Sunday, April 28, 2019

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Directors: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo
Notable Cast: Everybody?

The Marvel box office juggernaut is something to be impressed by, even if you believe the films are mainstream cinematic trash. Just this year, Captain Marvel surpassed all of the Batman films in total box office revenue and that was only a couple of months prior to the release of the focus of this review, Avengers: Endgame. It wasn’t hard to believe that Endgame would be the biggest film in the world and the possibility of setting records was almost a given considering the strength of the franchise and manner that the first half of this two-part film, Avengers: Infinity War, left audiences on the edge. What is surprising is that Endgame surpasses the expectations of quality as a film, taking what was not only presented in its predecessor as a foundation, but maximizing the build of the last 11 years as a franchise to power its action and – more importantly – its emotional core. It’s so effective in wrapping up its long-gestating character arcs and plotting that it’s tempting to say the film is in the running for one of the best Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Time will tell if it stays there but as the credits roll, the energetic heft of the film lingers and that’s a testament to its quality.

One of the major issues with writing a review for Endgame is that to properly express the details of why the film works (or where it doesn’t) would require spoilers for both Infinity War and the film on hand. Although one has to assume that most everyone on the planet has seen Infinity War at this point, I will attempt to be as spoiler free in this review as possible.

Being spoiler free is hard though because Endgame’s strengths rely on how it plays with the audience in their expectation and the execution of those emotional moments in the film. One of the brilliant things about this film’s predecessor is that it used the villain of the film, Thanos – reprised in Endgame by another fantastic motion capture performance from Josh Brolin, was essentially the protagonist of the film. His character drove the action and it was our superheroes, like... all of them, that were reacting to him. Endgame immediately reverses that. After reintroducing us to where characters were after events of Infinity War, it is up to the heroes that are left to take action and try to undo what Thanos had accomplished. This turn of style is a great balance to the first part of this film and it works to give the ensemble of protagonists an epic and dramatic arc to work through.

The narrative does take some fun detours while the titular Avengers, mostly the original six that kicked off this massive franchise in Phase One, go about putting all of the pieces together to accomplish their mission. To speak more on that would spoil so many of the fantastic surprises that Endgame has in store for fans. Needless to say, after setting the stage for the plot of this film in the first act, the second and third acts have a lot of impressive spins and twists that act as effective character/narrative beats and they also work as glorious and very loud fanfare for the last 11 years of films. The fans that have dedicated their time to the nuances and details of those films are going to eat up what this film has to offer once it starts moving. The film is a whopping 3 hours, but it never feels as such. Every moment is filled with purpose and momentum. It builds to a third act that is, as weird as it is to say, perhaps the most epic final sequence of the series. That’s after Infinity War raised the bar immensely, so Endgame deserves some credit for pulling that off.

Despite the strong narrative that keeps the pacing brisk and surprisingly fresh as it plays on expectations in fun and dramatically heavy ways, the true effectiveness of this film is how it ties together the character arcs of the main Avengers. Although the film doesn’t wrap up everything, certainly leaving room for the continuation of the Marvel Cinematic Dominance with the upcoming Phase Four, it does wrap up many of the stories started with the original six to give the title Endgame some weight for the fans. Strong performances once again highlight this part of the film, thanks to the continued charming and screen devouring efforts of Marvel’s impeccable casting a decade ago, and the film is not afraid to pull back the narrative for important emotional moments for each of them. Even Hawkeye, who was strangely absent for Infinity War gets a hefty dose of story and depth here – perhaps one of the most effective in the film. Again, to go further than that would betray the experience of the film, but rest assured, this film pays off in dividends for many of the key players that we have all come to love.

Action wise, Endgame keeps things forward moving, although it doesn’t have near the amount that Infinity War delivered. Most of the first two acts of the film are dedicated to setting up the characters and narrative for the finale. There is plenty of great sequences on hand, but not necessarily traditional action sequences that one might expect from a 3 hour, spectacle-driven summer blockbuster. One sequence that does stand out is the introduction of Hawkeye’s Ronin transformation in Tokyo, which certainly fed into my love classic action sequences and sword fighting. It’s brief, but that gives me hope that the Hawkeye TV series that was announced on Disney+ will be as awesome as one could hope. As mentioned above, the final battle sequence is perhaps the most epic thing that the MCU has delivered thus far and the manner that the Russo Brothers keep focus and deliver on key moments in spectacle and impactful moments is pure cinematic bliss.

One had to wonder when Infinity War ended on a dark and heavy cliffhanger where Avengers: Endgame could possibly go to appease its audience. However, the film satiates all of the expectations in resolving the core plot and character pieces and, somehow, is able to deliver more impactful emotion and thoughtful resolutions than a summer blockbuster should be able to muster. It’s a wild crowd pleaser on a variety of levels – action, humor, heart, and drama and it more than deserves to be the box office giant that it already is. Endgame is the culmination of 11 years and twice as many films of development and payoff. Impressive is an understatement.

The only question remains: where the hell does Marvel go from here?

Written By Matt Reifschneider