Marvel-lous Endgame, but is the buzz gone?

I watched a YouTube video yesterday on John Campea’s channel where he discussed the potential that the excitement for the Marvel Cinematic Universe was drying up in a way. If you don’t know who he is, he is a movie & TV critic who used to run movie news shows and now does his own thing. His video is worth a watch if you’re interested in his take on it, but I won’t go into his video too much here. 

This will contain spoilers for all the MCU including Avengers Endgame & Spiderman Far from Home.

What I realised listening to the topic was that I agreed with the points being brought up about the future of the MCU. The recent announcements at D23 were interesting, but none of them really got me excited for the projects. Here is where the sporting analogies begin, it felt a lot like a fixture list being released for a football team. Each season fans eagerly wait for the fixtures to be announced before reading them and there is a universal acceptance that yep, we will all be watching them. That is what I felt watching the D23 Marvel panel. Yep, these are all films I will watch.

Contrast that with the Phase 3 announcements that unveiled all the films that led into Infinity War & Endgame. At the time it looked a little different to what we got, with Spiderman popping up and The Inhumans being bumped down to an Agents of Shield storyline, but the hype around it was incredible. I remember my jaw dropping when they revealed Civil War. I couldn’t believe that was happening so soon. In my mind back then, Civil War was the next big event to follow Infinity War. But there it was on screen, Captain America: Civil War.

That slate brought us to where we are right now, a Post-Endgame world. Endgame was an incredible experience, something never seen before and when we look back on the first 10 years of the MCU we will realise it is without doubt the greatest movie franchise ever. Sorry Star Wars, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. If you combine all those movies, you have ten Star Wars films, three Lord of the Rings films, and eight Harry Potter films. That makes a total of twenty-one films which is still two less than the MCU has covered. Twenty-three connected films all combining in one epic finale which delivered on the years of set up.

Endgame was brilliant, but did it actually harm the future of the MCU? With the separation we now have from the film, I think it may well have. Endgame finished a few of our main characters stories, with Cap retiring as an old man and Tony Stark sacrificing himself. Those two were the pillars which the MCU stood upon. Civil War was a film about them two main pillars being divided, Endgame was them coming back together before leaving the MCU they had built to fend for itself.

In sports terms, Endgame for Marvel was like winning the Premier League, the Champions League and the FA Cup in one season, or like winning the Superbowl. But in doing so they lost their best two players. What I think has been an unexpected and tough loss to take, is that their new star player they had to take over from the old guard has just left as well in contentious circumstances.

Regardless of what studio executives might say about “This was always a possibility” etcetera, I think it’s clear Spiderman was being positioned to be the new face of the MCU. They know exactly what they had with Tom Holland in the role, and they wanted to bring that front and centre with great supporting players like Captain Marvel, Black Panther, Thor, Guardians and Doctor Strange. That stable of characters could carry the load while Spiderman becomes the leader of a new collection of characters. Now they are back where they were in 2008.

The current slate is full of characters I know very little about, but the MCU has proved prior knowledge means nothing and they can still make incredible films, for example let me present exhibit A, Guardians of the Galaxy. Guardians came out at a time when we had the MCU stalwarts well in their stride, Cap and Iron Man were known around the world and any films connected to their MCU was a must see.  Shang-chi and Ms. Marvel aren’t doing that, they are coming out in the wake of what felt for a lot of people like the perfect end for the MCU. Spiderman Far from Home even felt like a perfect epilogue, showing the world in recovery and answering some of the questions.

Winning a Superbowl is hard. Losing your Key players before trying to do it again is even harder. Often, we see a team win a Superbowl and then struggle to reach the same level for a few years. In the Premier league, teams go in cycles, winning for a few years then rebuilding. But there are exceptions. The challenge for Marvel chief Kevin Feige is now to turn the MCU from a title winning team, into a dynasty. Think Tom Brady. Think Bill Belichick. Think Sir Alex Ferguson. They have built teams that win, and then keep winning.

I am not sure it’s even possible to do that in the entertainment industry, perhaps I didn’t sleep enough, and this makes no sense. But if it is possible to apply that analogy, I think the MCU may be the best position to do it. I wrote yesterday about DC, and how they are possibly able to take a shot at being the next big thing. I didn’t say that the reigning champion would give it up without a fight.

ChAzJS

 

Avengers Endgame – SPOILER TALK

Avengers Endgame is an incredible achievement. Movies have never even attempted this, and this review will ruin the film for you. Do not read on if you have not seen the film, unless you just really don’t care about spoilers I guess. I am going to talk through my favourite moments from the film, basically recapping it and how I felt when it happened. I am sure this is going to descend into me just gushing about what happened, but here goes;

Starting out with Hawkeye is something I had actually read speculation on just a week before, and the way it plays out is a really gut-wrenching moment. Having been set up in Age of Ultron as a family man, he is spending time with his family, helping his daughter practice with a bow and arrow. Then he loses them all. His wife, daughter and two sons are dusted with him completely clueless as to what is happening. Answering any questions we had about what transformed Clint into the brutal ninja Ronin, who is carving up thugs in Tokyo when we catch up to him next.

There are easy questions you can ask throughout this film, but honestly you can make up your own answers in your head for the majority, like “How did Captain Marvel know where Tony Stark and Nebula were stranded?” They sent out a distress beacon, there. I don’t know, the film doesn’t attempt to explain it and it doesn’t need to because the point is to get Tony Stark and Cap back together, to try and figure out what they can do. There are shades of Iron Man 3 here, with Tony a withered, angry, defeated man who is all out of ideas. Robert Downey Jr really does deliver some of the best acting in the whole film in these scenes and you really feel his frustration and the weight of what they have lost.

This is when the movie decides to deliver its first real surprise blow, by straight up beheading Thanos in the opening 20 minutes of the film. It’s a bold choice, and executed brilliantly. It essentially means 99% of the trailers we saw are from this opening salvo, leaving us two and a half hours of movie with very little ideas about what is going to happen. Thanos’ destroying the stones is a great twist, something I hadn’t expected. Captain Marvel shows off her power, and Thor aiming for the head at last really got a pop of shock from the audience. It’s a brutally violent moment, but it’s justified when you think about the events that took place at the end of Infinity War.

The “How” of Antman’s return from the quantum realm is a little bit silly, but I think in a movie with a 3 hour run time its easy enough to forgive and forget that. Once he is back and learns of the dusting, after an emotional reuniting with his daughter that is the first sign of sniffles in most theatres, he goes straight to the avengers and this is the first time when you have to have done your homework and watched Antman and the Wasp. That film sets up, with a single line from Michelle Pfeiffer, that time works differently in the quantum realm and Scott confirming that to Steve Rogers and the rest of the avengers. The first reference to a Time Machine made me smile, because I was not convinced they would actually do it. But wow did they.

The first act is a lot of talking and set up, but after 21 other films we are so into these characters it all works. Imagine this being the first avengers film, it would feel way too slow, and the conversations wouldn’t hold any weight. The next huge pop in the cinema was for Hulk, who is now a combination of Hulk and Bruce banner. Huge and green, but with the intellect and voice of Bruce. It’s an awesome reference to the comics and the old animated show I used to love and the idea that he is now a kind of celebrity that poses for selfies is brilliant.

And then we go to New Asgard, and one of my favourite scenes in the whole film. Thor, despondent from what he perceives as his mistake that cost the lives of half a universe, has gotten fat. He hangs out with Ragnarok favourites Korg and Meek playing Fortnite. It’s hilarious and the fact they committed to him being Fat Thor (Fhor from this point on) for the entire film is just genius. I thought when he goes into battle and has both Mjolnir and Stormbreaker he would become Buff Hemsworth but no, I can finally say, after years of hard work, I have the same body as Thor.

The time-heist portion of the film is some of the most self-congratulatory victory lap stuff imaginable, and I lapped up every second with a huge grin on my face. Not only do the run us through the events of previous films, even Thor The Dark World, but they play with the scenes we know and love and deliver even more awesome moments. Everything in the 2012 New York is brilliant, from future Banners encounter with Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One from Dr Strange, to 2012 hulks anger at having to take the stairs. Iron Man and Antman fail after Scott defends Steve Rogers’ tight buns, Loki gets away with the Tesseract, setting up his new TV series, and Captain America gets the first of his numerous brilliant moments.

Stepping into a lift filled with hydra agents exactly like he did in The Winter Soldier. In that scene from a few years ago, he kicks everyone ass in a breathtakingly cool action scene. I fully expected them to repeat that, but no. He announces he is taking point on this one. Then when everyone is uncomfortably shifting and getting ready to throw down, he leans over to whisper “Hail Hydra”. This moment is an incredible pay off for the entire Winter Soldier film, and a brilliant reference to a very controversial comic line. To follow this up with him walking straight into 2012 Captain America is a stroke of absolute genius, and the fight ends with Steve confirming that it is indeed America’s ass.

Clint and Natasha’s trip to Volmir is a part of the movie I didn’t think I would really enjoy. If I’d have known it existed before viewing the film, I’d have picked this as prime toilet break territory. In actual fact, it’s a brilliant acted and choreographed scene that results in a shock, as Natasha sacrifices herself to save her best friend and let him see his family again. The fact that I and everyone in the cinema gave a crap about Hawkeye and Black Widow is testament to the brilliant world Marvel has built.

After a detour to the 1970’s for a few cameos from a young Howard Stark, Caps love Peggy Carter, a de-aged Michael Douglas as Hank Pym, and of course the man who created these characters, Stan Lee, they have all the stones. Another bit of plot convenience when Tony’s iron man technology can handle the power of the stones has to be ignored again here, considering Thanos had to get dwarves to make the gauntlet from the heart of a dying star. That minor point aside, Hulk takes the gauntlet, being the only one close to Thanos’ power and therefore able to use the stones without dying, and snaps to try and bring back everyone who got dusted at the end of the last film.

Job Done. Let’s all go home.

Actually no, let’s have the most incredible hour of cinema I have ever witnessed.

Nebula, whose robotic parts meant Thanos in 2014 found out about the plan, has been replaced by the evil Nebula from that time period. She brings Thanos and his entire giant ship through time from 2014 to the future. Just after the avengers realise the Hulk snap worked as Clint is on the phone to his previously dead wife, Thanos’ absolutely fucks their day up with artillery fire all over the base. It is carpet bombed into a devastated mess. Conveniently again, nobody is fatally wounded, but everyone is in different levels of peril.

The avengers are scattered about, Rocket Rhodey and Hulk are pinned under a load of rubble with water rising. Hawkeye awakes with Gauntlet, stones and all, just feet away, and a load of enemies on his tail. Iron man, Cap and Fhor find each other, and all three of them confront Thanos, who has been sitting, thinking about the victory his future self achieved, and planning how to improve on that. He settles on the idea that the balancing of the universe can never work whilst there are still those who remember what there was before. He wants to snap everyone out of existence, and create a new universe that doesn’t know any different.

Of course, we can’t be having that, and the three heroes charge at Thanos. This fight is epic, and it just consistently builds. Thanos, without any stones backing him up, is comfortable fighting 3 very powerful avengers. He knocks out Iron Man, throws Cap aside, and goes toe to toe with Fhor, armed with both Stormbreaker and Mjolnir. Thanos manages to make him drop Mjolnir in the dirt, and gets hold of Stormbreaker, pushing it into Fhor’s chest.

Then the Hammer lifts off the dirt, and smacks Thanos onto his (Antman free) Anus. Mjolnir then returns to the right hand of none of than Captain fucking America. This moment for the loudest cheer I have ever witnessed in a UK cinema. This moment put a huge smile on my face, as it confirms to me my theory that Cap could have picked it up in Age of Ultron, but chose not to, because he didn’t want to take it away from Thor. Cap then proceeds to deliver an ass whooping to Thanos with his shield and Mjolnir, only to be disarmed of the hammer. He then battles Thanos, a man who beat the hulk in a one on one fight, and his shield gets smashed again and again, eventually being shattered down to just half of the shield we recognise before he is hit back 30 feet and he lies there.

Thanos starts monologuing, like any good villain, but of course a beaten down Cap just pulls himself back up to his feet, tightens the half a shield around his arm, and stands to face Thanos and his entire army. This is when I come the closest I ever have to crying tears of happiness. That crackle of a radio and Sam Wilson’s voice bursts through. “On Your Left”, right on cue we see the familiar fizzle of sparks from a certain sorcerer’s portal. Remember just before this fight, when Hulk snapped and brought back all our dusted heroes? Well here they are. More and more portals open up, more and more familiar characters; every one of them gets a cheer from the audience. Cap stands at the front, and for the final time in the MCU, he says “Avengers Assemble”.

It’s ridiculous, cheesy, and incredibly geeky. But this whole fight scene is just so perfect. We get characters we have never seen interact fighting side by side. Everyone gets a moment, and then as Scarlet Witch is about to pull Thanos into bite size chunks, he calls for another carpet bombing of the area, showing again his ruthlessness to achieve his goals as he kills half his own army by doing this.

The guns turning up to fire at something else threw me off I have to be honest. I was worried/excited for a second something like the Silver Surfer was going to turn up, but no, it’s the newest member of the MCU, and by far the most over powered, Captain Marvel. She takes out the giant ship with ease. After more fighting, Thanos eventually gets the gauntlet back on his hand, and as he is about to snap, Carol is there again to stop him. There is an awesome moment when he head butts her, a tried and tested technique for dealing with avengers, but she doesn’t move an inch.

There’s another moment here when I was worried they was going to have her beat Thanos with ease, and that would have been a bit of an cheap victory for me. As it is, he grabs the power stone and punches her miles away. It isn’t going to be her. He puts the stone back in the glove, but Tony Stark is right there to try and stop him, grabbing onto the gauntlet seemingly trying to take it off. He doesn’t do it. Thanos throws him aside, says “I am Inevitable”, before snapping his fingers.

Thanos snapped, but he didn’t have the infinity stones, ya boy Tony Stark has them. He looks Thanos dead in the eye, and the final line we see Tony say in the MCU whilst alive is “I. Am. Iron Man.”. This moment is stupid. It’s about as subtle as a brick in the face. Its fan service at its most obvious. And it works completely perfectly because Marvel earned it. Eleven years ago Iron Man launched this franchise, a series of films that all led to this moment. To Tony Stark sacrificing his life to save everyone.

That sacrifice would be a fitting end, but the film then goes onto give another MCU stalwart a fitting send of in another way. Chris Evans made Captain America an interesting character, and as I said he has some incredible moments in this film. The end of this whole 11 year saga isn’t the death of Tony Stark, as emotionally fulfilling as that is. It’s the passing of the torch, or should I say Shield. The character of Steve Rogers has always been a man out of time, a man who doesn’t fit in the world. So once he has returned the Infinity stones to the times they got them back from, he doesn’t come back to the modern day. He goes back and gets that dance with Peggy, a call back to the final line of his own debut film.

None of this film really works without the other 21 films before it. 11 years ago Marvel stopped treating comic book movies like kids films, and decided to play the long game. The Dark Knight might be the greatest individual Superhero based film, but even that masterpiece can’t compete with the MCU anymore. This saga has surpassed anything in cinematic history. Last year it delivered the Empire Strikes Back for a new generation, with Thanos Winning. This year, it went beyond “Return of the Jedi” or even “Return of the King” and delivered the most satisfying end to a franchise ever.

What is even more incredible is that while this is a definite end to one story, it leaves the door wide open for countless more. It shouldn’t have been possible, but Marvel did it.

And they could do this all day.

Think that last line is too much? Yeah it felt like too much to me too.