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We are in the SPOILER game now.  THERE ARE SOME SPOILERS.  Nothing that should ruin huge surprises, or major plot points, but this is NOT A COMPLETELY SPOILER-FREE REVIEW.  Turn back if you want to remain completely oblivious, but then again, if you did, why would you even be here?

 

Since the days of the original STAR WARS trilogy, was there ever a movie sequel as highly anticipated as AVENGERS: ENDGAME?  Its sire, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, literally left audiences in shock and tears with its bold decision to have its villain cause half of the Avengers’ good guys -- and half of life across the universe -- disappear with a single snap of his fingers.  For an entire year, fans’ speculation about who might be saved, and how, ran a close second to which of the remaining Avengers members would inevitably be sacrificed to end Thanos’ evil and somehow undo his devastation.

From its opening scenes, which play out the on-the-ground terror and astonishment of Thanos turning friends, family, and strangers into black ash blown away by the winds, AVENGERS: ENDGAME begins as a study of loss.  In the days immediately after the catastrophic events of the battle of Wakanda, the Avengers gather at their Upstate New York compound to tally their losses and lick their wounds.  The numbers of their own missing or declared dusted is staggering, and all the heroes struggle with survivor’s guilt, helplessness -- despite their superhuman abilities -- and a deep sense of failure.

As seen in the Marvel entry before this, the team’s slim ranks are joined by the extraterrestrial heroine, Captain Marvel.  It is her Tesseract-infused cosmic powers that enable her to fly off to the stars to bring back two of the lost, stranded in space.  One, Nebula, is the semi-cyborg former acolyte of her adopted father, Thanos.  The other is the bedrock of the Avengers’ foundation, Tony Stark, whose state of the art armour wasn’t enough to stop the Mad Titan, save his teammates, or get back to earth.  Tony’s rescue, coming moments from sure death, shows us a very different side to the once devil-may-care playboy.  In space, there was a lot of time to do nothing but ponder the demise creeping up on him, and upon landing, Tony’s first instinct, even in his weakened state, is to lash out at the biggest target, Captain America.  Tony blames Steve Rogers for not being there when he was needed, not seeming to understand that his words could just as easily be turned on himself.

A gap of five years since that rescue seems to have moved laterally across the world.  The skies are dark gray over a barren New York City.  Garbage piles chest high in suburban California.  The Avengers and their associates communicate remotely from their various stations around the world, relaying reports that seem pointless, as all these years on, all they can think about is loss.  A non-holographic arrival at their doorstep is the only surprise they’ve had all this time, as the previously missing Ant-Man, Scott Lang, rolls up to the compound with an unbelievable story of his experiences in the quantum realm.  When we last met the size-shifting guest Avenger, he ended his own film trapped between dimensions, as Thanos’ snap blew away his the family of scientists who were his only way to return.  Luckily for Scott, the only creatures apparently thriving are rats, including the chunky one who lands on the controls of the portal and zaps him back to the current time.  While not being the most educated of the group, Scott’s idea of using the portal to essentially time-travel to gather the stones in the days before Thanos, wins over most of the members -- except the one who can actually make the theory a reality.

Far from the skyscrapers and classic car collection, Tony is now raising his and Pepper Potts’s daughter in a charming cabin (Do all Avengers have woodland retreats?) in the middle of nowhere.  The invasion of Cap, Black Widow, et al, to drag him into a cockeyed scheme that has no chance of success lands a firm “no” from Tony, who wants to put it all behind him.  Well… maybe it’s got just a little chance of success, which is more than enough to possibly face Thanos again and win.

Seeking out their backup brain, Bruce Banner is looking a little… different.  Banner has learned to accept the big green rage monster hidden inside him, and turned that scowl upside down; living an easygoing, fully-clothed life as an agita-free combination of both his personas. While Banner isn’t sure he is able to work the quantum realm portal, he’s at least game.  Great, now they just need some more bodies for the stone search.

In a Scandinavian fishing valley, a new Asgard grows.  It looks nothing like the old Asgard, and only a handful of survivors of Thanos’ annihilation reside there, but they’re pretty happy.  Their leader is happy too, as long as he has an unending flow of alcohol in one hand and a video game controller in the other.  Thor has really let himself go.  The thunder god is possibly three times the man he used to be, and his twelve-pack now appears to be carrying quintuplets.  The gleaming golden locks are matted and filthy, and the chest-length tangle of hair growing out of his face, would do any hobo proud.  The Asgardian spends his days in a drunken stupor to keep himself from remembering all he has lost, and his failure to stop Thanos.  Once the intoxicated haze is broken through, and the idea of a second chance at Thanos and redemption sink in, it doesn’t take much convincing for the god to join the quantum realm scheme.  The only worry is whether the erratic, bloated deity, who looks like the fourth place winner of a Big Lebowski contest can keep it together to get the job done.

While somewhere in Tokyo, a vigilante is cleaning up the filth of this planet, one mobster -- or maybe ten -- at a time.  Black Widow talks her longtime pal Hawkeye down from a ledge of eventual self-destruction, forcing him to channel his rage and loss into helping them end Thanos, and possibly return his world to the idyllic one he left behind.

In praise of ENDGAME, one of the things that stuck with me was how the vacancy of Thanos’ dusted gave others room to shine.  Characters I didn’t care much for in their own series, came off much better here: I had started to find Rocket just plain obnoxious in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2, he was genuinely comical paired with Thor in INFINITY WAR, but in ENDGAME, he’s actually given a bit of grounding and depth that counteracts his abrasive tendencies.  Captain Marvel still had her tiny, monotone vocal delivery, and action sequences that looked like cartoons, but even those looked more convincing, and she displayed an energy and engagement in this film that was completely lacking in her own.  I am also gratified that while Captain Marvel is given some big “hero moments,” the film remembers to dance with the ones who brung it, and leave the heaviest lifting to who the folks directly affected by Thanos’ evil.  While on Earth, Valkyrie seems much more easygoing and content as Thor’s second-in-command in neo-Asgard; her compassion for the god’s depression revealed a warm side to the warrior. 

Another great surprise was the development of Nebula: ENDGAME gives the character a full arc from the first GUARDIANS film, where she was a blindly loyal lackey to Thanos, deathly jealous of her adopted sister Gamora’s superior skill and regard.  The loss of Gamora in INFINITY WAR has shaken Nebula out of any delusion about Thanos, and her time on the spaceship with Tony Stark further breaks down her spiky shell. 

On the flip side... Man, this is long.  The entire first hour is a slog.  It starts off interestingly enough, by answering a couple of big INFINITY WAR questions, but it is completely noticeable that most – if not all – of the scenes used in the trailers were culled from the first grueling act, and show most of its action.

It’s not like one of those films that is long, but flies by.  This movie feels every second and a third of its unnecessary length.  ENDGAME could have easily dropped a good twenty minutes had the maudlin scenes of melancholy not pounded us over the head incessantly:  We get it, things are bad, everybody’s sad.  Or reining in the “hilarious” comedy bits at least to the point they didn’t strain to make us laugh by doing the same things over and over (Thor’s “panic attack” on Asgard. Hulk and Ant Man’s selca scene. Hulk beating up some wrecked cars for no reason.).  The writers and the Russos seems to have forgotten the power of the quick, off-hand comment, or witty one-liner, not to mention their economy of time, which would have suited far better than long, lumpen, tortured skits.

Not to say there aren’t genuinely funny moments:  Some of these take place in the time travel scenes, like the really clever spin on CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER’s memorable elevator fight, and that sequence’s reminder that as opposed to whoever that was in INFINITY WAR, Loki is supposed to be smart and stealthy.  

There are also truly moving moments, as well: Such as in the scene where Tony receives some unexpected closure to much of his unhappiness, after a few words from an expectant father, and Cap’s heart’s desire appearing before his eyes, still youthful and full of life.

Aside from those sparks of inspiration, the script is pretty ham-fisted.  There is an excess of clunky “heroic” dialogue that wouldn’t read well in an actual comic book, much less spouting from the mouth of a flesh and blood actor.  Most of those clumsy quotes are given to Black Widow, because she had to say something, I suppose.

It is jaw-dropping that at my screening, a major character dies in an actual surprise that no one might’ve expected, and during the next scenes of that person’s comrades coping with the shock, a wave of moviegoers walked out (Ostensibly to use the loo).  By this time, the audience was hip to how very long the many scenes of mourning were going to take.  It was also an interesting comment on how little the crowd seemed moved or connected to that character’s death.  It might not have helped that the build-up to that moment -- like so many others in the film -- went on way too long, tugging a little too hard at the heartstrings for people to not know manipulation when they felt it.

Besides so many unnecessarily dragged out scenes, there were also some head scratchers.  Filed under “Who asked for this?”: I understand that Marvel was paying homages to eleven years’ worth of properties, but really, whose bright idea was it for Tilda Swinton to return as the blatantly whitewashed Ancient One from DOCTOR STRANGE?  Did Marvel learn nothing from the controversy over her casting?  Did they not care?  If they wanted to present fierce females from their pantheon, why couldn’t we have had Cate Blanchett back as Hela?  There was so little of her in THOR: RAGNAROK, I’m sure with all the time bending and plots of convenience, the writers could’ve figured a way.  What about Thor’s still-MIA pal, Sif?  Or perhaps recast the character with someone truer to the original notion, and have her/him say, “I am the culmination of magic, I have many faces.”?  Or give this scene to Wong, who’s apparently been chilling in the Sanctum Sanctorum all this time?  But no, we get the “kind,” Scottish baldy exacting Banner’s promise to return all the Infinity Stones after using them.

It is remiss not to point out the Swiss-cheese-like texture of the story.  Time travel is one of the oldest stand-bys in science fiction, and the rules are fairly logical: Don’t meet your past/future self.  Don’t do anything that might affect the present, etc.  However, in ENDGAME, after a lot of double-talk about how the rules so clearly laid out in BACK TO THE FUTURE do not apply, we see they kinda do, or at least until the ENDGAME writers don’t want them to.  For example, between INFINITY WAR and ENDGAME, two characters die in the same way, in ENDGAME, we are told their person cannot come back using the quantum realm portal, yet, the deceased INFINITY WAR character is prancing all around the film’s present day once there’s a time jump.  There is also a little caveat wherein a special serum -- that they only have a handful of -- allows the team to leave and return through the portal.  However, towards the film’s climax, I didn’t see tankers of the serum to accommodate an entire planet’s worth of portal users.

Another inconsistency is Thanos himself.  His character has changed 180° from his INFINITY WAR posture as the benevolent saviour of the universe.  In ENDGAME, he proclaims his joy at destroying the universe and creating a newer, grateful one, because he couldn’t stand the Avengers’ stubbornness at not wanting to stay dead (Though his mania and bloodthirst is closer to the Thanos I remember from comics. He is the Mad Titan, after all.).  Also, we meet him very purposely Infinity Stone-free, which is how he turns up at the climactic battle.  It’s no surprise that Iron Man, Captain America and Thor concentrate on beating his big purple butt; however, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are not making a dent in the titan, and that makes no sense at all.  In INFINITY WAR, he had at least a struggle fighting Cap with five stones in his glove, and Scarlet Witch held him off more than admirably, with one hand killing the man (mandroid?) she loved.  Somehow, this time, with zero stones, the triple threat of Iron Man, Captain America, and a luminously murderous Thor aren’t much more than mosquitos.  There is another impressive attack later on, that once again, had no effect.  I know Thor’s axe is called “Stormbreaker,” but it seems like Thanos’ armour is called “Plot.”

One might think that with a three hour movie, we’d have loads of time to welcome back old faces and more development than we did with INFINITY WAR.  Nope.  The pacing of this film is crazy.  When we finally do see loved ones returning, it’s in the mad rush of a combat zone, harder to make out than the alien scrum in Wakanda.  At least that took place in daylight.  (PS: At some point in the three hours, couldn’t we have shifted the lens over to Wakanda for a minute?  It’s only Ground Zero of Thanos’ attack, and they lost their king and princess, and apparently all their rhinos and airships. It deserved more than a couple of dry lines from hologram Okoye.)

While we get some impressive, Jack-Kirby-Would-Be-Proud heroic posing around the battlefield, I need somebody to explain to me why Bucky/Winter Soldier got about as much screentime as some random dude in Cap’s therapy session going on about his miserable first date?  For a film that ran 181 minutes, the entire battle felt awfully rushed and shockingly brief, and so too the achingly anticipated reveal of those who had returned.  This was what I waited for; I didn’t want to see it in a completely CGI-rendered action blender.

What is also anticlimactic and depressing is the feeling that when the film’s over, there’s nowhere else to go.  One can sense the production had no intent on furthering or saving the Avengers brand, and I suppose the way things are left, maybe we shouldn’t want them to.  It’s just strange to come to the end of this film after eleven years since the original IRON MAN movie that started it all, and seven years since the first AVENGERS, and see that it’s all over.  No more post-credit Easter Eggs, no more funny banter between the comrades, no more time spent with these brave, charming characters who’ve provided such a lovely escape from reality and so much fun these many years.  I hate goodbyes, and I wish this one had been perfect.  It’s what these characters – and their audience -- deserved.

Ultimately, AVENGERS: ENDGAME struggles under the weight of its own mass: The resolution of INFINITY WAR’s cliffhangers, the overthrow of the villain, Thanos, the decision by the writers that they were going to stick it to the fans in the kokoro (heart) in a big way with some developments that were apparently “inevitable.”  Sadly, adding more time did not make for a more satisfying film.  The slackness of the story and script, and the terrible choices in pacing nearly doom it. 

Like the champs they’ve always been, the indelible, charming, heartfelt performances of our mains, particularly Messrs. Downey and Evans, give their all as if they know this is indeed the last time they’ll slip into these skins.  They lift AVENGERS: ENDGAME up from its failings, and give their all to fully embody those flawed, fractured, courageous heroes, and leave their fans with unforgettable memories.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

April 23rd, 2019

 

 

 

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Photos

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