4:25pm PT by Graeme McMillan
'Avengers: Endgame' — What the Critics Are Saying
Avengers: Endgame, the lengthy follow-up to last year’s Avengers: Infinity War, has a lot to do in its three-hour-plus runtime: Not only does it need to wrap up the story of what happens after Thanos (Josh Brolin) has killed off half of all life in the universe, but it also has the difficult task of closing out a story that has been building for the last decade’s worth of Marvel Studios movies, since 2008’s Iron Man. So, how does it do?
The short answer appears to be, “pretty good,” according to the majority of critics — although there’s some level of disagreement about just how much of that success relies on the probability that the audience has been paying attention to most, if not all, of that last decade’s worth of Marvel movies.
As of Tuesday evening, it holds a 97 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
“Although there's loads of action and confrontations, what's distinctive here in contrast to most of the earlier Marvel films are the moments of doubt, regret and uncertainty, along with the desire of some characters to move on. Granted, this is almost always undercut, and/or cut short, by some emergency that pulls them right back in, and decisive action always remains paramount. But there is growth here,” writes The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy. “What comes across most strongly here, oddly enough for an effects-driven comic-book-derived film, is the character acting, especially from Downey, Ruffalo, Evans, Hemsworth, Brolin and Paul Rudd as Ant-Man.”
If that sounds too dark for some, don’t worry; according to ScreenCrush’s Matt Singer, Endgame is “brighter and lighter than Infinity War, which verged on depressing at times (and more than verged on sluggish at other times). Even with the fate of half of the universe riding in the balance, Endgame maintains a buoyant, bantering vibe that’s closer to the spirit of the first Avengers from 2012 than either of its previous sequels.”
Indeed, Susana Polo from Polygon agrees on the lightness of tone. “There are times when Endgame drops back into the bleakness of Infinity War, then rescues itself. There is still no getting around the fact that three hours is too long to spend in a theater, and as with most superhero movies, the final confrontation is a bit of a mess of punching and yelling. But Endgame knows what its audience wants, and delivers that without feeling like quote-unquote fan service.”
Not everyone agrees with that last point, though; Eric Kohn from IndieWire describes the movie as “a dense nostalgia trip,” writing, “Amid the noisy CGI of the final-act battle, there are plenty of rousing moments — but they’re all fragmentary, with payoffs according to the level of viewer investment. Newcomers to the series may as well be watching a Transformers movie.”
That’s something noticed by The Playlist’s Charles Barfield, who writes, “Without going into detail, suffice it to say that you really need to have watched most, if not all, of the previous 21 films to get the most out of Marvel Studios’ latest. If you’re the unlucky +1 that gets dragged to opening night by your significant other, having not seen any Avengers films, you’re going to miss just about every emotional beat, every in-joke, and every callback, of which there are many. Basically, you’re completely wasting your time.”
The assumption of the audience’s fandom was picked up by Mashable’s Angie Han, as well; she writes that the movie’s “magic does require some prior buy-in. This is a film designed for fans, stuffed as it is with callbacks, cameos and Easter eggs. Certain arcs come full circle after years and years; others are revisited and refashioned into something different. Newcomers will likely find themselves totally lost in this tangle of characters and relationships and mythologies.”
She did add, however, “Those who've been following along for a while now, though, will find much to cheer, cry or swoon over. At both the screenings I attended, the audience reactions were so loud at certain points that entire lines of dialogue were swallowed up. Which is probably just fine with Marvel: all the more reason for fans to go back and see it a second time.”
So, is there too much reliance on fans' love for the franchise? Matt Goldberg from Collider declares, “Never in the movie’s three hours did I feel like I was getting cheap thrills or fan service,” so perhaps it depends on how much of a fan someone happens to be as to how much they notice, or are bothered by, the level of assumption of pre-existing knowledge of the MCU throughout the entire thing…?
Despite the level of fan service and expectation of viewers having done their homework, one thing was relatively clear across the board: The movie simply works on a basic level of delivering thrills. Just look at the response to the movie from Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian: “The sheer enjoyment and fun that [the movie] delivers, the pure exotic spectacle, are irresistible, as is its insouciant way of combining the serious and the comic. Without the comedy, the drama would not be palatable. Yet without the earnest, almost childlike belief in the seriousness of what is at stake, the funny stuff would not work either.”
Perhaps The New York Times critic A.O. Scott puts it best, addressing the infallible appeal of Endgame no matter the audience, when he writes that the movie “allows for some greatest-hits nostalgic flourishes, and the denouement is like the encore at the big concert when all the musicians come out and link arms and sing something like ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken.’ You didn’t think it would get to you, but it does.”
Avengers: Endgame will be released Friday, but you doubtlessly already know that.