Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

<many spoilers>

Second time seeing it in theaters. 5 of my favorite character-related things about "Avengers Endgame":

5) Hawkeye's subplot - a loving family man losing his wife and children all of a sudden, leading him down a path of destruction as he becomes a vicious killer. He got the "Punisher" package, not exactly original, but as one of many starkly different reactions in this quilt of galactic tragedy that has befallen our superheroes, it's a dark and devastating fate for him, not to mention a clever explanation (from a dramatic standpoint) for why he was absent during "Infinity War" (whereas previously I just assumed the answer to that question would be "because he's the least interesting Avenger") (P.S. same goes for there being a genuine narrative reason for Ant-Man sitting out "Infinity War", not just "because there were already too many characters to deal with". These magnificent bastards really put a lot of thought into these two movies).

4) Thanos, the unstoppable, philosophically nuanced cosmic villain-slash-subversive-protagonist of "Infinity War", is killed at the very beginning, unceremoniously. And in lieu of victory or sweet vengeance, this unexpected twist of fate is about how impotent and angry the good guys are left feeling. As a side note, I admire how measured Thanos is in both movies. He's prideful and a bit snide like villains tend to be, but not particularly snarky nor cartoonish nor angry, all the usual options for bad guys in blockbuster movies. He's a thinker, a strategist, a fatalist in a way, someone who's always curious to know more. There's a melancholy wisdom to his behavior, as well as pockets of vulnerability like his affection for Gamora and an inner rage and contempt that he tries to control. He mirrors Tony Stark to some degree, which may be why he's such a great character. And it's been said elsewhere but let me echo: the complaint that Marvel movies don't have good villains was obliterated in "Infinity War". Between that and "Endgame", Thanos is one of, if not the best foes that superhero cinema has ever featured. Absolutely fantastic job: Josh Brolin, and writers, and visual effects team. None of the Marvel villains stood out all that much before him, but maybe that's because the coup d'grace was being saved for the final course.

3) Chris Hemsworth - arguably the silliest Avenger at first, but the writers really embraced that with the loopy settings and premises involving him and especially by honing in on Hemsworth's exquisite comic timing and delivery. His personal setback during "Endgame" - letting himself go because he feels like a failure - is the most relatable of them all, a hilarious twist that manages to re-contextualize the same joke they've been using since 2011, that Thor is a hero-as-happy-go-lucky-oaf, while also giving him highly effective pregnant pauses of pathos in-between.

2) the sight of all these characters on screen together. Random team-ups like Nebula and Rhodey having to bag Quill, Scott Lang tagging along with Tony and Captain America, etc. That final battle with everyone assembling. Just hordes of superheroes and their families and friends and associates, plus all the villains, and that the movie doesn't get hung up on giving everyone equal time or abiding by any movie star ego or conforming to expectations. This is a movie that gives valuable screen time to tertiary characters you never expected to see or hear from again, like Tony's dad (John Slattery), Dr. Strange's mentor (Tilda Swinton), Thor's mom (Rene Russo). Nebula having one of the bigger roles of anyone in the movie, didn't expect that. This is also the best use of Scarlett Johansson across all of her MCU involvement. Too bad she never had more to do before this, but at least she goes out on a high note (and not just regarding the fact that she dies).

1) Robert Downey, Jr. - since the beginning he's been the ace in MCU's hole. Not just that the franchise basically began with him (since we all basically agree that Edward Norton's "The Incredible Hulk" only counts in theory), or that he's the most dynamic member of the Avengers and the catalyst for most of their stories over the past decade, but also that casting him as the irascible playboy genius Tony Stark was one of the more perfect unions of an actor's personality and mannerisms with a complementary pre-existing character that has ever happened in the movies. He was born to play this part. It's a license for Downey Jr. to be charming, quick-witted, offbeat, temperamental, justifiably arrogant, thoughtful, brilliant, troubled. More than anything though, I just marvel at his unique acting style. He always talks fast and makes facial expressions that seem more authentic because they're unexpected and varied; he sometimes addresses things indirectly, and uses a rhythm that is all his own, an original voice (figuratively speaking) unlike most actors who share the same reliable yet dull and therefore kind of phony methods and speech patterns. Then he makes it all seem cool, like this is the guy you want to model yourself after. And still furthermore, he repeatedly scores the best character arcs, the most challenging issues to deal with, the most rewarding redemptions. Whenever all the Avengers are together, or really whenever anyone is on screen in a Marvel movie and Robert Downey Jr. appears there as well, he is always the person who captures your attention the most. To boil it down, alongside Tim Curry and Jeff Goldblum, RDJ is my favorite actor, and kind of for the same reasons: they are pure eccentric charisma, actors who don't play by the rules of the game, who make the profession of performance art feel fresh and delicious every single time. RDJ was transcendent in the MCU. I will sorely miss him in all future adventures, but also hope that his liberation from the franchise means he can finally start flexing that talent in different ways for other movies again. How about an Aaron Sorkin movie?

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