Avengers: Endgame (2019)

*. The end of the line. Or the culmination of a 22-movie serial called The Infinity Saga. For the record, I’ve only seen maybe half of the preceding instalments. Everyone has their limits.
*. As you would expect from a franchise that has always and only been about going big, Endgame became the highest-grossing film of all time while offering up a full three hours of star-studded, effects-laden action. Or mostly action. The first half is pretty slow, to be honest.
*. But does Endgame mark the end of the line for the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Obviously not. Disney/Marvel only announced it as the end (give or take Spider-Man: Far From Home) of Phase Three. Another slate of offerings was immediately touted. So the attitude taken toward Endgame by most reviewers was to praise the MCU, not to bury it.
*. Of course a lot of people would like to bury it. I’ll even confess to my own bias in that regard. I feel like we passed peak Marvel quite a few years ago. And while I wouldn’t call Endgame boring (which is actually quite an achievement), I would call it heavy, and not in a good way.
*. After Thanos’s purge of half the universe, which took place at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, the world has not turned into the happy domain of sunshine and rainbows that he was aiming for. Actually, we’re not told how things are working out, aside from the glimpses we get of mountains of garbage lying in the street. I guess those jobs were hard to fill even with a huge manpower shortage. Everyone seems to just be sitting around feeling and looking glum. Even Captain America is in group therapy. Bummer.
*. Nor is there a lot of wit in the script to keep things going. Brainy Hulk, Young Michael Douglas, and Fat Thor (the last mentioned done up to look like the Dude in The Big Lebowski) get a smile, but there are no good one-liners, even with Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man playing such a prominent role. Instead there’s a liturgy of lines like “Let’s go get this son of a bitch,” “We have to take a stand,” and “This is the fight of our lives and we’re gonna win.”
*. These cues are just inserted to get the audience to cheer. Indeed most of the film plays this way, right down to the end credits with the big-names all signing off with their autographs. So much for irony. I’d like to say Jeremy Renner’s haircut was intended as a joke, but I don’t think it was. We get a couple of group “slow walk” shots that are played straight, and movies have been making fun of those for years. This is a movie that seems to be turning to stone before our eyes. Even the way the cast have a tendency to start to stutter whenever they deliver the more dramatically intense lines plays into this.
*. As with the small things, so with the big. The story here is so much of a retread it made my head hurt. First off they have to undo everything that happened in the previous movie by way of another time-travel plot. But at least this comes with a bit of knowingness, as we’re told that all previous time-travel movies (catalogued by our culturally hip heroes) were bullshit. Though all the hopping about in different timestreams we see happening here doesn’t make any more sense than it ever has.
*. The rest of the story is just your basic treasure hunt, with the team splitting up to collect the different magic Candy Crush stones that will give them the power to reset the universe yet again. As per formula, it all ends with a massive battle royale which feels like a replay of the end of Infinity War. Or the end of Age of Ultron, for that matter. All these big battles look the same to me.
*. Also the same is the moral lesson. Being a real hero is all about (1) self-sacrifice, and (2) being the best “you” that you can be. Well, these are comic books.
*. I don’t think Endgame is a great movie. In fact, I don’t even think it’s particularly good at what it does. Put another way, I can think of a half-dozen other Marvel movies I enjoyed more. If I had to pick a word to describe it I’d go for one provided by Thanos. It’s inevitable. It was inevitable it was going to be this kind of movie, inevitable that it was going to be received in this way, and inevitable that it was going to make a ton of money. This is exactly the movie I think everyone in the audience expected, or at least should have expected. It was inevitable.
*. But have we passed peak Marvel? Or is that just wishful thinking? It’s hard to see where they go from here. I don’t think they can go any bigger, and if all audiences want from Marvel is more of the same, with only slight variations (the “adult” Deadpool, the meta Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse), how are they going to keep it fresh? And at what point are audiences going to decide they’ve had enough?

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