Reviewing “Avengers: Endgame” is a uniquely challenging proposition. How does one write about a movie without actually writing about what happens in it? Not only have co-directors Joe and Anthony Russo released an open letter and a hashtag imploring early viewers to “#DontSpoilTheEndgame,” but fans of the franchise probably won’t even probably read this review, hoping to go in as blind as possible. Reviews don’t matter when it comes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Tickets have been purchased, seats have been reserved, and this corporate product sure doesn’t need my voice to call your attention to it.
But here we are. At the blessed end of a long road. Goodbye, Avengers (for now — we all know these money printers are coming back). Goodbye, contractual obligations. Goodbye, all of my tortured chain restaurant metaphors I used to review all the previous films in the MCU. We’re being sent off with a sickeningly huge buffet of comfort foods, three hours worth of cinematic mashed potatoes. Eating too much can make you sick.
“Avengers: Endgame” is essentially “The Leftovers: Superhero Edition,” as the heroes left alive grapple with survivor’s guilt after the infamous “snap” of Thanos (Josh Brolin) in “Infinity War,” when half the world dissolved into ash. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and of course Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), along with a few trusty compatriots like Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) are mired in different stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining and depression, making their way to something like acceptance. But would any of these heroes ever “accept” defeat by Thanos? Not a chance.
Good thing there’s a star on the horizon, in the form of lady comet Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). The tough-talking Carol Danvers makes a few brief appearances as a deus ex machina before she jets off to other planets while the rest of the Avengies puzzle over time travel and Infinity Stones, jetting through time to scoop up Thanos’ gems and share meaningful moments with loved ones long gone.
“Avengers: Endgame” is a story about grief, loss and holding tightly to loved ones and scraps of happiness in the face of destruction. But it doesn’t ever fully commit to that darker tone. There’s the rapid-fire dialogue and warm humor that has marked the films, but the script, by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, doesn’t have a shred of Whedonian wit. There’s also one huge comedic, lowest-common denominator swing that only squeaks by because the star saddled with it is so naturally funny and committed. It’s a tonal mismatch for this otherwise incredibly dreary outing.
Perhaps the Russos have made the final installment of the series this lackluster to make it easier to say goodbye to the superheroes, in this iteration. We really don’t need another one. Not like this.
The filmmakers and corporations involved have painted critics into a corner with this one, with their spoiler pledges and slavish devotion to The Fans.
Should I even share what I really think about “Endgame” — that it’s a dull, reheated hash of stale humor, over-the-top portentousness, swirled in a blender of gray CGI with enough endings and bittersweet goodbyes to rival “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” — and risk backlash from fans? Everyone has my blessing to enjoy this and have fun. What’s truly interesting about this culminating achievement is they seem to have finally engineered the first critic-proof movie.
Directed by: Joe and Anthony Russo
Starring: Scarlett Johannsson, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Don Cheadle, Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey Jr., Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Karen Gillan, Josh Brolin.
Rated: PG-13 Grade: B-
Running time: 182 minutes