Avengers: Endgame ****
One Liner Review:
A movie that really does it all, including fantastic action, great humor, clever ideas, and a storyline that goes in all sorts of creative directions.
Avengers: Endgame is one fantastic film. This movie finds a way to really be the culminating experience that pays tribute to, and also builds off of everything that came before it. It’s hard to say much without giving anything away (so be warned: the review underneath is chock full of spoilers,) but let’s just say our heroes spend only the first part of the movie dealing with the ramifications of the last film, where the villain Thanos snapped his fingers and killed half of everyone. After that, it’s onto a plan that really goes all out on creativity. This movie is absolutely the greatest fan service situation there will ever be. That’s how much it references the movies that have come before it, (all twenty-something of them.) and it dies that while finding time for great humor, action, plot twists, and character development. This movie really delivers.
Wow! Just wow! They did it. The Russo Brothers, these two mastermind brother directors have pulled off a pretty amazing film that really does check all the boxes. It’s like they had a list of everything fans wanted to see, and every surprise they could throw in there while also not pissing fans off, and they managed to hit all of them. So we get fat Thor, a new and super creative look to a character who finally found the right tone with humor in his last movie, (Thor Ragnorak,) and the Russo Brothers hold onto that and maintain that same tone with him here. And we get Professor Hulk or Smart Hulk or whatever you want to call him, and he looks better than ever. For the first time, this version of Hulk really does look and seem like actor Mark Ruffalo. And like Thor, his character comes with a lot of humor, (the taco scene, the “gratuitous” shirt ripping, that he calls out as being unnecessary.)
This one is firing on all cylinders, and that goes back to the very beginning with Hawkeye practicing archery with his daughter when his entire family gets dusted. It’s a fantastic scene, because it shows us the other side of the dusting. The family – regular joe – human side. We’ve already seen the superhero side in the last movie. This is what it must have been like for everyone else. Showing this is like a JJ Abrahms version of a superhero film. Say what you want about Abrahms, but one thing he’s great at is answering questions that we didn’t necessarily know we wanted answered… (what is the life of a storm trooper like? What would happen if Ethan Hunt from Mission Impossible had a wife?) Here we get tons of moments like these. How did Loki get that metal mouthpiece on him at the end of the first Avengers movie? Why were Gamora and Nebula working on Ronan’s ship in the first Guardians movie? What’s up with Black Widow’s constant change of hair color and dye job situation? What would a cemetery look like after the dusting wipes out half of the population? All of these questions get answered here.
The movie is composed of three parts. Each one is about an hour. Part one is about dealing with the ramifications of the previous movie. The dusting happened. Half the population is gone. Time to deal with it. Part two is about the time heist, or the plan to get the infinity stones by jumping backwards through time. And part three is about the big battle. Yes, they finally give us a big battle here that showcases all the characters at once. It’s what every Avengers movie has hinted at, giving us about six or seven heroes teaming up together at a time in the past films. But never have we seen all the characters of the Marvel cinematic universe in one place before. We never saw them go all out. Well, this is it. And it is glorious.
Knowing that the first act, or hour of the film, is all about dealing with the fallout of what happened in the last movie, where half the creatures on earth got dusted, you would expect this hour to be slow and depressing. It’s not. Sure there are moments that give us the emotion, and show us the way things are from a human point of view, (like a scene that features director Joe Russo as a gay character discussing a date he went on where both he and his date ended up crying.) But mostly the movie keeps going forward, moving at a quick pace to advance the story. Tony Stark is in space with Nebula running out of oxygen and water. When that gets resolved, we immediately jump to another conflict which is his anger with Captain America. And all of this has been setup in previous films. We’ve been waiting for these moments, and now we suddenly get them, one after another. In the case of Tony and Cap, we’ve been wanting to see the resolution to that story since the end of Captain America: Civil War.
But there’s more at stake here then just the personal vendetta between these two guys. There’s the concepts that were the basis for their problems. Stark wanted to put “a suit of armor around the world,” back in Age of Ultron,” and Cap wasn’t having it. Now it looks like Cap was wrong. At least from where Tony is sitting. So right away, in the early scenes of the movie, we get three major punches. First the Hawkeye dusting. Then Tony in space. And after that Tony and Cap facing off. And all of it is fantastic. Even the idea of Captain Marvel being the one to save Tony and Nebula is great because the post credits scene from Captain Marvel explains how she got there. In other words, there’s no reference to that scene here, or reshowing of it, or showing another version of it. You’ve either seen it or you haven’t, but there’s no wasting time to explain things anymore once this movie begins. Similarly, the Russo Brothers did the same thing with Infinity War, continuing right off of the post credits scene from Thor: Ragnorak, with Thanos’ ship advancing on Thor’s Asgardian refuge ship. No time to setup or explain things. The post credits scenes count, and if you did your homework then you already have all the answers you need.
Once Tony is back on earth, (and in terrible shape, looking like a shriveled up old man,) the Avengers decide to go after Thanos with Captain Marvel giving them an assist. This movie doesn’t forget to call out that for many of the Avengers, this is their first time going to space. And Captain Marvel makes the most of her screen time (after this sequence she doesn’t appear again until the big battle end of the movie,) going out in front of the space ship, to fly down to the planet and scout out the situation. Everything works here. We even get to see Hulk in the Hulkbuster suit one last time, popping through the floor of Thanos’ cabin like Animal at the end of the Muppets movie. The team finds Thanos, and they kill him. Just like that. Thor cuts off his head, as a nice reference to events from Infinity War. And the brilliant thing about this is that just like that the villain is dead. Which means we have no idea where the movie is going for the next two and a half hours. The stones are destroyed, (Thanos used the stones to destroy the stones,) and so the Avengers have no more moves to make. Before arriving, Captain America said”this has to work, because I don’t know what I’m gonna do if it doesn’t.” Well, it doesn’t. The Avengers tried to stop Thanos and failed. Then they tried to go after him here, and failed again. Now it’s time for the real aftermath.
If that first half hour was like a prologue (a very long prologue,) then this next half hour is about dealing with what happened from a time that is five years later. We see the characters in mourning. Black Widow runs Avengers headquarters and talks to everyone via hologram (like we saw in Captain America Winter Soldier.) Captain America shows up and try and cheer her up a little. But it doesn’t work. He’s spending his time running support groups. And then Ant Msn shows up with an idea. And the team takes that idea, which is about time travel, to Tony Stark. He’s out living life in the countryside, going for the quiet, calm peacefulness that you would never associate Tony Stark with. But he’s got a little girl named Morgan, and Pepper (Gwenyth Paltrow,) as a wife, and he’s happy. So when the Avengers show up with ideas about time travel, he flat out rejects them.
And so they leave, and move onto their next best hope… Professor Hulk. And Hulk goes with Rocket to recruit Thor. This is where we see what has become of both Thor and Asgard and it’s all pretty great. From the fishing village of New Asgard to Thor drinking beer and playing Fortnite with Korg and Meek, (yes, this movie even remembers them. And Valkyrie too,) all of this works. And while it’s happening, we see Tony Stark back at home looking at a photo of him and Peter Parker and knowing he’s responsible for this kid’s death. And so Stark begins working on time travel.
That’s all in the first third of the movie. Between Ant Man’s quantum realm teleporting machines and Pym Particles, Hulk’s experiments (he does them on Ant Man,) and Stark inventing a time travel GPS watch, the three of them put their ideas together and figure it out. And that brings us to the second third… the time heist. If the first third was pretty good, (so much to like from the Traffic song “Dear Mr Fantasy” played with the Marvel logo to a depressed Thor who sits around sulking because he blames himself,) then the second third is fantastic. This is where we get our heroes jumping back into their own time lines to witness events that happened to them in the past (in other movies,) only from a new angle and point of view.
And the Russo Brothers know how to handle this sort of thing just right. This movie is the ultimate fan service film, because not only does it show us parts from all the other films that we love so much, but it shows us them from new points of view, including new footage of each one. And then it has our current day Avengers show up in the background and try to manipulate things to get the stones. The way the Russos give us these scenes are with screen titles that say the place and the year. So, we open, for example, with “New York, 2012,”and a shot of the Chitarri warriors attacking the city in the first Avengers movie.
When you you think about it, this is a perfect way to end the first three phases of the Marvel MCU, with a culminating film that helps us relive events from the other movies. It fits the story because as our heroes say, “each of us has been around at least one of the stones at some point,” or something to that effect. And so the time heist begins with Cap Stark, and Ant Man trying to get the teseract from Loki, while Hulk is downtown at the Sactum Santorum on Bleeker street trying to get the time stone, in the eye of Agamodo, away from the Ancient One. And at the same time as all this is happening, we have pairs of heroes going after the power stone (at the cave where the first Guardians began,) the soul stone, (on the mystical mountain peak of sacrifice with the Red Skull protector and Thor and Rocket traveling to Asgard to get the Ether from Natalie Portman.
And all of this brings in cameos from Tilda Swinton, Rene Russo, Robert Redford, Frank Grillo, and Natalie Portman. It’s pretty fantastic. But even still, this movie goes further. When our characters don’t have success getting the teseract, they decide to go back in time even further, and that means to the seventies. So now we get cameos from John Slattery, Michael Douglas, and Hayley Atwell. Talk about fan service. It’s pretty amazing. But it still gives us more. So instead of seeing Captain America and Tony just take the suitcase with the teseract in it, we end up getting a Cap Vs Cap fight. That’s Old Cap (from the current timeline,) vs young Cap (from the past.) And it works because young Cap thinks he found, and is fighting against Loki in disguise.
So we get new moments like the Cap Vs Cap fight, but also plenty of retreads on older moments too. One great one is when Cap hops into an elevator surrounded by Hydra agents and you think he’s about to be jumped, like in the Winter Soldier, all over again. Only this time, he has a smarter play based on what he’s learned from the events in that movie. It’s moments like this, or like the resurgence of tons of lines (Clint and Natasha talk about Budapest, Happy Hogan and Tonys daughter, Morgan, talk about cheeseburgers, Black Panther falls Hawkeye “Clint” when in Civil War he said he didn’t care about Clint’s name, the list goes on and on,) that make this movie self-referential. And all of it works. If you get the lines and their double meaning, great! If you don’t, it’s no big deal.
What this movie does is it finds clever ways to bring the plot in new directions by using time travel to go back. It even makes jokes and references to all the other time travel movies, from Back to the Future to Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure to Hot Tub Time Machine to Timecop. This movie leaves no stone unturned. And mixed in with the fantastic comedy, (there’s of course the usual Tony Stark pop-culture name-calling From “Build A Bear,” to “Lebowski,”) there are also loads of emotional moments here. It’s hard not to find s place to get weepy eyed somewhere in this movie. And it’s hard not to feel emotion during that final fight when one character after another shows up, stepping through Doctor Strange’s portals.
This is is a fantastic movie, but it still is not perfect. The rat on the dashboard in a San Francisco storage facility is a little too convenient, the football-like keep away scene at the end is a little silly, and they use the joke of calling someone an idiot too often (I believe three times in this movie.) But other than those things, everything works. That includes the multiple endings. Unlike the final Lord of the Rings movie, Return of the King, these endings really do feel earned. And the movie even shows us the way time travel is used to have multiple versions of a character. There’s not just the Cap Vs Cap scene, but also two different versions of Nebula. And, while these might be a little confusing on a first viewing (at one point, the bad Nebula is pretending to be the good Nebula,) on a second viewing it all makes perfect sense. This is the kind of movie that is great the first time, but gets even better with each additional viewing. There’s just so much to take it. What a masterpiece!