MOVIE REVIEW: Avengers: Endgame
AVENGERS: ENDGAME— 4 STARS
At the lowest moment of morale during 2012’s The Avengers, Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury shares a reflective monologue stating “There was an idea… to bring together a group of remarkable people to see if they could become something more…” That rhapsodic citation speaks the intentions and massive talent involved in this mammoth film series on and off-screen. This writer has long praised the patience and planning of “the blueprint,” a vision that has since experienced exponential expansion and connectivity. Containing, transitioning, or even closing something as ambitious and sizable as the Marvel Cinematic Universe required a movie-making miracle larger than the first one from seven years ago. Reeling in the wake of the perfect set-up of Avengers: Infinity War and answering every ounce of hype, Avengers: Endgame has accomplished that very feat. All of the prodigious forethought and fortitude has paid off.
Arriving in their own proverbial “Pit of Despair,” the movie itself and the hopes of all living individuals are on the backs of those among Earth’s Mightiest Heroes who did not get turned to dust at the snap of the Mad Titan Thanos’s (Josh Brolin) Infinity Gauntlet-reinforced fingers. Twenty-two days have passed and the earthbound survivors, led by charter members Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) are joined by Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and War Machine (Don Cheadle), quake under the enormity of their defeat. Drifting in space with exhausted survival resources on the dead stick that is Peter Quill’s former Milano craft, an emaciated Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) do the same light years away with even less hope.
LESSON #1: MOVE ON — The post-apocalyptic survivors of what has been named “The Vanishing” by the common citizens have to continue their lives and leadership without those who were lost, including many loved ones. Leading MCU series screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely put ample dwelling time towards this profound lament. With resolve, it becomes about accepting loss and growing from it, even with as one character admits “all kinds of stubborn” regressive actions. There is a future and they have to do something with it. Wallowing in guilt is not one of those somethings.
What will have to stand as a limited cavalry arrives in the form of a gone-rogue Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), the paged Carol Danvers (Brie Larson), and an escaped Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who has found an exit from the Quantum Realm he was stranded in during Ant-Man and the Wasp just before the cataclysmic ash. While Danvers brings cosmic might that could make more than a few things right, it’s Ant-Man who may have discovered the real linchpin loophole. His wing-and-a-prayer (call it what it really is: a scheme) involves time travel and represents a chance (an extremely risky one, naturally) for everyone to correct what went horribly wrong.
LESSON #2: ALL TIME TRAVEL RULES ARE B.S. — Add the ending of “including and especially from movies” to that lesson title for more specificity. All is unknown. One deep well of self-aware humor in the film is the doubt riding on the impetus of the clock-turning tactics at hand for our hip and quippy protagonists that audibly remember the likes of the Back to the Future and Terminator series. Their bewilderment sort of becomes our own watching Avengers: Endgame. If there is a big knock on the wild comic book narrative of this movie, it’s that the use of time travel opens up a zillion potential convolutions, question marks, and its own new additions to the plot device’s repetitive collection of tropes.
LESSON #3: FINDING SUCCESS FROM FAILURE — As a follow-up to Lesson #1, second chances of possible correction, retribution, or hope addictively have to be explored by our do-gooders. The Avengers have to make the low odds worth it. Also, they must be grateful for the very opportunity and the peers willing to share those risks. Like the film’s tagline and hashtag demands: “Whatever it takes.” That rallying catalyst to reassemble is dead on because it requires matching the unflinching efforts of the villain that scorched this future in the first place.
LESSON #4: FULFILLING A DESTINY — The enveloping and soaring swell of Avengers: Endgame is epitomized by this lesson. It’s spoken as “be who you are and who you’re supposed to be.” Each of the many memorable characters have arcs wrapped with positive or negative fates. Some destinies have been earmarked or telegraphed for a long time, a few even farther back than the Nick Fury speech referenced earlier. Some know their destiny is coming. Others are unrevealed, have not yet come to pass, or stand to be changed. No matter, the push to realize inevitabilities is epically gripping even across this movie’s constant swing between comedy and drama.
All of the creators and filmmakers at work put that same sense of balanced emphasis of destiny, brevity, and gravity into the finished product. Returning cinematographer Trent Opaloch gives every sense and measure of scope a tremendous sweep that creates as much visual poignancy as it does big screen spectacle. Veteran composer Alan Silvestri’s musical score matches that goal and then some. His cues hit an operatic level of peaks while still astutely constricting itself to squeeze soul-rattling sorrow out of stiller, somber scenes. Led by the signature core of originals, the actors and actresses we have come to know so well (many with natural comedy chops), bring their best affability to shine up the anguish they occupy. Nevertheless, every heft has height and the connective bonds, strong wills, and the fates of Lesson #4 generate incredibly emotional attachments and results.
Folks, with a universe and property this big, we have reached a saturation point and commitment level where fan service is necessary. That’s right. What some have called pandering should actually be seen as one of the many objectives in an invested and vetted blockbuster like this one. It is to a point where the course of things is thematically and tonally misaligned without those inclusions. Not every piece of fandom has earned that. This one has. Avengers: Endgame is unabashedly a three-hour festival of celebrating all the dream fulfillment of past and present for this deep roster of beloved characters. The wow moments come often and hit both the jaw-drop and stand-up-and-cheer levels. Enjoy the hell out of those highlights.
LESSON #4: THE DEFINITION OF A CODA — Through the amplified production values, levels of fan service, all of the matched climactic stakes carried over from Infinity War, and the layers of executed denouement occurring here, what you are watching is a true “coda”. For those light on the lexicon, the range of the term’s definition can be merged into “a concluding part of a dramatic work that is formally distinct from the main structure” and “serves to round out, conclude, or summarize.” Avengers: Endgame is not a pivot point, but a grand finale eleven years in the making. True to the blueprint, it is hard to imagine a more gratifying and rewarding summit.