CineScene

Marvel's ‘Endgame’ Wraps Up 22-Picture Universe With Three-Hour Conclusion Worth Every Minute

Plus: Summer Movie Preview
By BILL GEIGER | May 15, 2019

Surf City — Here we are at the middle of May, with the unofficial start to summer still about a week and a half away, and it’s time to say hi to the new season. Already, the Marvel Universe has disgorged its massive conclusion to last summer’s “Avengers: Infinity War.” Back then, “Infinity War” was a shade over 2½ hours. This new flick, “Avengers: Endgame” has a run time of three hours and two minutes. You heard me right – a half hour longer than “Infinity War.” But it brings closure to the stories that all of the individual superhero movies began, so the length was necessary. But it has earned its lengthy run time, and three hours and 2 minutes never passed so quickly.

This being the first column of the 2019 summer season, we’ll begin with a quick intro. I like to think of CineScene as a summer movie “discussion board,” without all the computer implications. Even though you probably don’t talk back to the newspaper when you might read what I’ve written, unless you are hopping mad and are lobbing incendiaries at what I’ve been discussing, I still envision the column as kind of an intellectual give and take.

My overall point to the column is to take the films I see and give you a few ideas about what I feel the movie does or does not do well. I’ll compare it to other films in the same genre, and perhaps look at what the director has done in his or her body of work, and place the new film in that oeuvre. In no way is the discussion exhaustive.

I really like movies, and I’ve been seeing films and writing about them for many years now. While what I say might be totally opposite of what you think, I certainly respect your opinions. I don’t use other critics’ thoughts or opinions, but instead come up with my own, often after much deliberation.

This column comes out every other week, so most of the films I write about have been out for about two weeks before they appear in CineScene. That is by design. I’m not trying to tell you how to think about a film, nor am I interested in breaking any news about a film’s ultimate “meaning.” I simply try to “converse” about the cinematic experience, and present several things that I might see in a movie that set it apart from others in the same genre.

Summer is a fertile ground for films. While some summer flicks have gone on to win Academy Awards, most do not, so they’re not trying to vie with one another for the big prize. Anticipating a big box office, many production companies try to release their “big” films in the summer, with the two holidays that bookend the season, Memorial Day and Labor Day, becoming the “hard” beginning and ending dates during which a film might debut. So before we get to a discussion of “Endgame,” the film screened for this column, let’s take a brief look at what we might expect the summer of 2019 to give us, cinematically speaking. We’ll start with May, since we already know the Marvel blockbuster has been released.

May will feature some interesting films with actors going against type, such as Olivia Spencer playing a sadistic mother figure in “Ma,” and action man Taron Edgerton playing singer/performer Elton John in “Rocketman.” But besides these we have the Disney people out to make another trunkload of money on “Aladdin,” this time a live action version starring Mena Massoud, Will Smith and Naomi Scott.

Speaking of sequels (if it’s summer, besides the blockbusters, it’s sequels), we have another in the cards, this time a third entry into the John Wick franchise called “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.” Star Keanu Reeves looked a little tired in “John Wick: Chapter 2,” but if there is money to be made, let’s get it on.

Godzilla is back, in “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.” Another monster-like story is “Brightburn,” about a couple played by Elizabeth Banks and David Denman, who adopt an extraterrestrial baby, never a good idea. The horror that ensues is quite startling.

For rom-com fans, Ali Wong and Randall Park star in “Always Be My Maybe,” playing childhood friends who wind up re-connecting in their 30s, then navigating an older, more difficult relationship path fraught with all kinds of challenges. In another rom-com, the female lead in “The Sun is Also a Star,” Natasha Kingsley (Yara Shahidi), faces her family’s deportation on the same day she meets Daniel Bae (Charles Melton). Talk about being a bit distracted.

June is the month of three big films, from big franchises, all sequels of sorts. Both Marvel and Disney combined to bring another X-Man film to the screen, this one called “Dark Phoenix.” Familiar names are back, among them X-Men stalwarts like James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, and Michael Fassbender, along with newcomer Sophie Turner.

There’s another Toy Story this June, “Toy Story 4,” and again, most of the familiar faces are back, with Tom Hanks as Woody, Tim Allen as Buzz and, reprising her role as Bo Peep, Annie Potts. Peep and Woody go on a rescue mission that takes them into the rare confines of an antique shop. I really liked “Toy Story 3” and thought it had an air of finality to it, but I suppose “final” is a relative term, and nothing is ever final in Hollywood when there are boxcars of money to be made.

Toward that end, we’re getting another “Men in Black” flick this June, subtitled “International.” And now it has to be both “Men” and “Women” in Black, since Tessa Thompson joins Chris Hemsworth as the titular agents, going around the world looking for alien species.

Our last big June film is “Shaft” (cue the Isaac Hayes song), this one starring Jessie T. Usher as the young’un, being taught the ropes by dad John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson) and a third-generation John Shaft played by Richard Roundtree, who back in 1971 was the original. That’s the one I remember, but I know I saw Jackson’s 2000 reboot. We’ll see if three Shafts is another example of too many cooks spoiling the broth.

July has some big films opening, too, among which are a new “Spider-Man”; the Tarantino film “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” which brings his memories of growing up in 1960s Los Angeles; and another Disney live-action reboot, the highly anticipated “The Lion King.”

Our last Spider-Man movie was subtitled “Homecoming.” This one is subtitled “Far From Home,” and has Spidey (Tom Holland) taking a high-school class trip to Europe. Even though his spidey-senses are on high alert, he tries to be just plain one of the guys and not engage the bad guys. As you can imagine, this doesn’t last for long. Jake Gyllenhaal co-stars.

The chemistry said to exist between Leo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is described as exquisite, and who knew? The two had never played opposite each other on the big screen. This film is said to be Tarantino’s homage to Hollywood. It takes place in the mid- to late 1960s, and DiCaprio plays TV cowboy Rick Dalton, whose career is heading toward the last roundup. Pitt plays stuntman Cliff Booth, Dalton’s friend and action stand-in.

As the zeitgeist of 1969 Hollywood is changing before their eyes, Dalton and Booth attempt to navigate the troubled waters, but a danger lurks there in the person of Charles Manson, whose cult of killers has targeted the Hollywood “It” girl Sharon Tate (played by Margot Robbie), who lives near Dalton and is a friend. The confluence of Dalton’s career and the Manson story fuels Tarantino’s film, and with Pitt and DiCaprio in tow, it should be a good one.

Is it possible for a company to have an embarrassment of riches in one summer season? I mean, with Marvel’s (and Disney’s) new X-Men (It probably should be X-Person) movie “Dark Phoenix,” and Disney’s new live-action “Aladdin,” both coming pretty early in the summer, there’s a chance for a big payoff.  But mid-summer July has possibly the big hit of the summer, the “live-action” version of “The Lion King.” Actually, this “live action” setup is a form of virtual reality, called for the movie’s purposes “Virtual Production,” and devised to make the action look real.

It does, and with Donald Glover as Simba, Beyoncé as Kala, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, and the venerable James Earl Jones as Mufasa, helped along by the comic machinations of Billy Eichner’s Meercat Timon and Seth Rogen’s warthog Pumbaa, director Jon Favreau predicts this film will be one of the big ones this summer.

August begins with another “Fast and Furious” movie, this one called “Hobbs and Shaw” after the two main characters, the film being the ninth in the car-and-crook franchise. But the usual suspects, meaning Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez, are not present, although Dwayne Johnson (Hobbs) and Jason Statham (Shaw) both look a bit like Vin.

So Hobbs and Shaw, the titular heroes, are given the F&F treatment in the full title of the flick, “Fast and Furious presents Hobbs and Shaw,” so now at least we know where we first saw them.

Catching up with this new “Hobbs and Shaw” is another “Angry Birds” flick, called “The Angry Birds Movie 2,” starring all the angry birds, “Angel Has Fallen” – another “Has Fallen” flick starring Gerard Butler.

August also sees “Official Secrets” with Keira Knightly, “Corporate Animals” with Demi Moore, “The Informer” with Joel Kinnaman, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” with Cate Blanchett, and “Good Boys” with Jacob Tremblay.

Besides all these feature films, we also have a few documentaries, which I’ll break down by month. In May we have “Loving Vincent: The Impossible Dream,” an hour-long doc about two filmmakers who do create the impossible – a fully painted feature film, done for the first time in history. In the same month, there’s also “Echo in the Canyon,” about the development of the music scene at L.A.’s Laurel Canyon, featuring archival footage of Buffalo Springfield, the Mamas and the Papas, The Byrds and The Beach Boys, among others. This is solid rock history.

June brings us “Pavarotti,” a doc of the famed opera legend Luciano Pavarotti, directed by Ron Howard and featuring Bono, Stevie Wonder, Placido Domingo, Zubin Mehta and Spike Lee. Mid-June also features “Rolling Thunder Revue: a Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese.” Lastly, there’s a good Toni Morrison doc in June called “Toni Morrison: the Pieces I am,” which looks at her career and especially at the themes she has confronted over the years.

July has a few docs, including “David Crosby: Remember my Name,” starring the former Crosby, Stills and Nash singer, doing a look back at his life, and a look ahead at a rocky retirement. There is also a doc about Mike Wallace, called “Mike Wallace is Here,” a look at the 60-year career of the journalist and a discussion about how journalism has changed over the years.

August has “Aquarela,” a film by Victor Kossakovsky, showing water in all of its forms, from beautiful lakes at sunset to violent hurricanes striking Miami Beach. August also has a documentary on an unsolved mystery called “Cold Case Hammarskjöld,” about the mystery surrounding the death of Dag Hammarskjöld, a former secretary general of the United Nations. This one looks to be a good one.

So there we have it, a quick rundown of some of the movies that will debut this summer. This is not all of them, but the ones I will most likely see.

*   *   *

And now, for the other reason we have CineScene, the discussion of the films. We’ll start with “Avengers: Endgame,” the film that began in the summer of 2018 with “Avengers: Infinity War” and concludes this summer with “Endgame.” It could be argued that every individual movie, all 22 of them, in the Avengers oeuvre is looking toward “Endgame.” But the stories of two characters in particular, Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), resonate so clearly throughout their particular movies that viewers, especially this one in particular, yearn to see how their particular stories end.

Of all the main characters, Thor, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Hawkeye, Black Widow, the Hulk and the others, only Iron Man and Captain America have had several movies in which to build their characters’ backstories and save the universe at the same time, and in most of the movies they have a very well defined point of view about most things. Hence, when the civil war broke out among the Avengers, arguing over whether the government should be controlling what the superheroes do and the superheroes themselves, this split the two groups apart, almost right down the middle.

Bad blood and rivalry was the way things went, and the heroes could unite only when they faced the ultimate destruction posed by the villainous titan Thanos (Josh Brolin). He had gathered the Infinity Stones, those six jewels that can warp space, time, and reality, and placed them into his very own Infinity Stones gauntlet.

His purpose was to destroy fully one-half of all the living things in the galaxy, on the pretext that the galaxy was overcrowded. But the stout-minded would conclude that he also wanted the extreme power the Infinity Stones gave him. So, at the end of the “Infinity War” film, random people began to change into dust and simply blow away. It was a very difficult thing to watch, and such characters as Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and others died in this way.

The end was sobering. If there was a pair of heroes, most likely one of them would have disintegrated. This was how the “Avengers: Infinity War” concluded; it is also the way “Avengers: Endgame” begins.

As “Endgame” opens, there is only what can be called “survivor’s guilt” flooding over those who survived the random disintegration of the people of Earth. We see characters trying to come to terms with their new reality by crying, being completely out of sorts, or not doing anything. Thus do the years pass.

Tony Stark has tried to maintain an air of normalcy by having a child in the intervening years, and by living a very ascetic lifestyle compared to how he lived before the great harvesting. But even with his daughter, precocious as she is, Stark is grieving inside.

So is Steve Rogers. He is seen running a roundtable discussion with a group of people about the loss of so many. He tries, in his best Captain America fashion, to bolster his group with positive aphorisms, hoping to keep them from slipping into despair. But after his group discussion ends, he sits there looking worn out, not really believing anything he has said to the group.

Into this very dispirited group of people comes Scott Lang, a.k.a. Ant Man (Paul Rudd), who had been trapped in the quantum realm because the people who were supposed to bring him back from said realm were disintegrated by Thanos’ stones. Lang finally gets back (I don’t remember the movie telling us how) and has an idea that might help everyone get over his or her depression, and get their loved ones back.

He would believe, because of the quantum physics that made his quantum trip possible, that such a journey could be conceivable on a much broader scale to send some of the surviving heroes back in time to fetch the infinity stones and bring them back before Thanos gets them so the spell of death could be reversed.

Most of the remaining Avengers agree with Lang, but Stark does not, for he has the most to lose, his family and their new daughter. So Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) needs to take over the quantum calculations, and they begin to make things happen, but it is slow going until Stark relents and joins the crew. At that point, the group of superheroes that remain decide on a plan and prepare to go into the past and retrieve the infinity stones.

Before he came aboard with his views of quantum travel, Stark and Rogers have a reconciliation, their first since the civil war, and it was initiated by Stark. It would not be spoiling anything to say that these two have the most to gain, or lose, in this film, and things certainly will not go as smoothly as they want when Thanos gets wind of the plan and prepares for it, causing all kinds of problems in the execution.

Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) even shows up to lend a hand. If you have been keeping score, as I said earlier, the two avengers who have the most to gain and lose in this film are Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, and directors Anthony and Joe Russo give these characters some room to let their stories play out.

It’s part of the reason the running time is so long. Some concluding moments are needed, and they are entirely satisfying. Thanks to the Russo brothers for giving fans of the MCU a very good film to engage their cerebral cortices, their emotional memory banks, and all those things fans of superhero films need to process these films. A 22-film run has rightly concluded.

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