Movie Review: AVENGERS: ENDGAME – impressive, emotional end to the Avengers saga, but where can the studio possibly go from here?

Just about a year after Avengers: Infinity War was released, the second part of the story, Avengers: Endgame has descended upon the Earth, much like the kind of invading alien force audiences are all too familiar with, ironically, because of movies just like this.  I write this on Saturday, April 7 – opening weekend – and the movie is projected to have an opening weekend gross in excess of $1 billion, and that’s in addition to other cinematic records it is crushing.  Of course, the age-old question asks: is it any good?  My reaction is similar to that of Infinity War: it’s really good, and I really liked it, but it doesn’t get 5 stars, and left me with questions about the future of the entire Marvel franchise.

Endgame follows almost immediately after the climax of Infinity War. Thanos’s blunt-force altruism has destroyed half of the universe’s population, including most of the heroes assembled in Infinity War, but conveniently leaving the core characters unharmed.  This particular storyline is resolved quickly in this second part, then a period of time passes which sees the heroes settle into new roles in the post-Thanos world.  Captain America leads a grief counseling group, Tony Stark and Thor have retreated to live more peaceful lives away from the public eye, Bruce Banner … well, I won’t go there because now I’ve already run into a brick wall with this review.  Unlike a lot of reviews which have already tossed out major spoilers, I can’t do that.  Let’s face it, it’s a shitty thing to do to people who won’t get to see the movie on opening weekend.  The trouble in my approach is that this particular movie is especially hard to review because of the content.  You already assume, whether you’re a comic book fan or not, that the superhero deaths at the end of Infinity War were only temporary, that the bad guys in movies never really win, that there’s likely going to be a giant showdown at the end.  And of course, these are the easy bets.  Not as easy, but still worth speculating over, is: who are the major characters who are going to die?  Same thing is going on right now with Game of Thrones, as that show reaches the end of its run.  It’s gotta be Cap, right?  Iron Man?  Thor?  What if they all die?  What if none of them die?

It’s fun to speculate, but ultimately pointless – the movie unfolds as it will, and you might be right or wrong.  The endgame of Endgame is not about who will die or who will live, because these are only individual plot points,  it has to be a worthy conclusion to not only Infinity War, but the entire 22 movie Marvel Studios franchise to date.  And it is.  There’s no question of that whatsoever.  At 3 hours long, covering so much material, the Russo brothers have delivered big time.  Just like Infinity War, the scope of this movie is staggering in terms of logistics, and they do a bang-up job – not to forget the writing team of Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely here, because ensemble movies are both the easiest movies to write and the hardest, in terms of how you balance the plot.  It’s easier for bad writers to do, because these movies are so plot driven, much harder to invest characters with some kind of vitality and purpose that extends into story.  Endgame has one additional, crucial element that Infinity War didn’t have to deal with, and that’s the high emotional content demanded by the weight of the storyline and its importance to the entire franchise.  Did I say high?  If you’re not a fan of these movies (and you know who you are, because you go out of your way to let everyone know it), these moments in the plot will feel relatively lightweight – we’re not talking the death of Fredo Corleone, after all.  But context is everything, and if you’re one of the millions of people who are fans, Endgame contains plenty of these moments.  I don’t mind telling you I felt all of them, and my eyes watered up on more than one occasion – not necessarily those engineered to be sad.  There’s one scene with Cap towards the end that had me grinning like Brian Bolland’s Joker so wide my tear ducts were pushed to their limits.  I felt THAT moment hard.  This is a movie that transcends the superhero movie genre.  It doesn’t quite cross over into “great movie” territory – at least not how I define great movies – but it is terrifically satisfying on a number of level.  It’s important to note, however, these levels are almost all of the fan-service type.  There are big moments in this movie, huge moments, but not all of them really do anything with the plot as such.

In much the same way as Infinity War, Endgame plays like Infinity War and The Last Jedi, where the main goal can only be attained by completing necessary side quests (to use video game terminology) and all side quests are variations on the well-worn trope of the Maguffin.  There’s nothing new here, but they all make sense, and they’re all fun, and a few of them even have some nice easter eggs for the fans (for one specific example of this, I’ll use the word “elevator” and leave it at that).  So in a few words, it all comes together nicely, and all of the characters get a chance to shine, – some more than others, as you’d expect.

I greatly enjoyed a lot of it, both I was disappointed by some of it too.  These are purely personal disappointments, and not connected to technical aspects of the writing or directing.  I can tell you that Thor, Captain Marvel, and one major plot point dealing with Captain America disappointed me, but I’m not going to tell you why.  Conversely, certain plot points and imagery were unexpected, and enjoyable because of that.  I’ll throw this image in only (well, maybe not just “only” … ) because it’s from 1970 – something that hashtag-outraged anti-woman fanboys should take note of.

I liked Thanos in Endgame because the climax of Infinity War gave him the tragic aspect that somewhat reduced his villainy,  giving him a motive that could at least be understood, and maybe even grudgingly agreed with – because of how the story in Endgame unfolds, Thanos is allowed to be a real villain once more, and I liked that a lot.  Once again, John Brolin and the team that brought the character to life do a tremendous job.

But here’s where the movie left me concerned.  Taken together as one movie, Infinity War and Endgame tell a story that’s epic in scale, but it’s also a story that’s symptomatic of the Marvel Studios movies’ elephant-in-the-room problem.  The scale is so massive, the stakes are so huge, that it begs the question: what do they do now?  The early success of the movies is what built this entertainment powerhouse, but those early movies were way smaller in scope, with more room to showcase the characters over the stories, and while this remains true for the individual heroes in their own franchises, let’s face it, everyone knows they all fed into the greater picture that was The Avengers.  While Endgame isn’t likely to be “the last Avengers movie”, it’s the last movie for the Avengers that we know and love.  It took 11 years to get from Iron Man to Avengers: Endgame, 22 movies that charted the inevitable universe-saving confrontation between characters that quickly became iconic and a villain whose menace was introduced way back in 2012.  Right now, without knowing the what the next “phase” of the Marvel Universe is going to look like, I can’t conceive of how it can continue with the same skyward trajectory it had going into this movie.  “Endgame” might be more of a double-meaning than Marvel intended and not just the title of the fourth Avengers movie.

4.5/5.0

© Andrew Hope, 2019

Links to other movies mentioned here:

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

THE LAST JEDI

CAPTAIN MARVEL

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