Two reviews this week, both of which are a moderate disappointment to myself. Last week, I worried that I was only reviewing superhero movies. To be fair, most new movies these days seem to be superhero movies, but I was trying to quit the habit…
…just as the concluding part of the Avengers‘ 11-year-long, 21-part series of movies hit the silver screen in the UK. Doh!
Avengers: Endgame review after the jump. I’ll try not to be too spoilery.
Secondly, last week, as you may recall, I took out a free trial/subscription to the BFI Player to try to ensure I watched something moderately cerebral for a change. Look at all those Kurosawas, I thought to myself. Yet, while I did end up watching a black and white Japanese movie, it wasn’t a Kurosawa.
Yep, original Godzilla after the jump, too. Sigh.
Avengers: Endgame (2019)After the devastating events of Avengers: Infinity War (2018), the universe is in ruins. With the help of the remaining allies, the Avengers assemble once more in order to undo Thanos’ actions and restore order to the universe.
All for one and one for all
Avengers: Endgame is fascinatingly predictable and unpredictable. There are certain parameters you know from the outset that constrict what must happen in the movie.
Just at a trivial, production level, there are more Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movies still to come, including a solo Black Widow movie, Doctor Strange 2, Black Panther 2, and Guardians of the Galaxy 3. We’ve already seen the trailers for Spider-Man: Far From Home, in fact. But more or less everyone in those movies was dead at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, along with half the universe’s population, so they’ve got to come back to life somehow.
Similarly, Captain Marvel has already met the Avengers at the end of her introductory movie, so we know she’s got to be in this and make it through to make Captain Marvel 2.
So we can can guess time travel’s involved and because it’s a superhero movie, there’s going to be a lot of punching involved – so much punching, in fact, that given it’s the cumulation of all the preceding MCU movies which have all escalated the level of punching available to new heights, we know this must have the punching to end all punching.
But we also know that a lot of actors’ contracts are up and that some are getting on a bit now, so it’s a good bet that at least some long-standing favourites aren’t going to make it through to the end. It’s just a question of how many.
All those things are known to us going in, so it’s to Avengers: Endgame‘s great credit that it defies some of that cast-iron logic in seemingly impossible ways to surprise us at regular intervals throughout its three-hour runtime.
Did you see that coming?For starters, for a climatic cumulation to a generally fun and jaunty series of movies, it doesn’t half start off slow and depressing. Everyone’s friends and family are gone and so they’re distraught/collapsing. But as soon as they have the opportunity to kill off the big bad Thanos who killed off everyone in the previous movie, they discover it’s too late to stop him and reverse what he’s done.
Fast forward to five years later when everyone is still depressed, is trying to create a new future for themselves and failing to forget the past and their failures. Some are alcoholics, some are vengeance-crazed vigilantes, some run therapy support groups and some are letting their roots show AND THEY DON’T CARE.
Fortunately, someone who was basically forgotten about in the preceding movie shows up and the Avengers discover a final way they may able to fix the dire situation in which they’re in. But it takes a good hour or so before they can begin their quest. Within the next hour, there’s hardly a fight at all and at least one of their number is ‘permanently’ killed (where permanently obviously doesn’t include flashbacks, time travel, parallel universes, etc).
The eventual solution to their problem is predictable – doubly predictable in fact, so that everyone who guessed one of the two ways they could have fixed things was definitely right whichever one they chose. Indeed, Avengers: Endgame‘s big weakness is that going into virtually every scene, although you won’t have seen that scene coming, you will almost certainly be able to guess how it ends before you get there.
Everyone gets roughly the story ending you could have predicted, too, and if you couldn’t predict an ending, they’ve probably survived to appear in another movie.
Does any of that matter?The main counterpoint to that is that are nevertheless more than enough surprises to keep you guessing. On top of that, the more films you’ve watched, the more you’re rewarded.
There are cameos from many preceding films by characters you never thought you’d see again. There’s even a cameo from one of the Marvel’s TV shows: Agent Carter (spoiler: (spoiler alert) it’s James D’Arcy as Jarvis!). There are callbacks to a seemingly throwaway scene in Age of Ultron that will make a long-term fan practically whoop (spoiler: (spoiler alert) Captain America is worthy!). I had a little weep when (spoiler: (spoiler alert) Rene Russo showed up again as Thor’s mum). There’s a Back to the Future 2-style redo of Avengers: Assemble that gets gatecrashed by the cast of Captain America: Winter Soldier and Doctor Strange. Two more members of the cast of Community get to show up. And Captain Marvel gets her final post Secret Wars hairdo.
And while the eventual slug-out does arrive and isn’t quite as imaginative as the numerous set-pieces of Infinity War, it has more than its fair share of whoop-whoop moments, such as when (spoiler alert) (spoiler alert) Captain Marvel arrives.
If I had to quibble – and I am quite good at that – I would say that there are a few characters that aren’t especially well served by the script. Some simply don’t get much screentime, which is excusable given how many characters there are to deal with, but barring that one scene that made me blubber, Thor gets dumped on from a big height.
And let’s not talk too much about what happened to (spoiler alert) Black Widow, who didn’t even get a funeral, just everyone sitting around feeling a bit sad – that’s despite the fact the whole movie is basically a bigger, punchier Secret Avengers #20.
If you’ve been watching the movies since they started – particularly if you were young and you’ve grown up with them – Avengers: Endgame is an emotional experience and a fitting conclusion to the story. It’s by no means the best of the MCU movies (that title is still held by Captain America: Winter Soldier) but it does everything it needs to and far, far more, is suitably cathartic, does enough surprising things that it doesn’t feel like a cheat and has enough cool moments to place it in the Top 5 at least.
How can you not watch it?
Godzilla (1954)When the Japanese freighter Eiko-maru is destroyed near Odo Island, another ship – the Bingo-maru – is sent to investigate, only to meet the same fate with few survivors. A fishing boat from Odo is also destroyed, with one survivor. Fishing catches mysteriously drop to zero, blamed by an elder on the ancient sea creature known as ‘Godzilla’…
Throw away your expectationsOne of the odd things about certain movies is that you think you already know them. I grew up on the stupid Godzilla cartoon series…
…and saw numerous clips of the Japanese Godzilla “men in monster suits fight one another” movies, too. Since then, of course, there’s been a rather odd and occasionally brilliant Gareth Evans Godzilla, with sequel Godzilla: King of the Monsters on the way soon.
Godzilla has been part of our pop culture for years. We know Godzilla, right? Great big dinosaur-like monster who defends Tokyo from other great big monsters, right?
Except we don’t. At least I don’t. One of my complaints about Evan’s remake was that there’s not much Godzilla in Godzilla, for example.
Guess what – there’s microscopic amounts of Godzilla in the original. He’s barely in it at all for the first hour.
Instead – and one hardly needs to have a degree in psychology or anthropology to work out this cunning subtext – Godzilla is largely a portrait of post-war Japanese anxiety about nuclear weapons and their inability to defend themselves against them.
Here, Godzilla is an ancient, marine dinosaur-like beast living on the sea floor who’s disturbed from his slumber by atomic testing. Every so often, he then proceeds to capsize ships and invade the mainland, destroying settlements and even Tokyo itself along the way. And people try to work out what to do and keep failing at every turn to stop the monster.
Sub-text? What sub-text?Those appearances of Godzilla are very rare, however. Instead, the movie is largely various Japanese characters agonising about what to do and/or accidentally being killed by Godzilla, as well as a romantic subplot involving a girl and two guys, one of whom has an eyepatch. There’s also a new secret weapon that could be used to kill Godzilla but, of course, if they do use it, who knows what else it could end up being used on?
None of that is done for laughs, although Godzilla’s perhaps a little too cute to take seriously and the humans’ acting might make you titter from time to time, too.
Other dinosaurs there are not, so there are no fights, just the occasional stomping and trashing of an unconvincing Hornby train set or two by, yes, a man in a dinosaur suit. Godzilla’s famous atomic breath gets rolled out, too, usually to melt Tokyo in ways very similar to what happened at Nagasaki and Hiroshima, although I still think Evans’ use of it is considerably more iconic.
All of which makes Godzilla both more interesting and less interesting than you’d expect. Less interesting, since there’s not much Godzilla, he’s not really very nice when he’s around and there’s nothing really for him to fight – it’s all a bit one-sided against the poor Japanese, to be honest.
But more interesting since it’s a movie about something, that does more than simply have people punching one another a lot. Hell, it’s even a fascinating time capsule of post-war life in Japanese villages.
I wouldn’t recommend Godzilla unless you have a real interest in either the genre or Japanese movies/history. But if that’s you, give it a try – particularly since it’s gratifying to know that Godzilla’s roar hasn’t changed in over 65 years.