REVIEW: Avengers: Endgame

Posted by Matthew Thornton on Friday, May 17, 2019

Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Writers: Christopher Markus (screenplay by), Stephen McFeely (screenplay by), Stan Lee (based on the Marvel comics by), Jack Kirby (based on the Marvel comics by), Jim Starlin (comic book)
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo
Runtime: 181 mins
MPAA Rating: PG-13

      No actual plot spoilers are in this review, but I don’t want even mere allusions to plot points to trigger anyone who has somehow not managed to see this in the three-plus weeks it has been out in theaters.

      Eleven years is a long time to build up a franchise. It is staggering that a coherent shared universe was brought to life across twenty-one films and has remained even relatively consistent in quality for its entirety. The primary factors enabling the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s ludicrous financial success are impeccable long-term planning by the producers and big-picture writers of this franchise and how iconic and likable the central heroes were by the end of each of their first cinematic installments. After the entertaining high-stakes, character extravaganza that was Avengers: Infinity War, Endgame now narrows the focus to be on the original group of Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and a few others such as Ant-Man, Rocket Raccoon, War Machine, Nebula, and…surprise, surprise…Captain Marvel) who have coincidentally all not been incapacitated by the cataclysmic event that concludes Infinity War. So Endgame has the tall task of not screwing up over ten years of build-up and bringing satisfying conclusions to several beloved characters’ arcs all in a franchise that is viewed by probably the most diverse audience on the planet…no pressure, right?
      Let me start by getting my biggest grievance out of the way. This movie is way too long. I can understand a movie of this gravity needing an extended runtime, but for what they choose to do in those three hours, it is excessive. This movie indulges in fan service and nostalgia unabashedly and focuses way too much on the past rather than focusing on meaningful development to the central heroes. It is really annoying because they set everything up so perfectly to where they could put a significant amount of effort into these characters, but what they choose to do is mostly unsatisfying. I liked that the film starts off slowly and hammers home the devastation that Thanos caused emotionally to not only our main characters but society at large. However, after that, the writing decisions that are made really began to turn me off. The crux of the plot is contingent upon time travel and it pretty much eliminates any chance of coherency that this movie could have had. Time travel in and of itself is a can of worms and very difficult to pull off with any sort of elegance. Typically, films that employ time travel in their plots usually choose to throw in a “don’t think too hard about this” or “time travel is not fully understood” line. However, Endgame portrays time travel in this universe as well-understood and provides basic rules for it upon which major plot points are based. From there, the movie proceeds to routinely not follow these rules to the point that I was scratching my head trying to understand why characters were doing the things they were choosing to do. If you can easily turn off your brain and revel in the on-screen spectacle, then this point will probably not bother you, but, if you are like myself and require a modicum of logical consistency between scenes, you will probably be confused or annoyed. Beyond all these major flaws, I have a few more minor annoyances that I should mention. Per usual, about half of the Marvel-brand humor falls flat for me; on the whole, the movie is definitely less funny than Guardians of the Galaxy and Thor: Ragnarok. While most of the action and CGI is polished, there are a number of sequences with choppy editing to the point that scenes are visually unpleasant to track. A child actor who plays an important relation to a main character gives a poor and unbelievable performance which hurts the poignancy of one pivotal scene in particular. Captain Marvel, a character who I find thoroughly uninteresting, shows up briefly in this film to be a deus ex machina in a few situations and precludes the possibility of any clever writing. Finally, I do not understand the relative strengths of each of the characters at all which makes fight scenes confusing and less interesting than they could be. On the whole, Infinity War is a much tighter film as it sets up stakes and maintains intensity throughout with nearly every scene being purposeful. Endgame is stuffed full of a lot more dross and undermines much of the intensity it could have had.
      At the core, it is the characters that make the MCU what it is, and I will run through the major characters and briefly state whether I liked or disliked what was done with the character. Tony Stark is in fact the core of Marvel; everything they do with his character makes sense, and his personal story that kick-started the franchise is wrapped up nicely. Similarly, I am fond of the way that Captain America’s current arc is retired as it befits his cross-generational character and gives appropriate resolution to his strongly developed virtues and desires in life. However, all of the aspects that I like about their character development is done mostly in the last hour of the film with the first two hours going all over the place. Every decision the writers’ made for Thor’s character is pretty stupid as he is essentially turned into an obnoxious form of comic relief for most of the film (they try to throw in some emotional development that does not make a whole lot of sense); that being said, I do like where his character ends up. The Hulk is fine if now a bit understated. Black Widow and Hawkeye are also both just okay in this movie. Hawkeye’s re-introduction to the Avengers is a little bizarre, and the scene that Black Widow and Hawkeye share at an emotionally-weighty point in the story is undercut by the direction being unintentionally (I think?) comedic. I do not like what they did with Thanos at all; the writing completely undermines his development as a villain as he is essentially not even the same villain anymore and is made completely one-dimensional and flat. Consequently, any victory for the Avengers feels a little hollow. Although I have many gripes with the way most of the characters are written, there was very little to fault in the performances as every lead actor does a fantastic job.
      After everything you’ve just read, you would probably think that I did not like this film, but walking out of the theater and thinking back on it, I did enjoy myself for the most part. Throughout the movie, the charm of each of the main characters is readily apparent and you cannot help but be interested and entertained by what is happening to your heroes. There is plenty to enjoy here. The final act of the movie is considerably strong as the spectacle is turned all the way up. Most sequences are memorable and exciting in this part of the movie, and iconic sequences abound. Ultimately, the choice to focus on the original Avengers was a wise one as you get to spend time with the characters you know and love the most and are thus more invested in the outcome of the story. I will reiterate that being able to meet the massive amount of built-up expectations in any sort of satisfying way is a success as nothing remotely similar has ever been done before. However, I grade movies based on their overall quality and have to detract points for all the aforementioned flaws.
      Let’s be honest. You have already seen this movie, and you are just reading one man’s opinion so that you can either feel affirmed in your beliefs because you agree with me or to start an internet squabble because you disagree with me (I’m kidding). If you are even a casual Marvel fan, go see it (again). If you are not interested in Marvel films but thought about jumping into the thick of it with this one, I would not recommend it and can instead give you many other three-hour film alternatives.


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