Thor is fat. That much must be stated before I begin a review of what may become the top grossing film of all time. I say again, Thor is fat.
I am not one of those people who must see a new release the moment it is available. The downside is that I risk hearing spoilers, having my expectations unrealistically raised, or in the case of Avengers: Endgame, heading to the theater with the foreknowledge that you’re about to see the most successful box office opening of all time. Its receipts have already topped Titanic, and are second only to Avatar (in a quarter of the time). Oh, and you’re about to spend three hours in a moderately uncomfortable chair.
It’s a shame Stan Lee is no longer with us to enjoy the success of this final chapter in the Avengers story line. And it’s amazing that his creations, teaming with illustrator Jack Kirby, date back to the late 50s and early 60s. The depth of the Lee/Kirby partnership was evident in the creation of the Avengers title in 1963. They were the Lennon/McCartney of the comic world, each drawing strength from the other greater than the sum of their individual talents, which were considerable. And in a 2017 Disney company dinner hosted by Bob Iger, the two were awarded the honorarium titles of Disney Legends. Both of their estates were voted generous remuneration in recognition of their contributions to the Disney Company legacy.
Hundreds of millions of copies of comic books featuring characters that the current generation of fans is just getting to know have been around for decades. And 21 increasingly popular films have led to this epic finale. So why end there? I think it’s a good choice, like Michael Jordan retiring at the top of his game. How long can compelling stories be produced before burnout sets in? And there are so many other story lines to pursue.
Just about every Marvel character is in this film. I tried to come up with an analogy, but nothing works. If you imagine the characters from all of the Star Wars, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings movies being cast in a single intersecting and overlapping film, perhaps the level of anticipation and excitement can be imagined.
But I love that Thor is fat, as we discover early in the film.
When we walked out of the theater in 2018, having viewed Avengers: Infinity War, it was following a depressing final few moments in which half of all living creatures in the universe ceased to exist, thanks to Thanos, an alien being with “cosmic power,” a god or devil depending on how you think about him. So we are left with half of the Avengers dissolving on screen into the smoke and dust of non-existence.
The character of Thanos was created by writer/illustrator Jim Starlin in 1973, then incorporated into Marvel’s portfolio, where he was encouraged to “beef him up.” The young Starlin eagerly complied. Thus the Thanos we see in the films is something we would expect to see from a being born in a place called Titan.
Thanos is a being so powerful that he can create or destroy a universe. Who does that sound like? He appears in multiple Marvel story lines, with Thor, Captain America, Iron Man, Black Panther, Dr. Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy, and eventually the Avengers, battling him unsuccessfully multiple times, and eventually failing to defeat him. A five-year period of guilt, regret and mourning follow.
It occurred to me that Thanos has two daughters, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Nebula (Karen Gillan – Amy Pond of the Dr. Who series), so there must be a Mrs. Thanos. In fact, he sired many children whom he later destroyed. Was Mistress Death’s rejection the motivating force behind his desire to scale back the universe and give it a second chance to grow? He did this to impress a girl?
That concept makes little logical sense, as any half-competent gardener knows. You don’t pull out half of your plants in hopes that the garden will fill in with better selections. Pruning is a slow, deliberate process. Thanos has the maniacal impatience that comes with great power, and is using it irresponsibly.
Thanos is a complex character with a deep history in the Marvel Universe. A computer generated Josh Brolin is the latest rendition. Born on Saturn’s moon, Titan, his mother tried to kill him. Here’s where Marvel is treading through biblical waters. Circuitous questions about the origin of life result. Does God in fact play dice with the universe? And the devil is in the details, but all he caused was five years of great and widespread pain.
And that’s the half-decade Thor spent drinking beer and playing video games. Who would have expected the Asgardian God of Thunder to wallow in self-pity and Cheetos? The writers mixed lots of fun moments like this throughout an otherwise intense story. Young Peter Parker and Ant-Man provide consistent and much needed comic relief.
I was struck by the ongoing level of grief the superheroes carry and share with each other. Perhaps their feelings of responsibility for the state of the universe kept it fresh. But out of great sadness comes great innovation. And despite himself, Iron Man goes into his lab and invents time travel. Ok, we knew it was coming. They couldn’t let all these great characters just go way and not come back, could they? And this becomes the vehicle for Tony Stark’s eventual path to heroism, not just snarky, self-indulgent capitalism.
Prior to Tony Stark’s discovery, the team enlists the aid of the newly hybridized Dr. David Banner/Hulk. Recalling his inability to “hulk up” in Avengers: Infinity War, he finally comes to grips with his conflicted inner struggle by literally meeting himself halfway. The result is a highly animated but comical sweater and glasses wearing Hulk who looks like Banner and takes selfies with adoring kids.
He explains the quantum state time travel that resulted in Ant-Man’s escape from annihilation. "If you travel to the past, that past becomes your future and your former present becomes the past which can't now be changed by your new future." Huh? What?
In an ode to time travel movies and a need to understand the potential paradoxes presented by the various creative methods employed to experience temporal displacement, Ant-Man delivers an incredulous soliloquy of every major time travel movie ever made, including Hot Tub Time Machine, and sums it up in disbelief: “So Back to the Future is a bunch of Bullshit!?”
There are many special moments in this movie. Tony Stark exposes his soft gooey center in his relations with his wife and daughter, Captain America and Peter Parker. His trip through time brings him face to face with his father, whom he hugs and thanks without revealing his identity. His ultimate sacrifice proves him to be the hero he mocks in ever-optimistic and stoic Captain America. Have his sarcastic, cynical comments just been a defense mechanism all along?
Captain America becomes worthy of carrying Thor’s hammer, to Thor’s delight, then proceeds down his own path to the past to live out his life with Agent Peggy Carter. Thor’s ongoing anxiety attacks lead to a tearful reunion with his long dead mother, whose only concern is for her son’s future self. He must walk away knowing that she dies on the day he arrived. He must not interfere with events of the past.
The final battle scene is reminiscent of those from Lord of the Rings. All-out battlefield-filling chaos, with flying ships and techno-creatures, aliens, force fields and even a phalanx of all Marvel female superheroes as they rush together into battle. Black Panther arrives, and eventually Captain Marvel stops by on a break from the other “thousands of planets” that need her help. Helpful as she is, it’s not quite enough to take on Thanos. This is Iron Man’s moment, using Thanos’s own technology against him. Thanos accepts defeat and fades from existence himself.
There is a lot of jumping back and forth through time that becomes a bit confusing. Just don’t think about it too hard. If future Nebula kills past Nebula, shouldn’t future Nebula cease to exist? And how are they both together in the same scene? Lots of paradoxes that other films would have just avoided.
We missed baby Groot, who is now five years older (sapling Groot?) He was a highlight of Guardians of the Galaxy 2. But the Guardian team is intact and the sexual chemistry between Quill and Gamora has been reset. And everyone knows who’s really in charge…right?
Three hours passed quickly. This epic film has a few slow spots but is so Shakespearean in its tragic and comedic interplay, that there was not a moment I questioned as unnecessary or stupid. There are lots of repurposed scenes from previous films that experienced followers will appreciate, and the newbies will take at face value. And this also becomes Stan Lee’s opportunity for a quick post-mortem cameo. Even Stan benefits from a bit of time travel.
Don’t wait for a trailer or teaser at the end of this Marvel spectacle. The screen goes black and stays that way. The story has concluded.
Avengers: Endgame runs 3 hours, 1 minute and is rated PG-13
Should I see this movie?