Friday, April 26, 2019

Movie Review: Avengers: Endgame

Go see the movie.

No, really. Stop reading this, and go see the movie. I don't care if there aren't tickets left or if you have work or kids or anything else going on in your life you think is more important. Wedding dates can be moved, but you only get one chance to see this spoiler free, and you're blowing it if you read further without watching the movie.

Is Endgame really good enough to warrant that level of compulsive behavior? Well, the thing is, the answer to that question is... a spoiler.

The answer to every question about Endgame is a spoiler, because... well, that's a spoiler, too. It's all spoilers, all the way down. No elephants or turtles in sight: just more spoilers.

So you've been warned, and yet you're still here, still reading. Hopefully, that means you've already seen the movie, because the alternative is too horrific to contemplate. Let's start with that earlier question: is Avengers: Endgame actually good enough to deserve the unprecedented degree of paranoia surrounding every detail of its plot and premise?

Of course it isn't. No movie is, and while Endgame is a damn fine film, it's not even the best in the series.

Before your eyes roll into the back of your head, let me assure you my earlier spoiler warning was entirely sincere. Because while it may not completely justify the level of secrecy surrounding every aspect of the film, the very fact this secrecy exists is worth taking advantage of. Plus, the elements of the movie being concealed are fascinating. This is a movie with a massive budget that was, for all intents and purposes, barely marketed at all.

We're escalating the severity of our spoiler warning now, because I'm about to tell you that the aspects you should care about aren't who lives or dies. I mean, I'm not going to type a list here, and there are certainly twists in both camps, but frankly those were perhaps the least surprising elements of the movie. Even less than the overall plot, which is also a minor spoiler at best.

What are they hiding, then? Well, genre, for one. Or more accurately, for three: each of Endgame's acts has its own distinct tone and genre. Hell, for all intents and purposes, each of Endgame's acts is its own damn MOVIE.

Yup. One of the reasons Endgame is three hours long is it's secretly a trilogy of films. There's enough of a through-line to tie it all together, but the degree to which its sections are self-contained is unprecedented among movies anywhere near this scale.

But the same goes for this level of secrecy. The vast majority of scenes from the trailers were drawn from the first 15 minutes, with a few quick shots drawn from the end and even fewer from the middle. The second act is the main part they're trying to hide, even more so than the end, which...

Okay, let's go to maximum spoiler warning. If you haven't seen this movie, you aren't permitted to read further. Seriously. I will call S.H.I.E.L.D. and have you taken to a secret government facility if you read another word without seeing Endgame first.

The end of this movie is like nothing that's ever been put on film. When Infinity War came out last year, a lot of us described it as a crossover event, similar to the big company-wide summer events in comics. I bet the Russo brothers were laughing their asses off, because that... that was nothing.

This actually delivers the scope of a company-wide crossover. This is at once a breathtaking conclusion to a twenty-two-movie-long arc AND the foundation for a whole new generation of films. It's awesome. It's incredible. It's a solid thirty minutes of brain-melting wonder. There are easily a hundred separate shots and sequences, any one of which would justify the price of admission.

And then there's all the stuff I'm still not talking about. Stuff that's at times hilarious, heartbreaking, or - in some cases - kind of dumb. There were character decisions I absolutely loved and others I really could have done without. There are plenty of things in Endgame that just didn't connect with me.

But, God, what a ride. This isn't the best of the Marvel movies, but it might be the biggest accomplishment. This is by far the most ambitious MCU movie to date. Honestly, you don't even need to specify "MCU." This is one of the most ambitious movies ever made. I never want to hear anyone accuse Marvel of playing these too safe or too "by-the-numbers" again. Endgame invents entirely new categories of risks to take. It looks at some of the company's most successful characters and cavalierly subverts everything that makes them popular and successful. Even when you're not on board with the direction, you can't help but respect them for having the guts to try something new.

If you want to nitpick this, you'll have a plethora of options on where to start. This is the first MCU movie that's fairly unforgiving if you're walking in blind. Maybe you can follow along if you've only seen 16 or 17 of the 21 preceding movies, but even that's going to be a stretch. And the... er... science-fiction trope at the core of the movie's premise is used haphazardly. The explanations don't quite work and the film contradicts (or at the very least under-explains) its own rules - I don't think there's much point denying that.

But who cares? This is weird, quirky film making you'd expect to see in an art film blown up with a $500 million budget. It's three movies and three genres in one, and none of it has any right to work, let alone invoke laughter, cheers, and tears in its audience.

But against all reason at fourteen million six-hundred and five to one odds against it, somehow it pulls it off. And everyone deserves to see that play out on the big screen.