By Diego Roberto Hernandez
Christian Bale once said, "I like the idea of movies having a magic element. How many times have you seen an actor in a movie who you know only as the character? It's wonderful, isn't it?" Considering that Bale was able to accomplish this act of magic in a superb trilogy of Batman films only 8 years after Joel Schumacher last appalling attempt at a Bat flick that for years made people equate the grim, tragic detective with a utterly vapid cartoon... it's safe to say that Bale and his quote draw a considerable amount of water. Why else do we go to the movies other than magic? The magic of an older Earth, in which four small Halflings defy an empire and accept all the pain and suffering said bravery entails? The magic of an epic set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, in which a war for the cosmos is translated into a war for the human spirit?
For a decade now, Marvel Studios has been consistently excelling at creating their own magic, both in largely superlative stand-alone films, but also in doing something that has virtually never been accomplished before in the history of the cinema: inventing and sustaining a shared narrative built upon years worth of inter-connected stories, running the gamut from science fiction to family comedy to political thriller to mythological fantasy to ethnic studies adventure to ultimately cross-over war.
That ain't chump change. That ain't a bowl of peanuts. That is something amazing.
There are some spoilers for the summary ahead, which I'll try to limit as best as I can so that I only give away the very least (But if you haven't made it this far into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, why the hell are you going to see "Endgame"?) "Endgame" picks up shortly after the ending of "Infinity War", a finale that left millions of audience members, including yours truly, left with jaws dropped in abject horror. (It would appear that the best way to prove than an audience loves a character is to snatch that character away from them) Thanos has won, half of everything in the cosmos is now dead, and there is seemingly no way to reverse the genocide wrought. Enter Ant-Man, who was last seen stranded in the quantum realm at the end of "Ant-Man and the Wasp" as a result of Thanos' apocalyptic finger-snap. Thing is, outside the quantum realm, Scott Lang has been missing for five years, whereas inside the quantum realm, Lang had been drifting for only about... five hours. Thus, as in "Doctor Strange", we have proof that time is mutable and seemingly privy to manipulation. And with the potential for time manipulation, there is now potentially a way for Ant-Man, Captain America, Hawk-Eye, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk/Bruce Banner, Black Widow, Nebula War Machine, and Rocket
Raccoon to hit the reset button on the cataclysmic damage wrought by Thanos' Infinity Gauntlet.
This is the best I can summarize the plot and central conflict without giving away any major reveals, of which "Endgame" is teeming full of. Though "Endgame" doesn't possess as many nail-bitingly suspenseful moments as "Infinity War" (Although it could be argued that as Endgame features our heroes in a desperate attempt to gain back their world, the lesser moments of hand-wringing and dripping brows do feel as though they are of more consequence), what "Endgame" has over "Infinity War" is a more inventive and somehow even more ambitious plot as well as better twists (Let's just say that Endgame takes the debacle that was the controversy of Captain joining Hydra in the comics and then uses that in order to spin feces into gold).
The plot of Endgame is very well structured, which might sound like a decent accomplishment for any other kind of film, but considering that Endgame has at least ten principal characters to focus on (In addition to others? Maybe. Maybe not.), I have to especially commend Endgame's tightly structured plot as well as the way it dexterously control's the chaos within the movie (Of which I will say that there is an abundance). The bigger the blockbuster movie, the harder it can fall (I'm looking at you, "Dark Tower", "Lone Ranger", and "Ben-Hur" [2016, of course]), but the foundation of Endgame is too well constructed to let that happen. Moreover, when you consider that just how seamlessly (For the most part) everything in the plot is orchestrated for a movie that just happens to be over three hours long yet feels falls far shorter than one hundred and eighty minutes (Bearing in mind that so many movies today are made with special consideration for so many audience members who cannot sit still for long periods of time unless they're fiddling with their cell phones or unless they partake in, ah, "medicinal herbs and flowers")... the mind simply boggles at the overall product and how much the filmmakers were able to shoe-horn in.
The script feels wittier than Infinity War but as sincere in its heroics and drama. Endgame's script wisely chooses to focus more on Hawk-Eye, Ant-Man, and Nebula, characters who in other movies are often side-lined to supporting character status, but who play more pivotal roles in this entry. I was also both greatly surprised and impressed by one certain major character who chose to allow tragedy to lead to depression to lead to one too many pints and one too many slices and ultimately to just letting himself go. Yep, one of the most powerful beings alive has packed on more than just a few pounds, but strangely enough, while groupies may wail, I found the seemingly insulting and embarrassing character twist to actually be a good idea. The reason why I approve of this plot device is simple: many fans of comic books, video games, anime, etc, are simply overweight (Note that obesity is an epidemic in general in the United States). I've more or less come to accept the fact that I'm never going to have the body of Marky Mark- sorry, I mean Mark Wahlberg (Unless I'm paid, of course), and that at best my guilt regarding my love of beer, pizza, and nachos will at least keep me going to the gym to the point that I'm able to sustain a muscular, if not somewhat pudgy, gothic trucker look. Movies aren't like real life, but I doubt that's going to stop anyone, let alone myself, from feeling insecure comparing ourselves to Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, Captain Marvel, Rocket, and the rest of the hotties. One of the characters abandoning self-control and throwing himself a pity party but then eventually getting his act together, an act that's crucial for the Avengers to succeed? It felt like a nice wake-up call for those of us who are heavier-set: stop feeling sorry for yourself and start kicking ass. You're perfectly capable of both, no matter how hopeless things may seem.
I will say that I had two qualms with Endgame. One is that one character was killed off, and it didn't feel as though that certain character was making some sort of grand sacrifice (Which is what the character intended), but rather it felt more like the filmmakers were saying "OK, we're done with you, so... bye!". Considering how so many other characters' deaths felt gut-wrenching, this one struck me as hollow, not so much the loss of someone beloved as just a way to keep the plot moving. The other is that Captain Marvel simply doesn't get enough screen-time. While she does give a reasonable explanation as to why she wasn't on Earth assisting the Avengers against Loki and Thanos' first invasion into New York, I had hoped that Carol Danvers would play a more central role in Endgame, especially considering that the only other movie she had been in was her self-titled film, which was released mere months before Endgame. Due to such close proximity and the fact that Infinity War ended with Danver's logo, giving Danvers more screen time and more of a role in the conflict would have tied things up more nicely.
These qualms are more or less squashed by everything else that Endgame gets right, which is the vast majority, including cinematography that's so sweeping and majestic you would be stunned if you hadn't already gotten used to Marvel Studios using everything they have to transport you to worlds with such verisimilitude that you can practically touch them. Endgame has just as many brilliant moments of breath-taking beauty and action as Infinity War, if not more so. My favorites included Hawk-Eye kneeling upon the waters of the woefully beautiful Vormir, surrounded by a sky of tiger orange, a captivating mis-en-scene wide shot showing both sides of the two armies about to clobber each other (Who knew that Ant/Giant-Man had a Tyson like right hand?) , and, of course, the "girl power" sequence involving all of the female superheroes (Now THAT'S feminism!). Alan Silvestri's Wagnerian score perfectly complements the mythological action and Harry James and Helen Forrest's "It's Been A Long, Long Time" was an unexpectedly beautiful and fitting way to draw the curtains.
Phase 3 of the MCU is now over, and the finale has done far more than to live up to all the wonderful entries that preceded it. "Endgame" is not simply an incredible movie: it is proof regarding just how incredible people can be. Life is one damn thing after another, and the sky is always falling, and while too many people claim that Captain America is an archaic relic from good old days that never existed, and while so many people, battered and bruised by the exhausting conflicts, cynicism, and hopelessness of the present, scoff at the ideals of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, of Truth, Justice, and the American Way... it seems that the reason why so many people refuse to believe that tomorrow can be a better day is perhaps because so many people are afraid of believing in something only to end up hurt and disappointed by said hope. And yet... and yet people all over the world spend their hard earned moolah to see Gods, Monsters, and Magic upon the Silver Screen, to witness the essential truth tucked within all of the fantastical costumes, special effects, and fight sequences: that it is worth protecting those who cannot protect themselves, and that it is always worthwhile to stand up to the bullies. For all of the people who will not allow themselves to believe in the not simply American but rather universal values of the Avengers, of Marvel Studios and Comics, and of superhero mythology in general... for all of those scared, defeated, and injured people, there will always be people who refuse to stay down and who eagerly await the next opportunity to prevail over what onerous challenge shall inevitably fall upon them. I believe that this is the message that the films of Marvel Studios have been delivering since the very beginning, when a seemingly washed up, past his prime, ex-alcoholic jail bird named Robert Downey Jr soared to virtually impossible heights as Iron Man, and I believe that this is what has led to Marvel Studios' unprecedented success. The sagas, legends, and epics of soldiers, cyborgs, aliens, warriors, and gods are simply grandiose reflections and imitations that we ordinary people call simply ordinary life. Within the ordinary is hidden the extraordinary.
The extraordinary reception and financial success of "Endgame" is proof of two things: One, that Marvel has become a titan among studios around the world, in part, because they have simply given fans what they want and need to see, and two, because the fans have made it so. In bringing such heroes to screens across the entire globe, fans have taken the courageous step away from the fear that is cynicism to the hope that is the Hero's Quest. Compassion, bravery, selflessness, generosity, love: the greatest super powers of them all. No studio other than Marvel has done as much to show that the powers that we take for granted are the ones that we will always treasure most, no matter what.