— by Renard N. Bansale —
(out of 5 stars)
Potential spoilers below
Wow, has it already been one year?
As a matter of fact, it has been exactly one year since my Avengers: Infinity War review was published here at Impacting Culture. Back then, I wrote on how the first halves of two-part conclusions for the Harry Potter, Twilight, and Hunger Games franchises leaned towards all setup, how the second halves held all the payoff, and how both parts generally fall short of total satisfaction, even when seen together. Having now watch both Infinity War and its follow-up, subtitled Endgame, I can’t safely just refer to the former as “the first half” and the latter as “the second half”. Rather, the two Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) installments combined consist of setup, complications, one major complication (effectively combining the ends of traditional acts one and two for increased devastation), a breather, a startling midpoint, more setup (though slightly more apprehensive), glorious fun, final complications, and the ultimate payoff. Endgame, by hogging the latter six plot segments, manages to overcome the fatal flaw of the recent second parts by actually feeling like a complete story entry in itself. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo, with Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s screenplay and ever-dominant producer Kevin Feige at their back, calibrate the full experience to satisfy in some unexpected ways.
Endgame does stumble a bit at first in two ways: To start, what an overall letdown Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) is here, considering how her sturdy origin tale from two months back was marketed as this crucial piece to the puzzle of defeating Thanos (Josh Brolin). In Endgame, Captain Marvel embodies the ever-disappointing deus ex machina plot device and serves as a lightning rod for edgy, sex-based cultural bickering in a bookending appearance that amounts to no more than one-tenth of Endgame’s three-hour runtime (and I’m being horribly generous gauging her portion). My realization towards the end that she was barely in this film honestly left me stunned for several moments. Who would’ve thought that the other, seemingly lighter MCU intermission sidequest would be more crucial to the plot at hand? (No “Billion Dollar Club” membership, though.)
Endgame’s second stumble involves its early and off-screen handling of Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Yes, his pre-logo scene is the perfect way to start the movie. (Ugh…mayonnaise on a hot dog?) Between that and his reunion with the Avengers, however, I think only one thing—Hawkeye deserves his own solo feature. Despite how he and other characters describe his sudden traumatic downfall since the events of Infinity War, I struggle to buy it here in condensed off-screen form sprinkled with a decent long take (Sidenote: Poor Hiroyuki Sanada can’t seem to catch a break in English-language productions, can’t he?) when I would’ve rather experienced his dark detour as its own Sicario–esque sidequest, preferably released sometime in the last twelve months.
Despite those and despite using half of its limited S-words to mock Back to the Future (emotionally, a perfect trilogy in my mind), Endgame pivots well and in due time to its time heist centerpiece. This time-traveling middle bulk of Endgame is, for lack of a better description, the MCU equivalent of a greatest hits concert. Awesome allusions to 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier get sandwiched between the final battle of 2012’s The Avengers (pierced olive courtesy of 2016’s Doctor Strange) and a post-script of sorts to 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, with a thin spread of 2009’s Iron Man 2 and 2015’s Ant-Man to add depth of nostalgia. 2013’s Thor: The Dark World (still perhaps the MCU’s most useless installment) gets a redeeming moment while the opening title scene to 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy gets appropriately lampooned. It’s somewhat of a shame, though, that all these end up downsizing Thanos’ presence and threat compared to Infinity War. I doubt audiences would’ve felt the runtime had the story incorporated Thanos more into this jumble of chronological realities.
Is Avengers: Endgame worth the 22 movies that preceded and anticipated it? The entertainment industry has come a long way from 2008, as have I (as noted at the start of my Incredibles 2 review). One can speculate whether the MCU remains a never-ending stretch of highway or whether it has topped itself and stands alone on the industry’s roof. The whole venture, not to mention superhero cinema in general, is wild, outlandish, and fantastic. Clearly, it has never been the Oscars type, with its laundry list of universing defects and its irreversible effects on the film industry and on the relationship between casual viewers, diehard fans, and critics, both professional and amateur. Yet that’s all okay, because Endgame showed me close enough that those involved are learning. They’re learning to not overly manufacture emotion via an aimless mosaic of secondary and tertiary characters, to take storylines to epic runtimes that never feel long, to nurture their expansive stable of stars, and to truly give audiences their money’s worth. I can’t wait to see where the MCU takes the world in the coming decade, and given that the sequel to one of my favorite MCU entries (see also here) arrives in two months, I can already sense that the coming decade promises to be a good one.
(P.S. Keep an eye out for one of the last obligatory Stan Lee cameos (Requiescat in pace, good sir.) as well as a worthwhile mid-credits tribute.)
(Parental Note: Avengers: Endgame has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA “for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language”. It is also rated 12A by the BBFC for “moderate violence”, and rated A-III (Adults and older adolescents) by the Catholic News Service for containing “much stylized violence with some gore, possible cohabitation, a few uses of profanity and of milder oaths, brief references to homosexuality as well as a half-dozen crude and several crass terms.”)
(Plot Summary: Avengers: Endgame starts off three weeks after the events of Avengers: Infinity War. Stranded in space with mercenary turned ally Nebula (Karen Gillan) and running out of oxygen, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) spends his remaining days recording messages to hopefully get retrieved by his wife Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow). Meanwhile on Earth, Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) breaks out of the quantum realm after getting trapped there following the events of Ant-Man & the Wasp. Scott immediately informs the remaining Avengers—Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), James “Rhodey” Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), along with Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper, motion-capture modeled by Sean Gunn) of the Guardians of the Galaxy—that they might be able to retrieve the Infinity Stones from the past via the quantum realm and thus resurrect their fallen allies for a rematch with Titanian despot Thanos (Josh Brolin). Will they prevail with odds stacked 14,000,604 to 1 against them?)
Renard N. Bansale once aspired to become an astronaut, before he found his passion in film discussion, criticism, conducting script-reading sessions of feature film screenplays, and annual Oscar tracking. Hailing from Seattle, WA, Renard graduated from JPCatholic in 2016 with a B.S. in Communications Media (Emphasis in Screenwriting) and is currently pursuing his M.A. in Theology online at the Augustine Institute.
For more movie reviews by Renard, click here.