Avengers: Endgame – The Power of Spectacle (Spoilers)

Before I start, I’m gonna have to get personal for a second. I wasn’t supposed to see this movie. As those of you who have paid attention or read the “First Post” page know, I started doing these reviews because I was diagnosed with cancer. That was in 2012. One of the first things that, in retrospect, I should have known was a sign of my disease was that I had extreme pain during watching the original The Avengers film. Despite that, I didn’t get diagnosed for a few months. By then, the cancer went from my neck down to my pelvis. Even after successful chemotherapy and radiation, when this film was originally announced in 2014, I assumed I would never live to watch it. I don’t know if this gave me a form of closure on this chapter of my life, but I do know that it was an odd realization afterwards. Now to the movie.

Maybelline

SUMMARY OF A SUMMARY (Full Summary at the end due to length)

Thanos won. Thanos destroys the Infinity Stones. Avengers kill Thanos. Avengers go through time to find the stones before Thanos destroyed them. Past Thanos follows them to the present. Avengers undo the snap. Past Thanos tries to take the stones back. All Avengers Assemble. Thanos loses. Iron Man dies. Captain America gets old. Thor gets Lebowski.

Endgame - 1Group
Oh, and there’s a raccoon.

END OF AN END OF A SUMMARY

Spectacle has always been a big part of cinema. A lot of critics will argue that the audiovisual medium enhances storytelling through reducing the distance between the audience and the material, and that’s true, but sometimes you just have to admit that reading about an epic battle scene will rarely be nearly as effective as watching one. That’s how it’s always been, too. The Lumiere Brothers famously marveled people by showing a train pulling into the station, something that previously had required going to a train station. Georges Méliès became acclaimed for showing people color films and a man in the moon. Let’s go more modern: Have you ever watched Ben-Hur? There are some good scenes in it, maybe 20 minutes worth of decent acting in the 212 minute runtime, but the main reason it’s regarded as a classic is just the chariot race. That scene has been ripped off repeatedly, but the actual size, grandeur, and just plain spectacle of the scene has never been duplicated. When I watch it now, even with all of the amazing cinematic advances that have happened in the 60 years since, I’m still amazed by it. The same is true of Jurassic Park, The Empire Strikes Back, The Lord of the Rings, or even Buster Keaton’s The General. These films all give you something that you can’t really get anywhere else. This film is another entry into this pantheon, although I know it will be much more controversial.

Endgame - 2Transformers
Transformers was mostly lousy, but still showed us something new. Then ran it ragged.

First, the negatives.

This movie truly is the culmination of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, meaning that you do actually have to have seen all of the films and remember a lot of elements of them for some of the scenes and plotlines in this to not feel out of nowhere. Captain America being able to wield Mjolnir, for example, is based on a less than 10 second scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron. The film also has cameos from basically everyone who has appeared in a film that’s still alive, including Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce, Taika Waititi’s Korg, and even James D’Arcy’s Jarvis from the TV Show Agent Carter. This movie, viewed in isolation, would probably just be noise. Now, is this inherently a negative? No, because this is a sequel, and sequels depend on the audience knowing previous information, but since this is a sequel to SO MANY films, it does make it tough on the audience to remember everything.

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Everyone remembers Brock Rumlow, right?

The first two acts of this movie are basically Marvel patting itself on the back and setting up the finales for many of the characters. I mean, the plot involves the characters visiting the first Avengers film all over again, even redoing some of the more iconic scenes and lines, as well as the iconic opening to Guardians of the Galaxy, and reconstruing some of the scenes from the worst-ranked MCU film Thor: The Dark World in such a way that it kind of redeems some of it. Then, it has an entire sequence that basically just gives Tony Stark closure and Captain America some incentive to try and regain his lost life. In any other film, these two things would be unworkable. It’s only because this film is so grandiose and has had so much build up that it feels somewhat natural. We’ve known this world better than any other fictional world in film, so we are a little more inclined to welcome nostalgia and character moments. Still, it does make it slow at the beginning.

Endgame - 4Avengers
This scene was amazing the first time. The second time, it feels a little like pandering.

Also, the first twenty minutes of the film, prior to the time-skip, probably should have been the end of Infinity War. It would have been really dark, given that it basically doubles down on Thanos being, as he puts it, “inevitable,” but I think it would have been the best place to split the films. Still, it would require introducing Captain Marvel outside of her film, so I guess it didn’t work economically.

Endgame - 5CaptainMarvel
Although, for the first 20 minutes all we’d need to know is “she flies and glows.”

Now the positives.

The third act of this film is basically everything I’ve ever wanted out of a superhero film. It starts with the three core Avengers fighting Thanos and, despite constantly pulling new and better tricks out, they keep losing. He’s just too strong for them. Then, when all looks lost, we get Falcon finally returning Cap’s great line “on your left.” When all of the sling ring portals opened, I basically squealed like an 8 year old girl in anticipation of what was going to happen. Then, finally, we get Captain America delivering the line that they’ve teased in multiple films before this “Avengers assemble.” He doesn’t even say it in a roar of defiance or a confident battle-cry, no, he says it simply and firmly, because they don’t need Captain America inspiring them, they just need to know it’s go time. What follows is a battle that is so grand in scale that it overwhelms almost anything in the history of film, but still gives all of the character cameos and interactions that we want, from Spider-Man using insta-kill mode to the female Avengers line-up aka A-Force. The pacing of the battle, too, is nearly perfect, with every attempt to actually end it being thwarted dramatically, until, finally, Tony Stark ends the threat by delivering the line that Robert Downey, Jr. improvised during the first MCU movie, erasing the concept of secret identities and changing the MCU forever: “I am Iron Man.”

Endgame - 6IronMan
Disney started with a Mouse. Endgame started with a Stark.

All of the performances are great in the film, but let’s be honest, Robert Downey, Jr. always has a slight lead in that. Hemsworth, now that he’s allowed to be funny, is right behind him. The comedy in the film is exactly what you expect from the Russo brothers: It’s funny, it’s unexpected, it’s perfectly timed. The drama is also what you expect: When they want you to cry, you cry. The emotional depth in the film is really what surprised me, although it probably shouldn’t have. One big surprise plus is the way they handled Hawkeye. The scene of him losing his family is just ruthless and Renner’s portrayal of a man who’s just hurting people so he doesn’t hurt himself is great.

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“He’s a friend from work.” We needed 5 movies to get to that line?

The thing is, if you’re asking me if I thought this was a “great” movie, I’d have to say that I don’t know. It’s so different than almost any film in history that it’s hard for me to say what metric I would even use. However, I think it’s fair to say that this film provides a spectacle that you can’t find anywhere else. The film aside from the third act is still good, don’t get me wrong, but the third act just has to be seen to be believed. This is the Great Wall. This is the Hoover Dam. This is the Grand Canyon. You can describe it, but you really don’t envision the sheer scale of it without seeing it. So, see it.

SUMMARY (Hero names in quotes because… I don’t know, I felt like it)

Thanos (Josh Brolin) won. Half of the universe is gone. The surviving Avengers, now with Carol “Captain Marvel” Danvers (Brie Larson) in tow and without Tony “Iron Man” Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), decide to try and mount an attack on Thanos’s new home. They quickly overwhelm the Titan, only to find out that he had almost killed himself destroying the infinity stones so that they could never be used to undo what he had done. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) beheads him.

Five years later, the world is still recovering from the snap. Clint “Hawkeye” Barton (Jeremy Renner) is now a vigilante, hunting down criminals and executing them out of anger at losing his family. Tony Stark is now married to Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and has a daughter, Morgan (Lexi Rabe). Thor has founded a New Asgard and has been drinking and wallowing in guilt. Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) is serving as an organizer while Steve “Captain America” Rogers (Chris Evans) is acting as a grief counselor. Bruce “The Hulk” Banner (Mark “The Man” Ruffalo) has managed to put his genius brain inside of the body of the Hulk, a form dubbed “Professor Hulk.”

Scott “Ant Man” Lang (Paul Rudd) escapes from the Quantum Realm following the events of Ant Man and the Wasp. Based on the fact that, for him, only five hours have passed, he believes that the Quantum Realm is the key to time travel. Banner, Lang, and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) work on it, but it fails until Tony Stark returns to help. They realize that they can send 3 teams into the past to collect the Infinity Stones while they still existed, travel to the present, and then undo the snap.

Banner, Rogers, Lang, and Stark travel to 2012 to the events of the first Avengers film. Rogers steals Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) scepter containing the Mind Stone by pretending to be a member of Hydra, but Loki steals the Tesseract containing the Space Stone. Bruce Banner meets with the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who gives him the Eye of Agamotto containing the Time Stone after telling him that they have to return all of the stones back to their places after they use them or reality will unravel. Stark and Rogers travel back to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters in 1970 where they steal Pym Particles from a young Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), retrieve an earlier version of the Tesseract being worked on by Howard Stark (John Slattery), Tony’s father, and avoid running into the love of Steve’s life, Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell).

Rocket and Thor travel to Asgard in the year 2013 during the events of Thor: The Dark World to retrieve the Aether which contains the Reality Stone from the body of Jane Foster (Natalie Portman). Thor speaks with his soon-to-die mother, Frigga (Rene Russo) and regains his confidence when he summons his original Mjolnir to himself, taking it with him back to the present while Rocket retrieves the Reality Stone.

Romanoff, Barton, James “Rhodey the War Machine” Rhodes (Don “I retweeted the Joker” Cheadle), and Nebula (Karen Gillan) travel to 2014, during the events of the original Guardians of the Galaxy. Romanoff and Barton go to planet Vormir, where Natasha sacrifices herself to give Clint the Soul Stone guarded by the Red Skull (Ross Marquand). Nebula and Rhodey knock a young Peter “Starlord” Quill (Chris Pratt) unconscious and take the power stone, however, Nebula is stopped from returning. It turns out that her cyborg consciousness interacts with a cosmic version of the internet which has been discovered by the Thanos of that time. 2014 Thanos discovers that he will win, but that the survivors will all fight to reclaim their lost loved ones. He captures the present Nebula and sends 2014 Nebula back to the future in her place.

After everyone returns to the present, Stark puts all of the gems into a gauntlet and Banner snaps it, injuring himself severely but bringing back all of the people that Thanos killed. At the same time, the Nebula from the past brings Thanos and his entire army through the time portal to reclaim the new Infinity Gauntlet. Thor, Stark, and Rogers battle Thanos, but even with Thor wielding two hammers, and eventually Captain America wielding the original Mjolnir, Thanos still wins the fight. Just as everything seems lost, a reborn Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict “Burmberderb Cabbagepunch” Cumberbatch) returns, opening gateways all around the galaxy, and allowing all of the reborn heroes to join the fight, as well as the armies of Wakanda, Asgard, and the Ravagers from Guardians of the Galaxy. Thanos, realizing that he might be at a disadvantage, tells his ship to fire on the battle, but his ship is soon downed by the returning Carol Danvers. Everyone on the battlefield works to get the Infinity Stones into Scott Lang’s van which contains the portal to the Quantum Realm, but eventually Thanos reclaims it, only to find that Stark had stolen the stones and put them on another gauntlet. Stark snaps away all of the bad guys, but dies in the process.

After the funeral, Thor joins the Guardians of the Galaxy and Rogers goes back in time to return the stones, but ends up marrying Peggy Carter and living to old age. As an old man, he bequeaths his shield to Sam “Falcon” Wilson (Anthony Mackie).

END SUMMARY

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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A Star Is Born: Fourth Time is Not Quite the Charm, But Still Works (Spoiler-Free)

I’m gonna go ahead and give up my man-card at the beginning of this review by admitting that I’ve seen all of the previous versions of this film except for the Bollywood Remake, which is on my to-do list. I’ve seen the original from 1937 by David O. Selznick starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, the 1954 version with James Mason and Judy Garland, and, of course, the 1976 version which features Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. All of them share a lot of plot elements and general structure, basically forming a screenplay Mad Libs that the writers plug different scenes into, but one that usually produces a decent film.

… Gets less use than this one, though.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a famous country singer who is a serious alcoholic and drug addict. After a show, he wants a drink, so he pulls up to the closest bar, which happens to be a drag club where he witnesses a performance by Ally (Lady Gaga), a waitress with the voice of Lady Gaga. He spends the night trying to seduce her before hearing her sing a song she wrote. The next day, he sends his driver to bring her to the show, where he brings her onstage to perform with him. She wows the crowd and, as the title of the movie would indicate, a star is born. The two start a romance as her career gets hot, but at the same time his career starts to go into decline. Some stuff happens involving music and alcoholism and urination.

Can we just mention that they are both super talented for a second? Because they are.

END SUMMARY

This was Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut and, I’m sad to say, it kinda shows. There are a lot of pretty things borrowed from other movies, but a bunch of the techniques used don’t necessarily fit with what the shot was supposed to convey to the audience. A big one that bugged me is that the back of people’s heads keep taking center frame. In most films, this represents the audience being excluded from the conversation or something being hidden. In this film, it just feels like someone stepped in front of the camera. There are a lot of cuts and camera angles and scene framing choices that just had me going “was that supposed to be art, or did someone accidentally hit the camera?”

A notable exception, however, are the music scenes in the movie. He nails almost every scene involving someone performing, which, fortunately, is a lot of the movie. You feel like you’re there, right next to the singer, feeling them pour their heart out into the song, which is impressive given how much variety there is in the music, particularly compared to the Streisand version.

And, my God, do they rock the hell out.

The acting by Bradley Cooper is phenomenal and his singing was surprisingly amazing. I’d say that it’s unfair for one person to have that much talent, but he’s standing next to a musical prodigy. Lady Gaga’s acting is good. She’s no Streisand or Judy Garland or Janet Gaynor, but she doesn’t get completely overshadowed by Cooper’s performance either. Her singing is best described as “come on, it’s Lady Gaga, you know her singing’s phenomenal.” Her broad range of compositional and musical talent gives her character a lot of credibility by proxy when it comes to what she can do on stage.  However, nothing can really help the fact that I kind of hated both of their characters.

Cooper’s character is every stereotype about the drunk, drug-addled, always-indulged rock star, including the tragic backstory. Gaga’s Ally is weirdly immediately on board with almost all of Cooper’s terrifying dysfunctionality which made me think either she has no self-esteem (which the movie implies at several points but doesn’t really explain) or that she is just using him to get famous (which doesn’t really match any of her actions). I think the movie’s trying to say that she just loves him, but she apparently doesn’t love him enough to address the fact that he’s a literal fall-down drunk.

You guys get Marge isn’t the best model, right?

I mean, absolutely no one tries to stop his substance abuse or his constant impulsive bad decisions. It starts to get ridiculous, even for celebrities, because all of the people around Cooper are old friends and family, not just roadies and executives. Johnny Depp is apparently killing himself as we speak, but that’s because the only people around him are people he pays. Hell, two of the people who most lament his condition but never do anything for it are his brother (Sam Elliot) and his best friend (Dave Chappelle). But Gaga’s character really doesn’t seem to care at all until it becomes inconvenient for her.

Let me put it this way: SHE DOES LESS TO TRY AND HELP HIM STOP BEING SELF-DESTRUCTIVE THAN THE WOMAN IN THE MOVIE FROM 1937. 

That’d be the year before women were considered “People” for minimum wage purposes.

I realize that giving a female character agency just for the purpose of using it to help a man isn’t great, but it’s worse that I still think the film from the Great f*cking Depression actually gave the woman more agency. Ally just seems to go along with whatever Jackson wants until, again, she decides it’s inconvenient for her to deal with his shenanigans. That’s not love, that’s f*cking enabling. Hell, *MINOR SPOILER* Ally doesn’t even get a last name in the movie until the end. *END SPOILER* She also gets pushed around a lot by her manager, who she only stands up to in the form of compromise until he tries to put her in an untenable position.

So, ultimately, here’s my breakdown of the film:

Music parts are great. Acting is very good. Direction is okay. Characters are poor. Ending is solid, but it’s the same as it is in all the other versions of the movie, so if you’ve seen those, you already know it.

It’s still worth seeing, if only for the performances and the soundtrack, but don’t inconvenience yourself too much for it.

And now, I have a horde of angry fans coming for my blood and must build fortifications around my house. Fun times.

It’s a start.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.