" Thanks for the gun, Dad. "
— Jennifer Lopez, Out of Sight

MRQE Top Critic

The Sweet Hereafter

(review...)

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It’s a marvelous conclusion to an unprecedented cinematic feat that’s been 11 years in the making.

The Terminal Beach

Tony Stark reflects on his work as Iron Man
Tony Stark reflects on his work as Iron Man

There’ve been movie marathons before. Episode catch-up events have been held for Star Wars and The Dark Knight Rises included trilogy deals in the run-up to its release. But, ahead of Endgame, the news of theatres offering a 22-movie Marvel Cinematic Universe marathon seemed kinda crazy. With Endgame now in the rearview mirror, though, the notion doesn’t seem nutty at all. Endgame works so well, it’s virtually an invitation to go back and explore with fresh eyes all that preceded it.

There are plenty of references scattered throughout the mammoth (but amazingly brisk) 3-hour runtime of Endgame. Somewhat surprisingly, Ant-Man and the Wasp and Thor: The Dark World might be among the more helpful to revisit. As for Captain Marvel (Brie Larson, Kong: Skull Island), her debut movie (released last month) was an over-hyped precursor to a painfully small role in Endgame. Small, but impactful. (As she notes on a couple occasions, it’s a busy universe and Earth isn’t the only planet with problems, to which everybody — on screen and in the audience — nods in knowing agreement.)

At the center of it all, the character arcs of Tony Stark / Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr., Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) and Steve Rogers / Captain America (Chris Evans, Gifted) — collectively spanning the majority of those 22 movies — provide some really solid dramatic heft. And fittingly so. They are the heart and soul of this decade-crossing creative endeavor that has totally reimagined the possibilities of storytelling in movies.

All told, though, the most satisfying thing about Endgame is how well it gels as a whole and as an end in itself. Infinity War was a long slog, an assault of visual vomit that found the Avengers and others absorbed by their self-interests, each hesitating in the face of humanity’s greatest moment of need — and at quite a cost. Endgame, though, recovers nicely. Indeed, resolving the all-encompassing problem setup at the end of Infinity War (in which, basically, billions of people are wiped off Earth) proves to be far more interesting — and entertaining — than the creation of the problem itself.

Back to the Future

Endgame is the kind of extravaganza that’s a little challenging to write about. This one’s a minefield of potential spoilers, which also makes it a great movie to know as little about as possible going in. Watching the surprises unfold is part of the fun.

And it’s also fun watching a personal favorite: smart people crafting complex solutions to overwhelming obstacles. Hopefully seeing Tony Stark in (science) action, along with Scott Lang (Paul Rudd, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight), will serve as inspiration for the next few generations of engineers and those interested in other STEAM pursuits. Not capitalizing on that STEAM angle would be a big miss for Marvel.

As for the story, it picks up right where Infinity War left off for some quick table setting, then advances to 5 years later. Earth is a wreck — population centers like New York are in a state of ruin, with ballparks and monuments in disarray. Life, in many respects, never got restarted after Thanos snapped his fingers. In San Francisco, in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge, there’s a sprawling memorial to the vanished. Even so, Captain America continues his role as global cheerleader, encouraging people to begin again and to set new goals. Any alternative course would simply be counter to the human spirit that still endures.

Broadly speaking, the action then moves to what Scott Lang refers to as a “time heist.” Quantum physics and time travel move to the fore – along with a rather scandalous slant that relegates Back to the Future to junk science. (Gasp!) It’s all in an effort to collect the Infinity Stones before Thanos (Josh Brolin, Jonah Hex) can acquire the set and destroy half of everything in the ultimate population thinning scheme. In the thick of this riskiest of plans, the Avengers hope to accomplish their mission with the key goals of bringing back the vanished while also keeping everything they’ve accomplished during the past 5 years.

For Tony Stark in particular, that last bit is of particular significance.

“04041970”

With the Avengers who survived the Thanos massacre traveling through time and space, there’s a fitting retrospective nestled within the action without it feeling like a rehash. Far from it — the complexities of their actions are further complicated by limited resources and the implications of changing what’s gone on before. That’s of particular concern when one group heads back to New York in 2012 (when the Avengers first assembled) and stumble on the wrinkle that Doctor Strange was still an egotistical surgeon, not the mystical master of the forces of good.

One of the key ingredients missing from Infinity War was a sense of humor. It was a dreary drag. Consider that another point of course correction for Endgame. There’s some healthy, character-driven humor, with the best bits hogged by Thor (Chris Hemsworth, 2016’s Ghostbusters) and Hulk. There’s so much to say about both of them. But. Nope. Not here. Not now.

With Cap and Iron Man brandishing the drama and Thor and Hulk leading the humor brigade, there’s still plenty of attention to go around and the interactions here bring the overarching series back to its hallmark: a heart for the characters and the audience. And there’s a message attached, a simple one that’s easy to digest: excel at being who you are, not at who you — or society — think you should be.

It’s a series that has maintained a high level of quality, while still having its share of creative — albeit relatively minor — missteps over the years. Marvel’s decisively won the battle of hearts and minds — and box office receipts — over the DC Cinematic Universe. Even now, DC is righting its ship with a softer, lighter touch in fare such as Shazam! But Marvel has done something during the past 11 years that is — as cheesy as it might sound — a true marvel to behold.