Avengers: Endgame Movie Review

**There’s really no way to write a review of Avengers: Endgame without some minor spoilers. You may wish to read this post viewing…

The word “epic” can be overused by those who review movies like me, but it unquestionably applies to Avengers: Endgame. It’s epic in its running time (none of the other 21 MCU pics run three hours) and epic in the number of well-known thespians reprising their superhero and villain characters. It doesn’t seem feasible that so many characters could manage to coexist in this vast universe without seeming like a gimmick. If you happen to think predecessor Infinity War was overcrowded, you’ll get whiplash here. Truth be told, there are moments when this borders on playing like a greatest hits reel based on what’s preceded it during the last eleven years.

Yet Endgame figures out a rewarding way to stick the landing and honor the dozens of faces that we’ve spent billions of dollars visiting since 2008. At the conclusion of Infinity War, bad guy Thanos (Josh Brolin) had collected his precious Infinity Stones and decimated half the intergalactic population into dramatic looking dust particles. What’s left is mostly the core of the OG Avengers – Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). There’s others as Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) is the sole surviving Guardian of the Galaxy. And we have the two notable characters that were MIA last summer – Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd).

One might think this whole saga might be about the original band and some newer friends taking on Thanos. You would be wrong. Endgame has plenty of time bending tricks up its endless story arch sleeves. The first is an unexpected resolution that comes very early. However, that climax is just a set-up to further complications.

This is indeed a time travel movie in which the screenwriters almost sheepishly concede the contrived nature of such a device. The survivors set upon a course of multiple back in time ways to retrieve the Stones and bring back their loved ones. It doesn’t happen overnight and the lengthy nature of the plan coming together provides funny and poignant moments. Tony is off the grid with his beloved Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow) and a new addition. Bruce is in full Hulk mode, but kindler and gentler. Thor is rounder and drunkenly grappling with his losses. Hawkeye is a full-blown vigilante. When the gang revs up their figurative DeLoreans, it gives us a chance to revisit lots of MCU personnel. And it’s a LOT of former players. Some are genuinely surprising. During this lengthy stretch, the film walks a fine line of not devolving into nostalgic sugar shock amidst the action sequences. By the final act, it rises above it.

We know the battle scenes will be well choreographed and well-directed (with the Russo Brothers handling duties once again). The final one is rather jaw dropping with the mixing of so many known quantities. Thanos is one of the stronger villains in MCU history and he remains so here, though there’s nothing fresh to add about his character. His daughter Nebula (Karen Gillan), on the other hand, continues her evolution as a fine addition to the roster.

The comic relief comes more from Thor as opposed to Ant-Man or Rocket and Hemsworth is up to the task. Captain America and Black Widow are given their emotional moments that we’re invested in from their backstories. To this writer, it’s Tony who’s always been the damaged beating heart of this franchise. The Marvel Cinematic Universe simply wouldn’t exist as it is without Downey Jr.’s brilliant work. That’s never changed. The quality of the movies he’s appeared in has. His performance has always been fantastic. If we’re ranking, I would put Endgame as an overall experience just under the first Avengers in 2012 and Infinity War. I can’t promise that thinking about all the shifting time plot points might raise as many questions as answers. I won’t deny that its emotional payoff is real and we have Downey and an amazing group of technicians bringing these comics to life to thank for it.

***1/2 (out of four)

Avengers: Endgame Box Office Prediction

This current massively successful phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe draws to a close next weekend with the release of Avengers: Endgame. There’s an excellent chance that it achieves the largest opening weekend gross of all time with the grand finale. Endgame follows up directly with last summer’s Avengers: Infinity War, which is the current record holder with $257 million.

Anthony and Joe Russo return in the directors chairs with a core group of familiar heroes battling Josh Brolin’s Thanos. They include Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, Chris Evans as Captain America, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, Brie Larson as Captain Marvel, Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man, and Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye. That’s just scratching the surface, by the way. The events (spoiler alert if you’ve been in a year-long coma) of Infinity War dissolved numerous other beloved characters into dust including Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther, Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange and the majority of the Guardians of the Galaxy (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista) save for Bradley Cooper voicing Rocket. It’s quite likely you’ll see them again. And also in the roles we’ve seen them in before… there’s Gwyneth Paltrow, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Tessa Thompson, Don Cheadle, Jon Favreau, Anthony Mackie, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, and Evangeline Lilly. Oh… and Letitia Wright and Sebastian Stan and Tom Hiddleston.

Whew. Back to the numbers crunching. When early tickets went on sale a couple of weeks ago, Endgame smashed every record in sight. Its YouTube trailer views are off the charts. Audiences know this is the culmination of what we’ve paid billions of dollars for over the past decade plus. Yes, there’s a three-hour runtime which is unprecedented for the MCU.

I have a feeling that won’t matter when it comes to reaching a premiere level we’ve yet to witness. No other movie is daring to compete against it and most holdovers will be earning $10 million and less. In other words, multiplexes will clear a ton of real estate for this.

Initial estimates put Endgame around $250 million, but the buzz has this inching upwards. I believe that’s a correct assumption. While I don’t believe this will hit $300 million (as the rosiest projections suggest), a gross just north of $285 million seems feasible. If it achieves that mark, the endgame here will indeed set records.

Avengers: Endgame opening weekend prediction: $289.6 million

Ant-Man and the Wasp Movie Review

Size matters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the decade old multi-billion franchise reached its most epic heights in Avengers: Infinity War. The only superhero who’s had their own stand-alone pic not to appear in that gargantuan production was Ant-Man, the character brought to life by Paul Rudd in the summer of 2015. Sequel AntMan and the Wasp follows a traditional Avengers tale like the original did. To say it feels smaller in scope is an understatement. Part one often failed to strike a satisfying mix and surprisingly struggled to make Rudd’s title character a memorable one. Whereas Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man and Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord were instantly iconic heroes, it didn’t work that way in AntMan. That’s despite its star’s well-known ability to mix comedy and drama and some nifty visuals that made the third act a treat.

Rarely do we find an MCU effort without parental issues involved and they’re here. Scott Lang/Ant-Man is nearing the end of a two-year house arrest bid based on the events from Captain America: Civil War. His former love interest Hope/heroine Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and science wiz dad Hank (Michael Douglas) are hiding out as well while conducting experiments to find their mom and wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). She’s been stuck for three decades in the quantum realm that Ant-Man briefly visited in the original. His experience there leads Hope and Hank to believe she’s alive and the search is on. The technology that leads to that mystical place is sought by a low life criminal (Walton Goggins) and his crew. The FBI is curious about it, including the main agent (Randall Park in amusing turn) tasked with monitoring Scott. And then there’s Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen), a molecular challenged young lady who has her own reasons to gain powers. She teams up with a former colleague of Hank’s played by Laurence Fishburne.

If you’re thinking that’s a lot of characters to follow, I haven’t even mentioned Scott’s returning daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson), ex-wife (Judy Greer), and current husband (Bobby Cannavale). There’s also his business partners and occasional fellow crime fighters including Michael Pena and T.I. So while there’s plenty of action to follow, the MCU knows how to make it easy to follow. Compared to Infinity War, the amount of subplots seems practically minuscule.

Wasp finds Rudd settling more comfortably in the role and more humorously. That’s an aspect that was oddly not around much in 2015. Finding Scott with Pfeiffer’s character in his head in one scene provides some genuine laughs. Like in the original, Mr. Douglas appears to be having a ball. He gets his own chance to save the day at one point while his counterparts are engaged in a visually impressive car chase in the streets of San Francisco. Lilly doesn’t just share title credit here. She does have more to do.

AntMan and the Wasp is an improvement over the first. That’s a trait shared by other MCU sequels, especially in the Captain America and Thor series. Peyton Reed returns as director and the whole production feels more confident. It also doesn’t have the burden of being an origin story… something we go through a lot with this constantly growing genre. Like many of its subjects, the importance of what happens in these two hours feels small compared to the grand scale of other stories in this universe. More so than in 2015, however, Ant-Man’s existence in it feels welcome.

*** (out of four)

Avengers: Infinity War Box Office Prediction

It may feel like winter in many parts of the country even though it’s spring, but next weekend is essentially the start of the summer box office in 2018 when Avengers: Infinity War invades theaters. This is the 19th picture in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that began a decade ago with 2008’s Iron Man and the third installment of the Avengers franchise that kicked off in 2012 (an untitled fourth installment is out next summer).

After 10 years of these superheroes populating our screens in one form or another, Infinity War is the picture that brings them all together. That means we have the Avengers we’re used to seeing together: Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). They’ve got a whole lot of company this time around, including Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Spider-Man (Tom Holland), Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), War Machine (Don Cheadle), Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Loki (Tom Hiddleston), Bucky (Sebastian Stan), and the whole Guardians of the Galaxy gang (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and the vocal work of Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel). Josh Brolin is main villain Thanos. Other actors from the MCU returning include Gwyneth Paltrow, Idris Elba, Paul Bettany, Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira, Benicio del Toro, Cobie Smulders, Angela Bassett, Tessa Thompson, and Jon Favreau. Brothers Anthony and Joe Russo (who directed 2016’s Captain America: Civil War) are behind the camera. Whew…

The gathering of the entire MCU is one impressive selling point and there’s been developments that have even increased the anticipation for Infinity‘s release. Last summer’s Spider-Man: Homecoming was well-received, as were Guardians and Thor sequels. Yet perhaps more than anything else, this February’s Black Panther turned into a phenomenon – becoming the third highest grossing domestic earner of all time.

Projections have steadily increased in the past few weeks. It is not outside the realm of possibility that Infinity War could have the largest stateside opening of all time. In order to do so, it would need to surpass the $247 million achieved by 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. To accomplish the 2nd biggest debut, it would need to exceed the $220 million of last year’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It will almost certainly achieve the record for an MCU premiere, which is currently held by the original Avengers at $207 million.

I believe this will pass Jedi and rather easily. Getting to the Awakens number is doable, but I’ll project it falls a bit under that milestone.

Avengers: Infinity War opening weekend prediction: $240.2 million

 

Box Office Predictions: May 27-30

It’s Memorial Day weekend coming up at the summer box office with two high-profile sequels debuting – X-Men: Apocalypse and Alice Through the Looking Glass. You can peruse my detailed prediction posts on each here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/05/18/x-men-apocalypse-box-office-prediction/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2016/05/18/alice-through-the-looking-glass-box-office-prediction/

I expect the Mutants to fairly easily top The Mad Hatter, with Apocalypse just edging the century mark for its four-day holiday frame with Looking Glass getting to the mid-60s. That would mean both entries would come in below what their predecessors managed in 2014 and 2010, respectively.

As for holdovers, The Angry Birds Movie should slide to third after a robust 1st place debut (more on that below) with Captain America: Civil War and Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (which struggled this last weekend) rounding out the top five.

And with that, my top 5 predictions for the Memorial Day frame which encapsulates my three and four-day forecasts:

  1. X-Men: Apocalypse

Predicted Gross: $82.8 million (Friday to Sunday), $100.4 million (Friday to Monday)

2. Alice Through the Looking Glass

Predicted Gross: $53.6 million (Friday to Sunday), $67.7 million (Friday to Monday)

3. The Angry Birds Movie

Predicted Gross: $20.4 million (Friday to Sunday), $24.5 million (Friday to Monday)

4. Captain America: Civil War

Predicted Gross: $18.1 million (Friday to Sunday), $22.2 million (Friday to Monday)

5. Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

Predicted Gross: $10.4 million (Friday to Sunday), $12.2 million (Friday to Monday)

Box Office Results (May 20-22)

The first feature film based on an app nabbed the #1 spot as The Angry Birds Movie soared to a $38.1 million opening, a bit above my $34.5M projection. This was on the higher end of expectations for the animated pic.

After two weeks on top, Captain America: Civil War slipped to second with $32.9 million, just under my $35.1M forecast for a three-week total of $347M.

The news was not good for Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, and company as Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising grossed an unimpressive $21.7 million for third. I went way over with $38.2M, which I should predicted for those ill-tempered birds. Considering the original made $49M out of the gate, we can safely assume Neighbors 3 won’t happen. This continues a recent trend of comedy sequels (think: Horrible Bosses, Zoolander) under performing.

Despite mostly glowing reviews, The Nice Guys with Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling finished fourth with $11.2 million in its opening, under my $14.4M prediction.

The Jungle Book rounded out the top five with $10.9 million and I predicted… $10.9M! Yay! Almost makes up for the Neighbors thing, but not really…

And there you have it, folks! Until next time…

Captain America: Civil War Movie Review

The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand in often thrilling and impressive ways in Captain America: Civil War, which is by all intents and purposes a third Avengers pic where Hulk and Thor are apparently on a well-deserved vacation. It walks the tightrope of introducing new characters and finding new dynamics for the old ones without seeming gimmicky or overloading the audience with all its activity. To that end, director Joel and Anthony Russo are to be commended for mostly succeeding in this latest effort where our heroes are often unmasked and sometimes emasculated.

Civil War presents a chasm in the MCU that centers on Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) aka The Winter Solider from this trilogy’s slightly better second movie. His history with Captain America (Chris Evans) garners understandable sympathy from our title character. That isn’t the case with Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) when it appears Bucky may be responsible for an attack on the United Nations.

There’s also the question of whether The Avengers actions across the globe are worth the collateral damage that sometimes comes with it. The U.S. government proposes to put some serious checks on their powers. Tony agrees. Cap does not. And the rest of the crew (minus Hulk/Thor sipping Mai tai’s somewhere) must choose which side to join. This include Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye (who comes out retirement from his boring home life Age of Ultron subplot), Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, Don Cheadle’s War Machine, and Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch. We also have Paul Rudd in the mix less than a year after his debut in Ant-Man, which was the other underwhelming MCU summer 2015 experience (along with Ultron). And then there’s the two newbies introduced who will soon have their own stand-alone features: Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man. Spidey is good for some solid one-liners and I enjoyed Holland’s take on Peter Parker. This budding franchise should hopefully eclipse what we saw the last time around with Andrew Garfield and company. That said, I actually found Black Panther’s plot line to be a bit more interesting here and I equally anticipate that solo pic.

Civil War also continues the tradition of rather forgettable central villains, with the exception of Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. Here it’s Daniel Bruhl as Zemo, whose motives are murky for most of the running time and who stands as just another baddie in a world where the heroes are the focal point. This entry isn’t really about a main villain, however. Rather it’s about deciding if you’re on Team Cap or Team Iron Man and the screenplay is smartly written enough that the answer isn’t automatic.

The MCU continues to build on itself and this one does so in the most entertaining way since Winter Soldier. By the time we get to the final Avengers pictures, Hulk and Thor will return. Guardians of Galaxies will be in the mix. And with the Mouse Factory behind this with their extensive array of characters, who knows who else we shall see? Will Rey and Finn cross star systems to appear? Which team will Mowgli align with? Will Kermit and Miss Piggy agree to follow Cap or Tony or split? As long as it’s satisfying like Civil War, I’m still curious to find out.

*** (out of four)

Captain America: Civil War Box Office Prediction

Summer 2016 kicks off in grand Disney/Marvel fashion when Captain America: Civil War debuts next Friday. It is the first weekend of May’s only wide release, as no other studio would dare try counter programming against this surefire juggernaut. This is the third entry in the Captain America franchise, but it is essentially a third Avengers feature as Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man, Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, Don Cheadle’s War Machine, Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlet Witch, and the debuts of Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man all join Chris Evans’ Cap for this extravaganza. Sebastian Shaw, William Hurt, and Daniel Bruhl also appear. Essentially, only Thor and Hulk are missing here.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a multi-billion dollar bonanza for Disney and Marvel Studios. This 13th picture in the MCU has been greeted with terrific buzz and trailers and its critical response stands at 98% on Rotten Tomatoes. Some critics have gone as far to call it the best MCU movie thus far and this has led to expectations for its opening being understandably sky-high.

How high are we talking? Civil War seems primed to have at least the fifth largest domestic debut of all time. To do so, it would need to top Iron Man 3 and its $174 million opening and $175M seems to be on the lower end of expectations. The current #4 record belongs to summer 2015’s first flick, Avengers: Age of Ultron, which made $191 million. #3 is the original Avengers at $207 million with last summer’s Jurassic World second at $208 million.

The only record I don’t see this competing for is the big daddy – Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which earned $247 million in December. I believe Civil War, with buzz hotter than Ultron, will manage have a larger start and I really wouldn’t be surprised if it does indeed top $200 million. I’m going to peg it at just below what 2012’s Avengers accomplished to make it the second largest MCU debut and fourth highest all-time opening.

Captain America: Civil War opening weekend prediction: $205.6 million