On my way out of Avengers: Endgame, I ran into Alika Seki, the owner of the Maui Comics and Collectibles shop in the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center. I told him I had just seen the film and he immediately began teasing me (considering our friendship, this is nothing new). “Did you find the editing clunky, the running time bloated?” he asked. Clearly, he’s read a few of my articles.
“No,” I replied, “I liked the movie, but don’t you think it may have been too much of a good thing?” He smiled and said, “Barry, there’s no such thing.” Well, as I sit here and write this, I’m reminded that Alika is wrong. When it comes to the creation of art, there is something to be said for restraint. I found Avengers: Endgame always interesting and overwhelmingly ambitious. Yet, it gives a prime example of how some movies can be both lively and lumbering.
As always, I vow to avoid spoilers, so… um… in the prior movie, Thanos, the vile, purple all-powerful conqueror (played by Josh Brolin) did… something really bad. In the latest movie, those who have survived reassemble to defeat Thanos by… um, a really nifty (if unoriginal) plan. For better or worse, the audience is expected to be have seen every single prior Marvel movie. Clearly, the only thing in the universe more powerful than the Infinity Stones are Cliff’s Notes.
Is it too long? You betcha! At three hours and a minute, a better title would be Avengers: Infinity Running Time. I mean, for the love of Thanos, this movie is longer than The Godfather and The Shawshank Redemption! Like the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings installments, the great stuff is all there but so are many moments and entire scenes that should have been cut or provided as deleted scenes later on. As in Peter Jackson’s The Return of the King, this one has too many endings (a few of which undermine the power of the film’s true emotional climax). Yet, like another sequel I enjoy, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, this has a second act “heist,” with an elaborate sci-fi scenario and a sense of fun that carries the film.
Also helping enormously are the performances, with many cast members, previously pushed out of the spotlight, given opportunities to truly act. It’s startling to witness the richness in the work of Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, and Chris Hemsworth, all of whom are sensational here. Even Scarlett Johansson, the most absurdly under-utilized performer in this entire franchise, has some juicy scenes. I won’t name names but I appreciated how the film’s most annoying character is kept off screen for most of the film. Then again, there are so many actors with speaking roles present, I was shocked to read the end credits and realize I somehow missed William Hurt’s appearance. Especially moving are the raw, very human qualities of Tony Stark on display (though Gwyneth Paltrow no longer seems remotely interested in being here).
By the end, it’s fun to see if the film can manage to keep stacking boat loads of surprise cameo appearances and render the busy plot and action with coherence (the answer: just barely). The grand finale is derivative of the prior film and watching dozens of super-brawls becomes redundant after the second hour.
There are worthwhile philosophical and existential issues the films raises, then drops. Like the gimmick that puts the revenge plot in motion, we’re meant to take this all at face value. On my drive home, I found that much of the film’s “logic” evaporates with a finger snap by film’s end. What makes this special are the focus on the characters, who, as always, are more interesting than the CGI spectacle.
Rated PG-13/181 min.