I have never been much of a Marvel guy. Yes, I am more than impressed by their cinematic undertaking but to be honest I have struggled to connect to most of these characters. Nevertheless, the “Avengers” films, especially those directed by Joss Whedon, have always worked magic for me. Whedon was able to tell a story in such a way that I could suddenly start to care about the characters, get excited with them, get anxious with them, laugh with them (or at them) and, finally, be deeply moved by their stories.
After Whedon stepped out of the MCU, his place was taken by the Russo brothers. Their “Infinity War” is an ambitious film, although not without some problems: the character arcs are not always balanced and the final plot twist didn’t work as it should have, because deep inside the audience knew it would be undone in the next films. And “Endgame” does just that. But, unfortunately, it also crumbles under the weight of its authors ambition.
What didn’t work? First and foremost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely are a pair of lazy screenwriters. One character knows something crucial? They won’t reveal it until the rest of the characters gather, discuss the matter in detail, think for half an hour and then engage into a heated argument. Something could be done using simple measures? The characters will make an over-complicated plan, so that their job is more difficult and riskier, and so that the story is full of artificial plot twists and cheap emotional tricks. A lot happens in the film only because the screenwriters will it. And, to make it worse, they are inconsistent. They spend a few scenes on highlighting some important rules only to completely break them a (longer or shorter) while later without a word of explanation.
They also seem lost in the number of characters they have to write. For many of them, they don’t have any good idea. So they use cliché tropes (how many times will I have to see a male character’s internal change caused by a female character’s demise?), they leave some plot threads wide open and reduce some characters to simple plot devices or a tongue-in-cheek references (oh yeah, there was this character — let them say something; and that one — let them carry a key object for a moment; oh, and that one too — let them smile). And yeah, such references can be fun but when someone does it sporadically. When you’re flooded by them, you finally get bored.
What’s even worse, this lack of ideas for characters affects most of the female ones, whose potential is not used properly. Captain Marvel could be completely erased and it wouldn’t have changed anything in the story. The Black Widow has a wonderful story development that gets a really bad ending. And Pepper Potts… Well, I’ll save you my rant about Pepper Potts. The bottom line is this: this is mainly a men’s story. It is men who have ideas, it is men who carry them out and it is men who are lauded.
I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t criticise bad comedy bits. Some things work here like a charm (especially one joke about a controversial comic book storyline) and let the viewer have a moment of levity in an otherwise dark story. But there are also elements in which the storyline’s whole gravity is taken and tossed far, far away. This is especially true about Thor’s arc. The writers seem to erase everything that happened to him during “Infinity War” (one of that film’s greatest element) only to make us laugh at him. And laugh in a really terrible way because they joke about serious problems like depression and PTSD. It’s almost like they didn’t believe these few one-liners and situational jokes could balance the film’s tone more than enough.
Don’t get me wrong — there are many good moments in this script. Some moments are really exciting and — if you’re really invested in these characters — moving in a truly tear-jerking way. And, in spite of all the problems I have written about above, the first two acts of the film are relatively good. The third one, however, seems a misunderstanding. Firstly, it’s almost like ‘“Infinity War” rehashed’, and secondly, after that, we get a jokingly big number of finales. And yeah, they work for a bit, but after you’re forced to ask yourself “Wait, it’s not the end yet?” for the nth time, you start to get bored. Even with tears in your eyes.
It’s also a pity the writers don’t reflect upon grief, loss and failure on a deeper level. There are a few good moments but they are quickly buried under a thick layer of rapid action and humour. As if Markus and McFeely didn’t know superhero stories could be something more than a festival of mayhem and bwahahahas.
The problems with the script affect the problems with direction. The Russo brother’s biggest sin is editing. There are many sequences that could be cut short and some even completely cut out. The film wouldn’t drag that much and believe me: these 181 minutes can feel very long at times. The directing duo also have some difficulties in handling some fight scenes: some of them are edited very chaotically like in a bad action TV show or, say, “Quantum of Solace”.
Despite these errors, Russos make a visually compelling film. There are some really beautifully framed shots and aptly cut sequences. The cinematography is also satisfying when it comes to colours (one of the scenes in Japan is especially wonderful in that regard). And there are some fantastic, emotional montages towards the end.
The special effects look good, with only a few moments of them being plastic-like. The make-up is wonderful, especially with characters like Nebula. And then there’s music. The ”Avengers” films have always had a unique soundtrack to them and Alan Silvestri’s theme is one of the pieces that keeps coming back to my mind and playing there alongside „Star Wars” leitmotifs. Silvestri does a fantastic job of emotionally enhancing the “Endgame” experience, while also using memorable tunes.
The area where the Russo brothers are the best, however, is directing the actors. They let them act their heart outs and in some cases even go crazy. Which works wonderfully.
It’s difficult to write about every actor when the cast is so enormous. I’ll just focus on the most important roles.
Firstly, Robert Downey Jr. I don’t like his douchy Tony Stark, but I’ll admit his consistent portrayal of the character is impressive. Here, however, Downey Jr. is the best when he has to throw this sarcasm-filled facade away and show a vulnerable inside. His performance is perfect in such moments and you watch it with a great amount of pleasure.
Secondly, Chris Evans. I love the nuance he brings to Captain America. He does some unbelievable things with his eyes, from which you can read a ton of inner experiences and emotions. Not every actor can do this, but Evans is truly masterful. And thank God he shaved!
Thirdly, Scarlett Johansson. I know that after these scandals around her she’s turned more into a “Gonna play Nelson Mandela in the latest biopic” or “Top choice to be cast as John Paul II” kind of meme. But putting these controversies aside, I must say that Johansson’s role in “Endgame” is one of the most interesting ones. Her performance is emotionally credible, and she stays convincing as Black Widow till the very end of her storyline.
Fourthly (is that even a word?), Chris Hemsworth. Although his plot thread is written quite horribly, he has a unique comedy talent. It is thanks to him that this humorus element works sometimes. It is not the first time Hemsworth shows his versatility and proves that he can act as anything. Seriously, he could even be cast as a tree and still be a scene-stealer.
Fifthly, Mark Ruffalo. He also has a chance to do some comedy bits in which he is charmingly unpretentious but he is also excellent in more serious scenes, especially toward the end of the film. His Banner/Hulk is probably the closest to being an audience proxy and Ruffalo succeeds in showing just this quality.
And last, but not least, Karen Gillan as Nebula. This a conflicted and complex character whose inner problems are enriched by Gillan’s thoughtful and deep acting, which brings Nebula closer to the audience. Even despite a ton of make-up.
Of course, this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg as there are more wonderful performances, such as the ones by Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle or Brie Larson.
Bad film, good film?
Of course, I realise I am probably in minority. „Endgame” has got excellent reviews and the box-office analysts foresee a colossal income after the opening weekend. This is by all means a big win for Disney, Marvel Studios and Kevin Feige, and I am more than happy for you if you liked it. But, at the same time, I can’t do anything about the fact that I felt disappointed. And although there are many voices saying “Endgame” is a wonderful culmination (and a new beginning) of over a decade of storytelling, I also hear my own silent, yet confident voice saying: “An OK culmination, but it could be better”. And let me leave you with just that, although I’m sure many of you have a totally different opinion. I’m counting on an interesting discussion then!