Satisfying Marvel Fan Service From Our Corporate Overlords
(CAUTION: Minor spoilers ahead)
Whew. Finally, the last installment in what is essentially a 2872-minute movie released in 22 chapters over 11 years. Am I the only one winded here?
AVENGERS: ENDGAME ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Anthony and Joe Russo
Written by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Bradley Cooper, Josh Brolin
Running time: 181 min
Apparently not. In every corner of the world, people can’t get enough of Avengers: Endgame. China kicked off the film’s global release with 39,000 midnight screenings. In the first 24 hours, at multiplexes across the Middle Kingdom, the film had played more than 250,000 times. Theaters in India sold a million advance tickets in one day. That’s 18 tickets per second. And here in America, some theaters will stay open around-the-clock for the film’s first four days of release.
Full disclosure: I’m not really a superhero guy. So add an extra star (or twelve) if you grew up slavishly following all the exploits of Stan Lee’s marvelous Marvel Comics. Because I didn’t.
That said, I liked Avengers: Endgame just fine. The klugey way it shifts from laughs to tears to CGI thrills is far from graceful, but jarring tonal shifts aren’t unique to the MCU. Thank Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman for setting up a template that tethers cornfed sentiment, screwball gags, sly romance, and messianic doom with indelicate aplomb.
Overall, the fourth and final-not-final Avengers movie is full of emotion, much more than its predecessors, and rife with well-earned resolutions. Believe it or not, some scenes have actual acting. Plus, there are more than a few parent-child interactions bursting with trite tenderness that will be catnip to all the lifelong fans watching with their kids.
It should go without saying that this movie is not for rookies. Viewers need familiarity with at least 8-10 of the nearly two dozen preceding films in order for any of this apocalyptic pablum to make much sense at all. Expect a plethora of callbacks that cleverly reference previous installments in a way that wraps up the series smartly. One of the best lines even quotes the movie that kicked off this epic narrative arc, 2008’s Iron Man. And the specific mirroring that follows between Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame is especially heartfelt.
There’s still a ton of spectacle-porn combat, though. And no amount of climactic superhero fight scenes will really make much sense, no matter how many Marvel movies you watch. Sure, the settings and objectives are basically different, but the tactics are chaotic and the physics are fundamentally nonsensical. They’re all equally mind-numbing melees of baroque computer-generated Sturm und Drang.
The Hudson Valley battle royale at the conclusion of Avengers: Endgame could just as easily be intercut with the battle of New York from Avengers, the battle of Sokovia from Avengers: Age of Ultron, and the battle of Wakanda from Avengers: Infinity War. Oh, except Avengers: Endgame at least makes more effort to pay tribute by posing nearly all the cast members in mythic frieze, as though tailor-made for dorm room posters and laptop screen savers.
Although Thanos keeps saying “I am inevitable” throughout the film, it’s really better suited to corporate overlord Disney. Inevitably, of course, the Mouse House will be stoking the profitable flames of all its beloved stable of superheroes for years to come. So let’s just say the reports of any deaths have been greatly exaggerated. As for the resolutions that come with certain actors and the fulfillment of their contractual obligations? They’re very satisfying.
Avengers: Endgame has already untapped a firehose of cash in a few short days and will continue to gush well-earned geysers of money into corporate coffers. Over the past decade, Marvel and Disney have accomplished something absolutely astonishing. They envisioned, bankrolled, and executed a cycle of 22 big-budget films that not only introduced dozens of characters but actually intertwined their fates. That’s not only audacious, it’s unprecedented. Nothing compares to it creatively, let alone logistically.
The closest analog would be the heyday of Hollywood’s studio system. Hundreds of actors, writers, directors, and technicians all under contract have worked symphonically to pump out conveyor-belt entertainment finely calibrated to the exact same secret-sauce formula of razzle-dazzle and pathos. Individual artistic vision? Not at all. Same-but-different cinematic comfort food? Absolutely. From that point of view, Avengers: Endgame is the ultimate mic drop.
I’ll reveal one spoiler to save you some time. At my screening, the biggest emotional reaction came at the literal end, when people viscerally moaned after realizing there were no post-credits scenes. So there’s no need to waste ten minutes sitting through a near-endless scroll of hard-working talent. You’re welcome, Earth.