Don’t say it’s not for the fans.
“Avengers: Endgame” is nothing if not the crowd-pleasingest crowd-pleaser in recent cinema history.
Give everybody, and I do mean EVERYbody, a curtain call.
Considering the character clutter in this franchise finale, this final act in the ensemble superhero story thread, this star at last going supernova in its corner of the Marvel universe, it’s a miracle they got the damned thing in at just over three hours.
It’s still shorter than “Lawrence of Arabia.”
“Endgame” can be ponderous and pandering, seemingly assembled by a focus group forced to read every fan comment on every message board for all of the 20-odd Marvel movies that preceded it.
But there’s a marvelous quiet to it, a tone of sentimental farewell as characters exit or return and THEN exit.
There’s a nonsensical illogic at play. But the inevitable brawls have a visual coherence, and the picture is freighted with subtext and meaning, at least in the casting and the characters who matter.
Those would be the women, starting with the new badass on the block, Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). She shows up just AFTER the nick of time, when half the life on Earth has been wiped out by the warrior/god Thanos (Josh Brolin, digitized for our protection). The survivors are glum, and don’t know the flying blonde with the new short haircut. They just see her leaving.
“Where’re you going?”
“To kill Thanos!”
There’s the soulful mistress of time, The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who stares down The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) like a child she can’t punish but so much. And the big emotional moments — fierce and sad, heartbreaking and resolute — belong to Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and that pop culture punching bag Gwyneth Paltrow, an Oscar winner playing the hell out of Pepper Potts.
They can’t fix the story, which is a laughable children’s playground variation of “Do OVER!” But they give this “time heist” in five acts its heart. And even though the dialogue won’t make anyone forget Joss Whedon’s witty banter, the guys — lots and lots of guys — are good for laughs.
Thanos has won, even though Thanos is quickly dispatched by the team led by Marvel’s version of Superwoman, Captain Marvel, the Earth is a glum place of decay and empty ball parks, retired Avengers raising families or mourning ones (Hawkeye/Jeremy Renner) they lost.
Much of humanity’s energy has been spent building elaborate memorials to “The Vanishing.” that moment when everybody — HALF of everybody — turned to ashes lost in the wind. Well, building memorials and assorted new models of Audis.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has gone on a bender and gone to pot. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and others are entirely too on the nose in calling him “Big Lebowski.” Because he is.
Tony Stark/Iron Man has given up, Captain America (Chris Evans) is at a loss, Hulk has morphed into a sentient giant who looks a little like Mark Ruffalo, and they “lost the kid.” Spider-Man (Tom Holland). And so many others, from boss Nick Fury on down, have vanished.
Rocket Raccoon is the last Guardian of the Galaxy, and he’s just here for exposition. Yeah, they get the damned raccoon to explain stuff, in Bradley Cooper’s voice.
Then darned if that little dickens Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) doesn’t have a proposition. Let’s time travel back to steal those Infinity Stones, a “time heist” to get their “do over.”
Time travel is discussed, in a few sentences with “quantum” this or that in them, and in PARAGRAPHS of “Back to the Future/Terminator/Time After Time” and of course, “Hot Tub Time Machine” riffs. Because any moviegoer knows you’ve got to “strictly follow the rules of time travel” laid out in those pictures. Which got it wrong.
“So ‘Back to the Future’ is basically bulls–t?”
Captain Marvel, who’d have made short work of this time trekking/six stone collecting, is gone for most of the picture. And anybody you’ve missed shows up at just about the point you say, “This’d be a great spot for Black Panther/Spider-Man” et al to show up.
They do this as Avengers bop back and forth in time, and we get a dose of the State of the Art in digital de-aging as this character’s lady love or that one’s dad, this mentor scientist or that Norse God Queen has decades erased from them for their scenes.
Rene Russo, playing Thor’s mom, gets the best of this tech and has the movie’s funniest line, upon seeing her Buddha-bellied Thunder God son.
“Eat a salad!”
Truthfully, there just aren’t enough moments like those to make these three hours fly by. Only half of the big emotional scenes pack any wallop. The Russo Brothers’ direction of this script brings to mind the final Harry Potter movies — “service” every character, give the fans a little of this and that, make the trains run on time, get it over with.
The script’s silliest shortcoming may be giving Thanos’ cyborg daughter Nebula (Karen Gillan) a big and pivotal role. All these characters to do justice to, and she’s who we follow and fret over?
But even with that, even after the longest epilogue since The Book of Revelation, there’s just enough of the characters and just enough of the wonderful cast’s charm in virtually every performance to remind us of how right they were in their roles — from Johansson’s sexy assassin to Jeremy Renner’s fierce and focused archer, Hawkeye, Rudd’s whimsical and accident-prone Ant-Man to Hemsworth’s breezy beefcake blowhard, Thor.
Subtext? Watch the Earth and the America depicted here, in decline in a world where” epic forces of darkness have come into play.” Watch Captain America’s place within this universe shrivel and revive at the memory of what he’s supposed to represent, the best of us. Yeah, the screenplay is sending a message.
This isn’t my favorite genre, but may “Avengers” make another billion or two from the faithful, and these wonderful and now rich actors finally free themselves to make movies less formulaic and more challenging again, and may the Marvel suits realize that letting them go is the right thing to do at the right time to do it.
And before they change their minds about “retiring” the Avengers — for a while, anyway — may they have the common sense to see that comic book movies will never have a cast this dazzling again.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language
Cast: Brie Larson, Chris Evans, Chadwick Boseman, Robert Downey Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Scarlett Johansson, Paul Rudd, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Brolin, Danai Gurira, Tilda Swinton, Don Cheadle, Jeremy Renner, Letitia Wright, Gwyneth Paltrow, Dave Bautista, Tom Holland, Elizabeth Olsen, Evangeline Lilly and Benedict Wong. And many others…
Credits: Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on the Marvel comic books. A Marvel release.
Running time: 3:01