A film review by Craig J. Koban May 6, 2019


2019, PG-13, 182 mins.


Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark / Iron Man  /  Chris Hemsworth as Thor Odinson  /  Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner / The Hulk  /  Chris Evans as Steve Rogers / Nomad  /  Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow  /  Chris Pratt as Peter Quill / Star-Lord  /  Josh Brolin as Thanos  /  Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange / Doctor Strange  /  Don Cheadle as James Rhodes / War Machine  /  Tom Holland as Peter Parker / Spider-Man  /  Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa / Black Panther  /    Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch  /  Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson / Falcon  /  Sebastian Stan as James "Bucky" Barnes / White Wolf  /  Tom Hiddleston as Loki  /   Benedict Wong as Wong  /  Pom Klementieff as Mantis  /  Karen Gillan as Nebula  /  Dave Bautista as Drax  /  Zoe Saldana as Gamora  /  Vin Diesel as Groot (voice)  /  Bradley Cooper as Rocket Raccoon (voice)  /  Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts  

Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo  /  Written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely






I remember screening the very first IRON MAN film way, way back in 2008 and, for the most part, shrugged off the final end credit scene featuring a surprise cameo by Samuel L. Jackson's S.H.I.E.L.D. head honcho Nick Fury talking to Robert Downey Jr.'s metal clad hero about "the Avengers Initiative."  

Contemplating the massive scope of what was promised here, I turned to my friend at the time and whispered into his ear that an AVENGERS film will "never happen."   

I never in a proverbial million years would have thought that such a modest sequence with such a tiny line of dialogue would eventually pave the way for a sprawling saga of 22 films over the course of 11 years that featured a rich pantheon of Marvel Comics' greatest heroes and villains.  Well, I was proven absolutely wrong, which, of course, now brings us to last year's impressively and epically orchestrated, but somewhat problematic AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and now its follow-up entry ENDGAME, both of which yearn to fully capitalize on the promises of Nick Fury's words from over a decade ago.  Upon leaving AVENGERS: ENDGAME I came out of it thinking that it was a ferociously ambitious super hero extravaganza, arguably the largest of its ilk ever conceived and executed.  I also found it visually arresting, frequently spellbinding, dramatically potent and sometimes heartrending, but also a bit wobbly and undisciplined in its overall editorial and narrative flow.  There will arguably never be another comic book film like it ever again, and it even manages to dwarf its predecessor in INFINITY WAR on a level of sheer size and magnitude, even though it isn't perhaps as solid of an overall effort as that 2017 team up effort. 



There's been a hyper aggressive push to not spoil AVENGERS: ENDGAME, which is commendable (granted, this should be the status quo etiquette for any film, not just massive budgeted blockbusters).  Having said that, the definition of what constitutes an actual spoiler seems to have been laughably twisted in this film's release wake.  Despite the fact that the Marvel and Disney - in a strange move - have lifted the spoiler ban on the film as of today, I'll venture to keep plot details as vague as possible here, but some acutely sensitive fans out there may think I'm dabbling into spoiler territory, so consider the rest of this review one with potential mild spoilers.  In case you were among the one per cent of the filmgoing world that did not see AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, that film contained one humdinger of a climax that showcased the intergalactic baddie Thanos (in a great motion capture performance by Josh Brolin) not only defeating the heroes, but horribly defeating them while snapping his Infinity Gauntlet covered fingers and wiping out half of biological life in the known universe (including, yes, many of our cherished super heroes in a would-be tear inducing moment, all but undone by Marvel and Disney's inexplicable desire to market the next Spider-Man film - taking place post-ENDGAME - before this film's release, all but nullifying any sense of anguish we should have felt in seeing Tom Holland's wall crawler wither away into dust particles). 

One of the best aspects of this AVENGERS sequel is its earlier stages, showing all of the remaining and demoralized heroes that weren't wiped out trying to desperately acclimate themselves to a post-snap world where society is at its most downtrodden...and perhaps one that doesn't really require heroes anymore.  There's a strong sense that the Russo Brothers here are trying to demythologize these larger than life characters and strip them emotionally and psychologically down to their most human and vulnerable essence, which makes sense now that they have to occupy a world that has been ravaged by Thanos' nightmarish plan come to successful fruition.  These heroes have lost everything and have virtually nothing left to speak for, which leads into a larger conversation as to why Thanos is such an intriguing and layered villain.  Like great megalomaniac antagonists, he feels absolutely justified in the righteousness of his actions to thin the galaxy's herd, and one of the more chilling aspects of this character in INFINITY WAR is that he's unspeakably cold hearted and violent, but his desire to wipe out whole human civilizations based on the motive of curtailing their wicked self interests is not entirely illogical. 

Anyhoo', we catch back up with a space marooned Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), and Nebula (Karen Gillan), left in their post-Thanos battle in INFINITY WAR stranded in the middle of the universe without a chance of rescue in sight.  We also re-visit other heroes, like Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), who was previously trapped in the Quantum Realm at the end of ANT-MAN AND THE WASP and now has miraculously returned to a normal plan of reality, albeit years after Thanos' master plan commenced.  He reconnects with every other hero still standing - Captain America Rogers (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), War Machine (Done Cheadle) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth)  - and revels to them the basic framework of a revenge plan to not only defeat Thanos, but potentially right his past wrongs.  

And it's...complicated. 

One of my big problems with AVENGERS: ENDGAME is with the titular team's overall and coordinated heist-like comeuppance scheme, which I will not go into in any specific detail (spoilers be damned!), other than to say that, upon modestly scrutinizing it relatively to the whole - shall we say - continuity of the events of the MCU as a whole...it doesn't always make logical sense and forced me to ask many, many distracting questions about potential plot holes (the writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFreely also don't seem to play entirely fair to the established rules of their movie - which dabbles in ideas about the Quantum Realm, time displacement, and so on - as much as they think they are).  There are also a whole slew of - shall we say - call-backs and referencing to many of the most iconic MCU films that it could be easily argued that it borders of being a bit too regressive minded for my tastes (being joyously referential to past cinematic glory moments will certainly appease audience members on a level of pure fan servicing, but this approach lacked a sense of narrative courage and freshness, which leaves much of ENDGAME feeling like a greatest hits compilation in its middle sections).   

Then there's the runtime, which is as swollen as the Hulk's gamma radiated body.  At three hours, AVENGERS: ENDGAME doesn't entirely feel long, but it nevertheless revels in bloat in the sense that it's filled with a lot of superfluous filler scenes that aren't all that necessary in the large scheme of things.  More often than not, the film comes off more like one of those director's extended edition cuts that hits home video and has everything but the kitchen sink thrown in as opposed to a potentially leaner, tighter, and more cohesively shorter theatrical cut.  I applaud the Russos for wanting to shoehorn in as much as they possibly could here to appease die hards, but as noble minded as that approach is it still seems undisciplined.  This also leads, on a big positive, to many characters given their proper due care handling and respect (Downey's Stark and Evans' Rogers come immediately to mind), which is satisfying, but it also leads to the dissatisfying manner that so many other heroes here seem to be delegated to the sidelines.  Brie Larson's Captain Marvel, for instance, never really develops here beyond an extended cameo appearance (she's more of a plot device than a fully realized character here, showing up when the script deems it necessary and convenient).  Two characters in particular are treated in manners that I could best describe as unexpected and more than a bit weird, one being used for the purposes of recurring gags involving his depressed appearance.  Considering the vast stakes of these AVENGERS films, the fact that ENDGAME uses legitimate issues of mental health and survivor guilt and spins them into a source of cheap laughs is sort of off-putting in hindsight. 

Still, it's awfully hard not to be swept up into the whole majesty of this once in a generation enterprise, and as AVENGERS: ENDGAME culminated in a climax that's a pure eye gasmic orgy of awe-inspiringly state of the art visual effects and overall directorial choreography you just have to applaud the thanklessly difficult task the Russos imparted on here to homogenize the entirety of the whole MCU into one final package (even though this film duplicates the increasingly stale cliché of far too many super hero films climaxing with an onslaught of CGI mayhem, the Russos craft such an endlessly polished looking final product that it becomes hard to nitpick such overused conventions).  AVENGERS: ENDGAME most definitely looks like the entirety of its $300-plus million budget is on screen and it wholeheartedly delivers on all technical and visual levels.  

Maybe I've just grown to distance myself from the sense of overstuffed bigness to these gargantuan team-up MCU efforts.  I've mostly gravitated towards the intimately drawn, thematically rich, and more compellingly insular solo MCU films over the course of 11 years (the CAPTAIN AMERICA trilogy remain high benchmark works for the super hero genre for me).  For as much as I found AVENGERS: ENDGAME a bit creatively unwieldy at times, it's pretty hard to not acknowledge it as a mostly enjoyable and lavishly produced swan song for this unparalleled cinematic universe that manages to draw a sense of reasonable closure for some characters while paving the way for the continued and future adventures of super powered Marvel beings (ENDGAME is less of an ending for this MCU group walking off stage forever- as many have improperly reported - than it is about this motley crew going back out for a victory lap encore).  And the film has shown the cynic in me that the "Avengers Initiative" was one worth all of our time, patience, and investment.  



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