Friday, April 26, 2019

Finale Countdown: AVENGERS: ENDGAME

An endless cascade of encores and exposition, Avengers: Endgame is a thunderously melancholic machine most of the time, where the quips seem a little wan and the action visually slipperier yet more grandiosely apocalyptic. I suppose it's befitting a Universe that went through a culling last time, when purple baddie Thanos (CGI muscles and glob with the scowl and growl of Josh Brolin) snapped half the population to dust. This one's about the survivors trying to move on, while the remaining Avengers decide to live up to their name. It takes comic book leaps of disbelief as they do, eventually, after a long uneven buildup, and the movie's best moments are eruptions of satisfaction. Its worst are the sort of drooping anonymous action clutter and terse box-checking that so many of these devolve into. It also has a sloppy central sci-fi conceit that's basically successfully hand-waved in the moment, but makes less sense the more I think about it. Luckily, it is diverting, and, despite its runtime, provides very little to think deeply about later. The three-hour movie is stuffed with scenarios, a large-scale victory lap for an eleven-year project of culture-conquering moviemaking enshrining comic books as the prime fantasy of our time. We've gotten lost in them. Here we get to see every original main character (Downey, Evans, Hemsworth, Johansson, Renner, Ruffalo) and a host of cameos (which Marvel commands thou shalt not spoil), revisit settings and conflicts, and go down memory lane, even as we hurtle once more to an inevitable showdown with the forces of darkness. The difference is that this one doesn't tease an open ending. There is not even a post-credit scene. The thing is, for once, embracing, more often than not, a spirit of finality for the whole thrust of the franchise. Sure, it leaves itself plenty of heroes and story potential for the future, but it works as a big, satisfying climactic splash page in its fever-pitch, effects-heavy, character-clogged frames in battles royale. At its best, I found myself glad I sat through the whole twenty-movie project in order to feel the small nods to and charming echoes and reversals of situations past. At its worst, I found myself puzzling over its enormous smallness, its undeniable scope and ambition curtailed and constrained by the formula and flat style, even at this pseudo-endpoint. Literally dozens of stars are isolated in their mix-and-match green screen poses, personalities to bounce off each other, action figures for directors Russo brothers and the usual MCU scripters and producers to assemble at will. It doesn't quite gather the zing or zest that enlivened last year's surprisingly nimble and large Infinity War. Luckily, the familiar faces have enough charisma and the plot has enough forward momentum and how'll-they-wrap-this-up? curiosity to make it all a decent popcorn multiplex time. I left as stupefied and overstuffed and vaguely pleased as after a fast food feast.

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