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‘Avengers: Endgame’ a safe, satisfying finale to a legendary era

| Monday, April 29, 2019

Joseph Han | The Observer

The accomplishments of Marvel Studios rival those of its own heroes. Through the 20 films that followed “Iron Man” in 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe single-handedly defined the superhero genre and earned the reverence of a burgeoning fan base. Audiences of all ages have reveled in a franchise that continues to innovate with its origin stories and crossovers. Each of these box-office blockbusters culminates in the end of the “Avengers” saga — that is, the “Endgame.”

The remainder of the review will contain spoilers. Proceed at your own risk.

The victory of Thanos (Josh Brolin) at the end of “Infinity War” left fans baffled as to how their favorite heroes would recover from their failure to protect half of all life in the universe. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), adrift in outer space with Thanos’ robot daughter Nebula (Karen Gillan), joins the surviving Avengers on Earth following a rescue from Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). Captain America (Chris Evans), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and War Machine (Don Cheadle) set off with Captain Marvel and Nebula to seize the Infinity Gauntlet and reverse Thanos’ snap.

Our heroes arrive on Thanos’ quaint farm to discover that the Mad Titan destroyed the Infinity Stones after the completion of his plan. Only 15 minutes into the movie, Thor instigates the boldest twist of “Endgame” by beheading Thanos in a fit of rage. The audience was granted a year since “Infinity War” to cope with the snap, but this surprise forces our attitude to parallel that of the grieving Avengers. What happens now?

An ambitious five-year time skip provides the answer — Cap joins an emotional support group, Tony finds fulfillment in his new daughter, Banner transforms himself into a Hulk-human hybrid, Thor becomes an overweight drunkard and Hawkeye takes to eradicating common criminals. These transformations accurately reflect the established insecurities of the heroes and set a poignant tone that fits the tragedy.

Meanwhile, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) serendipitously returns from the quantum realm, where he was trapped at the end of “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” A plan materializes involving the use of a limited supply of Pym particles to time travel through the quantum realm and retrieve the Infinity Stones from alternate timelines. In the events that follow, Black Widow exchanges her life for the Soul Stone, the so-called “time heist” succeeds, Banner uses the stones to revive the fallen and an alternate Thanos travels with an army to the present.

A grandiose battle ensues at Avengers HQ. The final battle fully capitalizes on the creative potential of the reunited heroes’ powers, building the audience’s sense of triumph through a seamless flow of shots across the battlefield. Finally deemed worthy, Cap wields Thor’s hammer in an epic moment as the assembled Avengers attempt to secure the Infinity Gauntlet from Thanos. Tony sacrifices himself by using the radioactive Gauntlet to snap away the baddies, and his death serves as the perfect closure for a hero whose arc progresses through selfishness, doubt and guilt.

In contrast, Captain America’s conclusion feels entirely unbefitting of his character. Cap encourages everyone to move on from the devastation caused by Thanos, but he succumbs to his own grief and travels to the past to live until old age with his lost love. He abandons his duty as a protector of Earth and commits perhaps the only selfish act of his existence.

Despite Cap’s controversial ending, “Endgame” presents an abundance of marvelous reasons to sit through its three-hour runtime. The Avengers’ journey through their past movies provides a hefty dose of fan service with plenty of clever encounters that showcase the franchise’s trademark antics. Like previous Marvel films, “Endgame” favors character development over spectacle without neglecting the inclusion of engaging action scenes.

Unfortunately, several distracting weaknesses pollute an otherwise spectacular film. The Avengers plan to ensure the integrity of each timeline by returning the Infinity Stones, but the Soul Stone’s guardian promises that its bestowal cannot be reversed. Captain Marvel, a predictably shameless deus ex machina, finds Tony in the endless void of space and tunnels through a spaceship until the writers deem her inconvenient.

Also, why didn’t Earth’s brightest minds immediately realize they could send one person to retrieve a large supply of Pym particles from another timeline? The introduction of time travel inevitably invites confusion, but the movie even contradicts its own rules by having Cap travel to the past of his own timeline instead of an alternate one.

Nonetheless, ambitious plot threads require ambitious conclusions — perhaps plot holes were inevitable in a movie predicated on time travel and an infinitely powerful weapon. Either way, the sobs and laughter that filled the theater during “Endgame” prove that the film nearly eclipses its messy flaws. Excluding the surprise death of our timeline’s Thanos, “Endgame” plays it safe by recognizing the evident desires of fans and consistently fulfilling them.

As Tony Stark notes, “part of the journey is the end.” And the end was glorious.


Title: “Avengers: Endgame”

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth

Directors: Joe and Anthony Russo

Genre: Action, Science Fiction

If You Like: The Marvel Cinematic Universe

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

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