Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 5/1/19
Director: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Music: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Karen Gillan, Bradley Cooper, Josh Brolin, Brie Larson, cameos by Stan Lee, Hiroyuki Sanada, and nearly everyone who's ever been in a Marvel movie

"I am inevitable"
"And I... Am. Iron Man."

With Thanos (Josh Brolin) making good on his promise to wipe out half of the universe, the remaining Avengers regroup and attempt to steal the Infinity Stones back from him with the hope of undoing his horrific genocidal act. Unfortunately, it's too late, as Thanos already destroyed the stones. Several years later, Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) miraculously reappears from the quantum realm, where he was trapped before The Snap occurred. This gives the Avengers renewed hope and they start building a time machine based on Scott Lang's crazy ideas. If the stones can be retrieved from other moments in time, they can be brought together in the future to undo to past. Or something like that. The rules of time manipulation are loose and questionable at best. There's only a one in fourteen million chance of pulling it off, but they decide to go for it anyway.

It would be nearly impossible to top "Infinity War" (2018), so it's no surprise that "Endgame" turns out to be a bit disappointing. It's a bloated, lumbering juggernaut of a film that represents the culmination of all twenty-two previous MCU films. The magnitude and scope of the project is massive and overwhelming, and the film contains literally dozens of cameos. It may be the largest ensemble cast ever assembled for a movie, which is an extremely impressive feat. Most of the characters only get a few seconds of screen time, but they make sure those moments count. Not surprisingly, the bulk of the action ends up in Iron Man's (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America's (Chris Evans) hands, with Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain Marvel (Brie Larson), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and Ant-Man providing support.

The performances are excellent across the board, and somehow all of the various characters seem to fit together in a natural way. Tony Stark's last encounter with Thanos left him a broken and defeated man, and Robert Downey Jr. does an excellent job of portraying his fear, vulnerability, wounded ego, and obsessive tendencies. Steve Rogers is also a wounded man, but Chris Evans imbues him with a spirit of hope and renewal, even if his character is far beyond the point of healing. Unfortunately, both Thor and Hulk are played mostly for laughs, which is disappointing. However, Chris Hemsworth is totally committed and manages to pull off some truly emotional and deeply conflicted scenes, despite the overall goofy tone. Black Widow finally - FINALLY - gets some respect, along with some meaty dialog that isn't totally cringe-worthy for a change. I really appreciated that. However, it also foreshadows her doom. And Captain Marvel finally gets to be the total bad-ass that she wasn't allowed to be in her solo movie, which was very satisfying to see.

The film looks fantastic and the action is spectacular. However, the massive battle scenes that involve multiple characters tend to be visually overwhelming and difficult to process. I actually found Hiroyuki Sanada's sword fight with Hawkeye to be the highlight of the film, with Captain America vs. Thanos following close behind. There's also a very powerful scene of the Marvel women coming together in support of Captain Marvel, but its blatant lack of subtlety diminishes the full impact that it could have had. Alan Silvestri once again provides a powerful and heroic score that nicely sets the tone and pacing of the action.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the film and the sheer spectacle of it all, it's not without problems. First of all, I hate time travel movies. With a passion. So that was a major hurdle for me to clear while I was watching it. Fortunately, the film makes a valiant attempt to establish its own time travel rules while acknowledging the absurd incomprehensibility of it all, and the action is so exciting that it's easy to forget all of the convoluted logic and corrupted time streams. HOWEVER, the film also does a great disservice with the Steve Rogers ending, which violates the time travel laws that were previously laid out, causes Captain America to break character in several inconceivable ways, and also invalidates the entire "Agent Carter" TV series. On the surface it's very touching and romantic, but it's seriously flawed from a thematic and continuity perspective. By itself, that potentially ruins the film if you think about it too hard. And then there's the logistical impossibility of mobilizing all of the returned on such short notice for their dramatic entrance. It's certainly an impressive moment, but it makes absolutely no sense. And by engaging Thanos from the past, how did The Snap even happen in the first place? It's maddening. Also, the forced levity is awkward and misplaced, especially with the fate of the universe at stake. I realize that a full three hours of gloom, doom, and dread wouldn't be the best approach, so there's definitely a need to lighten things up periodically. However, the antics of Thor, Hulk, and Ant-Man come across as inappropriate slapstick rather than smart and endearing writing. Humor is a complicated thing, and I suppose if you go to super hero movies for cheap laughs, then "Endgame" fits the bill. I, however, found those moments unnecessary and a bit cringe-worthy. But in the overall big picture, these are only minor gripes in a truly epic and mythical comic book film, the likes of which we may never see again.