YIN/YANG REVIEWS: Avengers: Endgame
Updated: Mar 30, 2020
By Derek May:
I’m going to break the mold a bit with this one. Rather than reviewing two different films like I usually do, I’m going to concentrate solely on just this one. Avengers: Endgame is the culmination of a 21-film, 11-year interconnected franchise that seeks to service each of the several dozen characters introduced along the way while providing an emotionally satisfying resolution to one of the most epic and heartbreaking storylines ever put to celluloid.
I’d say that deserves some singular attention.
But with so much hinging on secrecy and surprise, it’d be hard to give a fair review without delving into some details (plus, dammit, I wanna). So the split this time is going to be between Non-spoilers and Spoilers. For those who haven’t seen the film, rest assured I will keep you unsullied. For those that have, continue through to the end. So let’s begin:
YIN: NON-SPOILER REVIEW
I’m hard pressed to think of a film that had this much riding on it, both in terms of audience expectations and in satisfyingly resolving such a massive and gut-wrenching cliffhanger from not only the last film, but the 20 before it. I’m relieved to report that Endgame does, indeed, succeed on almost every level, grounding its characters in the emotional reality of their devastating loss and in their resolute will to make things right.
But if you’re expecting a repeat of what we’ve seen before, you may be a little disappointed. The tone of this film is a visceral departure from Infinity War. The most accurate comparison I heard was that if Infinity War was Kill Bill Volume 1, then Endgame is Volume 2. The film starts out how you might expect, with the heroes reeling from the SNAP! felt across the universe that wiped out half of all life. A somber mourning is felt across the cosmos, and proves to the audience that there are indeed true repercussions to Thanos’ success, not to be easily undone. From there, however, directors Joe and Anthony Russo take us on a roller coaster that covers just about every genre you can imagine. As a final coming together of such a diverse slate of films, it seems only fitting that this finale would include the tones of each and every one. There’s comedy, horror, sadness, action, joy, tension, drama, pathos . . . you name it, it’s in there. Endgame is by far the most emotional film in the franchise (and that’s saying something), but it’s also quite possibly the most comic-booky (and that’s really saying something), using some conceits that could only work in a world of superheroes, aliens, and god-like powers.
As such, some elements tend to work better than others. A little levity to diffuse tension is perfect when used correctly—and it often is. But some jokes are beaten to death. Likewise, there is a definite feeling of fanboy nostalgia across much of the second act that, while certainly giddy fun, isn’t exactly the most logical setup possible. We therefore get something of a victory lap around the franchise. Sure, it may be well-earned, but it’s also a departure from the more realistic and grounded world we’ve come to expect.
But really, all of that can be set aside because the real coupe is in how well the Russo Brothers and writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have treated their characters. With half of the new brood wiped out following Infinity War, we return to our original core team, and each is thoroughly mined for every nugget of agonizing turmoil. It would be easy to rely solely on the trauma of the previous films to carry the characters through this one but, never ones to take the easy way out, the filmmakers provide each Avenger with a current and meaningful journey to complete. Yes, that’s right, even after all that’s happened, they somehow manage to raise the stakes yet again.
What this means is that when the characters do complete their respective journeys, it’s a complete climax to both the past and present. And yes, there is a definite sense of completion with everyone (at least those who do not have a movie slated for the near future). Not all endings are happy ones, but not all endings are finite either. Despite the title, the goal was not necessarily to terminate but to resolve. Some doors close, others open. If this were to be the final installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, audiences would certainly feel satiated. But as we know it’s not, we feel a sense of readiness to move on, knowing that our beloved champions have been given their due, and see where the future takes the rest of our heroes.
A word of praise must be given to the acting tour de force of the magnificent cast. With dozens of the world’s best actors all sharing the same screen, it’d take a book to acknowledge each one. Suffice to say, comic book films get a general bad wrap for being hollow, silly popcorn fun without much dramatic depth. But if Infinity War began to sway any of those naysayers, then Endgame may seal the deal. None of that, however, occurs without the unabashed investment by the cast to cement these fantastical scenarios in an emotional reality that the audience can relate to. We may not know what it feels like to have super strength, or fly through the air on jets and wings, or watch an alien madman kill off half the universe. But we all know what it feels like to lose loved ones, to bitterly argue with your family and friends, to feel sadness, sorrow, or find humor in the unlikeliest (and even most inappropriate) situations. We know what it feels like gather the strength to pull ourselves up from the dirt after having been beaten down into it. And it’s these realities that our team of thespians bring forth.
That said, special props have to be given to the man who set it all off over a decade ago, Mr. Robert Downey Jr. As Tony Stark, Downey likely has the toughest job in the film—and the franchise—to move through just about every conceivable feeling along an amazing and effectively earned arc. There were times in this film he literally gave me chills, and more than one elicited tear. You never know what can happen, but I can’t think of a more satisfying performance to cap off a beautiful run. Every other member of the cast brings their A game, and most have a beautiful moment or two to really shine. Hell, for a while, Paul Rudd provides much of the dramatic tension, so that should tell you something. And for better or worse, if you’re a fan of the more comical direction Hemsworth has taken Thor, you’re likely to be happily surprised. If not, brace yourself . . .
In summary, Avengers: Endgame is not a perfect film, but it’s about as close as something of this magnitude is ever likely to get. Nothing like this has ever been done, and now having witnessed the aftermath, I can’t see how it could be again. There’s just no way this many characters, played by this many amazing actors, having been built up over this amount of time, to face stakes this high and this taxing . . . I mean, where do you go from here? Even if the recent acquisition of Fox by Disney means we may see an X-Men, Fantastic Four, and new Avengers crossover film, it still will not have been brought together in quite this way. This is something special, and quibbles aside, has been pulled off with enormous success. If you haven’t contributed your dollars to the $1 billion+ the film has already made, do so. You’re going to want to see this one on the big screen. After all, you’ve earned it.
YANG: SPOILER REVIEW
Still with me? Good. So from this point on, if you haven’t seen the film, please leave this page and go check out one of the other fantastic Flapper Press articles.
Ready? Ok, so let’s dive in.
The question that was on everyone’s mind over the past year has, of course, been how the Avengers were going to bring everyone back. We knew they had to, I mean, after all Spidey comes back swinging into theatres next month. (Though wouldn’t THAT have been the world’s biggest fake-out?) There was plenty of speculation about how it could be done, and the only thing we pretty much knew for sure was that it was somehow going to involve the Quantum Realm introduced through the Ant-Man films. Outside that, however, the other logical choice was to simply use the stones to undo what was done. What we ended up with was an interesting mix of both.
I was delighted that the film got the obvious out of the way first. No, it won’t be as easy as rolling up to Thanos with Big Gun Captain Marvel, grabbing the gauntlet, and snapping things back to normal. The journey would end up a little more complicated. Well . . . actually a lot more complicated. After Tony has solved the insurmountable issue of time travel in a night, the group sets up an elaborate plan to revisit all the old movies and sneak off with the stones in order to gain them all for themselves before Thanos can. Not the worst plan, but I can’t help but think that given the conditions and the obstacles, wouldn’t it have been easier to have the whole team simply go after the Time and Space stones first, then use them freely to grab the rest? Between those two, seems like you can waltz into wherever and whenever you need and not worry about running out of Pym Particles. Granted, then we’d never get our various strolls down memory lane, which are amusing but far more cumbersome. Still, the sheer fun of those adventures does tend to outweigh the easy answer, so I can forgive this oversight.
Taking the long way round does have some positive benefits, not the least of which is offering Captain America his happy ending. I know there’s been some debate about how that might be possible, but if you think about the non-Time Stone rules that are clearly established, it actually works perfectly well. And the simple fact that Rogers and Carter get their dance, and their lifetime of happiness, is quite possibly the best reward I can think of both for them and the audience.
It also leaves a few doors open for the return of other lost loved ones, most especially Loki, who hopped his way through a Tesseract portal into hopefully years of mischief to come. Could we also find ways to bring back Vision and Black Widow? The announcement of several upcoming Disney+ shows would seem to confirm that we can.
One character we likely won’t see again is the Iron Man himself, Tony Stark. His beautiful sacrifice has been foreshadowed for years, and after all he’s gone through, the man has earned his rest, just as Pepper said. It really could not have gone any other way, and the moment was so magnificently played by Downey that it’d be a shame to shoehorn him back in after that. I mention Downey’s acting above, but I have to point out a specific scene that showcased what a brilliant performer he can be. Following the tearful montage of Tony floating through space, preparing for the end, we bring Stark back to Earth, but not necessarily to a happy reunion. His confrontation with Steve is an emotional barrage that had been building up for at least 3 films, and now finds itself unleashed with the dark humor and pain that only Downey could wrought. As I said, a tour de force.
Less impressive was the continuation of the bag of laughs that has become Thor. While Ragnarok was certainly fun, I felt, like many others, they pushed the character too far into absurdity. However, I thought the reins were pulled in during Infinity War, striking the absolute perfect balance between the humor and the pain, which Hemsworth played flawlessly in his heartfelt scene with Rocket in their pod. This time round, Thor is a man dealing with his own failures and questions of identity, all perfectly understandable. Thus, his appearance as a fat, shlubby, beer-swilling wreck was hilarious, inspired, and even sympathetic . . . in the first few scenes. After that, the joke began to wear thin. But really, following his cathartic conversation with his mother, we should have gotten Thor back in full. Perhaps not completely healed psychologically, but a proper return to form. The decision to keep his shlubbiness, for me, was distracting. I understand the argument that one cannot and perhaps should not be able to blink their eyes and find themselves a perfect being, but if we stop to think about it, that’s not really what we’re talking about here. Thor is basically a god, and it’s doubtful he spent his free time in the Asgard Gym pumping iron for hours on end to build his perfect body. No, his appearance is magical, a reflection of himself, and I think the metaphor would have been stronger had he gotten his muscles back along with his cape. And besides, it’s not like we haven’t seen Thor both ripped and in emotional tatters. Preserving him in the form that represents his breakdown seems more of an adherence to the overall decision to push Thor further and further into caricature and farce than a reflection of his inner nature. And personally, that doesn’t sit well with me, as I was hoping for a return to greatness in every sense. Given how his journey ends, looks like we may have another chance, but also looks like funny Thor isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
In addition, one of Endgame’s biggest strengths is the way it finally showcases the supposed second-tier heroes who haven’t always gotten the focus they deserve. Nebula (Karen Gillan) plays a huge part in the Infinity Gauntlet comic series, and so it was natural that after playing mostly the bratty foil in previous entries that she’d be given a larger stake here. We see her grow onscreen, first with small gestures of kindness and then with the stark contrast to her younger self. It allows the character to finally break through and become a legitimate and nuanced member of the team, and Gillan plays the various facets with expert precision, never straying too far from the core personality while still leaving plenty of room to expand.
Similarly, Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye/Clint Barton is given his moment to truly shine after sitting out the previous film. After playing the mind-controlled henchmen in the first Avengers, he was given a home life and a nice little speech in Age of Ultron. But he’s always been put aside in favor of the rest . . . but no more. In Endgame, Barton loses everything, and deals with that pain by becoming the broken, blood-thirsty assassin Ronin. His descent and ultimate rise are a highlight of the film, and expressed in no better way than through his tender final moments with Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson). It’s a testament to the filmmakers that the sacrifice could seriously have gone either way, as Natasha, having had her own build up throughout the early part of the film, lives up to her promise to clear the red in her ledger and complete her journey from villain to hero. Renner and Johansson fight for the right to die, and while Natasha is gone for now, we know we’ll see her again in some capacity. Barton, however, is left to wallow in the aftermath, and deal not only with the death of his friend, but in redeeming himself in order to become the man his family needs once more. It’s a beautiful and tragic ending for both characters, and really shows that even the role players can be major contributors to the story.
Finally, there’s the mad Titan himself, who isn’t getting much talk despite the fact he’s the primary instigator throughout the film. Taken out early and yet far too late, Josh Brolin’s villain returns in an unexpected way. Still holding on to the impressive character development established in the previous film, we see a slight but significant change here. His argument in Infinity War was, to some degree, understandable. Wiping out half of all life so that the other may live is, of course, extreme, but Thanos believes it’s the most beneficial, even compassionate, solution. And some part of us relates. However, this time we see that perhaps he’s not quite as altruistic as he purports to be. The understanding that the Avengers are working to thwart his plans pushes his ego to decide that ALL life should be wiped out and begun anew. And it’s here we see the depths of his madness and his villainy. Once again, the creators have taken the character ever further, upping the stakes yet again so that the final confrontation is that much more dire, not simply a rehash of the last film’s climactic battle. And with Thanos ultimately, finally defeated, he takes a seat and silently accepts his ironically fitting fate. A simple and beautiful end to the greatest threat the universe has known and a climax to the underappreciated performance by Brolin who created such a being.
And so, with the disappeared now restored and our heroes’ work complete, we look to the future. The epilogue to Phase Three will be Spider-man: Far From Home next month (which should address the issue of why Peter’s friends are all still in high school 5 years on). But beyond that, we know Phase Four will include The Eternals, a Black Widow prequel, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, and almost certainly Black Panther 2, Doctor Strange 2, and Captain Marvel 2 as well as the announced limited shows for Disney+ featuring Falcon & Winter Soldier (who now will most likely be new Captain America and the White Wolf), a Scarlet Witch & Vision series (be interesting to see how they pull that off), a Hawkeye series which will likely introduce a new female Hawkeye (possibly his daughter?), and a Loki series—all of which will feature the original actors. And so, there’s certainly no shortage of content in the works for Marvel for the foreseeable future. Head honcho Kevin Feige has guided us with unprecedented mastery up to this point, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t continue to do so for decades still. I for one will be watching with bated breath, and am grateful the journey we’ve had, and the one to come.