Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo
I didn't hear anything bad the last couple of times I've tried this, so here we go. For anyone that needs to get back to the work they're avoiding or wants to play Words With Friends or Fortnite or whatever or is just in a hurry and not in the mood for a deep dive into light film criticism, let's get this out of the way. I liked Avengers: Endgame. A lot. It is a crowd-cheering, multiple kleenex, emotional roller-coaster ride of a film. If the audience for these films suddenly dried up tomorrow, Endgame is just about the highest note they can go out on. I know you're busy and can't stick around and that's okay. For the rest of you, hold on tight. Keep your tables in an upright and secure position and make sure you stay hydrated. This is going to be a bit of a ride as I try to write about a movie that I can't say anything about. We're in this together.
Thanks for sticking around. Alrighty, let's get started.
The last thing I expected from Avengers: Endgame was the amount of downtime. Personally, that's always been my favourite bit in any of the Marvel movies. Those moments when the movie breathes and characters talk and the plot moves forward and the actors get to bounce off of each other. In Endgame we have a lot of those moments, as the characters, and the world at large, try to deal with the ramifications of the events of Infinity War. These actors, most of whom have been working together in some capacity over the last decade and twenty one films, have such an easy chemistry together, have such a comfortable rapport, it's a pleasure not a drudge to watch them just be. In some action franchises the talking bits are the absolute worst, they suck the air out of the movie. But these Marvel movies, especially the ones directed by the Russo brothers, this is where they live. It might have something to do with the Russos background in television with Community and Arrested Development, both shows where the verbal gymnastics usually out performed the slapstick.
But when the action picks up… There are so many moments in Endgame that feel like those two page spreads from the comics come to life. So many. Some of the action in Endgame is at a level I don't think I've ever seen in a theatre before. The audience I saw it with cheered and applauded repeatedly. Kids and adults and teens and everyone in between, clapping and cheering and shouting. I can honestly say I've never seen an audience that invested in a film before, not to this level. Sure, some of it is bloated and some of it is pandering and some of it is emotional manipulation, but this movie feels like a giant exclamation mark. An exclamation mark on a story that started in 2008. This is the climax of a twenty two film cycle called The Infinity Saga. Most of the Marvel movies have felt like a chapter leading into something else, with their stories that don't really end and their scenes tucked into the credits. Some people have pointed out that a lot of the previous movies felt like ellipsis. This one, this one feels like a conclusion.
For all of its dealing with the events of Infinity War, for all of its acknowledgement of the psychological toll on the characters of that film, Endgame is also surprisingly funny at times. Don't get me wrong here, it's not a wall-to-wall comedy fest. But it is surprising how much humour can be found in what is, really, a story about loss on a scale that is unfathomable and trying to make things right. It may feel uneven at times, this balance between the humour and the emotional punches, but it somehow feels very human. And to make something that feels this human on a scale this grand, with a cast this large, with this many ones and zeroes and the amount of processing power it takes to bring those ones and zeroes to life, well, it's a heck of an achievement.
What else can I say about a movie I can't write about?
I can tell you that bringing back Alan Silvestri was a genius move. He was the composer of the score for the first Avengers film, Infinity War and the first Captain America. He's the guy that created that amazing Avengers theme, that iconic bit of music that makes most Marvel film fans' toes curl. He has an old school, emotional approach to his scores. Very much a "you are feeling this, aren't you?" kind of approach. Anyway, having this classic Hollywood style of score behind the film elevates it, the same way it elevated Infinity War. It's bombastic and makes sure you feel the things the film wants you to feel and it works. It's the proper music for a film that is also an event.
Endgame may be a superhero movie, with fantastic beings doing fantastic things, but, at the end of the day, it is a film made by people who love making moves, who are complete film geeks. There are homages sprinkled throughout the movie. A dash of Kubrick over here, a pinch of Scott over there. You don't need to see them to enjoy the film any more or any less, they're just there. Kind of the way the Russos paid tribute to the other Marvel filmmakers in Infinity War.
And that is how you write about a film you can't write about.
Anyway, I liked Endgame. A lot. It does everything it set out to do and more. A while back, when I first started writing these things, a friend dropped off a book on film criticism. And the biggest lesson I learned from it was that before watching a movie, figure out what is the movie trying to be. Is it a blockbuster, a popcorn film, a superhero film? Judge it based on what it is, not what you want it to be. A superhero film should be an amusement park ride, it should take you on a hero's journey and it should be fun, fun, fun. If it can meet that bar, was it fun, was it a spectacle, it has done its job. Anything more is gravy and that's where the especially good superhero films live. Endgame not only met that bar, it set it on fire and danced on its ashes. Endgame is such a spectacle, such an emotional ride, it has set the bar so much higher I don't know if any other giant superhero film can possibly meet its standards. Like I said above somewhere, if the audience for these films dried up tomorrow, this is a heck of a way to go out on. Pat, he would have loved this journey.