Thursday, June 20, 2024

Second Chance Sundays ‘Avengers: Endgame’

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We’re in a weird place right now both personally and industry-wise. The COVID-19 has upended almost every system by revealing flaws and cracks we either knew existed or had stubbornly ignored.  While many of us face quarantine, it has become a time of reflection and in the case of film critics a time to get creative while Hollywood decides how to proceed. 

So here at The Fandomentals we present Second Chance Sundays and Whatever Wednesdays.  On Second Chance Sundays I will take a movie previously reviewed and take another crack at it. I’ll be looking at movies I loved, hated, or just felt meh about. I think Whatever Wednesdays speak for themselves. This only temporary until everything settles down somewhat. 

I’ve said so before and I’ll say it again, it is remarkable how short the shelf life is for a modern-day MCU installment. Partially, this is due, to the fact that the movies are treated less like movies and more like television episodes. By that logic Avengers: Endgame is less a cinematic event than it is a series finale, tying up all the loose ends. 

In my original review, I said if you were a fan of the MCU then the Russo brothers, Joe and Anthony, have made something just for you. “Fan service” I believe I called it. Endgame is fan service, pure fan service, which means you have to be abreast of all other previous films, and if you’re not-well then who cares. 

The fans sure don’t. So busy having fun they don’t particularly care that in order to have that fun they have to sit through 22 films. Or that you have to pay for them, and in this economy that’s a nigh-on insane idea for anyone to have. Since I saw Endgame last in theatres, I haven’t given much thought to other Marvel movies; I enjoyed them but not enough to re-watch them and debate them endlessly.  

Consequently, Endgame was even more insipid and dull than the last time. It took me three sittings to make it through my second re-watching and it was as torturous as the first viewing. I called the movie safe and many disagreed with me citing the five-year-jump and the beheading of Thanos’s (Josh Brolin) head as an example. Except, re-watching the movie I realized all the gutsy moves were slights of hands. 

Beheading Thanos seems edgy. Until you realize the Thanos we meet later will be a duller less complex villain than we’ve gotten before. Infinity War gave us a character people argued about passionately online about all manner of things either from how the narrative framed him to the veracity of his philosophy. The Thanos in Endgame is a bad guy, the end. Beheading Thanos was gutsy but as the MCU is want to do, they took the easy way out. 

The five-year-jump, likewise, is a cheat. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley, who wrote the script, make the jump have little to no consequence except to skip all the “boring” character stuff. Why witness our heroes grapple with the immediate loss? Just jump to a time when they’ve already moved on, instead. 

Likewise, even the time travel is robbed of any consequence. Markus and McFeeley have chosen to go with “realism” because when you’re dealing with Sorcerer’s Supremes, aliens, robots, and infinity stones, realism is of the utmost importance. They do a great job citing movies and boiling down complex quantum theory into digestible lines of dialogue, but the dialogue is so rote and devoid of joy who could care? Not to mention, the duo is so focused on making the time travel real they somehow forget the biggest issue, you can’t travel beyond where the time machine has been created because there is no time machine yet. 

I digress and admit, I’m being petty on this point. My biggest gripe comes from how time and time again they set up stakes only to immediately go-oh wait no, forget that, let’s play it safe. Upon returning to the past New York Bruce (Mark Ruffalo) encounters the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who has the Time Stone. 

She refuses it to give it to him. Because if she did it would create a parallel timeline and cause chaos. Chaos is what we in the movie-going public world would call fun. Bruce argues what if he takes the stone, uses it, and then puts it back at precisely the same time, so it’s like nothing ever happened? In other words, the appearance of stakes, but no actual risk or consequence. Such is the highest-grossing film of all time. 

Many will disagree, as they did a year ago. I don’t care. Endgame is a trite, boring excuse for a marketing exercise masquerading as storytelling and entertainment. The Russos and the writers take every opportunity to elbow us in the ribs and give us a wink. So busy are they trying to give us what we want the movie begins to crumble as we realize the characters aren’t having conversations so much as having plot and character expositions. 

Scenes in which groups of characters get together and talk invariably feel less like people talking and more like a checklist full of fan and studio notes.  

  1. Joke
  2. Pop culture Reference
  3. Meta awareness of said pop culture reference 
  4. Melodramatic declaration about the dire circumstances
  5. Repeat 

Though to the Russo’s and the writers’ credit some of these scenes work. I found the scene in which Bruce and Scott (Paul Rudd) attempts to time travel using the quantum tunnel in the back of his fan hilarious. But these moments are rare because while that scene is clever and fun but the actual time travel device they end up using isn’t because-again no risk. Scott’s time-traveling minivan has him changing into different variations of himself at different ages. Fun and exciting versus how they actually go back in time using a massive transporter that looks vague and ill-defined and again-no risks. 

In my original review, I said Endgame was barely a film. It’s because the film is not concerned with anything other than tying up loose ends from the other previous twenty-one films. Even then, only for a core five or six characters-which in a film with almost sixty, leaves a lot of people just standing around posturing.  

Remarkably the Russos have made some of the most popular and successful films of the franchise and they have evolved and learned almost nothing about the medium with each one. Yes, both Infinity War and Endgame are more colorful but I don’t know whether it’s them or the Marvel VFX department. I tend to go with the latter because if we go by the color story in Infinity War it makes absolutely no sense compared to the color story in Endgame. Which to me is evidence of two separate groups of people without any competent or knowledgeable oversight. 

I’m getting lost in the weeds, again, I apologize. The Russos are competent directors who are able to balance the demands of an unyielding public, an impossible studio time table, and a myriad of tiny little defeats and hurdles. It would be dishonest of me not to admit that my dislike for Endgame aside, it is a minor miracle it even exists. Though when you have the backing of one of the largest most powerful studios in recent history, it is less miraculous. 

The visuals of Endgame range from that would look great as a screensaver to resembling a cut scene from a high-end video game. Trent Opaloch shoots the film in the MCU’s trademark muddy aesthetic where everything is in focus and sometimes looks really neat. Opaloch turns in one of the most visually mature of all the Russo films but unfortunately, that is damning with faint praise, considering he shot their other films as well. 

Looking at individual scenes it’s easy to think the film looks pretty. But watching them back to back you start to see a lack of style and purpose. This is not Opaloch’s fault he is only the camera-man. There’s nothing a cameraman can do when faced with the overwhelming force of a studio edict, “No style, no unnecessary visual flourishes, and no meaning in frame composition”. Watching Endgame it becomes a little sad when you start to wonder what he could have done if he had been let off the MCU’s constraining and suffocating leash. 

The final battle scene is as tedious and flat as the final battle scene in almost every other comic book movie. More and more I’ve grown to hate these scenes, with rare exceptions. A chaotic and ugly scene shot in muted colors as characters continue their strained attempt at being witty. It’s no fun and it’s an awful way to end three hours of doldrums 

Some of you may think me a stick in the mud, that’s fair. Many might think that it seems I dislike Endgame even more, and you would be right. The MCU started off brash and fun but as it’s gone on it has kept minimizing its risks for fear it would affect the profit margins. Don’t get me wrong I’ve enjoyed some of the MCU films of late, possibly because they had newer characters and fresher directions. Some of the films coming down the pike give me cautious hope that there might be a sea change.

But most of the original core six leave me cold. I don’t know maybe I’m just getting old but more and more I’m looking at these heroes and realize how very heroic they aren’t. I get that’s the point; they are meant to be flawed. But they also spend much of their time going on quests locating lost items and less time-saving people. Endgame and Infinity War deal with the death of trillions of life forms and yet it never feels that dire because people are never shown. We’re so consumed with the “heroes” that the people who they are meant to protect come off as abstract. 

Though there is one scene in which Endgame attempts to rectify this, a sort of Survivor’s Guilt Anonymous meeting in which the less is said the better. If only because they are too busy trying to seem as if they give a fig about gay characters. Spoilers: They do not. Instead of making the world seem bigger and giving us a glimpse of the people affected, it comes off ham-fisted and insincere.  

When Endgame first came out, almost a year ago, it was treated as a revelation. The first of its kind; a historic moment. But the execs were so preoccupied with whether or not they could it never occurred to them if they should. 

Image courtesy of  Wlat Disney Studios Motion Pictures

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