Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame

By: Kevin Jordan

At long last.

We can finally all breathe. After twenty-two movies, we can finally turn our attention to other films and budding franchises that have been overshadowed by the Marvel behemoth. If you look over there, the DC Extended Universe is still budding and…well…ok – it sucks pretty hard. Joker looks promising based on the previews, but then so did Suicide Squad. Instead, let’s check in on the new kid on the block, Universal’s Monsterverse, led by everyone’s favorite lizard-king, Godzilla. Movie three in the franchise is just hitting theaters and I am sure they are going to follow the Marvel playbook by releasing several movies featuring standalone monsters before giving us a royal rumble between them all. Wait – this new film is the royal rumble? Aw, man?! Looking ahead and I see Dark Phoenix, another Men in Black, another Toy Story, another Annabelle, remakes of Child’s Play and Shaft, and another Secret Life of Pets? I’m simultaneously thrilled/terrified of how Dark Phoenix will go (given the rollercoaster of quality that is the X-Men franchise) and Toy Story 4 will probably be fine, but, sheesh, that is not an encouraging slate of movies coming up. What’s that? Spider-Man: Far From Home is the big Fourth of July release? Whew!! I knew I could count on you, Marvel.

Seriously, though – what an amazing run for Marvel. Eleven years ago, I was not overly impressed with how the franchise started. Ironman was entertaining but had some serious plot issues (to be fair, it gets better every time I watch it). Ironman 2, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger were mediocre and everyone pretended The Incredible Hulk never happened. It wasn’t until Disney took over that things really took off, with the release of The Avengers. After that, every movie got better and better, (with the exception of Guardians of the Galaxy 2 – I still don’t know what the hell happened there), and we all couldn’t wait until each subsequent film released. With Endgame breaking almost every box office record (it’s just about to pass Avatar for number one internationally), the MCU will have grossed more than $21 billion dollars at the box office and we are more than happy to confirm it was money well spent. So, of course we can’t wait until the next Marvel saga begins.

We invited everyone to this game.

(SPOILER ALERT. This is for the three people who somehow still haven’t seen the film, yet are somehow reading this review.)

So, what about Endgame, then? Well, it was awesome. Unlike the way Game of Thrones has decided to impale itself, Endgame does its best to tie up the multitude of MCU storylines in satisfying ways. It has action, reflection, solemnity, humor, and emotion and engrosses the viewer for its entire three-hour running time. It picks up a couple weeks after the conclusion of Infinity War, with half of the life of the universe removed by Thanos and the remaining half picking up the pieces. The remaining Avengers, now with Captain Marvel, track down Thanos to attempt to take back the Infinity Stones, only to discover Thanos has destroyed them. With no way to undo the genocide, Thor cuts off Thanos’ head and we fast-forward five years with everyone just trying to pick up and start their lives over again. The end.

Just kidding. What really happens is the Avengers invent a time machine. No, seriously, they do. The idea comes from Ant-Man after escaping the quantum realm five years after being trapped there when Thanos snapped his fingers. I realize time travel is a bit of lazy plot device, especially because once you go there, anything can be undone. But, come on – do you really think Marvel is that lazy? Some of the best dialogue in a film already loaded with great dialogue involved explanations of time travel and the realization that Back to the Future was bullshit. To quote Bruce Banner and Nebula, “that isn’t how time travel works.” After Banner explains to Ant-Man that once you go back in time, the past becomes your present, Banner has another discussion with the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton, in case you forgot who the Ancient One is), further explaining their plan to fix what Thanos broke. The Avengers are not going back in time to change the past because then their future would be different than what they left from. Instead, they are going back to several different times to gather the Infinity Stones, take them back to the future, snap their fingers to bring back all of the life Thanos made disappear, then return the stones back to the moments in time they originally took them from. That way, their past remains the same, assuring their future is the same as well. Did you follow all that? No?  Neither did Ant-Man. Don’t worry though – Banner and the Ancient One’s conversation includes a colorful line representing time, drawn in the air by the Ancient One as a visual prop for everyone who doesn’t understand time travel. So, everyone.

How many times do I have to explain time travel to you?

Obviously, things don’t go according to plan or else, again, the movie would just end. Instead, we get a battle royale rematch between everyone and their mom, but without Thanos wielding a nearly fully populated Infinity Gauntlet. In fact, no gauntlet at all. This time, Thanos is trying to snag the gauntlet and stones that the Avengers made and the Avengers are trying to keep it away from him. This battle led me to wonder what are Thanos’ full capabilities/powers? Is he just super strong? Is his giant blade thing some kind of magical weapon and that is why it can’t be defeated by Thor’s new axe? Is his entire race as powerful as he? Where is the rest of his race, anyway? Did he lose a child and that is why he kidnapped Gamora? Was he married? Was he a gardener prior to becoming a warlord? Won’t the firing from his warship onto the battlefield also kill him? Suffice it to say, I think he is basically the equivalent of the Hulk and that is all I have to say about that.

As fun as the climax of the film is, it wasn’t great for a couple of reasons. For starters, without the gauntlet, Thanos is no match for several of the Avengers. Thor should be able to kill him with a single lightning bolt, giant Ant-Man could just step on him, Ironman or War Machine could load him full of bullets, missiles, and energy beams, Scarlett Witch could psychically rip him to pieces (which she doesn’t actually do when she has the chance), Doctor Strange could do any number of magical things to kill him, and Captain Marvel could either shoot him with energy beams or just fly and punch a hole through him like she does to his spaceship. Again, what is Thanos? With twenty-two movies, I don’t think it is too much to ask for a couple minutes of Rocket or Thor filling us in on Thanos’ race.

Couldn’t Scarlett Witch just decapitate Thanos with his own weapon?

The other part of the battle that forced me to look incredulously at the screen was the poorly conceived, girl-power moment that shows how far Disney and society in general still have to go in dealing with gender equality. Captain Marvel joins the battle by smashing through Thanos’ ship and destroying it. She flies down, takes the gauntlet from Spider-Man and finds herself facing some bad guys, sneering at her that she is alone. From behind her, we hear a female voice exclaim that she is not alone and the camera pans to literally every female character gathering behind her. I desperately wanted her to raise an eyebrow at the women and baddies, point at the wreckage of the massive spaceship she just singlehandedly destroyed, then fry every enemy in a fifty-yard radius with her energy beams while simply saying “I’m good.” Instead, all I could think was “what the hell is Mantis doing anywhere near this fight? Also, when did Mantis learn how to fight at all?”

Look, I get it. Endgame is a comic book movie with absurd premises that we have to accept, so what’s one more? I don’t think it is too much to ask for a little more consistency on those fronts and a smidge of exposition, but I’ve seen far worse. Those were small moments and Endgame really was everything we could have hoped for in a climax. It met all of our expectations and then some, it gave us a thoughtful approach to time travel, it dealt with all of the characters in satisfying ways, and it gave us the tiniest little hints at possibilities in future films. But, it is very nice to have closure on eleven years, hundreds of dollars, and fifty hours of screen time invested in a franchise that nearly always gave us its best. *Inhale* Ahhhhhh.  (Meanwhile, in Westeros, WTF!?!)

Rating: Worth so much more than all of us paid for it and we’ll keep paying for more.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

By: Kevin Jordan

Give me more!

avengers_age_of_ultron

Are you tired of superhero/comic book movies yet?  Apparently, a lot of critics and film snobs are, based on their latest round of whining in reviews of The Avengers: Age of Ultron (the film was released internationally last week, so reviews are everywhere).  And, it’s not just them – a lot of regular moviegoers have been complaining about the number of superhero/comic book movies too.  Listening to all of these people talk, you’d think half the movies released in the past ten years or so fit in that category.  Of course, we’ve heard this Chicken Little refrain before, and they were rightfully ignored as well.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth and I’ll prove it.  If we start with the beginning of Marvel’s domination of Hollywood and your bank account, we also find the most saturated year for those movies in the history of the industry – 2008.  Already, you’re thinking “bullshit; that can’t be right.”  2008 saw the release of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, The Dark Knight, Hellboy 2, Punisher: War Zone, Hancock, and The Spirit.  Toss in Jumper (actually a novel and not a “graphic novel”) and Wanted (which really comes off as just a straight action movie) and you have nine of those movies.  No other year has had more than six and this year has the fewest releases (three – Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Fantastic Four) since 2002 (only Blade 2 and Spider-Man).  Not convinced yet?  In any given year, there are approximately 600 movies released world-wide, 200-300 of which make it to theaters.  If we do the math, that’s between three and nine superhero/comic book movies out of more than two hundred or more.  That is not too many unless you don’t understand math (in all fairness, I understand why people think there are so many – it’s because they make tons of money and get tons of attention).  If anything, there are not enough because nothing belongs on a big screen more than these movies.  In contrast, there were 24 American and British horror films released just last year (which is how many total superhero/comic book movies were released from 2010-2014), and nobody complains about that, even though most horror movies aren’t worth the time, effort, or money of a theater trip.  What I’m trying to say is sit down, shut up, eat your popcorn, and enjoy a movie that is ridiculously entertaining.

In related news, Age of Ultron is the eleventh movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is easily as good as Guardians of the Galaxy, if not The Avengers.  Incidentally, that’s the other reason I don’t understand the complaining – the quality of these movies has only improved and every one of them is, at worst, very entertaining.  More is not a bad thing unless we’re talking about mutant turtles or exotic marigold hotels.  The Incredible Hulk may have been a fairly bad movie, but it beats sitting through slogs like Boyhood.

Like its predecessor, Age of Ultron isn’t going to win any awards for plot, but like its predecessor, it doesn’t need to.  The plot is the same as every superhero/comic book movie before it – bad guy wants to destroy humanity and the Avengers must stop him.  What matters is that the characters don’t get ruined by bad writing, the overarching plotline of the Infinity Stones progresses, and things go boom.  Anyone complaining that the plot isn’t original or that the movie is overstuffed (and a lot of critics are saying just that) are people who hate life, kick puppies, and write things purely as click-bait.  They also dismiss all of the smaller things happening in the movie that are very interesting and make it well worth watching.

(Mild SPOILERS coming.)

For one thing, James Spader steals the spotlight as Ultron, the titular villain and artificial intelligence created by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to bring peace to the world. (Ultron wants to bring peace alright, but quickly realizes – like Skynet before him – that the only way to do that is to rid the world of humans.)  Spader’s smarmy delivery, sans any robotic or growly Batman-esque intonations, sets Ultron apart from any other movie robot before him.  He’s so humanlike, you often forget he’s a robot until he reminds other characters of that fact.  Essentially, he’s playing a James Bond villain if Bond villains had a sense of humor.

Building on top of that, the movie takes time to further humanize the rest of the team.  Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) has a family, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) has a heart, Banner and Stark have scientific blinders doubling as fatal flaws, Captain America (Chris Evans) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) have doubt, and Jarvis (Paul Bettany) gets a body.  I’d argue that saving the world is less interesting than what all of those things mean for the future of the characters and the team.

Another thing is that the wit and banter between all of the Avengers is as fun as ever (and the thing that is sorely missing from DC’s movies, save The Green Lantern).  There’s a running joke about bad language and an entire scene devoted to lifting Thor’s hammer – as well as dozens of smaller quips and japes throughout the film – all of which kept the audience laughing and the film from taking itself too seriously.  Perhaps the best moment of the film comes when Hawkeye acknowledges how ridiculous it is that he fights with a bow and arrow.  I mean, come on – how can anyone not like a movie that can pull off a stunt like that without coming across as a joyless hobgoblin?

Perhaps the best thing about the movie is what I liked the most about the first film – none of the characters seem expendable, none of them are short-changed, and there seem to be more than ever.  The film introduces two new characters – Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) – Russian siblings who have been enhanced by Hydra with the help of Loki’s scepter.  The two are given back stories that explain how they got their powers and their motivations and ample screen time for the audience to enjoy them.  The two actors even manage to make us forget how bad they sucked in last year’s Godzilla.  Plus, even the bit roles for lesser characters (War Machine, Falcon, Agent Hill, Agent Carter, Nick Fury, Heimdall, Professor Selvig, Thanos) work since they remind you that this movie is just a chapter or two of a very large story.  And yes, that’s a lot of characters.

If the movie has any real flaw (besides the 3-D), it’s that a couple of the action sequences rely a little too heavily on CGI and it’s very noticeable.  The opening scene in particular, while exciting and fun, leaves a little to be desired in the realism department (yes, I realize how that sounds).  I think the problem is that Joss Whedon (writer/director) had something in particular he wanted to show, but that something was impossible to do with actual humans, so the computer got the full assignment.  Maybe time and schedule dictated it be done this way, but it’s definitely the worst part of the movie.  It’s a flaw, but a small one that is easily forgiven because of the rest of the movie.

The real problem with this movie is that the rest of the summer is going to be downhill.  There are quite a few movies to look forward to this summer, but what are the chances that any of them are going to be as fun and entertaining?  Sure, Mad Max: Fury Road looks like a crazy romp, Chris Pratt may or may not actually be a velociraptor (Jurassic World), Arnold will be back (Terminator: Genisys), The Fantastic Four is rebooting itself, Paul Rudd is Ant-Man(?!), and Rogue Nation is Tom Cruise’s next impossible mission, but….wait, nevermind.  Give me more!!!

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back, then, pay to see it again.  Nobody ever ate steak and thought “there’s too much steak being made.”  They just sat down, ate it, and enjoyed it.