Bruce Steele: So we'll start this Avengers: Endgame discussion with a few spoiler-free comments, but then we're going to have to get into talking about what's actually in the movie — so be warned. But in general, did you think the film delivered a satisfying culmination of the 21 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that have come before it?
Edwin Arnaudin: I did, though some clunkiness in the early going had me concerned that might not be the case. Compared with last year’s Avengers: Infinity War, which smoothly brought together the various MCU pieces and their distinct senses of humor, a decent number of first act jokes here fell Shazam! flat for me. But once Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) returns from his time warp and a plan is formulated to resurrect Earth’s fallen 50%, I felt the film hit its groove and rarely let up. How about you?
Bruce: I think fans will be happy. It gets the gang back together for one last time and references a lot of the adventures they've had along the way. It has a slow, dour start that had me worried but it gradually picks up and sprinkles in both humor and heart-tweaking moments on its way to an action-packed finale. My complaints about Infinity War were chiefly about the Avengers' cowardly unwillingness to make sacrifices to stop Thanos, and that's counterbalanced in this installment. And that's about all I can say before we get into the some of the plot specifics.
Edwin: Yep! Consider yourself warned and stop reading unless you want to have the film’s secrets revealed.
Still with us? OK then! So, yes, I think we all knew what the focus of Endgame would be, but beyond Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) being a key component of the adventure, the specifics had the potential to take numerous forms. It sounds like we’re both satisfied with how things play out, but are you surprised how little the MCU’s newest addition was ultimately involved?
Bruce: I was a bit surprised after the teaser at the end of Captain Marvel that Carol Danvers isn't well integrated into The Avengers. She sort of pops up and then disappears for an hour at a time. But she is a late-comer, and I think Endgame really wants to keep the focus on the core team from the first Avengers movie. It's no coincidence that most of the Avengers evaporated at the end of Infinity War were the more recent additions to the fold. What did you think of skid row Thor?
Edwin: Well, Thor has long been my favorite Avenger, so I was easily won over by #FatThor — or, as Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) calls him at one point, “Lebowski.” His reentry into the group is right around when Endgame really gets going and I was excited to follow the four teams’ time-travel quests for the individual infinity stones, even if that means the clinically depressed duo of Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) disappear for a good half hour. Were you especially glad to tag along on a particular mission?
Bruce: I think I was most engaged in the Tony Stark and Captain America (Chris Evans) journey back to SHIELD HQ in 1970, where they run into Tony's dad-to-be (John Slattery) and young Hank Pym (digitally face-lifted Michael Douglas) and other familiar faces, just because it melded the most previous plot lines. Pathetic slacker Thor I found annoying and an insult to his legacy, so the less I saw of him, the better. Shall we touch on the utter sloppiness of the time travel gimmick or leave that to the fan blogs to sort out?
Edwin: You’re welcome to trash it. I think with a lot of the, er, “science” in the MCU films, I was able to just roll with it and not get caught up in the specifics — but I’m also incapable of accurately explaining what happens based on the details and evidence laid forth. Did it take you out of the film?
Bruce: Yes. Careless time travel gimmicks that serve the plot but follow no logic always frustrate me and detach me from the movie. I will give Endgame credit for attempting to cover its tracks when The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) explains branching temporal realities to Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), suggesting that every manipulation of the past creates new time paths that parallel rather than replace existing reality. All the film's temporal inconsistencies — like Nebula killing her earlier self, which ought to have snuffed out both of her — are thus justified. But even that didn't make sense in Captain America's complete replacement of his past in the movie's coda. Ah, well, as you point out, fans just have to roll with it. Cool battle, though, right?
Edwin: For sure! Especially when Cap suddenly wields Thor’s hammer — what’s that about?!?! — and starts wailing on Thanos. Forced as it felt, I also got chills when the women characters united in support of Captain Marvel and helped blaze a path through the enemy. But within the entertaining chaos of the overall fight, I didn’t feel like I got to see many individual skills on display, a department in which I recall Infinity War excelling.
Bruce: The battle was essentially a do-over of the finale at the end of Infinity War, but while the first fight was in bright, colorful Wakanda, this one was in a dim, bombed-out landscape — an ironic contrast, since the brighter fight is lost and dismal one is (mostly) won. The last hour is pretty satisfying, and even the way the movie wrote various stars with expiring contracts out of the story was nicely handled. And the newer stars just get back to business. I'm ready for more Spider-man and Nick Fury in just over two months! This one I'll give a C-plus.
Edwin: Echoes of your space movie point about Apollo 11 being a happy movie about a failed mission and First Man being a sad one about a successful one, eh? I agree that Cap and Iron Man get proper sendoffs — ones that reminded me of Mace Windu’s last stand in Revenge of the Sith — though I missed where Johansson also wanted out of the series, if that’s indeed the case. I’m likewise looking forward to the Spidey sequel and following whatever the surviving players do next. But fulfilling as the end of this era is, it still feels like a slight step down from Infinity War, so I’ll go with a high B.
Grade: B-minus. Rated PG-13. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande, Carolina Cinemark, and Grail Moviehouse
(Photos: Walt Disney Pictures)