'Avengers: Endgame' a trip down memory road for MCU fans

BY NEIL MORRIS, CN+R Film Critic
Posted 4/26/19

Neil Morris' Review of The Avengers: Endgame

CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS

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'Avengers: Endgame' a trip down memory road for MCU fans

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Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) in a scene from Marvel Studios' "Avengers: Endgame," in theaters now.
Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) in a scene from Marvel Studios' "Avengers: Endgame," in theaters now.
Posted

CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS

“Avengers: Endgame” begins and ends with atypical moments of quiet, scenes of both familial loss and reunion. They’re fitting bookends for a decade-plus superhero saga that became about family: between the characters themselves and also the relationship between the 22-film Marvel Cinematic Universe and its diehard audience. For all the legitimate criticism of Infinity MacGuffins and recycled villains and recycled plots, here we are, 11 years after “Iron Man” burst onto the silver screen to bring fun back to a genre that believed its only path to market redemption was dour, “Dark Knight”-era neo-realism.

“Endgame” balances the MCU’s trademark levity with a reservoir of emotions that didn’t need to be manufactured for this finale. They were already there, from the conflict between Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), to the platonic love affair between Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), to the angst of loss and failure felt by Thor (Chris Hemsworth). The table was already set for this three-hour behemoth that’s a grand retrospective as much as a cataclysmic climax.

Mere weeks after Thanos (Josh Brolin) snapped his bejeweled fingers to wipe out half the life in the universe, the survived Avengers—Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Romanoff, James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), and newcomer Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel (Brie Larson)—track down the weakened baddie in hopes of reversing his literal death wish. They don’t succeed since Thanos has destroyed the Stones, so fast-forward five years later: Earth remains a derelict shadow of its former self, survivors unable to move on and rebuild mankind.

A few Avengers attempt to carry on their legacy, consigned to police work in an increasingly dysfunctional society, sometimes against former friends who have gone rogue. Thor is drunken and overweight, the loutish lord of a fishing village named New Asgard. Banner has managed to merge his human and Hulk identities into an amalgam based off the “Professor Hulk” comic book version.

Although believed dead, Scott Lang/Ant Man (Paul Rudd) escapes from the quantum realm, where he was marooned since the end credits to “Ant-Man and the Wasp” and returns with a hair-brained idea of morphing quantum physics with Pym Particles to create time travel. The latter-day Avengers would return to specific points in time in order to reassemble the Infinity Stones and use them to bring back the dead.

What ensues in a lavish MCU revue, as the Avengers revisit several formative settings: the attack on New York City during the first “Avengers” film; Asgard before its demise; the planet Morag just before the arrival of Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) in the first “Guardians of the Galaxy”; a 1970 Army base housing an early version of S.H.I.E.L.D. headed by Stark’s dad; etc.. Cameos come with abundance, even including Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster and Robert Redford coaxed out of retirement to briefly reprise Alexander Pierce from "Captain America: The Winter Soldier."

Ultimately, past Thanos figures out the Avengers’ scheme and devises a means to teleport to the present-day and thwart their plans. It all culminates with the usual MCU battle royale that’s singular only in its scope, even more bloated than previous CGI clashes but also armed with the emotional resonance of 20 movies.

Yes, the search for Infinity Stones and the inconsistent rules of their powers grew wearisome about eight years ago. But if you’ve come this far with the MCU, there’s a level of acceptance in that narrative, along with the notion that Tony Stark will have another eureka moment to discover the secret to time travel in less than five minutes of screen time. Heck, the slipshod, loosey-goosey rules regarding the butterfly effects of time travel are rife with plot problems. And even to the end, directors Anthony and Joe Russo (and Larson) don’t know how to adequately portray and utilize Captain Marvel, who is relegated to a glowing, glorified deus ex machina.

“Endgame” is a film about family, yes, but it’s also about failure and redemption. Superheroes often face demons with internal and external, but from “Infinity War” through “Endgame,” the Avengers face the daunting task of reversing a failure —preventing universal genocides — so abject that it calls into question whether they’re suitable heroes at all. It’s heady stuff for a comic book movie, and a step beyond many of its popcorn-munching MCU antecedents.

Still, “Endgame” is more of a cultural and cinematic milestone than a superb standalone, full of plot holes but also palpable poignancy. There’s a scene in the last act when the camera pans across the extended MCU cast, assembled in groups by the casts of their respective films. It was like a trip down memory road. It felt like our own endgame.

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