinity Stones from him, and restore reality. That's when Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) arrives to offer a pep talk and help get the plan off the ground.
I can safely say that those who didn't like Larson's character in Captain Marvel aren't going to come away from Endgame with an improved opinion. She is written as arrogant and cocky - qualities that aren't unknown for superheroes but which seem unearned in this case considering how late in the game she has arrived. Concerns about how the screenwriters might use her have also proven to be justified. Tony Stark started his life in the MCU as an asshole but, over the years, he has experienced several hard lessons in humility. Perhaps the same will be true of Carol Danvers, since (at least based on Larson's contract) it appears she will be around for a while.
In lieu of a mid-credits or post-credits sequence (there are neither), the movie borrows a page from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country's playbook. That film said "goodbye" to the original crew by featuring the handwritten signatures of the stars to accompany their names during the end credits. Avengers: Endgame does the same thing, offering a tribute to those whose stints in these movies are over (and a few who may be returning).
The movie goes farther afield than any of the other MCU films, featuring not only space travel (which has become pedestrian by now) but venturing into the fourth and fifth dimensions (time & multiple universes). There's a new take on time travel paradoxes and numerous references to Back to the Future (both visually and in dialogue). Endgame takes the time to focus on the camaraderie among the original Avengers and ensures that each gets a moment to shine, especially during the Battle Royale. There are a few missteps late in the film - an expected deus ex machina and an awkward instance of pandering (it didn't bother me but was too obvious to be ignored). Nevertheless, the cumulative effect of so many rousing moments creates an almost giddy exhaustion that boils over when the movie closes the door on this phase of the MCU. Avengers: Endgame isn't as brash, surprising, or relentless as its predecessor but it's a worthy conclusion to the Infinity War duology and provides a satisfying end to the First Avengers Era.
© 2019 James Berardinelli
Cinemas About Town