By Elias Savada.
It has come to this, the emotional end of the Marvel Comic Universe as we know it. In our real world, mankind has been gifted with 22 movies featuring (mostly) beloved characters. The magnificently collected groups of superheroes (Black Panther and Captain Marvel being among the latest additions) have traveled far and wide across the galaxy, providing both serious and comic enlightenment over the last decade. Now, after half of life in the universe (and a similar ratio of the now emaciated and downtrodden Avengers) has been wiped out in last year’s Avengers: Infinity Wars, we are left to wonder can the rag tag remnants pick up the pieces and right what has gone wrong.
No, I’m not gonna pull a Mark Ruffalo and blurt out spoilers, like there’s lot of sex and many dead. Oh, wait, that’s Game of Thrones, the HBO blockbuster airing it’s final episodes over the next month. My bad.
Then, again, security around this film has been ferociously protective. I could tell you when and where I saw the preview, but Kevin Feige (Marvel Studios president) might have Thanos pay me a visit and snap his fingers. What I should tell you is, “Stop reading this and see the movie!” Wait – you’re still picking through my review? Ok, I’ll continue….
If you’ve survived all the cliffhangers Marvel has tossed about in its awesome masterplan; pray tell, what happens after the dust has settled? It’s epic. Quite somber, but epic. And epically long, running just over 3 hours – a full half-hour longer than Avengers: Infinity Wars! Perhaps the intensely choreographed farewells drag on a tad too long (they don’t), but the finality of MCU definitely sinks in as the last of the end credits roll. Thankfully, Stan Lee still has a cameo, even beyond death.
When last we visited this group of superheroes, the no-nonsense interstellar sociopath played by Josh Brolin took them down with the collective power of six Infinity Stones, the most powerful band of rocks since the Rolling Stones. You can find online primers for the Marvel mythology, so if you haven’t done your homework, tough noogies. If you’re being dragged to the multiplex by a fan, try, at least to catch last year’s lead-up. It’s streaming here on Earth. Alas, if you’re looking for alternate programming because you don’t give a damn about super big action sci fi films, you’ll probably have to go to Landmark Theatres (set to play Endgame at just one of their four local outlets here in DC) or visit an online service. The two local Angelika theatres are playing the beast on 8 of its 11 screens. Two of the remaining auditoriums are playing Shazam! and Captain Marvel. At least they’ve given Warner Bros. some box office crumbs. Otherwise, Endgame is on at least 4,600 screens (another record). The only guess left will be how high this movie will soar. Can this film actually do $1 billion worldwide opening?
So, what happens? Lots of action, adventure, intrigue, and comedy. Ah, the humor? Plenty of the gallows variety, particularly from Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark a.k.a. Iron Man. As Thor said in Infinity Wars, “Fate wills it so,” and there is a ton of providence on display here, plus some really creative writing from Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, long-time veterans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If you’ve loved these films as much as I have, you’re in for a treat.
Speaking of Thor (Chris Hemsworth), he’s as sarcastic as ever and looking much the worse for wear. Holed up in the seaside town of New Asgard, he’s let his hair grow and has a five-year-old (craft) beer belly. He’s a super mess. “You look like melted ice cream,” is a line tossed at him. Getting the God of Thunder to focus after a death scene early in the film has left him so apathetic, it’s hard to believe he could take on any responsibility as the disgruntled troops gather to fight the invincible foe. The irreverent humor that fills so much of the Marvel game plan balances off the tragedy felt by all.
With such a huge array of talent on screen (and behind the camera – the Russo Brothers again providing a mega-movie for the ages), you can’t afford to blink. Some of the actors appear so briefly you’d think they were cut in from previous Marvel films. And you might be right, because the plot does revisit important junctures in the MCU past. It’s part of the Ocean 11-esque design that makes the film into one big heist tale that takes the remaining Avengers back to New York, Morag, Vormir, and New Jersey.
Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) actually opens the film just as Thanos is about to destroy half of the universe, and his family vanishes in the same manner that depressed all the Avengers (and their viewers) last year. A very weakened Tony Stark, adrift in space with Thanos’s daughter Nebula (Karen Gillan), is recording his own eulogy. It looks bad for the good guys.
As for “the plan,” that’s thought up by Scott Lang a.k.a. Ant Man (Paul Rudd), who has been stuck in the Quantum Realm since his mentor and girlfriend vanished. Bruce Banner is now full digital with the voice of Mark Ruffalo. He’s mastered the best of both worlds with a Hulk/Banner hybrid exterior and a calm interior. It makes for an amusing selfie situation. It also looks like he’s got his own flavor of Ben & Jerry’s. But not until the reclusive Tony Stark (Ok, he got rescued by Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). You sort of expected that kind of miracle, right?), now living with Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) and their daughter Morgan, arises from his stupor. It’s definitely a Eureka moment as what’s left of the Avengers gather at the office and plot out their strategy. The teams assemble, with Guardians of the Galaxy’s rabbit, er, racoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and the disheveled Thor providing some of the bigger laughs. Captain America (Chris Evans), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) all share equal time with the others in the extended plotting, often squaring off with some folks and family from their past.
So, I won’t tell you what the plan is. I’ll let other critics and friends spoil that for you. Avengers: Endgame does have a twist or two thrown in for good measure. There’s a lot of empowerment afoot, and the lady Avengers show off their formidable skills, suggesting they could carry their own film quite easily. Hmm, I wonder what Marvel has in store for Avenger fans after the standalone Spider-Man: Far from Home this summer?
Enough! Stop reading! Get moving!
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the new documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (the revised edition will be published in 2019 by Centipede Press).