The new Marvel film will set records that will set records. “Avengers: Endgame” takes place in a universe that demands knowing every previous installment that came before. That being said, perhaps the biggest criticism would be that “Endgame” doesn’t know when to quit — the conclusion has more endings than “LOTR: The Return of the King.”
Make no mistake, the lengthy “Avengers: Endgame” will make bank like no other film this year and few in history. That is its advertised destiny. It’s the culmination of countless films that have unfolded in the last eleven years of the Marvel Universe.
For purists, it will lead to discussions that beg to reconsider how and why Ang Lee’s 2003 “Hulk” is not part of the equation. For general fans, it will be an exhaustive conclusion movie that tries to make sense of multiple timelines that work individually but get constipated when you try to balance them.
Length is not a problem, and even at three-hours, “Endgame” unwinds effortlessly. It’s just that hour two burns so much brighter than hour one or three.
Events begins pretty much where “Infinity Wars” left off.
Hawkeye, having left the Avengers to live peacefully with his family in the country, watches in dismay as they disappear. The scene that ended the credit roll of “Infinity War,” where Captain Marvel appears in response to Nick Fury’s beeper alert, doesn’t even take place. Yet, cleverly the next scene you could possibly image, one where Marvel, Capt. America, Black Widow and a couple of others conspire against Thanos, takes its place. Captain Marvel has previously rescued a wounded Iron Man and Nebula who are floundering in a crippled spaceship.
“Endgame” makes the most of events from “Infinity Wars,” as well as other films in the canon, like “Guardians of the Galaxy,” or “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” and even “Thor: The Dark World.” They are important to the schematic on display, and are frankly required viewing in the overall sense that one wants the whole shebang to make sense. Be assured that anyone associated with any of the Avengers titles will pop up at some point.
In that aspect, “Endgame” unreels very much like a sequel. The opening salvo concerns the revenge the Avengers take against Thanos only to then shift ahead five years in time.
FIVE YEARS LATER
Here things become specific, like Iron Man living in rural privacy, and everyone else regulated to living in a world where half the population doesn’t exist. Black Widow and Captain Marvel change their hairstyle.
The group becomes mobilized when Ant Man appears out of the nether after an alley rat activates the quantum device wherein he lay trapped. His research while pinned down in the quantum wasteland mixed with Tony Stark’s insight into science results in a time travel GPS device.
But the explanation of the time travel physics seems more vague than the mechanics behind “Hot Tub Time Machine.” Stark might as well have explained the concept by emulating the Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz”: “The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side.”
At this point, you have to ask yourself if reducing the population of our planet in half would solve a lot of problems caused by pollution, starvation and other ills from an over-stimulated world. “Endgame” is not about asking those questions. This isn’t Earth Day, this is Reclaim the Earth Day.
“Endgame” revs up to speed during the time travel second hour as different Avenger team members travel back to specific incidents in past movies to retrieve the Infinity Stones. If they had just listened to War Machine and traveled back to Thanos’ birth and strangled the baby, the movie would be over at the eighty-minute mark.
The momentum achieved by the waltz-down-Avenger-memory-lane comes crashing to a halt by a concluding last act that shows the fight between the Avengers and Thanos. It’s the same fight we’ve been watching in super hero films since 1980s “Superman II.”
Iron Man punches Thanos, Thanos punches Iron Man back. Thor punches Thanos, Thanos punches Thor back. Captain Marvel punches Thanos, and Thanos once again punches back.
Despite its shortcomings, “Avengers: Endgame” defines the modern concept of cinematic spectacle and deserves to be seen on the largest screen available. Even the hokey time travel notion works in the way it keeps the audience glued to the story while trying to calibrate what we collectively remember about past films and how all the parts of “Endgame” fit together so well. It’s a conceptualization that works better when you’re watching it, as opposed to afterwards when you’re thinking about it. Don’t think, just enjoy.