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3 (out of 4)
Avengers: Endgame is a virtually perfect resolution to a miraculous franchise and an adequate superhero movie all its own. We can forever argue in apocalyptic or utopic rhetoric about serialized filmmaking forever changing the very fabric of Hollywood's ability to satiate the masses. But as the crest of the superhero sensation appears to have finally broken on the shore, Phase 4 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will likely confirm the collective decline of the phenomenon. Endgame has reached audiences in numbers akin to just a few films in cinematic history – if this final Avengers (for now) felt more complete, emotionally conscientious or judiciously trimmed, it could have been a pop culture criterion worthy of the blinding spotlight.
Endgame traces the best and worst of Marvel's proven formula, from the studio's selective capacity to stir audiences to its most feeble attempts to pander to them. As a 3-hour triptych including a weepie, Back to the Future Part IV and finally the superhero showdown to rule them all, Avengers: Endgame is almost too much to process at once. For the most part the movie is a sustained wonder of synchronicity save for a soft joke or a jarring edit here and there. But like countless epics before it there are trade-offs to the long-form dramatic staging. Engrossing, multi-strained spectacle can be foolishly interrupted by condescending simplifications or structural top-heaviness.
But at least the Avengers finally have something to avenge. While clearly inferior to Avengers: Infinity War (pretty much tippity top on the MCU scale), the subsequent half of this titanic superhero sendoff is unwieldy and unexpected. Endgame strolls along a fine line between all-ages entertainment and nerd-specific sensory overload, just not quite as gracefully as its predecessor. As much as Endgame isn’t your typical latter half of a huge series finale (like Deathly Hallows, Mockingjay or Breaking Dawn), it still takes anywhere from a few flicks to up to 21 movies of preparation to enjoy. All the rewards meant for devoted Marvel fans are actualized primarily in the last hour of pornographic superhero battles which, ironically, can also be fundamentally enjoyed by just about anyone.
The mounting drama running through true film sequels can prompt instances so poignant they are capable of transcending the medium altogether – look no further than The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King for said pathos. Despite its enormous pleasures, Endgame feels in many ways like another link in the chain of endless buildup leading to all too little crowning compensation. Minor gripes aside – the misuse of Captain Marvel, lack of closure beyond the biggest characters, the overflowing narrative – Endgame is the sort of mass cultural orgasm that doesn’t need to earn over a billion dollars opening weekend to prove itself a mammoth event picture. Tapered, monopolizing execution lent this film unfathomable, impossible anticipation and expectations, a detriment only to people like me who scoff at comic book readers and yet take these movies way too seriously.
The Russo brothers have been upping their game since the Captain America sequels, and Marvel Studios' president Kevin Feige and head MCU screenwriter Stephen McFeely have handled the paramount points of the interrelated universe rather scrupulously thus far. Whether through absurdity, affect or sheer dumb luck, Endgame's outcome is involving and emotional in spite of its myriad moving pieces. The payoff for major character arcs – at least for the highlighted heroes, this time including Hawkeye and Ant-Man (absent from the last get-together) alongside big finishes for Captain America and Iron Man – are fairly reasonable in their ultimate satisfaction. Thor's blubbery, manic-depressive turn is fitting even if it's milked for many laughs – only Hulk and some of the previously dusted superfriends feel forgotten or underrepresented.
Seen with some measure of clarity – this is just a movie after all, no matter how many loose ends were dangling following Thanos' climactic snap – Endgame has as much fun as is logically allowed and makes a number of judiciously weighed gambles rearing the 22-film, 4D chess game. While no disappointment it's almost as if this one colossal undertaking needed another two-parter to elaborate properly. As an overworked three-hour superhero quasi-denouement the film may be Hollywood excess at its zenith and yet the highlight instances of catharsis are classically effective. Endgame became the highest grossing film of all time worldwide just as Phase 4's seeds were sown. If Disney's streaming service played no role in their best and surest property's future (I will NOT be watching television to prepare for Doctor Strange 2), the horizon would seem like the right kind of corporate comedown was in store. Instead Disney will do it all over again, just the same but bigger – they can't help but keep feeding a perpetually monopolized storytelling catastrophe in motion. Chances are Endgame will be looked upon fondly after superhero flicks – whether in general interest or relative quality – recognizably start to fade. For now, we can criticize and enjoy the peculiarity of the popular cinematic present for all its worth.
3 (out of 4)
It’s a new Laika movie – what more need be said? Maybe Boxtrolls has been lost to forgetfulness but Coraline, ParaNorman and Kubo and the Two Strings are some of the leading examples of what one of the most antiquated processes of animation has left to uncover in an overwhelmingly digital age.
Each project of this sort – Aardman is the only other studio crazy enough to commit to these insane undertakings – requires the investment and integrity of a painstaking collective. The efforts are always rich and rewarding purely by the homespun aesthetic, often regardless of how the story plays out. Missing Link, like other Laika features, secures an impressive voice cast (Hugh Jackman, Zach Galifianakis, Zoe Saldana) to bring an original oddity to life. Landing more on the comic side of the studio's crop, it follows a stubbornly stalwart explorer (Jackman) out to prove Sasquatch’s existence only to discover the myth is desperate to locate a purpose of its own. While these films typically have a bedtime aura between homey and haunting (Coraline most accurately), this movie’s jaunty edges and absurdly old-fashioned adventure trappings render Missing Link a revivifying albeit slightly less sincere shift from its predecessors.
As wee as it is, in relation to 2019's paltry context Missing Link is an unsailed channel in a sea of familiar. Though almost all these movies are created with the intention to fail financially, hopefully the founding Knight family doesn’t discontinue their factory of creative obsessions any time soon. As long as people are dedicated enough to continue stop-motion animation’s history of fastidious wonder there will surely be enough patient viewers to beam as their tedious work intricately unfolds.
3 (out of 4)
Where did DC's swift turnaround come from? After Wonder Woman broke the shite streak in 2017, Justice League arrived just in time to remind us why Snyder’s apocalyptic visions could only hypothetically operate in an era free of self-awareness and irony. Aquaman was recently a dynamically divisive change of pace and the global response has been resoundingly celebratory. The muted anticipation for Shazam!, the most prudent installment of the Extended Universe by far, suggested the movie would be worth a chuckle during the trailer. Instead Director David F. Sandberg proved although the superhero origin story is an exhausted template, with a heartfelt approach it remains a specifically sturdy framework for a resilient kind of moviegoing bliss.
A winning cast (young Jack Dylan Grazer is the highlight) brings out the best of an enchanting screenplay that levels out savvy, family friendly humor with situations of wickedness more in line with '80s movies and dark bedtime stories. As much as it plays to a general audience (even though it shares several traits with Deadpool) Shazam! emanates a classic sort of simplicity and understated idealism. After Aquaman successfully dropped the idea of crossover interconnection, Shazam! continues to show the essentials to caring for characters from scratch. You don’t need trilogies and team ups to develop a handful of well-acted personalities – even our generic villain (Mark Strong in his moody mode) has a slyly sympathetic origin.
The movie is a restrained rarity, an unanticipated, unfettered pleasure within a genre so bloated and saturated it could use hours of liposuction. Obviously Shazam! works with a narrative a child could understand but this universality is indicative of sentimental honesty, sharp, clean humor and occasionally profound realism. Orphanhood, estrangement, identity crisis – the film's emotional earnestness overcomes any lack of the expensive spectacle and headlong pacing we’ve been progressively attuned to expect. Shazam!'s whimsically meta delights are enough because the film resists easy, derisive smugness. Did I mention Zachary Levi is an absolute treasure?
To keep it brief...
Soon to Come:
The Current War,
"So what've you been up to?"
"Escaping mostly... and I escape real good."
- Inherent Vice