Wednesday, April 24, 2019

"Avengers: Endgame": two-paragraph review (no spoilers)

[NB: I'm going to write a deeper review of both "Infinity War" and "Endgame" sometime soon. There's a lot to discuss that can't be discussed in a spoiler-free review.]

2019's "Avengers: Endgame" gets its title from lines uttered by both Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who use the term "endgame" in somewhat different contexts. For Stark in "Age of Ultron," the "endgame" referred to what he saw as the coming extraterrestrial invasion, now that Earth had been made aware that it was merely one planet in a galaxy awash with often-hostile alien life. For Strange in "Infinity War," the "endgame" was more specific: the final phase of the fight against Thanos—a Titan who embodied all of Tony Stark's nightmares about how impotent Earth would be against technologically superior alien forces. "Avengers: Endgame," directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, is both the immediate sequel to "Avengers: Infinity War" and the capstone/swan song for the Marvel Cinematic Universe's Phases 1 through 3. When last we left our heroes, Thanos the purple giant (Josh Brolin) had used the six Infinity Stones to wipe out half of all life in the universe. His mission accomplished, Thanos retired to an idyllic jungle/garden planet to bask in his victory, and in what he saw as a new era of peace and prosperity for all living things. Our heroes—those who have survived—are in varying stages of moving on or dealing with this new, post-genocide reality. Thanks to the reappearance of Ant-Man, the remaining heroes learn they can use time travel to go back to a point in history before the Stones have been assembled into a single weapon (I mean the Infinity Stones, not the Rolling Stones), and that's the basic jumping-off point for the movie.

"Endgame" clocked in at a full three hours, and I have to say that it was tedious at points. As I'd written earlier, I found "Infinity War" to be very well paced, but for "Endgame," the pacing was uneven. There was a lot of dramatic talkiness before we got to see any action; some critics have been praising this as "character moments," but I think those moments were a case of too little, too late. There were also some huge plot holes that left me scratching my head, and certain prominent characters whom I'd expected to appear never appeared, which was a bummer. As before, the Infinity Stones struck me as more of a do-what-the-plot-demands device than anything meaningful, and because time travel basically makes death into a trivial problem instead of something terrible and final, the film didn't have quite the emotional impact it should have had. Oh, to be sure, "Endgame" went for those heartstrings, and it was even somewhat touching toward the end, but what dominated my attention was the fact that this movie tried to squeeze goddamn everybody into its story, which meant that no one held center stage for very long, not even the leaders like Captain America and Iron Man. Sure, sure: "Endgame" brought the spectacle; it was watchable on that level, and I could appreciate the mighty effort that went into making the film look good. I might even see the movie a second time just to try to de-confuse myself about certain seemingly illogical plot points and to enjoy all the special-effects havoc, but that second viewing would be more for academic reasons than for reasons of simple enjoyment. Poor pacing, an overstuffed cast, a rather subdued Thanos, the tired rehashing and repetition of events that had occurred in the previous movie, and a ponderously cliché, Peter Jackson-style battle at the end that features a flying horse—all of these factors added up to a rather flaccid and disappointing followup to "Infinity War." Perhaps if this movie had been split into two movies, things might have been better, although ending Phase 3 after twenty-three movies instead of twenty-two might have been asking too much of MCU fans. I can't and don't heartily recommend "Avengers: Endgame," but you're probably going to see it no matter what I say, so try to see the good in the movie and ignore the bad... which includes many horrific scenes of Thor as a weepy fat man. That's not a joke: in Marvel's theology, gods can gain weight and turn into slobs, just as Valkyries, who are almost goddesses, can apparently get drunk off too much alcohol. Comic-book mythology is as nonsensical as real-world mythology, but logical sense isn't Marvel's primary goal. For Marvel, the maxim is always Turn your brain off.

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