Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame

The ideal public discussion of Endgame for Disney is one which suppresses criticism of its artistry or lack-of, and which comments largely on its box office intake and the suppression of spoilers. In light of this, I will ignore this film's market impact, as well as the general populist response, reject writing a lengthy anti-capitalist screed, and briefly meet the film on its own terms, as an artistic piece of genre filmmaking released within the cultural context of 2019.

There is a thematic core to this film somewhere related to the idea that God is dead and we killed him in his own Garden of Eden; which is of course strengthened by two sequences. One of these sequences involves the exchange of a soul for a soul (in the words of the film), follows up on Bergman's Seventh Seal imagery and generally relates strongly to genre filmmaking (specifically religious fantasy) as a whole. The other sequence is the massive final battle; there's a breathtaking image at the very beginning of it that rivals the best of late Spielberg, alas, the rest of the film barely scales these heights. In saying that, the Russo brothers have grown exponentially within the Hollywood sphere over their four Marvel films. These last two Avengers movies have real, genuine color-grading and a relatively balanced edit, for one thing. The final battle inverts the idea of a 'pure' Garden of Eden and pollutes home in order to erase evil from it. This, then, is the second superhero film (the other is Aquaman) within twelve months to actively engage with images that appear designed to call climate change to mind. If superhero cinema becomes ecologically and environmentally concerned, it may eventually find its thesis.

I struggle with the religious-environmentalist bent to this film when we also take into account that this is the final affirmation of the MCU's rigid militaristic endorsements. This is practically another Captain America movie, and there is no question that he is the hero (we are rarely asked to empathize with anybody else, and when we are, it seems arbitrary and in service of the greater America plot). Nested within this hero narrative is a facile comedy about the Ripped American Hero and the Fat 'Other' who of course becomes the butt of every joke.

By endorsing Captain America's attitudes, (really, what else could they do?) the entire cinematic universe appears set on the 'all or nothing' premise: he states early on that - if nobody can be saved - everybody may as well have died, a comment not far removed from military 'we need you' style propaganda tapes. There's also a curious attitude surrounding "we can't exist without each other" / "we can't exist without opposition" in this film. Considering that only a few years ago this universe hosted a civil war (in a terrible) movie, the complete neutral and centrist position here is more than a little undercooked.

In saying this, the thematic core of the film - purity, the renewal of togetherness, doing so within the confines of specific, natural environments (as opposed to technologically controlled environments) - is strong and visible. The generic formal issues abound: the coloring is bizarre, the edit frequently confuses much of the action, characters appear in scenes apparently out of nowhere (one scene early on in the Stark household reminded me of the egregious editing tricks used in 2017's It). The issues unique to this text are almost entirely narrative. Every single scene is both instigated by and closed off by deus ex machina; not an inherently negative storytelling device (it has been employed to great effect by Damon Lindelof; who has previously crafted his own take on a rapture-like narrative) but one that feels cheap within the confines of what was marketed as an 'ending.'

When we last saw Ant-Man, he was in a seemingly irreversible position. This film negates that decision by enlarging him as the result of a rat running over a button. There's a scene where Loki collects an important object and vanishes with it. Why? To extend the film another ten minutes or so, apparently. Everything hangs together by flimsy threads, and the flimsy threads are absolutely not the product of 22-movies worth of narrative development. They are the product of a series of tight spots and 'comic book logic' allowing the negation of real, clear causal logic (even other Marvel movies, the ones I hate, have fairly reasonable linear motivation).

And still, bogged down by all these negatives, it's one of the strongest in the MCU. So, after all that:

What was this saga really worth?

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