If each month of every year had a gravestone, April 2019 would have “Part of the journey is the end” etched on it. The final season of Game of Thrones and Avengers: Endgame – the two biggest events of all time in their respective mediums. Hype can be both friend and foe in the tumultuous build-up (particularly when spawns of Satan leak footage), but the directing Russo brothers have proved themselves to be dab hands in this particular pop culture arena. And, with this masterful, galvanizing conclusion to more than 10 years of movies, they’ve provided fans with the rarest thing of all; a true end.
Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) sets the scene: “Thanos did exactly what he said he was gonna do, he wiped out 50% of all living creatures.” The film picks up after the catastrophic events of its finger-snapping predecessor, and survivors’ guilt is rife. Team members have turned to self-help groups, others to exacting vengeful violence on those who made it out alive who perhaps don’t deserve to be, and a few are trying to push on through the grief and preserve that oh-so-cherished “suit of armour around the world”. The fact is, they now know what it’s like to lose, to feel so desperately that they’re right, but to fail nonetheless.
Appropriately, the first act of Endgame is indeed a somber affair, right from the ultra-downbeat, perfectly pitched opening scene; a painting of post-trauma life for our very human heroes, with hurt dripping off the canvas as they strive and struggle to do something with the world that’s left. It’s no spoiler to say that Tony (Robert Downey Jr) and Nebula (Karen Gillan, who’s “only a tiny bit sadistic”) are stranded in space from the off, following their final boss stint on Titan. But, as Steve Rogers says: “Some people move on, but not us.” Through an absolute fluke, there’s a small chance to do something; and that’s when the madness really begins.
It’s a long film, 181 minutes to be exact. But it feels much, much shorter; similarly to Infinity War (but entirely different in tone), there’s a brilliant momentum through the acutely paced vignettes of the story, allowing for deep-cutting character work and 10 years of plot threads to finally tie together (Tony and Steve’s precarious relationship is a highlight). If the first third burns, the second dazzles. Like a victory lap of the MCU’s triumphs, the directors and writers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, orchestrate angst, wonder and poignancy in all the right moments, their love for these icons shining through every reunion and callback. Only a few moments stumble; a certain character’s alcoholic arc loses its charm, the comedy is occasionally clunky, one moment of intended welly is hampered by a scrappy structure and a shot reminiscent of Black Widow, Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Scarlet Witch’s (Elizabeth Olsen) team-up in Infinity War is cool but contrived.
Thanos was the twisted protagonist of the last outing, but here he peeps in and out, delivering signature grandiose, purring dialogue in calculated doses with lingering dread (“I am inevitable,” he says, smugly). It’s the best showcase of the cast’s acting talents so far. Some members, naturally, aren’t afforded as much of the spotlight but still do well with what they have (Gillan’s underrated Nebula, Bradley Cooper’s Rocket, Don Cheadle’s Rhodey and Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel). The stars are undoubtedly Evans and Downey Jr: the former offering a broken, transformative performance that changes the character forever; the latter at his most touching and contemplative. Sarcastic and snarly but earnest, recalibrated like a fresh Iron Man suit.
It’s not all agony – the third act of this movie is a pure-hearted, unbelievable, fist-pumping extravaganza of stupendously geeky delights. The Russo’s weaponise nostalgia and fan-service and wield it like Thanos does his Infinity Gauntlet, delivering a feast of cathartic pay-offs you are absolutely not prepared for. The effects work here is vastly impressive, building upon coherent choreography and cinematography (brilliantly versatile work by Trent Opaloch, from awesomely giddy shots to honed-in intimacy) as Return of the King syndrome looms. Fights have a barnstorming, nervous energy, like the ruthless pressure of every encounter in 2014’s Winter Soldier. This is peak blockbuster: extraordinary entertainment that is as concerned with dropping your jaw as breaking your heart. With Alan Silvestri’s melancholic, rousing score in the mix to stir the anguish and pump the blood, by the time those credits roll, you’ll be booking your tickets for round two, three, four and so on. Is it the best MCU movie? Perhaps. The most ambitious? Certainly. A deserving champion to knock a certain trip to Pandora off its podium.
A spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime epic. Avengers, dismissed.
Humans have an intrinsic fascination for ranking their favourite things. The sense of order and comprehension it brings to our opinions, and the fun of compiling a list, has resulted in a constant stream of top 10s online. Rank You For The Movies is a new feature (inspired by Empire’s fan-favourite The Ranking) which brings together the views of myself, Ross Miller (@rosstmiller), Madeleine Lloyd-Jones (@madelexne) and Lucy Buglass (@LGTHBlog). We essentially discuss a film-related topic and produce a top 10 list at the end – and you can see our conversation unfolding below.
Cameron: If anyone has Thor: The Dark World in their top 10, we can tussle cause that’s straight-up lunacy.
Ross: Mate, it’s comfortably touching the bottom floor. Apart from the final battle, which is pretty creative, it’s most definitely one of if not the weakest of the lot. I think it has mainly to do with the villain and his whole plot – no disrespect to the great Christopher Eccleston but just very bland.
Cameron: It’s the only MCU movie I actively dislike; the dullest colour palette, boring and just completely unengaging. The recent rewatch was a sore one.
Ross: I wouldn’t go far as to say I dislike it – the affection for the characters carries it but I can see why. I thought the first Thor was damn good.
Cameron: It has one of my favourite quotes though: “Your birthright… was to die!” Great stuff.
Ross: Nice. Reminds me of the kind of one-liner in Avengers: Age of Ultron: “Well, I WAS born yesterday.”
Cameron: Right, the thing with the first Thor. I dig that it’s like Shakespeare and Marvel married together, but the filmmaking is ugly. Dutch angles for days.
Ross: Oh really? I kind of really like that! Branagh brings a grandness to it. And I thought it handled the extremely difficult job of introducing what is a ludicrous character for what started out as “real world” tech hero stuff.
Madeleine: I really agree that it’s low-tier filmmaking. It’s really messy and unsatisfying.
Cameron: He did establish a believable world (even though Asgard, in that first movie, isn’t as gorgeous as one would expect), but it just feels a bit cheap to me. Flourishes that do not agree with me at all; I feel the MCU has pushed all that stuff out and has much slicker cinematography overall.
Ross: I get that. You either go with that kind of flourish stuff or it turns you off. I agree the MCU has definitely gelled more as it went on – some may argue that it’s become homogenized but I think it works if you look at as telling an overarching saga.
Cameron: Strong directorial voice, for sure. Just not a particularly pleasing film to watch, for me anyway.
Madeleine: I agree with that Ross for sure. The first two Thor’s were just establishing in a chill way.
Ross: What do we think of Thor: Ragnarok then? Talk about artistic directorial style and flourish!
Cameron:Ragnarok is the tits.
Madeleine:Ragnarok is brilliant.
Cameron: Very smooth, super cool, truly hilarious and quite unique from the other movies while still fitting in. I like it a lot.
Ross: It’s just such a shot of pure, eye-popping joy – Waititi was such a great choice for make that movie. The way he marries his idiosyncratic style of humour with the Marvel world, embracing the ridiculous and surreal at every turn, made for a refreshing watch.
Cameron: A proper jolt of lightning. That’s the wonderful thing though, about the MCU. It’s a franchise that’s brought me consistent giddiness.
Madeleine: It’s so rare that a franchise film can nail another tone whilst keeping in tune with the other films.
Ross: For sure. You feel like you’re getting a consistency as a fan loyally watching all the films while trying something a bit different. Of course they’re not all like that but for every Dark World there’s a Ragnarok and I’ll take it!
Cameron: I’ve seen people saying that the first Avengers hasn’t aged well but I don’t get that at all? The costumes are maybe a bit schlocky but it looks amazing, visually still a total spectacle and screenplay wise, a pure delight.
Madeleine: Oh my god no way has it aged poorly! It’s still incredible. Still gives me such a sense of excitement.
Ross: I have to admit it’s been a good while since I properly sat down and watched the first Avengers properly but it’s terrific. That moment, THE moment, of the camera spinning around them all finally in a group is spine-tingling. They’d laid the groundwork properly, walked before they ran, which made that moment mean a lot for fans.
Cameron: The confidence that Whedon had is on a par with Waititi; a guy who knew exactly what made comic book movies work and gave the fans more than a handful of moments of euphoria (let’s not discuss Age of Ultron though).
Ross: Ah, not an Ultron fan? I find it very underrated. That whole Sokovia battle is aces.
Madeleine: I need to rewatch Ultron. I was disappointed when I watched it, but I think it had so much to live up to. I think Whedon was given too much to cram in after the success of the first.
Ross: That’s the thing, expectation really did it in. But if you rewatch it’s got its own thing going on. There’s a bleakness to it in how it deals with technology and our responsibility of letting it get out of hand therein
Madeleine: That’s interesting. It was released so soon after the first, which I almost always think is risky. Got the impression it was bashed together pretty quickly to make easy money for the studios.
Cameron: To quote the great Kermode, here’s the thing. It has a lot of the same brilliance that made Avengers Assemble work. Orgasmic shots of the team fighting, nice touches of darkness. But, without James Spader’s extraordinary villain (seriously, top three easily), the thing crumbles like an overbaked pastry. Allegedly the original cut ran around three hours, and you can tell – there’s SO much in it, lots of little plot threads and ideas that aren’t really chewed into enough. Plus, the last battle is fun and all, but it doesn’t hook me in the same way. If it weren’t for Captain America: Civil War, it wouldn’t have anywhere near as much impact today. It did bring us Scarlet Witch though, and Vision.
Ross: I get that; it definitely chucks in more ideas than it really handles. But I appreciate the ambition of it. It also has one of the franchise’s best gags; when they’re all trying to lift the hammer and Thor’s nearly full on shites his pants when Cap is able to move it just a little.
Cameron: Thoughts on the Captain America films?
Ross: Oh boy here we go… I’m not a great fan of The First Avenger.
Madeleine: I think the Cap films are the most consistent films of them all. You’re not?
Ross: I mean, I still like it, but I just didn’t love the whole WWII setting of it. And I know this is part of the point but the old-fashionedness (to make up a word) felt weird to me. It would easily be lower tier to me. But it’s still an enjoyable time, it lays the groundwork nicely for Cap as a good-hearted hero
Madeleine: I think it’s one of the best examples of the setting. I think it was the film to really ground the MCU.
Cameron: I just don’t think Cap as a character would work without seeing him in his original world. To get behind his whole honour and outlook, the wartime is absolutely necessary (not fully convinced he had to put the ship in the water, though).
Ross: I realise I’m in the extreme minority with it, most love it. It’s one of those I’ve seen the least, even though that still means seeing it three times!
Cameron:Winter Soldier is outstanding; proper conspiracy spy thriller (love how Robert Redford plays the exact kind of villain that Bob Woodward would want to expose) with all the superhero trimmings.
Ross: That whole sequence on the ship, that shot of him running as he bounces the shield, is stunning.
Madeleine: They really are the most interesting films, the Captain America‘s. The most political parallels; most real life shit and I think best character work.
Ross: For sure. Just look at how they deal with it all in Civil War which is my favourite of the whole MCU.
Cameron: The direction is actually a lot more confident in that movie than in some action scenes in Civil War. But overall, that’s the MVP. I fucking love Civil War.
Madeleine:Civil War really shook me.
Cameron: The emotional stakes in that film are just so, real? As Maddy said, the real world parallels are interesting. Who knew that politics could actually do some good?
Ross: To me the franchise works best when it deals head on with character work and matches that with pure, unadulterated superhero spectacle. Rarely is that better handled than in Civil War. I love how it comes down to this fundamental disagreement; should superheroes be politically policed?
Madeleine: I love how it asks the question instead of having a take on it.
Ross: I lost my tiny mind during that airport fight scene; when they all ran towards one another, with Spidey brought into the fold, and each having to choose sides. Shooketh to the core.
Cameron: I know it’s good to discuss the serious subject matter it manages to weave… but that AIRPORT SEQUENCE. While Civil War isn’t my top MCU movie, that’s the best moment in the franchise. Spidey, Giant Man, aw MAN it’s insane.
Ross: When you find out that it was Bucky who killed Tony’s parents – man alive.
Ross: I love both Guardians films! The first more than the second but I enjoyed Vol. 2 a lot.
Cameron: I really enjoyed Vol. 2 recently. Kurt Russell is a legend.
Ross: I get what you mean, though. It takes a bit to establish the father storyline.
Cameron: Soundtrack for the first is better overall I think, too. I prefer the first but they’re both great movies. Character wise, powerful as well.
Ross: There’s this weird dislike for it in certain circles that I don’t understand. Quill’s heritage storyline works even better when you feed it into what comes later, his sense of loss compounding.
Madeleine: I think there was too much forced “look we’re the funny film hahaha!!!” In the first half that I just wasn’t impressed by, but from the Kurt Russell reveal onwards was ace. Like really, really ace. I cried all of my foundation off too.
Ross: Yondu! *ugly cries*
Cameron: Aw god that death hurts. More than I could have ever expected.
Ross: “I’m Mary Poppins, y’all!” Legit all I could think about during the first 20 minutes of Mary Poppins Returns.
Cameron:Iron Man movies; go.
Ross: First one great, second one not so much, looooove the third one. That’s my “I’ll die on this hill” defending MCU movie.
Madeleine: The Iron Man films rest entirely on RDJ’s performance – the plots are pretty… forgettable?
Ross: He is definitely the lifeblood of them.
Cameron: First one is one of my favourites. Actually like the villain but the whole thing is an insanely likeable origin story, it relies on the beauty of RDJ but Favreau’s direction is seriously awesome. Second is still an impressive looking movie, solid fight sequences but weaker in other areas.
Ross: That “cool guys don’t look at explosions” moment where he walks away made the 10-year-old me want to leap up and down in my cinema seat. Rourke just doesn’t seem to care at all, and how very dare they waste Sam Rockwell like that. I bloody love the third film, though. It’s basically about superhero PTSD. RDJ is giving a seriously good performance in that film.
Madeleine: I do appreciate the new depth they went to, and what they did with Pepper!
Cameron: Really enjoy a lot of the third movie, some of the set-pieces are genuinely staggering (Air Force One, what a belter). But I don’t really like that reveal that much, and Guy Pearce does a Brad Pitt impression for a lot of the movie. PTSD angle is its huge saving grace, major props.
Ross: I can’t express how much I love what they did with the Mandarin reveal. It’s genius in my opinion. I don’t come at it from a fan of the comics, so I didn’t have that built-in expectation of what that character should be, but for me it worked as this fantastic commentary on what a villain means in our own world. It was expected it was this hooded middle-eastern bogeyman when that was all propaganda artifice for the villain actually being the rich westerner in the slick suit.
Madeleine: Again, another example of Marvel not being ignorant to real world issues.
Cameron: It’s time my friends… let’s talk Infinity War.
Madeleine: It juggled all those characters miles better than I ever thought it would.
Ross: It really could have flubbed that aspect but the Russo’s nailed it. That is a lot of characters, a lot of clashing personalities and styles all colliding but it’s quite remarkable how well it works.
Madeleine: It felt very authentically structured, which i think is such an underrated but vital quality in a film.
Ross: Very true. Clean, slick, digestible storytelling that allows the character drama and the spectacle to flourish.
Cameron: I guess I kind of like it…
Madeleine: You kind of like it?
Ross: I think he means he adores it Maddy.
Madeleine: I just want him to unleash his full obsessive essay Ross.
Cameron: It is fucking spectacular. I really do adore that movie, I basically worship what the Russo’s managed to pull off. A Herculean feat, this gargantuan number of superstars and plot threads under the final boss villain and it all just moves as one exhilarating piece. It’s the fastest way to spend 2 hours 40 minutes. Feels like 90. I cannot get enough.
Madeleine: There it is.
Ross: How rare is it you get a cultural event like that pulled off with such confidence, with such bravura and handle on all the aspects. Not only that but send your audience away gobsmacked.
Madeleine: Genuinely the most impressive piece of franchise cinema.
Cameron: Please tell me you guys like that ending? I will maintain that the snap is not only genius, but extremely necessary thematically.
Ross: Of course! How could you not? It hurts so gooooood.
Cameron: Spider-Man’s death is genuinely one of the most emotionally distressing things I’ve endured in a cinema.
Madeleine: I was a tiny bit like… okay but those characters that just ‘died’ have sequels coming out soon so… but the bit that made it heart-wrenching was the survivors reactions. Okoye’s!
Ross: It proved there was stakes. I don’t buy this “well they’re just going to undo it so how does it matter?” bullshit. Of course we know they’re not going to permanently kill of Spidey or Black Panther (one of whom they just introduced, the other featured in a $1.2 billion cultural touchstone) but it matters in context, for the characters, the for the world it’s set up, for the remaining Avengers to have something to fight for.
Madeleine: It introduces the idea that these characters are actually defeat-able.
Ross: Three things make that film work as well as it does. The pacing, the emotional gut punch and Brolin’s performance as Thanos.
Cameron: We had to see THE BIG BAD use his BIG POWERS. Otherwise he’s just another run-of-the-mill antagonist. I would have been seriously pissed if they just finished him off. I want to see the original heroes hurting. This should be the fight of their lives, and as such, the most engrossing comeback of the entire series. That’s why it works.
Ross: That character could have been so very silly. But Brolin imbues him with such presence and menace, that “I’m right” arrogance, you really feel he’s a threat.
Madeleine: That character could have been so very silly. But Brolin imbues him with such presence and menace, that “I’m right” arrogance, you really feel he’s a threat.
Cameron: And you know what? His motives are almost, agreeable?
Madeleine: That’s what makes him so scary, even though he is big and purple his motives are very human.
Ross: Well I mean GENOCIDE, Cameron, but I see what you’re saying.
Cameron: Perfectly balanced, as all things should be…
Madeleine: It’s not “I want power”, “I want to rule the world” it’s “someone’s got to do something about this”. It’s like a biblical type purge.
Ross: He wants power but as a means to an end, not for the sake of it.
Madeleine: What I really admire about the MCU is how with it’s success, it’s always stayed authentic. The more and more power it gets behind it worldwide from audiences, the more intricate and brilliant the story making gets. Everything is so thought out, connected and executed with a clear purpose – nothing is a cash grab.
Ross: That’s what sets it apart from the likes of the DCEU.
*We were about to finish up then quickly realised we forgot Black Panther*
Madeleine: Black Panther is cool!
Ross: *Laughs* oh yeah, Black Panther! That little movie.
Madeleine: Quick summary: monumentally important, culturally brilliant, brilliant performances, great music, great fun. Maybe a little predictable at the end but great script so it’s all good.
Cameron: We can all agree that Black Panther is excellent, yes? Brilliant villain, immersive world. Some shaky effects but generally terrific.
Ross: Yeah Black Panther is damn good; the sense of style, something different. Convincingly portrays this hidden kingdom, unseen by choice by the rest of the world. Top music, too. Not surprised it won the Oscar.
Madeleine: It’s the most real world in the MCU. Even from Civil War I bought it as a nation.
Ross: And the only MCU film to introduce a gesture that’s culturally recognisable now.
Cameron: Right we’re definitely in the Endgame now, let’s vote.
10. Spider-Man: Homecoming
9. Black Panther
8. Iron Man 3
7. Iron Man
6. Thor: Ragnarok
5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
4. Guardians of the Galaxy
3. Avengers Assemble
2. Avengers: Infinity War
1. Captain America: Civil War
Keep your eyes peeled for the next Rank You For The Movies (and good luck for Avengers: Endgame…)