WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
NOTE: This review is spoiler free, guaranteed. So, read on.
The night before I watched Avengers: Endgame, I thought back to 2008, sitting in the movie theater during the end credits of Iron Man and realizing that I had just seen something new, something unique. There was a genuineness to the presentation of the characters and the story that had been absent from other superhero films up to then. It was the beginning of a new approach to presenting Marvel’s comic book characters, one which was more in line with the intent of their creators, like the late Stan Lee, I think. One that presented the heroes as real people, not out-of-reach, out-of-touch icons. It was the movie-going public’s introduction to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, twenty-two films that would eventually be produced by the then-fledgling Marvel Studios and Kevin Feige.
I’ve watched every MCU film multiple times and, more often than not, I’ve been wowed by the film craft of each. But Avengers: Endgame stands alone as the most impressive in the series. It is a huge film that feels intimate, an action film that feels at times like an arthouse piece. It is also the oddity that is a sequel which outshines its predecessors. God knows, we have seen plenty of franchise sequels take one wrong turn after another and fail, and the bigger the film, the bigger the failure. But Avengers: Endgame does pretty much everything right and the result is a triumph.
Avengers: Endgame takes place sometime after the devastation wrought by Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War. But it would be a mistake to think of this as Infinity War: Part Two. The bulk of the film is its own story, a survivor’s story. Of course, vengeance is a major theme, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that Endgame is mere revenge fantasy. That is only part of the story. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely are less focused on the problem of “avenging the fallen” and more on the healing of the survivors, our heroes, who have never dealt with loss on this scale. Each one is now constantly burdened with their respective insecurities, tattered hopes, and open wounds as they find their extraordinary powers and skills seemingly inadequate to the task of healing a stricken universe and, in the process, themselves.
The Russos skillfully present our superheroes to us as damaged but not broken. They are filled with anguish and guilt. They are now like anyone else who has survived the aftermath of a terrorist attack, who has had to rebuild after a natural disaster, or has had to find a way to go on with a semblance of normal life in the remains of a war zone.
How they learn to live in the new reality of a ravaged universe is one of the more fascinating aspects of Endgame. Throughout the previous films, the Avengers have time and time again found themselves face-to-face with the realities arising out of their battles with everyone from alien invaders to the home-grown evil of HYDRA, and they have taken to warning each other of the collateral damage of normal peoples’ lives. But in Endgame we see their own lives begin to mirror those of the victims created out of those battles. Some become bitter and alienated like Miriam Sharpe (Captain America: Civil War) whose only son died in the Battle of Sokovia (Avengers: Age of Ultron). Others become twisted by hatred and a desire for vengeance like Helmut Zemo (Captain America: Civil War). But true to their natures, within these heroes there dwells a desire to help, to find an answer, to solve a puzzle, to do something to right a wrong.
If all this sounds a bit grim, it is. Of all of the films in the MCU, Endgame may be the darkest, most complex piece. But this is still Marvel, not Eugene O’Neill, so don’t fret, action lovers, there is an abundance of sturm und drang, with plenty of action and feats of heroic proportions, including a couple of breathtaking signature sequences the MCU does so well. There is also loving and hopeful vibe throughout that cuts through the post-Thanos gloom. It emanates from the the characters as these friends and colleagues navigate uncharted waters.
Also, there is laughter. The Russos carefully sprinkle humor throughout Endgame, keeping it from descending too far into the abyss. In fact, there are many laugh-out-loud funny or truly heart-warming moments. But this is no Ant Man or Thor: Ragnarok, where the jokes fly fast while the good guys beat the crap out of the bad guys. It is an artful balance of light and dark at which the Russos excel. Of course, there were moments in Endgame which honestly left me feeling pretty awful, but in the context of such a well-told story, the sad bits felt necessary as opposed to gratuitous. It is an art that I wish so many other filmmakers and writers could learn. I really dislike having my heartstrings inexpertly tugged at for no good reason.
Another thing the Russos got right was what I call character trait fidelity: when the behavior and personalities of the characters remain consistent throughout the course of a series. It is always exasperating when a character featured in a series of films suddenly behaves in a way counter to their behavior in a prior film for no apparent reason except possibly to advance a particular plot point. In Endgame, not one moment of individual actions or group interactions rings false, even if they seem in some ways extreme.
The emotional honesty of the Endgame characters is not entirely due to the writing and direction. The top-tier actors who make up the majority of the starring roles have chosen to remain in those roles for several years and are demonstrably respectful of the characters they play. That kind of commitment from this level of in-demand actors is practically unheard of in the industry. It is just icing on the cake that they appear to enjoy playing their characters and, as a bonus, enjoy working with each other. If their Twitter feeds are any indication, the off-screen mutual admiration society the actors have going has become part of the fuel for their onscreen group chemistry.
All the performances are great, so I am loath to single out any as outstanding. But I must point out Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), who each gave inspired performances that were alternately distressing and weirdly delightful. Their performances alone are worth the price of admission.
It would be wrong not to distinguish Robert Downey, Jr., as well, for his portrayal of Tony Stark/Iron Man. There from the beginning, he has consistently demonstrated an impressive range. I’ve heard people dismiss those performances by saying, “Oh, he’s just playing himself“, which is not only inaccurate, it is somewhat insulting. Acting is hard. Doing it as well as he does is much, much harder. His body of work speaks to his talent and should be acknowledged, and he should be given credit for the effort it takes to breathe life into such a multifaceted character. He has always kept his portrayal of Tony Stark, the flawed, sardonic, yet big-hearted genius, incredibly honest over the course of the ten MCU films the character appeared in. His ability to communicate Stark’s growth and emotional journey has been a source of fascination for me throughout the series. So, his earnest performance in Endgame came as no surprise, but at the same time, entirely unexpected and lovely.
The visual and special effects teams deserve all the awards that will no doubt be heaped upon them. There always seems to be a moment in effects-heavy films when an effect doesn’t quite gel and for a split second you are bumped out of the story. It never happened once in Endgame, and that is saying something.
Credit for Endgame’s superb look and feel goes to its cinematographer, Trent Opaloch, and the film’s editors, Jeffrey Ford and Matthew Schmidt, who did an outstanding job, turning out a tight film that never feels overlong, despite the three-hour and one minute runtime. This team has been responsible for a few of the best of the MCU films, including Avengers: Infinity War and Captain America: Winter Soldier, to which Endgame bears more than a passing resemblance.
Of course, the production design team outdid themselves providing the film’s extraordinarily detailed environments. Also, kudos to the costume and makeup departments who really rose to the occasion, presenting familiar characters in ways we have definitely not seen before.
There is no doubt that all the energy can be sucked out of an otherwise great film by a score that is less than what it should be. Fortunately for Endgame, Alan Silvestri, who composed the thrilling Avengers theme and has scored three of the four Avengers films, was on board. As he did in the previous films, most notably, Avengers: Infinity War, he delivered flawless musical accompaniment that never got in the way of the action while providing an impeccable backdrop as the story unfolded.
By the way, if you haven’t seen all of the MCU films, don’t worry, you can still enjoy this one. But, in all honesty, to get the full impact, if you have time, see the others first. Every single scene has a ton of history and knowing it makes for a more complete experience.
Though it is hard to believe that a three-hour film can leave you wanting more, the Russos have produced one that does exactly that. Remarkably they managed to successfully weave all the story-lines from the previous twenty-one films into a coherent, logical, and moving conclusion. Avengers: Endgame is one hell of a story and a nearly perfect ending to the Avengers’ saga.
See it soon...before someone spoils it for you!
DaVette's score 5 out of 5 hearts!
The grave course of events set in motion by Thanos that wiped out half the universe and fractured the Avengers ranks compels the remaining Avengers to take one final stand in Marvel Studios’ grand conclusion to twenty-two films, “Avengers: Endgame.”
Kevin Feige produces “Avengers: Endgame,” and Anthony and Joe are the directors. Louis
D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Michael Grillo, Trinh Tran, Jon Favreau, James Gunn and Stan Lee are the executive producers, and Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely wrote the screenplay.
Marvel Studios’ “Avengers: Endgame” is in U.S. theaters on April 26, 2019.