Avengers: Endgame: Make It Snappy, by David Bax
“Fan service” is a term spoken with disdain for good reason. Aiming to please a series’ most ardent fans, who are going to go see your movie anyway, makes for flat, unsurprising results. Joss Whedon, the writer and director of the first two movies in the Avengers franchise, famously said, “Don’t give people what they want, give them what they need.” Last year’s Avengers: Infinity War, with its unorthodox structure, its goofball tone and its downer ending, took that advice. Now, with Avengers: Endgame, returning directors Anthony and Joe Russo have done an about face. Designed to produce more applause and cheering than laughs or moans, this soggy outing will satisfy the die-hards but may leave the rest of us cold.
With a film as anticipated and as closely guarded as this one, it would be thoughtless of me to get too much into the plot. But, if you’re especially wary of spoilers, well, what the hell are you doing reading reviews before you’ve seen the movie? Anyway, here’s what I’ll tell you. Following the events of Infinity War, in which supervillain Thanos erased half of all life in the universe (life above a certain level of intelligence, it seems; flora and fauna appear to be unharmed), the Avengers who survived eventually devise a plan to set things right. This involves some meagerly fun, globe-trotting, “get the gang back together” scenes before the more intricate parts of their scheme take them through a sort of pandering “greatest hits” collection of past adventures.
Infinity War may have been the best possible execution of Marvel’s ambitious plan to combine ten years of characters from ten different franchises into one movie. Despite the well-executed ending that left people understandably despondent, what continues to amaze about the previous film is just how much exuberant fun it is. But now most of the fun seems to have been used up. With fewer characters, there are fewer new pairings to explore, though Iron Man and Nebula do make for a surprisingly touching odd couple. Endgame is also lighter on action than its rollicking, punch-drunk predecessor and even though the narrative that replaces it is described within the film as a “heist,” the joys of that sub-genre are overruled by the movie’s po-faced self-importance. Even the cosmic worlds at which Marvel has consistently excelled have lost their luster because they’re retreads of what we’ve already seen.
Where Marvel has consistently not excelled, at least according to conventional wisdom, is with its villains. This “villain problem” theory mostly holds water with a couple of exceptions, one of them being the Thanos of Infinity War. But, between this year’s Captain Marvel and now Endgame, the studio may have overcorrected. Endgame has a hero problem. With most of the more colorful good guys disintegrated at the end of the previous installment, we’re left with the stable of decent paragons who have become bland through familiarity. It doesn’t help that the situation at hand calls for homogenous, grim determination. Even the long-awaited reunion of Iron Man and Captain America is weighed down with somberness. The only potential exception is that of Thor but the Russos and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely reduce him to a joke (the particulars of which would constitute too large a spoiler to divulge) that they unfortunately, if commendably, commit to for pretty much the entire movie.
This review has become a litany of reasons Endgame pales in comparison to Infinity War but there’s no reason for me to stop now. The latter improved on Marvel’s reputation for dull aesthetic monotony. Here, there are occasional touches of technological wizardry, as with a certain character’s CG-enhanced emaciation, and some inspired visual strokes, like a powerful echo of Thanos’ final, rested pose at the end of Infinity War. But it’s disappointing when the final showdown unfolds on yet another drab, indistinct battlefield.
I suppose Endgame‘s status as the culmination of a massive, decade-long effort gave the Russos and Marvel reason to believe they’d earned a good deal of pomposity. And, the truth is, the mega-franchise’s biggest fans will likely embrace the waterlogged sentimentality that pervades the entire three-hour affair. But where does that leave those of us who just wanted a good movie?