'Avengers: Endgame' review
'Avengers: Endgame' says thank you to comic book movie fans for over a decade of support by milking more bundles of cash from them. I’m sorry but I had to give my inner Grinch some air. The essence of ‘Endgame’ is something I tend to reject; the idea of cinema becoming product and placing fan service over art.
Blockbuster cinema has been trying to balance these two poles for decades and some films have done so successfully. But what do you do when a film serves as the culmination of over 20 films that understand how to leave fans drooling for more with as little as an Easter egg? You just strap on for the ride.
It is at this point that I shall shed the cloak of denial and say Hi my name is Delali and I’m an MCU addict. If I didn’t know this on the multiple rewatches of 'Infinity War' (a film I am tempted to start calling a masterpiece) I knew for sure when I found myself rewatching 'Age of Ultron', 'Civil War' and 'Spiderman: Homecoming' after seeing this film. It’s no surprise that Marvel has started marketing an Infinity Saga box set. There are peeps foaming at mouth and burying the nails into steel in wait for more MCU fixes.
I call myself an addict because I can’t say the MCU has rewarded me as a film fan. From a score of films, probably just five moved me. Yet, I find myself wanting more, as I look away from my shriveled essence in the mirror to peers who are given a quickening by MCU films. It was only somewhere in the third act of 'Endgame', just before the spectacle turns up to 11, that I felt the renewing power of the MCU. Tears of excitement streamed down and clenched fists vibrated in ecstasy as I felt like a moment had been crafted with just me in mind. The moment passed and the mother of all spectacle commenced a mind-boggling assault on the senses.
Make no mistake, 'Endgame' is the Alpha and the Omega of spectacle and blockbuster filmmaking, with the Russo brothers at the head of this orchestra. Like Mjolnir, it will remain an immovable force for mere mortal studios until the MCU decides two decades from now, when God willing the X-Men, Fantastic Four and the like gear up to face the next universe-ending threat. I can’t say I had tremendous affection for 'Endgame', but I was awed by the sheer ambition. To tap into another totem of popular culture, I had bent the knee without even knowing it.
I lean towards feelings in this post because traversing the actual plot is to enter the spoiler minefield. 'Endgame' skews more complex than 'Infinity War' in parts, as far as structure goes. But that was to be expected. The first act sees the Russos harness tone with a certain deftness never before seen in the MCU. The sense of grief and loss weigh heavy in the moments most tethered to 'Infinity War'. ICYMI, Thanos (Josh Brolin) finally got all six Infinity Stones, then using them to wipe out half of existence. Fan favorites like Black Panther and Spider-Man did not survive his "snap" leaving us with mostly the old guard of the MCU. Thanos himself retreated to the solitude of his farm, overcome by the peace that accompanies fulfilled purpose.
'Endgame' picks up a few weeks after Thanos’ victory. Captain America, Black Widow, Hulk, and Thor stew in the sense of defeat whiles searching for Thanos’ whereabouts in hope of reversing the decimation the Infinity Stones wrought. Thanos remains centered and his presence felt, though offscreen. But his compelling aura diminishes as the film progresses. It’s by design as writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely begin the tribute for the MCU most people came for.
It’s a fun tribute to be fair; a joyous nostalgia trip that defies logic and embraces what it means to be a comic book movie. After tons of Easter eggs over the last decade that had many theorising, key plot beats here had us looking back on the foundation of this film. For the first time, an MCU film wasn’t chipping away at another building block. The edifice was complete and the Russos made us feel like we were the chief architects of the structure, holding our hands as we visit room after room.
As far as the characters go, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) begins the film languishing in space, with Nebula (Karen Gillian) at his side, looking very much like a homage to the gaunt alcoholic sometimes seen in the comics. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) gets to a point where he is leading a support group to help others deal with the loss. It’s a group Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) would have done well to join as he numbs the loss of his family with quite the Frank Castle impression.
It’s no exaggeration to say everyone you can think off is in this film so I can’t run through the whole battalion. But special mentions go to Mark Ruffalo as hippie Hulk who surprises with how pleasant a screen presence he becomes, and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) who the film has no idea how to handle and just sends her off into space to operate offscreen till the CGI stuff begins.
The witty character beats remain as essential as ever to this finely tuned machine that really picks up a head of steam in the second act and never looks back. It gets very clunky along the way and turns characters into tour guides or plot devices that keep the story moving with a single-minded focus that is as impressive as it is flawed.
Rather oddly, the stakes seemed to diminish as we charged towards the coda; a coda that had been probably decided on a conference call. It's not effective and incisive storytelling but it is incredibly thoughtful; of fans who have supported the franchise and the actors who basically put years of their lives on hold to make comic book movies the new frontier of cinema.
For all the spectacle and CGI cacophony, this is a film bookended by quiet moments of heart-melting beauty. 'Endgame' has no qualms in playing favorites. Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr have been the heart and soul of the MCU and amid all the talk of fan service, buried right below is a desire of the filmmakers to immortalise Captain America and Iron Man with character service, if you may. Incredibly forced and telegraphed, yes. But these characters' arcs gave me a warm fuzzy feeling that filled me with grace.