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AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019) review

April 28, 2019

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written by: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
produced by: Kevin Feige
directed by: Anthony and Joe Russo
rated: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language)
runtime: 181 min.
U.S. release date: April 26, 2019

 

You may have noticed that most Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies have been building to something. Whether they are stories that stretch out into space, travel to different continents or are an origin tale set in the 90s, it’s all been building to “Avengers: Endgame” in some way. Here is a satisfying sequel that rewards those who’ve watched the twenty-one blockbuster hits that’ve led up to this three-hour epic, leaving those who skipped a few classes since 2008 a little confused. Anthony and Joe Russo are back at the helm, offering an inevitably epic and thrilling adventure that’s sprinkled with resonating heartfelt moments, much-needed laughs, geek-out moments and a hint and what the future holds. That’s a lot to accomplish and as they’ve proven in the past, the Russos do an impressive job.

If you’re watching the “Endgame”, it should mean that you’ve already invested in the characters that inhabit the MCU. The more of the these movies that you’ve seen the more you’ll get out of this one. You should be coming into this sequel with not only a knowledge of who’s who, but also a dying thirst to know how the surviving Avengers will undo the devastating blow from the last “Avengers” movie. That is, if you want to get the most out it.

 

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The movie opens with a gut punch of a scene that establishes that the dust hasn’t quite settled from last year’s “Infinity War”, when Thanos (Josh Brolin) donned the gauntlet that housed the six mighty stones and proceeded to snap half the universe out of existence. Our heroes feel responsible because they failed to stop the mad Titan at the onset of “Endgame” we find them licking their wounds. The first twenty or so minutes of this story, gives the remaining Avengers yet another shot at Thanos, but since the much publicized runtime is already on our minds, we’re aware that won’t work out.

Five years later, the people of Earth are living out HBO’s “The Leftovers”, still mourning the loss of friends and loved ones and trying to figure out how to live without them. We see Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) leading a support group where civilians share how they are trying to move on. He’s still in touch with Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), who is seemingly the only one at Avengers headquarters, taking on a role which finds her working with the likes of Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), Nebula (a terrific Karen Gillan) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), as they monitor the world and beyond. It also enables her to keep tabs on under-the-radar members like her friend, Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), who went rogue after The Snap. While these characters are trying to move on, it’s obvious they’re still grieving

Hope appears in a most unexpected form when Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd, delivering some of his best ever work) returns from the Quantum Realm, making his way to the Avengers Compound with an idea of how to reverse what transpired five years ago. As many fans have predicted once “Infinity War” ended, time travel plays a major part in “Endgame” and the seed of that idea comes from Scott. He figures since it only felt like five hours during the five years he was gone, there’s got to be a way to use the Quantum Realm to skip through time and reverse what happened.

 

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Desperate to try anything, Steve and Natasha know they’ll need a way to safely implement how to scientifically navigate traveling through time to retrieve the stones before Thanos can get them. This will take persuading clever minds such as Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.). With some convincing, Bruce is on board, but it takes Stark’s eventual involvement to make the plan work. After recruiting Hawkeye in Tokyo and a reclusive Thor (Chris Hemsworth, leaning heavily on his comic chops) from New Asgard (located off the coast of Norway), a team is formed for a “time heist” which three groups are sent off at various moments during the history of the MCU.

Of course, time travel doesn’t always pan out the way characters in movies hope it would. If it went smoothly, there’d be very little drama or stakes. Complications, unexpected situations and encounters are to be expected. Our heroes also don’t account for the fact that Thanos is in the past as well and there’s a good chance he’s looking for the same the Avengers are.

Last year’s “Infinity War”, also directed by the Russos, didn’t feel like it was about much more than presenting Thanos as a viable threat to the MCU. It was a story which primarily presented the motivations and point of view for this formidable villain, but it wasn’t enough for me. What was presented wasn’t earned and therefore not believable and made me wish more of his story would’ve been included in one of the two “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie. More satisfaction can be found if you look at how Thanos is written and portrayed in both movies, since a greater understanding of his intent can be gleaned. He may still be a delusional self-professed savior, but he’s not necessarily wrong when it comes to his assessment of the universe’s overindulgence of resources. Looking at both “Infinity War” and “Endgame”, it’s clear Brolin is the MVP throughout.

 

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Still, the supposed deaths at the end of “Infinity War” felt cheap, since it was obvious characters who have sequels in the future would not remain dead. It didn’t lessen the emotional drama or gravity of those losses, but I know I’m not alone when I say I couldn’t feel the intended impact. While “Infinity War” was the fun equivalent of a comic book crossover with some cool interactions, it didn’t feel like a whole story and that’s because the rest of the story would come a year later in “Endgame”.

The first fifteen or twenty minutes of “Endgame” (most of which aren’t mentioned here since it’s better to be surprised) feel like we’re still witnessing the end of “Infinity War”. Sure, it could’ve been tacked onto the end of the last movie, but it makes sense why it was included here because “Endgame” has more going on than “Infinity War”. This sequel may pick up where we left off, but one gets the sense relatively quickly that it’s actually about something other than cool team-ups and awesome action sequences. There are potent themes explored throughout such as grief and survivor’s guilt, as well as topics such as parenting, sacrifice and responsibility. While the inclusion of time travel is predictable, no one would’ve expected it to be so humorous and clever, considering the melancholy notes the last movie ended on.

What would normally be considered jarring tonal shifts, screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McNeely impressively incorporate action/adventure with comedy with touching dramatic character moments laced throughout. Some may consider the first hour to be slow (a term I’m growing quite tired of), but the time that we spend with these characters during that time is not only important, it’s valuable. This is a movie that remembers what makes those two Joss Whedon “Avengers” movies so great, which is the downtime in-between the action scenes. It’s also a movie that’s counting on how much we care about these characters and because of how we feel it doesn’t matter if the discussions they have on-screen outweighs the slam-bang action that’s expected.

 

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Knowing that “Endgame” is essentially a culmination of everything that’s been developing in the past MCU movies, it’s fitting that the emphasis here is on the big three: Iron Man, Captain America and Thor. Yes, there is a welcome refocus on the original five Avengers that we started out with in 2012’s “Marvel’s Avengers” (thankfully, the all-powerful Captain Marvel is hardly in the picture), but it’s these three that get the most impacting story arcs in the past and present. In a miraculous move, “Endgame” also gives a nod of validation to the unnecessarily maligned “Thor: The Dark World” (a movie I’ll always defend), which is quite a surprise. Granted, it took me a bit longer to get on board with how Hulk and Thor are presented here (it feels like they’re relegated to comedy relief – moreso than Rudd’s Ant-Man – after the way they were presented in “Thor: Ragnarok“), but I eventually came to accept and enjoy a different look at these characters.

Without a doubt, the most rewarding, entertaining, and touching moments in “Endgame” come from watching what RDJ. and Evans get to do here. As Iron Man and Captain America, they have been and remain the head and heart of the MCU and where their storylines wind up is appropriate, rewarding and satisfying. The two actors have always worked off each other wonderfully in these movies and that is carried into this movie, but it’s their own individual arcs that provide the most potent and emotional moments of the movie. Repeated viewings of “Endgame” will come solely for their storylines.

At times the frenzied climatic battle in the third hour feels like a cross between the battle at Helm’s Deep and the end of “Ready Player One” (with a dash of “The Return of the King” syndrome), yet there are some applause-worthy comic book geek-out moments to be relished and the Russos are wise to maintain crucial character moments within the chaos. Every MCU hero brought to the big-screen is assembled here and while that would typically feel overcrowded or fan service, the timing of it all it is spot-on double-page spread fun. Characters inevitably reunite and reconnect in various ways that will elicit audible cheers and tears of joy.

There is an undeniable overall payoff to “Endgame” with its enjoyable self-referential sequences and surprising humor throughout. With its thrills, charm and well-earned heartbreak this epitaph to eleven years of MCU movies offers bittersweet closure, while making way for an expected future slate of movies.

 

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RATING: ***1/2

 

 

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