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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 

 

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Avengers, Endgame: Thanostradamus

Avengers, Endgame: Thanostradamus

As star casts go, Avengers: Endgame runs up a mind-boggling score. Like in theatrical performances, where all characters come on to the stage after the performance to take a bow, Endgame brings them all on screen, even resurrecting the dead, in a show of ultimate strength, before their nemesis is vanquished. Just as it takes two lives to conquer the dark force, the dark force itself needs to be conquered not once but twice. It is ingenious writing, to lay out the entire Avengers smorgasbord in their 10th year, 22nd film, 56th year since the appearance of the first Avengers comics and over 1,000 years after the genesis of the superhero fiction myth that kicked off during the time of Thor.

Avengers Endgame starts with Clint Barton, the master archer also called Hawkeye, a former Avenger, who turns around to see that his wife, daughter and son have disappeared, and realising that they too have become victims of Thanos, is in tears. That is four-time Avengers favourite directors Anthony and Joe Russo’s way of laying the ground the the mise en scène is going to be, if not predominantly, then at least substantially, driven by emotion. Well many critics, including yours truly, have lamented the fact almost all superhero films are super when it comes to mass destructions and special effects, catering to their teenage to twenties’ fandom, but there is virtually no acting or emoting involved, except the all consummating sentiments of vengeance or saving the world(s). The writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, (their fourth teaming with the Russo brothers in the franchise) and directors of Endgame have heard our laments, and there are at least a dozen instances where salty liquid might well-up in your orbs and trickle down your cheeks, making tissue an issue.

Half of all life on earth and other planets in the universe has been destroyed by Thanos, with the help of the ‘infinity stones’, one of which is called the ‘soul stone’ (odd names for objects that decimate and atomise entire worlds). Ray Stark/Iron Man, having failed to vanquish Thanos, is floating in his spaceship, with Nebula on board, but without supplies and fuel. He records a last message for his wife, ‘Potts’. Out of the blue, Captain Marvels/Carol Danvers (her Captain Marvel film was shot after Endgame but released earlier, to facilitate her entry here), appears and carries the spaceship down to earth, where the three join Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Bruce Banner (Hulk), Steve Rogers (Captain America), Rocket (The Raccoon), Thor Odinson, Pepper Potts, and James Rhodes (War Machine).

With the help of Thanos’s adopted daughter Nebula, who has defected, the group locates Thanos to a planet he used to refer to as the garden, where he wanted to settle after retirement. The Avengers need to get the Infinity Stones back from him, and reverse his actions, but, when confronted, Thanos tells them that he has already destroyed them, by clashing them against themselves, to prevent further use/misuse. During this destruction, so much energy was released that it almost killed Thanos, who is now extremely weakened. Thor loses his temper and Thanos is immediately axed. Decapitated, no less.

Five years later, Scott Lang (Ant Man) escapes from the quantum realm where he was trapped as a stray dog steps on to a super computer in the warehouse. He sends a distress message through a CCTV, which is seen by Romanoff and Rogers, and they meet at the Avengers' compound. Only five hours have passed for Lang instead of five years, and he concludes that this could only have happened if he had travelled through time. The three go down to meet Stark and propose to him he could work on an attempt to retrieve the Infinity Stones from the past, through time travel, and use them to revert Thanos' actions in the present.

Stark, a brilliant scientist, rejects the idea out of fear of losing his young daughter Morgan, and because he is not totally convinced that time travel is possible. But he later relents, after reflecting upon the already disintegrated Peter Parker, his protégé, and checking out the possibility of time travel with his super computers. He sets to work on a device to stabilise time travel. Meanwhile, Romanoff, Rogers and Lang approach the other scientific wizard in their group, Bruce Banner. Banner works out a prototype, and with Stark’s stabiliser, they are now ready. Romanoff finds Clint Barton, who has become a ruthless vigilante following the disintegration of his family, and he returns to the compound with her. The reunited Avengers split into several groups for their mission.

Since time travel is key to the scenario, the debunking of various Hollywood films based on this premise seems a warped hook on which to hang humour. Several films are named, while the Avengers are working on the idea, but the deepest dig is made at Back to the Future. There is no mention, of course, of Superman (1978), a DC Comics superhero. Therein, while Kryptonian denizen Kal-El, aka Superman, is busy saving the victims of an earthquake, girl-friend, Lois Lane’s car falls into a crevice, from one of the aftershocks, trapping her inside. Before Superman can reach her, she suffocates and dies. But she is not supposed to die, so Superman, earthly name Clark Kent, flies around Earth at great speed, travelling several minutes backward in time, to get to a point before her death, and rescues her.

Humour manifests itself in many shapes along the narrative, principal among them being the now pot-bellied and bearded beer-addict, Thor, playing video games with Korg and Miel in Norway, the various avatars of the time travellers, as they return from time warps differently aged, from babies to octogenarians, with one gent getting pissed off because somebody pissed in his space suit, though it could only have been him, at some age stage. In one scene, you wonder whether the Avengers are actually going to get into a serious fight about whose spacecraft it is. Ant-Man is miffed when a bunch of fans seek autographs and a selfie withy his buddy Hulk, but don’t know him from Adam (Adam and the Ants? These puns, I tell you)!. A bittersweet scene develops between Howard Stark and Ray, his son, when they meet in the past, funny, yet wistful. 

For almost two-thirds of the movie, action-hungry cinephiles might begin to wonder whether they accidentally walked into the wrong auditorium. Patience, my dear fanatics, you are going to witness the battle of all battles in Act III. While you await the Thanos versus avengeranos grand finalé, here are some moments to bring lumps to your throats. They begin with the very first scene, where Baron’s family disappears. Then you have the extinction-facing Ray Stark and Nebula on the space-ship, and the touching message he records for Potts. A disillusioned Stark then goes into retirement and spends quality time with his wife and daughter. Of course, the acme of the tear-magnet mountains is reached when Natasha and Renner battle it out for who will die for the cause. Nebula getting torn to emotional bits, battling her adoptive father, her sister and her own self from another time zone, is another example of the kind of scenes that are a rarity in superhero films. As is my wont, I will not reveal any more tragic moments, in fact any significant kind of moments, lest they turn out to be spoilers. Keep an extra tissue handy for the last scene, though.

From the title, one would have thought that the last Avengers: Infinity War (2018) film was the end, once the film ended finitely. Based on that logic, Endgame should be the end, but in the film business, you never say never again (the James Bond franchise has already lasted 57 years, including one film that had Sean Connery making a comeback, after declaring that he would never again act as Bond) and you never say The End, till….? Robert Redford, now 83, may not act any more. Michael Douglas will soon be 75. Co-creator of the Avengers and a regular Marvel cameoac, Stan Lee bade his final goodbye in 2018, at 96. After seeing what technology did to Michael in Endgame—made him look decades younger—don’t overrule the return of these senior or dear departed personnel in more Avengers films. As for the rest of the cast, don’t ever think that lapsed contracts could come in their way or that Marvel may not decide to marvel you again, very soon. (Chris Evans came back after his six-film contract was over, because Endgame made a lot of sense to him).

It’s too late now to wonder whether Thanos was an inter-galactic, despotic Titan, or destiny’s child, sent to enforce population control, or the devil incarnate. Oh, I know, the devil is alive and healthy, while Thanos? He never dies…er...I mean lies. A truthful Satan? What kind of evil force can withstand the counter-attack put-up by dozens of superheroes, and keep flicking them of like ash from a cigarette butt, ad infinitum? Why would he retire, bereft of his powers, and be unaware that his daughter has defected, though he is supremely knowledgeable? Is he the kind of villain who would let his head be chopped off by Thor’s axe in one blow, with no resistance?  How come such exalted beings as The Ancient One and Dr. Stephen Strange goof up badly in a matter that threatens half the universe?

On the other hand, we can wonder whether it made sense to incorporate so much jargon and technology in a film aimed primarily young audiences, so much of back and forth time travel, so much fuss about a gauntlet and snapping of fingers. One can also mull over the sagacity of including the Tokyo escapade, where vigilante Hawkeye takes on the Yakiuza boss Akihiko, in a dogged swordfight, and where he is traced by Natasha.

When it comes to deciding who will don the gauntlet through which gazillions lightning bolts will flow when the wearer snaps his fingers, Thor jumps in with, “Me. I am the strongest Avenger.” Come to think of it, the roots of the millennium spanning saga can be found in the time when Thor, the Norse God of Thunder, had to battle his brother Loki for the throne of their father, Odin. Armed with a magical sledge-hammer, Mjolnir, and later with an axe, called Stormbreaker, he is the strongest Avenger, though the selfless, superhuman mega-heroes do boast of a gargantuan called the Hulk. Thor is delighted to find that another Avenger has been found worthy enough to wield the retrieved hammer, it’s time to hammer it out with the entity that was earlier unsuccessfully axed.

Josh Brolin as Thanos cannot convey much through his ribbed, enormous lower jaw, yet manages to sound convincing. His profound catch-line, “I am inevitable”, though, is spoken almost flatly. Robert Downey Jr., at 54, among the senior-most Avengers, shows that Iron Man has a soft heart, especially when he’s outside his suit. Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton), Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner), Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans (Captain America) and the other Chris, Hemsworth (Thor) do surprise us with some impressive acting. Brie Larson as Carol Danvers, alias Captain Marvel, has a palpable screen presence. Paul Rudd, playing Ant-Man, is fun too. Perhaps Joe Russo (billed as Gozie Abgo) is going to replace Stan Lee as a regular cameo fixture, by playing a man who is part of a support group, and shares the experience of going on his first homosexual date, after Thanos decimated half the population. This scene, and several asterisked dialogue, make it probably the most adult of Marvel Studios productions.

In the end, going back not five or 50 years, but to the good old days of 965 AD, after the hammer, the axe--and the shield, to be fair-- have done their jobs, we still find ourselves in Thoracic Park. Tour over, the ship going Back to the Future is about to depart. All aboard, if you know what is good for you. You can never predict anything when it comes to guys named Thanos, Thasos, Hypothalamus or Nostradamus.

Rating: *** ½

Trailer: https://youtu.be/TcMBFSGVi1c

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


Bandra West, Mumbai

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