Avengers: Endgame

EGDirectors: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

Screenwriters: Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Benedict Cumberbatch, Chadwick Boseman, Brie Larson, Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, and Josh Brolin

What is left to say about Avengers: Endgame that has not already been said? The film is already speedily on its way to overtake Avatar as the highest grossing film of all time, and it shows no evidence of slowing down as the summer movie season starts to heat up!

Still of the 21 Marvel Cinematic Universe films that lead up to Endgame, I reviewed 11 of them, and cinematic saturation aside, I will make it an even dozen with this one!

Avengers: Endgame is the sweet story of a young artist looking for love in Northern France. Of course it’s not; it’s the story of a superhuman, a guy in a metal suit, a persuasive lady, a Norse god, a bow and arrow guy, and a monster –  seeking revenge on a purple megalomaniac for obliterating half of the galaxy’s population. As preposterous as it sounds in those terms, this film delivers. The plot is quite simplistic, although it can be argued that it is not as simplistic as it could have been. The spoiler ban has lifted, so I am not speaking out of turn when I say that the heroes you saw “dusted” in Infinity War are perhaps not gone forever. The mechanics that screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely implement to get them back are gleefully “bananas,” making for a tremendously entertaining and nostalgic second act that is as perfect as any segment of a film the Marvel Cinematic Universe has given us.

The film picks up post-snap, and instantly defies expectations. I’ll leave it at that. The first act unfolds as a psychological drama examining how life goes on Leftovers-style after half of the people on Earth just suddenly disappeared. The answer: grief, guilt, desperation, and pessimism. The evolution of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is particularly noteworthy. This nuanced approach to the film’s opening act is a welcomed and fascinating change of stride from what we’ve come to expect from these films. It grounds the actions, consequences, and motivations in a way that feels earned and appropriate rather than just getting on with the action. The first scene of this film is damn near heartbreaking!

This is not to say the film is flawless. The introduction of Captain Marvel last March provided the MCU with a captivating new hero; however she is also somewhat problematic in terms of her involvement within Endgame. She allows for the laziest plot resolutions punching as many holes in the narrative as she does in the ships of Thanos’s army. On the other hand, this movie attempts to utilize time-travel, which opens it up to so much convolution, it’s best to just go along for the ride anyway.

You should also be warned, this was not marketed as a “part 2” to Infinity War, and in many ways it is not; however, it very much is a part 22 to the MCU, and if you are not up on these films, your enjoyment of this film will be impacted immensely. That being said, thank you Endgame for giving me even more evidence to use in conversations about why Iron Man 3 is the best Iron Man movie and a top five MCU film!

All of that being said, this movie is actually epic, and I use that term without hyperbole. The Russo brothers have assembled a true love letter that spans the entire run of the most successful film franchise in history. A strength of all four Avengers films is that even with such bloated cast of characters, every one of them gets a moment to shine. The heart, the humor, the excitement, and the impact of events is as strong as in any of the MCU films, and for my money this is the best Avengers film of the four with the caveat that it does not stand alone and without the tremendous setup of the previous films, this one would not work.

With the Marvel Cinematic Universe complete at least in the form that it has existed these past 10 years, it will be interesting to see what the future brings. Many questions left unanswered in this film will likely supply plot direction for future films involving these characters, but how they will evolve and progress as a franchise is unclear. All I can say is that this is a fitting end to a joyous cinematic ride. A-

The Avengers: Endgame is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 3 hours and 2 minutes. There is no post-credits sequence, but there is a post-credits sound that is explained here if you are not interested in hanging around.

My Official MCU 22-film Ranking from Best to Worst:

  1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – A
  2. Thor: Ragnarok – A
  3. Iron Man 3 – A
  4. Avengers: Endgame – A-
  5. Avengers: Infinity War – A-
  6. Marvel’s The Avengers – A-
  7. Captain America: Civil War – A-
  8. Iron Man – A-
  9. Black Panther – A-
  10. Avengers: Age of Ultron – A-
  11. Captain Marvel – A-
  12. Captain America: The First Avenger – B+
  13. Thor – B+
  14. Spider-Man: Homecoming – B+
  15. Ant-Man – B+
  16. Ant Man and the Wasp
  17. Iron Man 2 – B
  18. The Incredible Hulk – B
  19. Thor: The Dark World – B
  20. Guardians of the Galaxy – B-
  21. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – C+
  22. Doctor Strange – C+
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Captain Marvel (2019)

CaptainDirectors: Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck

Screenwriters: Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet

Cast: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Jude Law, Annette Bening, and Lashana Lynch

Ever since that cryptic page sent by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) in the post-credit scene from Avengers: Infinity War, people have been saying…”Who’s Captain Marvel?” That is an epic question in itself. Those familiar with the Marvel Comics origin of Captain Marvel know it is a strange one. The first Captain Marvel dates back to 1939 as a fictional comic book superhero from the now defunct Whiz Comics. Whiz and Captain Marvel were put on the back burner after DC Comics sued the publisher over Captain Marvel’s similarity to Superman in the 1950s. Marvel Comics eventually developed a trademark on their own character named Captain Marvel in the 1960s with the caveat that in order to retain the trademark, they’d need to publish a Captain Marvel title at least once every two years, leading to DC eventually rename their iteration Shazam, a character that is also getting the cinematic treatment this year. But that’s not all! Marvel’s Captain Marvel went through 6 different versions before finally arriving as the Carol Danvers version that we have now!

Ok, so now that we have that out of the way, who’s Captain Marvel and what is this movie all about? Captain Marvel is centered around Carol Danvers (played by Brie Larson), a U.S. Air Force pilot who through a series of events is recruited to an elite team of alien warriors called the Kree on the planet of Hala. Danvers develops superpowers under the tutelage of her mentor and commander, Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). With the Kree, Danvers (known as Vers to her Kree comrades), helps fight in an ongoing war against a group of alien shapeshifters known as the Skrulls. The tricky bit is somewhere along the line, Vers (Danvers) has forgotten any and all of her life on Earth save for some disturbing nightmares featuring a woman (Annete Bening) she recognizes but cannot place. During a botched rescue operation, the Skrull commander, Talos (Ben Mendelsohn) capture Vers and tortures her for answers about the Kree as they make way to Earth with the plan to find a scientist who may be the key to helping them develop a quantum drive that would give them the edge in the battle against the Kree. Vers manages to escape only to crash land in Los Angeles. It is here that we discover that it is the 1990s, and Vers’s spectacle of an entrance draws the attention of (much younger) S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Nick Fury (Jackson) and Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg). Now it’s a race against time as Vers teams up with S.H.I.E.L.D. to stop the Skrulls from obtaining the quantum drive. Another battle – one of identity – also ensues as Vers’s sudden appearance on Earth begins to uproot some repressed memories of her previous life on Earth, some of which may affect the future of the universe! So the stakes are high.

Captain Marvel is a very fun movie, and much credit for its success goes to Larson, who really carves out a character here that could fall flat with the wrong performer in the role. She is charismatic and all-in on this performance, which is no surprise given she’s an Oscar winner for her work in the intensely gripping film Room. Captain Marvel certainly is a pivot from Room, but Larson’s versatility shows here that she’s a bankable and playful actress who will elevate a film. Her chemistry with Jackson, Mendelsohn, and Danvers’s best friend Maria Rambeau (played by Lashana Lynch) is contagious, helping the audience feel much more connected to the film’s events.

In addition to the performances, the action and story are on point as well. I think there were some heightened expectations that this film would provide more clues and explanations associated with the fateful climax of Avengers: Infinity War, but Captain Marvel is an origin story film and it takes place well before Thanos started outfitting that gauntlet with infinity stones. That being said, Captain Marvel is not without some nuance in providing a few answers to some questions within the MCU. Several of which can be attributed to the scene-stealing break-out star of the film, Goose. I’ll say no more. If there’s one other scene-stealer of note worth mentioning, it’s the late, great Stan Lee. 2019 will mark the last year of Stan Lee Marvel film cameos. Captain Marvel, Endgame and Spider-Man: Far From Home all feature appearances by the comic legend, and this one from Captain Marvel is a real gem.

Finally, for some reason, there’s an unfair amount of pressure on this movie due to its milestone status of being the first MCU film with a woman in the lead. This kind of treatment is the ignorant equivalent of saying, “Wait, women can be superheroes too?” The subversive and powerful impact of Black Panther is not part of the mission with Captain Marvel, nor should it be. Of course art is reflective, and so releasing a giant film like this will be part of a cultural conversation, but it really should only be a positive one. If the movie was not good, it should not be used as some kind of barometer test for a larger gender-based agenda. Fortunately the movie is good, and Captain Marvel is cool, so girls and women will be proud and inspired by that. No need to harp on it or heap tons of pressure on it. Ok, end of moderate politically correct rant.

If there is a flaw in the film, it’s the challenge of balancing the Earth story with the Kree story. Jude Law’s Yon-Rogg is somewhat squandered and lost in the sauce once Vers leaves Hala. There’s an obvious desire to tap into some of that Guardians of the Galaxy space opera cache, but it doesn’t quite work. The movie really soars with its Earth storyline, and when it soars it is a blast! A-

Captain Marvel is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 4 minutes.

The Spectacular Now

ImageThe Spectacular Now delivers a powerful and deeply cautionary story about two high school seniors improbably drawn together. When party boy, Sutter (Miles Teller) is discovered passed out on a stranger’s lawn by nice-girl Aimee (Shailene Woodley) it is far from love at first sight, but there is something. That something is part of what makes The Spectacular Now so good. It somehow avoids much of the cliché trappings of traditional coming of age films, resulting in a very engaging and emotionally relatable experience.

The Spectacular Now introduces Sutter at the start of senior year, just as his long time relationship with Cassidy (Brie Larson) has come to a sudden end causing him to ponder what he is supposed to do now. The “Now” in The Spectacular Now is intriguing. As youth culture perpetually twists the philosophical message behind Romantic individualism, what was once an ideology for adventure has been warped into a sort of assumed invincibility. This slight alteration has resulted in the YOLO (You Only Live Once) anthem that is bellowed by teens before doing a likely regrettable action. Thus, Sutter’s contemplation on what to do “now” is analogous as he is not so much concerned with his future, as one might expect, but with literarally what to do right now, with little thought towards the future at all. This sets the context for a much richer tapestry, often overlooked by other romantic films of this type. Much of the credit for why this works can be given to Teller and Woodley as their impeccably authentic performances brilliantly build the core relationship that was central to Tim Tharp’s novel. The novel was adapted, in part, by 500 Days of Summer screenwriter, Scott Neustadter, which accounts for its breezy tone overall but with a hint of something looming just out of sight. Aimee’s character is used to inject a viewpoint often disregarded by Sutter, and as Sutter and Aimee’s relationship evolves so does the complexity of Sutter’s life. Sutter’s haphazard lifestyle has been molded by a combination of society and environment to a degree that his character remains entirely sympathetic. The film may be a bit simplistic in its sections dealing with the others in Miles’ life including his sister, mother, boss, and father, but it works beautifully as a metaphor for the richness that life can potentially offer if one can look beyond the “now” and into one more “spectacular,” which can be more of a challenge than one might think. A-

The Spectacular Now is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 35 minutes. It is a brilliant showcase for these two young stars-to-be. It is better than the average romantic love story and is a nice reminder for how these types of films need not draw from the same old cliché well in order to please audiences.