By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – April 24, 2019)
First thing’s first: There will be zero spoilers here. This is a safe space. The last thing I’m interested in doing is ruining anything for you. You’re not reading to get the answers, because you know where you can find those relatively easily within the next day or so. You simply want my opinion, and that’s what I have for you.
I make no bones about my fandom for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While formulaic and predictable in so many respects, the execution has rarely faltered beneath the “average” level, with most entries being far above average in entertainment value. The cream of the crop are among the best and most enjoyable action films of the century…and would also hold their own against anything decades earlier. What I’ve been most impressed by is how the powers that be have managed not to overthink many of these movies. Although none have hit Christopher Nolan DC level for me (no movie ever has ever reached The Dark Knight… or Back to the Future level), there are a select few that share the same atmosphere.
The Avengers was the first that really raised the game from the 2008 Iron Man level, which was high, and took the genre to new heights for Marvel. Its sequel, Age of Ultron, wouldn’t arrive until some other standalone films had added to the universe itself. This was also the case for what I still consider to be the THIRD Avengers film, Captain America: Civil War. Some will disagree, but I continue to believe we’ve gotten five of these motion pictures during this phase, with last year’s Infinity War being the fourth. Ultron was decent but unspectacular, Civil War was fun but didn’t hit the notes of the original, and Infinity War felt somewhat The Matrix: Reloaded in that it was very much designed for the “To Be Continued” cliffhanger, setting the stage first for Captain Marvel and then for Endgame.
Now for Endgame, the 3:02 behemoth that arrives this weekend. How does it stack up to the best Marvel entries? I walked out of the theater feeling like I’d just experienced something with weight and something that felt important and felt like an event. The short review is this: I loved it. It is easily one of my favorite Marvel films, joining Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Avengers…perhaps supplanting the original as a matter of fact and making the top three, not including Into the Spider-Verse, which would have knocked those last two out but isn’t technically MCU.
Much needed to be accomplished with these characters, explaining the run-time, which I was sure was going to feel too long, right up until it didn’t. Unlike most lengthy attempts, this one somehow didn’t feel as long as it was in reality. It’s something I anticipate rewatching many times. There’s so much to like here. Admittedly, this one plays so much better for those who have been rolling with Marvel since day one and aren’t strolling into this universe for the first time, so it will play best for 90% of the audience or so.
There’s no way to talk about the story without spoilers, so I simply won’t try. I will instead tell you what you want to hear, which is that Avengers: Endgame pays off virtually everything it needs to before the credits roll. Every character has at least one moment to own, with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) arguably stealing much of the first half of the film. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) has never NOT been great, and that continues, but in truth, there’s not a weak performance to be found amongst the key players. Chris Evans (Captain America) has grown in confidence from his initial appearance in 2011’s The First Avenger, which was a good, but not great debut. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow has gotten better and better as well, though from the get-go, that character was fully realized and she owned it. Renner…great, Rudd…great (really great in fact), Gillan…great. You get the idea. This could get redundant if I don’t cut it off.
Infinity War‘s ending left many stunned, but then led to immediate theories as to how the collaboration of heroes would “fix” what had been broken. It gets addressed, believably but not quite as obviously as anticipated, and along the way, co-writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely make certain to provide boatloads of fan service in the form of callbacks and gems ripped from the Marvel comic pages themselves. Endgame‘s biggest triumph comes in its final hour, which is as well-executed and summarily satisfying as a possible finale could be, but it’s arguable that its lasting power is in how beautifully it rewards those who have been all-in with the Marvel Cinematic Universe for the past 12 years.
Everything I walked in hoping to see somehow managed to find its way onto the screen, even if for a brief moment, but to keep cohesion with what has to be the most ridiculously large and star-studded cast in the history of the big screen is a skill in itself. Markus and McFeely know their way around, having also written Infinity War and ABC’s Agent Carter series, which was a vastly underrated show in its own right. While last year’s film left me more exhausted and gave me a “too much” feel, despite enjoying it mightily, this one felt like Goldilocks found the right porridge.
There are enough lighthearted moments and solid jokes to balance out a rather somber and dark tone, which reflects the events of Infinity War and what’s on the line for everyone involved. The stakes have never been higher and I never felt like the solutions were illogical or easy. Instead, there was a cleverness behind the various sequences, which ranged from pure action to heist to adventure to sci-fi space combat to drama to comedy. It has something for everyone, but will manage to please virtually everyone not looking for reasons to dislike it.
Women are featured prominently, in an extremely positive way, but not in a fashion that should leave any room for complaint from those predisposed to seek that kind of thing out. You root for just about everybody, short of Thanos (Josh Brolin) and a select few others, and many of the petty disagreements and arguments we’ve seen between various characters are rare, replaced by a team aesthetic that unifies everyone on screen with everyone watching the movie. I’ve never heard more applause inside a movie theater full of critics than in Endgame. It’s emotional, it’s empowering, it weaves multiple good messages, and then there’s the big thing…
You can poke holes in this scene or that choice in the first few hours – though I really dug most everything I saw – but it lands the dang plane! The climax and the ending itself is nearly perfect and handles its script with care. It doesn’t feel rushed, but also doesn’t feel bloated. It doesn’t meander. The action isn’t prolonged past what’s necessary to accomplish the intended visuals or intensity. Ultimately, Avengers: Endgame and the franchise has been about the story more than the action. It’s fun to watch, but the substance and investment we have in these characters is why we care.
The writers and certainly Anthony and Joe Russo, who did an exquisite directing job, understand what the audience wanted and chose to deliver it. Not only that, but they provide a few extra bells and whistles here and there that could be seen as surprises. It’s so much fun to watch. It’s likely to break nearly every record imaginable, and luckily, all the cash it draws…it deserves. When Endgame gets to its…well, to its end game, it shines brightest.
One answer I will give you relates to the credits. I won’t tell you yes or no, but I will tell you I found it more than worth it to stay through all the key actor title card portions. It’s a subtle concept, but I loved how it was done, and it really does hit home what all you’ve been able to enjoy for nearly a decade. It’s totally unfair to call this movie a popcorn blockbuster, because it’s so much richer than that, despite still qualifying in that category.
You’ll find more language than usual for a Marvel film, but nothing too egregious. It’s loud and has some violence, as expected, but if your kids have seen the others, you don’t have to worry about Endgame. The only thing you’ll need to deal with is actually finding a ticket. Hopefully you already took care of that potential problem. I look forward to seeing it again this weekend. As it finished, I found myself thinking the best possible thought a film can elicit…
This…is why I love going to the movies.
Avengers: Endgame is wonderful fan service and feels like a worthy completion of a grand vision. The acting is strong, the story holds depth when needed, and the pacing generally succeeds throughout all three hours. With as easy as it would be to get this wrong or overthink it, this movie nails almost every big moment on multiple levels, most especially the emotion. You’ll laugh, you’ll get goosebumps, you may tear up, but you’ll have a blast.
I give it an A. I loved it. It’s exactly what I wanted it to be…and then some. I left satisfied, impressed, and even more interested to see where Marvel goes story-wise from here, outside of Spider-Man: Far From Home this summer. Avengers: Endgame saved the best for last and put forth one of the more fully realized action blockbusters in recent memory and definitely one of the most memorable comic book films ever.
I’m @JMartZone. Tweeters…Assemble.