I’ve been lax in writing lately, and for those who look for and enjoy what I write, my apologies. I’ve been busy working on other people’s scripts. I’ve also been seeing lots of films, including two 1938 classics (Only Angels Have Wings and You Can’t Take it with You), 1959’s Room at the Top, 1965’s The Agony and the Ecstasy, plus some little trifle called Captain Marvel, which wasn’t interesting enough to write about. Just didn’t have time to write about them.
But the behemoth of the year is Avengers: Endgame, which is more than a mere movie. It’s an event (as anticipated as a royal birth), a catalyst of far too many passionate discussions about people and events that aren’t real, and the culmination of a hugely successful series. (Its march to the top of the money heap is another story in itself, and worthy of discussion in other quarters).
I’ve tended to look at Avengers films as problem-solving cinematic machines that are challenged with having to give space and time to a variety of superheroes within the film itself, creating a recognizable universe, strategically introducing new characters along the way, and oh, yes, telling a story. And all that activity culminates in Endgame.
The emotional investment that most viewers are likely to bring to the film tends to override the film’s flaws (like the rather leisurely first hour), and can at least temporarily connect one to the film with love and nostalgia while viewing it, and then rethinking the experience with some misgivings later. The film is successful in giving every superhero his/her space, though no one will be completely happy that their faves didn’t get perhaps as much time as they would have liked. A friend and I agreed that there was not enough Chris Pratt or Spider-Man—our personal preference. Others may take issue with who lives and who (spoiler) dies. And of course that sweet, soft ending will likely be a point of contention for a while as well.
But the film succeeds as a whole. It brings everyone together, and though there is a sense of shoe-horning them in, every major character appears, sometimes at just the right moment. Again, the first reaction is joy at seeing another loved and temporarily forgotten character appear on screen; the second reaction, perhaps days later, is how dissonant these characters and worlds can be when they share a frame. As subgroups, they have been defined well, and they work well within their worlds. Lumped together, it’s a good thing they are in battle mode, as the fight scenes bring common cause to disparate heroes, and the energy of the fight scenes tends to distract us from noticing how the various superheroes and the worlds and values they represent don’t really gel.
I will confess that the grand explanation for how (spoiler alert again) the heroes can go back in time and undo Thanos’ nefarious deeds made my head hurt, and the doubling up of the characters in one time frame being visited by the same character from other time frame often left me confused. I’m sure some Avengers nerd (no offense meant—I’m nerdy about other things) might explain it from a place of full understanding. But I wouldn’t understand it (not being that deeply connected with the Marvel universe) and I don’t really care enough to make the effort. I was just happy they could get their friends back.
One thing I’ve always admired about the new wave of superhero films is the absolute commitment of the actors. No one phones it in, and good actors contribute good acting. Robert Downey, Jr. is a very good actor, and he is a standout among a solid group of performances. Let’s hope there is no going back to actors not giving their all in films like this.
What is a bit lumpy about the film are some of the choices made about the characters. Opening with Hawkeye and his family—why do that? Fat Thor? Some loved that; I am not among them. I wanted him to have a stronger presence and perhaps clash more with the others. Why did Peter Quill and Gamora get such little time together, especially when the film actually brings them together?
Bringing in Ant-Man and using him so significantly seemed a good creative choice, and limiting the confusing character and bland performer of Captain Marvel also seemed good. What she can and can’t do, and why she chose to do her thing so sporadically, was only stabbed at in the film, and ineffectively. But I’m glad she wasn’t a major presence in the film. I was also hoping that Peter Q. would redeem himself for all the chaos he contributed to in the previous film, but alas, such was not to be. What was in its place, however, worked, and helped bring the franchise around full circle; having Iron Man move from selfish to sacrificial in the first Iron Man film was repeated here, with more depth and much more resonance.
And yes, the final battle scene was gargantuan. But layered as it was with various superheroes making their arrivals when they did, it kept the viewer emotionally connected throughout, and prevented the battle scene from turning into a DC slugfest that goes on far too long.
There will be endless conversation around the artistic choices made here, as they nearly all involve characters that we love, love more, and love less. And what happens with all these characters is really at the heart of this franchise. Yes, there is an alternate universe with a Tesseract, wildly different rules from our universe, etc. But what has always counted are the characters, much more than the stories we find them in. Endgame is actually overstuffed with them, and most viewers will joyfully gorge themselves on their favorites.