AVENGERS: ENDGAME (Corporate Overlords, 2019)
Obligatory spoiler warning: this will have them.
Ever accidentally answer your phone when a random number pops up, and it takes you a while to figure out if the voice on the other end is a person or a robot? As technology progresses to the point where the organic and synthetic merge, where the line blurs between what’s human and what’s machine, we enter an age of undefined identity — a smeared grab-bag of things that bounce around in our consciousness to distract us from the existential horror that everything dies, nothing matters, and there is no purpose or reason for any of it. People are cyborgs, countries are companies, and money is authority. And what are movies, TV shows, or comic books? Is there a difference? Is ENDGAME the series finale of a 3-season fan fellatio where every 6-8 episodes it rinsed and repeated its digital tornado of gravity-defying light-show stunts and snarky gags? If ENDGAME is a movie, an Airbus A380 is a bicycle.
Most of the 21 episodes that preceded it were mediocre, monotonous just-okay-factories. Enough effort went in to prevent all-out disaster, but little artistry went into creating something profound. There’s not even much point in critically analyzing them; they’re post-analysis — they’re self-reflexive arguments for their own fan appreciation. But now that the story has been finalized to some degree (they’d never fully kill the golden goose), that horizon has yielded a few real benefits. Structurally, this has a shape: although the middle hour (collecting the stones) drags, it’s its own act. The first hour, getting the band back together, is full of solid laughs. The third act does contain the obligatory CG noise casserole (set in a bizarre green screen non-world of ill-defined terrain and murky-clouded skies) but it also takes death seriously, for a change. While Bruce and Mohawkeye (seriously, Renner’s lost-a-bet haircut must be seen to be believed) mourn Natasha, everyone mourns Tony with the gravity of a war’s real cost.
The pace is slow enough to register shot compositions and actor’s performances. For the first time, I can see a thespian garner acclaim for work in Marvel — Robert Downey Jr. reminds us that he used to be great before he became a hero. And Paul Rudd and Chris Hemsworth understand comic timing and that shouldn’t be taken for granted. There doesn’t need to be much action in this movie — it has maybe the least amount per minute of screen time of any other Marvel I can think of, because it does wrestle with character, even if it forgets that they’re also comic book superheroes (the failure to let Natasha’s Black Widow do anything remotely manipulative or devious is a criminal sin, and most of the other superheroes are just warriors without unique powers — beyond maybe Ant-Man and Hulk).
Also, as a piece of titanic pop culture destined to cement its place in box office history, it knows that its wokeness will be discussed regardless. So it forces a scene where every female hero in the series’ history lands together on screen without motivation or warning, to band together in battle. It also lets the old white guard pass its gifts on to minorities — Thor passes the Kingdom of Asgard off to Tessa Thompson, while Captain America hands his shield over to Anthony Mackie. Blink and you’ll miss the flash frame of Kevin Feige holding a “Diversity! Inclusivity!” sign above Stan Lee’s head. These transparent deferments to the current climate are admirable but clumsy, yet perhaps the most that a gargantuan franchise like this can afford. All around the world, people are seeing this thing, so it isn’t really just a movie, for better or worse. You can point out that the script doesn’t allow for narrative information to be communicated without dialogue; that the messages don’t challenge or confront us; that the frames rarely look as kinetic and artistic as a comic book panel, despite its influences. But what’s the point? The Russos are not De Palma. They shepherded untold amounts of traffic and scheduling, they gave a couple of their COMMUNITY pals some cameos (Ben and Shirley show up, but what, Abed was too busy?), and they allowed global audiences to forget for three hours the bottomless pit of despair that is the real world. That isn’t heroic, but it doesn’t happen every day.