The MCU has delivered an impressively well-connected movie series. In the case of Thanos, this is a story-arc that started in the mid-credit "monkey" at the end of 2012's "The Avengers" and, at the conclusion of "Avengers: Infinity War", saw half the universe's population drift away - Voldemort-style - into grey ash. This, of course, also wiped out half of our heroes. This included Spider-Man (Tom Holland); Dr Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch); Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman); Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson); half of the remaining Guardians; The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and Dr Pym (Michael Douglas). Oblivious to all of this is Ant Man (Paul Rudd), still stranded in the 'quantum realm' following the demise of his colleagues, and with no one to flick the 'return' switch.
After some early action, Endgame's story revolves around a desperate attempt by the remaining Avengers, led by Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and a 'retired' Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jnr) to undo the undoable. Can they succeed against all the odds? (With a new Spider-Man film due out in the summer, I'll give you a guess!). Of more relevance perhaps is whether the team can stay unscathed from their encounter with the scheming and massively powerful Thanos (Josh Brolin)?
The film will not be to every fan's taste. After the virtually non-stop rip-roaring action of "Infinity War", "Endgame" takes a far more contemplative approach to its first hour.
The film starts with a devastating prologue, and a great lesson in statistics: that you need a decent sized population to guarantee getting a 50:50 split! There is also a very surprising twist in the first 15 minutes or so that I didn't see coming AT ALL.
But then things settle down into a far more sombre section of the film: short on action; long on character development. The world is grieving for its loss, unable to move on past the non-stop counselling sessions that everyone is getting. This first hour was, for me, by far, my favourite part of the film. Seeing how the characters we know and love have been impacted - some for better rather than for worse - was terrific. Mark Ruffalo's Hulk (with a rather glib plot-point) takes on an hilarious new aspect; and Chris Hemsworth adds hugely comedic value as Thor, setting up in Scotland a "New Asgard" settlement in uncharacteristically laid-back fashion.
As an ensemble cast, everyone plays their parts extremely well. But it is just the breadth of the cast that astounds in this film: just about everyone who is anyone in the Marvel Universe - at least, those who are still alive (alive!) and not dead (dead!) - pop up for an appearance! This is great fun with, in one particular case, the opportunity to try some more rejuvenation of an old timer as previously done with Samuel L. Jackson in "Captain Marvel".
Inevitably, some of these appearances are overly brief, and characters that I wanted to see developed more in this film (particularly Brie Larson's Captain Marvel) get very little screen time. Drax (Dave Bautista) and Mantis (Pom Klementieff) barely get a single line each. So it will depend on where your loyalties lie as to whether you are satisfied with the coverage or not. (I personally find Chris Evans' Captain America a bit of a po-faced bore, so I wasn't keen on the amount of screen time he had).
Stan Lee again gets another cameo in the bag before his demise: will this actually be his last live one?
Overall, I enjoyed this movie. It could obviously NEVER live up to the over-hyped expectations of the fan base. But as a cinematic spectacle, for me, it delivered on its billing as a blockbuster finale, but one filled with a degree of nuance I was not expecting. The problem with the way that the plot have been structured (no spoilers - <#>) is that it is easy to pick holes in the storyline. Indeed, some dramatic options (that to me seemed obvious ones to 'mine') were left 'unmined' <##>; others were left inexplicably hanging <###>.
I suspect the reason for some of this is that the initial cut of this film probably ran to 5 hours rather than the - still bladder-testing - 3 hours as released. There were probably a bunch of scenes left on the cutting room floor that might allow things to make more sense in the extended BluRay release.
It's at times slow, but for me never dull. It does suffer from one significant flaw though: the "Return of the King" disease. It doesn't know when to quit. There was a natural MCU arc to follow and a perfect time at which to end it: but the directors (the Russo Brothers, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo) kept adding additional scenes that detracted from the natural ending <####>.
Above all, unlike I think all but one film in MCU history, there is NO "MONKEY" (end-credit scene) in the end credits: either mid-credit or end-credit! So, after the long title crawl (and some rather odd choices for end-title music by Alan Silvestri), if you are not to look bloody stupid as the lights come up, and face a storm of derision from your partner, then leave after the dramatic roll-call sequence of the film's stars!
******SPOILER SECTION***** Do not read beyond this point if you've not watched the film!
<#> The "plot-hole picking" business I referenced is of course the time-travelling element of the plot. First up, Stark's discovery of the mobius strip McGuffin is nicely done and his moral torment at disrupting the idyllic life he's built is relatable. But this timey-wimey stuff tends to play havoc with logic.....
<##> The missed opportunity I saw was the killing of Nebula (the younger) by Nebula (the elder) (both Karen Gillan). If it had been the other way round, I *might* have understood it. But surely this way round, Nebula the elder would have ceased to exist to go back in time in the first place? That's obviously a paradox! It would at least have been more satisfying if Nebula the elder had "ashed" away or something: literally a self-sacrifice for the greater good. Perhaps I've missed something and need to watch it again!
<###> My other question would be what happened to her sister Gamora? She was alive and kicking (hard) in one scene, but then not mentioned further: just a pining Star Lord (Chris Pratt) looking at her picture? Again, maybe I missed something!
What was particularly joyous was seeing a plethora of great faces on the screen: Rene Russo (no immediate relation to the directors!) as Thor's mother; Natalie Portman, reprising her role of Jane Porter from the first Thor films (so brief, it was clearly constructed from cut footage or something); Michael Douglas, old and young, as Dr Pym and particularly Robert Redford. (So THIS, not "The Old Man and the Gun", is his "final film" then!!?)
My previous reservations (from "Captain Marvel") about the superior fire-power of Captain Marvel also held true. Although she had "all the other planets" around the universe to cater for ("Fair point"), when she did turn up she ripped through Thanos's ship like paper (as she did in her own film). And yet she couldn't rip her way through Thanos? And a stone-less Thanos at that!
This really made no sense to me. In "Infinity War" you could rationalise that the REASON the combined efforts of The Avengers to attack and remove the glove of Thanos failed was BECAUSE he was immensely powerful by having four of the five stones. In the battle scene in "Endgame" he had the better of Stark, Thor, Captain America AND Marvel but without any stones in his possession. Or have I missed something yet again here?
<####> My view of the finale was that it should have ended with the (rather CGI'd) funeral pan round the assembled characters (including a few randoms... I understand the young teen on his own was the kid who helped Stark in "Iron Man Three"). While the Captain America time travelling piece that followed was sweet and all, it's been done before (in Mel Gibson's "Forever Young" for example) and for me wasn't worth the minutes invested in it at the end of an already long film.
So, where will we go from here then in the MCU universe? Stan Lee is dead; Stark is dead; Black Widow is dead (though - as Amy Andrews points out, in her excellent review of the movie - she's been criminally underused). There will no doubt be further MCU films: "SpiderMan: Far From Home" opens in the summer; surely we are due "Black Panther" and "Captain Marvel" follow-ups; ; and Ant-Man and the Wasp have barely scratched the surface together. But will we ever get to see another "Avengers-style" story arc that traverses and connects the characters again in a similar way? Only the timey-wimey stuff will tell.
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