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“AVENGERS: ENDGAME” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Avengers, assembled. 

It’s hard to believe that we live in a time where it’s now possible to watch a 22-movie saga in the movie theater. It was only 11 years ago when Robert Downey Jr. told the world that he was Iron Man for the first time in 2008. Even back then, the idea of fitting six superheroes into one team-up movie in The Avengers seemed overstuffed – not to mention incredibly self-absorbed. Now we’ve gone through the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s entire journey as it grows and culminates into an emotionally-charged epic in Avengers: Endgame – one that earns every frame of its three-hour runtime.

The most impressive part of all this isn’t how many super-powered characters they’re able to fit onto the screen all at once: it’s how it’s able to retain its heart while doing so.

Taking place after the events of Avengers: Infinity War, the Avengers are left crippled, broken and devastated after Thanos did what he promised to – collect all six of the Infinity Stones and wipe out half of all life in the universe, reducing many of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and even Spider-Man (Tom Holland) to dust.

Humanity has tried to move on from Thanos’ fateful snap. Time and time again, the Avengers are told they need to do the same.

But none of them can forget how much they’ve lost.

Now resolved to make Thanos pay for everything he’s done, the original Avengers assemble with the likes of Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Nebula (Karen Gillan), and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) for one last fight to protect all that they hold dear.

As Doctor Strange said in Infinity War, the Avengers are in the Endgame now.

One of the immediate things that strikes you about Avengers: Endgame is how drastically different it feels from the rest of the movies in its cinematic universe. Every movie so far, from Iron Man all the way to Black Panther, has retained some sense of euphoric joy and enthusiasm, fulfilling these superhero fantasies that never fail to make us feel like kids again. Even in Infinity War, which ended on a cripplingly devastating cliffhanger, started with a sense of scale that made our inner comic-book nerd scream in excitement.

But Avengers: Endgame does not start in a joyous tone. Indeed, it is very mournful and reflective – as somber as a funeral and twice as quiet. This makes sense, of course, considering the consequences of Infinity War carry over into Endgame. Still, I was surprised at how much this movie chose to immerse itself in the Avengers’ loss and tragedy. There isn’t even a lot of action to take in for the first two acts of this movie: it’s all just character development as these heroes suffer from the greatest defeat they’ve ever experienced in their lives. That level of penance and guilt is rare in an action movie, and even rarer still in a Marvel superhero blockbuster.

It isn’t until the third act when the movie explodes into the pure comic-book fun and madness that you’ve become accustomed to throughout this franchise. And rest assured, dear reader – I won’t spoil anything here. What I will say is that I felt fulfilled to every bone in my body and then some. There are several iconic moments from this franchise that have blown us away in the past, from the Chitauri invasion in the first Avengers movie to the titular battle between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War. The climax in Avengers: Endgame blows everything else we’ve experienced out of the water and shook the entire theater to its core.

Words simply can’t do justice to what I felt as the Endgame drew near.

And in its closing moments, Avengers: Endgame brings something that is especially rare in the superhero genre: closure. While franchises as big as the Avengers are great at taking us on fun, meaningful journeys with our heroes, the thing about journeys is that they have to have an end to them. Most of these franchises are usually missing those, and I can tell you why they do: it’s because most studios would rather continue piling on the sequels and keep churning out a cheap profit, even if their stories should have probably ended a long time ago.

The special thing about Avengers Endgame is not only does it have a definitive ending for some of its characters: it’s that it relishes in providing that. It takes pride in the fact that it’s able to give some of these heroes the sendoff they deserve: the peace and resolution they’ve fought so long and hard for. It’s like seeing one of your childhood friends move away start a family and raise their own children. You’ll no doubt miss them and you’re sad to say goodbye, but you’re happy that they’ve finally reached their happy ending at the same time.

Keep in mind that Avengers: Endgame is not a perfect movie by any means, and in many ways, it’s actually seriously structurally flawed. Since the movie is built up on so much on the rest of the franchise, much of its appeal relies on nostalgia and fan service and not so much on its own setup and execution. When I say this movie is the climax of a 22-movie saga, I mean it. You would not enjoy this movie as much if you’ve only watched the other Avengers movies, or skipped out on a Thor movie here or there.

Yet, I couldn’t care less about the movie’s narrative shortcomings. Why? Because it’s so blasted fulfilling and impactful regardless. I had no idea a decade ago how much this universe would grow beyond 11 years and 22 movies – how expansive this world would become, or how much it would mean to the millions of fans who have passionately followed it all these years.

Avengers: Endgame is exactly what it purports to be – the resolution to these heroes’ journeys, the culmination of years of storytelling, and the end to this multi-year saga that we’ve all become a part of. To say it meets our gargantuan expectations is a severe understatement. It is nothing short of a cinematic epic not unlike Ben-Hur or The Lord of the Rings – one that we definitely won’t forget anytime soon.

Excelsior.

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“THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

The Avengers face judgement day. 

We are now nearing the end of Marvel’s phase two of its cinematic universe. Before Age of Ultron, we’ve seen ten of these movies now. Iron Man. The Incredible Hulk. Iron Man 2. Thor. Captain America: The First Avenger. The Avengers. Iron Man 3. Thor: The Dark World. Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Guardians of the Galaxy. You would think that by now, we would be sick of watching these movies. I know I normally would. It only took three Transformers movies for me to get sick of that franchise.

Yet, the people over at Marvel continue to find new ways to surprise me and make me once again believe in its cinematic universe. Avengers: Age of Ultron is its most recent example. The film had a near impossible task: outdoing its 2012 predecessor, which was a brilliantly woven and executed superhero masterpiece in its own right. After succeeding on a grand project that big and combining five multiverses into one fluid narrative, how are you expected to measure up to that in the sequel? Luckily, writer-director Joss Whedon is no fool. He knew what expectations were going to be had for his highly-anticipated sequel. He could have sold out and let the anticipation from the first movie roll in the bank for this one, but Whedon instead did the one thing that most filmmakers are too afraid to do nowadays: he set out to make it better.

Take the movie’s villain as Whedon’s prime example for improvement. Ultron, voice and motion performance by James Spader, is a trash-talking super-intelligent humanoid A.I. created by Tony Stark, a.k.a. “Iron Man” (Robert Downey Jr.) to protect the Earth from supernatural threats. Shortly after his creation, however, Ultron goes rogue and concludes that in order for true peace to be obtained, humanity needs to be wiped out and reborn like the animals from the dinosaur age.

On the surface, this seems like the same story for every robot-rebellion premise: a machine was created to do good, it becomes self aware, and in turn does the opposite of good. And in a sense, this is the same story for every robot-rebellion premise.

The key, however, lies in execution, and Spader as Ultron is the best super villain performance I’ve seen in a Marvel movie to date. Ultron doesn’t behave or talk like other androids. He isn’t stiff, rigid, or robotic like other mechanical characters in film are. Like any of the other live-action actors on screen, Ultron is a fluid, life-like being with his own personality and morals. He’s chaotic and radical in his thinking and behavior, acting more like a psychotic child rather than a logic-driven artificial intelligence.

Considering his creator is the egotistical Tony Stark, I can’t say I’m surprised that his personality is the same. Every Avenger in this film is just as great with each other as they were in the first Avengers movie. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is just as machismo and uncompromising as he is in any of his movies. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is equally as earnest and straightforward, with a few secrets that surprised even me in the theater. Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans) continues his rivalrous dynamic with Stark from the first movie, their contrasting personalities rubbing off of each other so viciously that we can see how it builds up to Captain America: Civil War.

The two Avengers that have the greatest dynamic, however, are Bruce Banner, or the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Here, their relationship expands from the first movie into a conflicted romance between the two. Romanoff is a master assassin with a past she’s neither proud to have nor able to escape from. Banner is the feeble scientist with a monster inside of him that he’s not proud of either. The two don’t feel like they can have a relationship with each other because of their different personalities, but Whedon puts them together with tragically heartfelt honesty here. He finds a connecting theme between the two, themes of loss and regret that makes them turn to each other and rely on each other. I didn’t think it was going to work when I saw these characters at first, but Whedon makes it so compelling that now I can’t see it any other way. Romanoff asks Banner a question in one scene that I think is reflective of their relationship: “Do you still think you’re the only monster on the team?”

Everything else in the movie lives up to the expectations you had in the first movie. The action is unique, visually complex, and eye-popping. The story is layered, intelligent, and dynamic, with characters bouncing witty and thought-provoking dialogue off of each other perfectly. The villain is one of the best and most unique of the Marvel universe, and there’s a few new characters introduced in the film that are done just as well as the superhero team’s main heroes.

Here’s the worst thing I can say about the movie, and really the greatest danger to the Marvel cinematic universe: I’m getting used to it. This is the 11th movie I’ve seen in the Marvel universe now, and I almost know what to expect. I know that I’m going to be surprised and shocked at some of the twists and turns. I know I’m going to enjoy the heroes and villains alike. I know that there’s going to be a lot of action with a noteworthy plot behind it. And, more than anything else, I know the movie is going to expand upon itself and its multiple follow ups.

Marvel has 11 more movies to produce after this for their phase 3, and there’s no telling how many more movies they plan to do after that. With Whedon going on record saying this is his last Marvel movie, I question how well they will be able to continue expanding this universe and doing it well. How much longer can Marvel keep pushing the envelope? I hope I don’t find out soon.

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“THE AVENGERS” Review (✫✫✫✫)

The ultimate example of comic-book superhero movies. 

I remember opening a comic book for the first time in my life when I was just a small kid. The small pamphlet fascinated me: by just a flip of a page, an entirely different world was created. A world where normal people gained super powers, wore red capes and tights, fought evil wherever it may exist, and made the world a safer place by the end of the day. In a small, poor neighborhood town where I was the only white kid in a predominantly Latino school building, it provided me a sense of relief and sanction from much bullying and torment I experienced from the other school children back in the day. It provided me freedom from the accursed world I lived in: it provided me a means of escape.

And now here I am, 15 years later, watching a live-action re-enactment of the world I discovered and loved all those many years ago. The Avengers is masterfully fantastic. It is an epic superhero tale, portraying the never-ending conflict of good and evil. It is an action movie with surprising finesse, switching from scenes of explosive energy and action to other scenes with insight, humor, and heartfelt emotion. It is a faithful re-production of multiple universes we have come to love in the past four years, and re-adapts them faithfully and full of energy in this film. But the core of this film’s success is this: that the film’s story and themes are emotional, honest, and truthful, and fleshes out its heroes to make them what they are: humans. All fighting for very human, realistic, and understandable reasons.

If you’ve seen the previous Marvel entries, you already know what this movie is about. The Avengers is a group of superheroes brought together to fight the battles that human beings never could.  Who are these heroes?  You would know most of them.

Tony Stark “Iron Man” (Robert Downey Jr): A billionaire playboy/philanthropist that has a genius-level-intellect that has allowed him to build and fight in a suit of armor.

Bruce Banner “Hulk” (Mark Ruffalo): A scientist exposed to gamma radiation, who turns into a giant, brutish beast with monstrous strength when he becomes angry.

Natasha Romanoff “Black Widow” (Scarlett Johansson): An agile and intelligent spy that is more skilled and capable than most other men.

Clint Barton “Hawkeye” (Jeremy Renner): A masterful marksman who can aim and shoot with his bow and various arrows in a matter of milliseconds.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth): The Norse God of thunder who can manipulate lightning with the power of his mighty hammer, Mjolnir.

Steve Rogers “Captain America” (Chris Evans): A super soldier frozen through time who can beat criminals to a pulp, as well as wielding a shield cast in a rare metal called “vibranium”.

You’ve seen these heroes before, most of them in their own respective movies.  All with their own stories, origins, conflicts, and themes that were explored along with their respective characters. My original worry with this film was, despite the huge expectations people were having, I was afraid this movie would let people down. It does, after all, have a lot on its plate: adapting over six superheroes into one action-packed movie is no easy task. We have Batman Forever and Spiderman 3 as evidence of that, where they had trouble of adapting even four super-powered beings to the big screen.

This film, though, has surprising finesse. Writer-director Joss Whedon adapts these characters with such child-like love and faithfulness, I feel their themes and stories from their previous films carry over to this film with them. It doesn’t feel like an adaptation, or an act of cruel financial commercialism. It lives up to the hype. The characters in this film live and breathe their uniqueness we have come to know and love from the previous Marvel movies. We feel Iron Man’s sarcasm and big ego, Thor’s sense of responsibility and brotherhood, Banner’s fear, frustration, and anger, and Steve’s sense of honor, patriotism, loss, and duty. Through the film’s dialogue and references to prior films, we sense Whedon’s pure intentions underneath the action, and we respect it. We realize he isn’t making just another action movie; he is making a superhero movie.  One with upmost faithfulness and loyalty to its own universes.

Impressive also, are the actors, but I don’t need to tell you that. We’ve seen them in prior films, so we already know they are good. I will comment then, on something we haven’t seen yet: their chemistry with each other. My word. This is what makes the Avengers, The Avengers. The actor’s chemistry with each other is spot-on, and in-tune. Whether it is a scene involving humorous, sarcastic dialogue, or another scene with painful realism and emotional truth to it, there is reality being shown in every single shot when an actor is with another Avenger on-screen. I can’t accurately describe it to you and do it justice. You need to see the film to understand their relationship with each other.

People are also wondering, of course, if the visual side of the film delivers. The answer is yes, but it isn’t just because it looks great; it is because of how they handled the great visuals they had for this picture. Too many times are we given films that have great visual CGI and explosions to overwhelm the audience with, but we have no suspense, excitement, or surprise to go along with it. It doesn’t make for an entertaining film. All that is left is a predictable action film that’s empty amidst the flat storytelling and redundant action sequences that just shows one explosion after another.

The Avengers isn’t like that. It doesn’t use its action as an excuse to fall flat and give up on entertaining its audience. Its excitement is relentless. Its suspense builds, and builds, and builds until we can take it no longer.  We scramble in our seat as we attentively watch what will happen next for our heroes.

This is the kind of excitement we need in superhero movies: the kind that is reminiscent of those kids watching Saturday morning cartoons, the ones that have you sitting on the edge of your seat with your bowl of “Captain Crunch” in order to see if your favorite hero does, in fact, save the day. It is this suspense and tension that builds The Avengers to incredible cinematic heights, and makes for some truly entertaining, memorable, and iconic moments in the picture.

The Avengers is the ultimate example of a comic book superhero movie. Whedon has a great subject to play with, sure. But his film is a great one not because he solely depends on the idea to be successful. This film is a success because he treats it the way it is supposed to be treated: as an exciting action-blockbuster that retains humanity to its characters, spirit to its humor, and excitement in its own story. I know somewhere in this world, some little ten-year old kid will watch this movie, and will one day be inspired to make his own superhero movie. It’s kind of depressing, though. It doesn’t really get much better than this.

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