Wednesday, April 24, 2019

'Endgame' delivers what fans expect

It takes three hours for this Marvel Comics series to reach its conclusion, but the movie mostly succeeds..

Watching Avengers: Endgame —- the last chapter in what seemed an endless series of movies that kicked off in 2008 with Iron Man — another title kept running through my head, Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. It’s not that Chandler’s 1953 novel, made into a fine movie by director Robert Altman, resembles this Marvel Comics extravaganza in any way. It’s simply the title. At three hours in length, Marvel takes its time bringing this long-running series to a close. Judging by Endgame's sometimes melancholy tone, Marvel itself had a difficult time letting go.

Before we continue, I should tell you that this isn’t the end of Marvel comic movies or of every character who has graced the Avengers series. And, no, I’m not going to dwell on plot, partly because critics have been cautioned about including spoilers and partly because I’m not sure that the plot and its various twists make much difference. The general outline of the story already has been drawn; the last installment —- Infinity War —- pitted the Avengers against Thanos (James Brolin}, a super-villain. Even before the beginning of Endgame, Thanos had wiped out half of the universe's population.

This edition includes a robust cast of characters from the Marvel Universe, so many that all but the most avid Marvel fan would be wise to attend the movie with a scorecard. But if character development doesn’t entirely surpass action in Endgame, it at least stands on equal footing. There’s also a fair amount of humor in the work of directors Anthony and Joe Russo, the brothers who brought us 2018’s Infinity War.

About the movie's humor: Reviewers will mention it for good reason. Endgame doesn’t skimp on humor, much of it self-referential, some of it simply amusing. But this doesn’t mean you’ll be falling out of your seat; it does mean that the filmmakers understand that a three-hour journey can’t be made unless it provides a few laughs.

Endgame stands as a sequel to Infinity War although you probably needn’t have seen that movie to follow this one. Still, if you’re not plugged into the Marvel universe, I see no reason to start now. And, yes, I’m wary of movies that have helped turn popular entertainment into a comic-book-based smorgasbord. I’m also aware that there’s little point railing against an already-established victory. As far as the box office is concerned, these movies represent a Hollywood Olympus that most viewers are happy to revisit with a frequency that has enriched much of Marvel's empire.

As for Endgame, I’ll give you a few of the high points. First, Robert Downey Jr., whose work as Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, ignited the Avenger's flame. A distressed-looking Stark is seen early in Endgame; he’s on a space ship floating through the outer reaches of space or as he puts it, a thousand light years from the nearest 7-Eleven. Without offering any overly revealing explanations, suffice it to say that Downey gives a real performance; i.e., one in which Stark relates more to his human side than to his superhero self.

Joining Downey are a variety of other superheroes. These include Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, the anger-motivated muscle man who in this edition has found a way to blend his fury with the normal intelligence of his alter-ego Bruce Banner. Chris Hemsworth’s Thor makes a large impression, not only by wielding his mythic hammer but by displaying a new and expanded girth. Thor, we learn has become a beer-guzzling sloth complete with a potbelly. The newly debauched Thor adds welcome laughs.

We see more of Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) than I expected. Same goes for Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow. As I've said, bring a scorecard and you'll be able to check off every superhero arrival in the movie's bulging roster.

The Russo brothers try to give each of the main characters his or her due by introducing a plot conceit that allows the movie’s structure to be divided into a variety of mini-movies that include moments of genuine poignancy.

Let’s talk about the movie’s ending. Yes, it’s protracted but it’s also marked by a reasonably surprising undertow: Victories seldom come without an underlying sense of what has been lost in the fight. That's not to say that you'll be weeping uncontrollably. The Russos deftly engineer the finale in ways that are bound to elicit cheers from the faithful; they nicely balance moments of loss with the obligatory rush derived from superhero achievements.

But wait; there’s more. The climactic action is followed by a series of epilogues that are meant to tug at the heartstrings and which probably will accomplish this goal for many of the faithful.

Avengers: Endgame goes to great lengths to deliver what its fanbase expects: big battles with cosmic stakes, a bit of self-deprecation and a plethora of superheroes that are happily and reverentially showcased.

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