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Avengers: Endgame (2019) Anthony Russo, Joe Russo - Movie Review

Avengers: Endgame (2019) Anthony Russo, Joe Russo - Movie Review

Avengers: Endgame (2019) Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo, Writers: Christopher MarkusStephen McFeely (screenplay by) Stan LeeJack Kirby (Based on Marvel Comics by), Jim Starlin (comic book) Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Brie Larson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Zoe Saldana, Karen Gillan, Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Benedict Wong, Pom Klementieff, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Evangeline Lilly, Tessa Thompson, Rene Russo, Tilda Swinton, Jon Favreau, John Slattery, Hayley Atwell, Natalie Portman, Michael Douglas, Linda Cardellini, Robert RedfordSamuel L. Jackson Run Time: 181 min Rated: PG (Canada), G (Quebec), PG-13 (MPAA) for sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and some language.

Listen here for audio of radio interviews about films from a Christian perspective with Pastors Ted Giese and Todd Wilken on where Christianity meets culture. (This review contains spoilers – please return and read the review after watching the film)

A Box Office MARVEL of Modern Filmmaking

Picking up where Avengers: Infinity War (2018) left off, Avengers: Endgame (2019) begins with the aftermath following Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) eradication of half of all life in the universe. The great vanishing has emotional impact and, while Thanos believed people would be grateful, most people are struggling and sad. The Avengers who are left carry on but suffer the added burden of failure. Five years after the tragic event an extremely unlikely yet possible way to reverse the mass extinction presents itself so they assemble to pursue it.

That the film deals extensively with the effects of failure is interesting as few films of this kind take the time to look at its effects from as many angles. After five years some characters like Tony Stark / Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Bruce Banner / Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) have accepted what happened, moved on, and built new lives. Others like Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Steve Rogers / Captain America (Chris Evans) double down on continuing the Avengers initiative because their fellow super heroes were their only family and loosing them would be soul crushing.

Clint Barton / Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) who had stepped away from the super hero life after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), briefly returning during Captain America: Civil War (2016), did not take the great vanishing well. To illustrate this Avengers: Endgame opens on a tender family picnic scene with Barton helping his daughter Lila (Ava Russo) improve her archery skills when a world away, with the snap his fingers, Thanos takes away Barton’s daughter and wife Laura (Linda Cardellini) and their sons. Bitter and angry at being impotent to save his family Hawkeye sets his anger and sadness toward hunting down criminals.

How does Thor the god of thunder take failure? Apparently he takes it like a White Russian on the rocks. The now house-coated Lebowski-esque Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has spiraled into depression. Overindulging in food and drink he has punished his rippling muscular physique holing himself up in a seaside shack in New Asgard, Norway drinking beer and playing video games with Korg (Taika Waititi) and Miek. (The Russo brothers kept this transformation out of posters and trailers making it one of the film’s many surprises.) And while the beer-bellied Thor receives a lot of ribbing from characters like Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) his story is particularly poignant yet problematic.

In Avengers: Infinity War Thanos says to Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) “I know what it’s like to lose. To feel so desperately that you’re right, yet to fail nonetheless.” These sentiments haunt Thor because he may have lost more than any other character since audiences were introduced to him back in Thor (2011). By the time Avengers: Endgame begins Thor has lost his Father Oden (Anthony Hopkins), his girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), his friend Heimdall (Idris Elba), his home world of Asgard at the hands of his evil sister Hela (Cate Blanchett) and the demon Surtur (Clancy Brown), his adopted brother Loki, and his mother Frigga (Rene Russo). Like Barton, Thor couldn’t save his family and loved ones and in his depression he wonders if he is in fact worthy of his “hero” mantle.

While some of the super heroes receive more character development than others and some who received little or no screen time in Avengers: Infinity War like Clint Barton / Hawkeye are featured more prominently, almost all the characters receive a chance to express their grief, loss, and failure just as they are given moments to shine and reclaim their tarnished valour. As might be imagined this is a hard thing to accomplish as there are so many characters to juggle. (Perhaps the biggest unsung super heroes are the folks who managed the production payroll making sure the thousands of people involved in the making of these movies received their paycheques.)

MARVEL Studios and Disney have achieved something remarkable: a 22-film saga with interrelated TV programming that eclipses other venerable sci-fi / fantasy franchises like Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and The Lord of the Rings in scale and scope. While there were successful MARVEL films before 2008’s Iron Man— like Blade (1998), X-Men (2000), Spider-Man (2002) and Spider-Man 2 (2004)— they didn’t hang together in a complex meta-narrative the way the films after Iron Man do. The current MARVEL Cinematic Universe (MCU) which seems to have hit an apex with the Russo brothers’ Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019), has given comic book fans something they might only have imagined in their dreams: a movie saga as rich as the comic books. Where it all goes from here is the big question. With Avengers: Endgame perhaps audiences have witnessed an end to a golden era of modern comic book films.

More than any other recent franchise aside from HBO’s Game of Thrones (2011-2019), these MARVEL films have become event viewing and unlike Game of Thrones have a much wider audience appealing to families. Some of the most emotional beats in the film revolve around family: The loss of family, the desire to protect family, the need for family if a person has no biological family to lose or protect. And for many viewers these MARVEL superheroes have become like family. At the end of Avengers: Infinity War audiences took the vanishing of Peter Parker / Spider-Man (Tom Holland) very hard with many viewers moved to tears. Avengers: Endgame is no less emotional and may be more emotional as it appears the fate of some characters may be irreversible.

Like he did in The Avengers (2012), Stark makes the ultimate sacrifice in Endgame risking his life to bring back all that was lost. Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) foreshadowed Stark’s sacrifice in Avengers: Infinity War. After looking forward in time and witnessing 14,000,605 futures Strange offers up the time stone to Thanos in exchange for Stark’s life. Strange had said he’d only witnessed one outcome that would be successful and his intervention to save Stark from Thanos suggested Stark would later make the pivotal self-sacrifice. Yet, unlike previous acts of self sacrifice, it looks like there is no return, no bouncing back from this one. Strange knew Iron Man must survive Thanos in Infinity War to defeat him in Endgame. Stark’s last words before offering himself up for the lives of others brings the whole saga back to the film that started it all: Iron Man (2008). But Stark is not the man he was; he is a better man. His death triggers a difficult passing of the torch signifying that while some characters and storylines may continue nothing will be the same. Just as Iron Man (2008) ushered in a “new normal” for MARVEL Studios, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame have done the same. And while audiences had only begun to get to know Peter Parker / Spider-Man the character of Tony Stark / Iron Man has been the backbone of the MCU. Endgame also sees the conclusion of Steve Rogers / Captain America’s story ending on Rogers finally having his promised dance with Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). These touching conclusions are both satisfying and heart-rending—emotional responses few people back in 2008 would have thought possible in super hero comic book films.

This is the genius of these films; they are more than 3-D CGI slugfests populated with two-dimensional characters. MARVEL Studios and Disney have earned their emotional payoffs creating some truly satisfying and memorable epic stories. The way these two films cap off the previous 20 films in the saga and the way they deal with their central characters actually improve some of the earlier films making them more poignant on repeat viewing when viewers know where the story is going. For example the foolhardy, insufferable and vain Thor of Thor (2011) goes through such a profound series of events between his first film and this last film that viewers who may at first have been put off by the character’s aloof arrogance can now watch that first film again with more charity knowing where Thor will end up in Avengers: Endgame. And the way Avengers: Endgame concludes for Thor, viewers can cheer him on all over again because unlike Iron Man and Captain America he seems at the midpoint in his personal MCU storyline.

Christian viewers will have some things to think about after watching the film. While Tony Stark / Iron Man is no Jesus Christ, he willingly sacrifices himself for the good of others so they can have life and be reunited with those they loved. When approached to help the Avengers in their plan to reverse the effect of Thanos’ use of the infinity stones, Stark is initially reluctant to participate. Here Christians might see a faint echo of Jesus’ desire to have the cup of suffering and death pass from Him when He prays in the garden of Gethsemane the night before His crucifixion, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). However, unlike Jesus Stark doesn’t know what lies ahead of him when he rejoins the Avengers. At one point Stark asks Strange if they are in the one future where they win against Thanos to which Strange replies, “If I tell you what happens, it won't happen.” Jesus knows what will happen when He goes to the cross yet in His humanity both humbly asks if there is another way and obediently takes the one way available to Him because of His love for His Father and all people.

Another point of similarity between these films and the Bible is the way Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame present the sacrifice of Tony Stark as the one and only way to fix their problem. The Bible likewise presents Jesus’ Good Friday death on the cross as the single way in which the fall into sin back in the garden of Eden at the hands of Adam and Eve by the temptation of Satan, whom Jesus calls “A murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44), can be overcome. Jesus’ death at the cross was necessary so that Satan who once overcame humanity and all of creation by a tree— the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil and its fruit— might likewise be overcome by a tree, the wood of the cross with Jesus nailed there. In a similar way the infinity stones which brought death to half the universe by the hand of Thanos are then used by the gauntleted hand of Tony Stark / Iron Man to bring life to those who were lost. In the end Stark, like Jesus, willingly makes this sacrifice offering his life for the lives of others. But unlike Jesus, Stark has no Easter resurrection from the dead three days later.

While God in the Bible, being all knowing, all powerful, and all present allows for time to unfold as it is appointed by Him, the Avengers use time travel to get out of their predicament. Many viewers don’t like time travel narratives because they see it as a cheap way to get out of a narrative pickle. From Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) to Star Trek (2009) time travel has its detractors since once it is brought into a franchise it can hollow out the tension inherent in cause and effect. Overall, the Russos do a fair job mitigating this issue even referencing films like Back to the Future (1985) by name. Audiences familiar with Back to the Future Part II (1989) may find some elements of the second act of Avengers: Endgame derivative. What the time travel plot of Endgame does however is allow the MCU to run a victory lap by popping back into some of the pivotal films from the previous 20 pre-Infinity War / Endgame films. Because of the rich meta-narrative woven over the last eleven years this is oddly satisfying acting as a mirror in which the audience can reflect on just how much has changed and how much the story has unfolded.

Which brings things back around to Thor— a storyline both poignant and problematic. Christians may want to think on the exchange Thor has with his mother Frigga only made possible by the use of time travel. On their part of the time heist plot to retrieve the infinity stones from the past to thwart Thanos’ mass extinction, Thor and Rocket end up walking the halls of Asgard back as seen in the under-appreciated film Thor: The Dark World (2013). Frigga, upon seeing her depressed and broken son from the future says, “Everyone fails at who they are supposed to be. The measure of a person, a hero, is how they succeed at being who they are.” Then Thor holds out his hand to summon his hammer Mjolnir, the hammer that can only be held by one who is worthy. The hammer comes to him and with relief he says “I’m still worthy!” Part of this is problematic for Christians. On the one hand it is good for a person to be honest about their true nature, that they are in fact not who they are supposed to be; an acknowledgement of sin and moral failure. Such an acknowledgment is an essential part of repentance. However, on the other hand the idea that one then simply accepts themselves for who they are without the encouragement to improve and do better is a major problem. Such advice can easily be a fatalistic excuse for nihilism—a kind of “you do you” way of living. When presented in the context of Thor, a literal superhero, in a film so focused on dealing with failure, viewers who are striving towards virtue as they live their lives may find themselves discouraged. In the hope Thor will continue his character arc; perhaps this can be mitigated with future films.

For all its seriousness and epic throw downs Endgame is also a movie with a surprising amount of humor. No fan should feel short-changed and may actually be hard pressed to come up with a favourite moment or scene! There are too many! Overall Endgame is a sentimental masterpiece intended to strike at the emotions. And because emotions are subjective the success of such an approach will be best measured by a viewer’s investment in the story: The higher the investment the more emotional the response. In that way the film is a perfect reflection of the time in which it has been made. Strong positive and nostalgic emotions go a long way to gloss over some of the more glaring plot holes introduced by time travel. That said, Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, and the rest of these MCU films can easily be counted as a real achievement unlike anything else in the film world today: a big budget serial film franchise with heart and style to spare.

Rev. Ted Giese is lead pastor of Mount Olive Lutheran Church, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada; a contributor to The Canadian Lutheran, Reporter; and movie reviewer for the “Issues, Etc.” radio program. Follow Pastor Giese on Twitter @RevTedGieseCheck out our Movie Review Index

You can also find this article featured in the Canadian Lutheran and Reporter online.