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)

Spotlight Movie Review

“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.”

This line best encapsulates the theme of Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight, which matter of factly tells the riveting true story of the Boston Globe’s slow uncovering of the Catholic Church priest sex abuse scandal. It also tells a small town coverup tale and that “small town” is Boston, where some of the reporters run in the same circles of the church hierarchy and people who protect them.

Spotlight refers to a four person investigative reporting team at the Globe led by Robby (Michael Keaton). The rest of the gang is played by Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Brian d’Arcy James. They are worried about their ability to take their time on stories and do things their way when new editor Marty (Liev Schrieber) is brought in from Miami. Their fear is confirmed not in the way they expect – Marty wants them to delve even deeper into their stories and he doesn’t fret about hometown repercussions. And the story he wants them to spotlight is allegations of priests molesting children over many decades and the victims who are living with their past experiences.

The reporters soon eventually uncover a plot with a scope previously unimaginable. Like that line of dialogue spoken by Stanley Tucci’s dedicated and overwhelmed attorney character, many in Boston’s village knew what was occurring. Yet few of them felt it was their responsibility to blow the whistle. Those who did often found it fell on deaf ears. This extends to the Globe as some of their personnel saw traces of the horror to be revealed later. McCarthy’s film admiringly recounts the process that journalists go through to uncover the story, but it doesn’t totally absolve some of them for their failure to act sooner. In fact, some of the principals on the other side involved wonder what took them so long.

Spotlight is filled with a sterling cast with superb performances down the line. It’s led by Keaton’s hometown boy who seems to know everyone and wants to do the right thing. Schrieber impresses in his role as the outsider who isn’t interested in a one day article. He and the team from Spotlight soon find their story is widespread and terrifying. It drives the point home that in these circumstances, often it’s assumed that someone else will say something and soon it’s a village of people not doing so or not listening. Spotlight expertly tells us how these reporters got to the point where silence was no longer acceptable and the noise you’ll hear at the end of this story will feel like powerful vindication.

***1/2 (out of four)

Spotlight Box Office Prediction

One box office story that hasn’t been covered much for this weekend is the expansion of Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight, which is steeped in major Oscar buzz. The true story of Boston Globe reporters breaking the Catholic Church priest abuse stories, the pic has received raves from critics (93% on Rotten Tomatoes) and seems a shoo in for a Best Picture nomination (it may win).

With a strong ensemble cast that includes Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schrieber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci, and Billy Crudup, Spotlight expands to 598 screens this weekend. That’s not near the number of theaters of its competitors, but this should have the highest per screen average of any film not featuring Jennifer Lawrence and a bow and arrow.

While it probably won’t reach the top five, this should top $4 million in its expansion and settle in for a healthy run during Academy season.

Spotlight opening weekend prediction: $4.7 million

Oscar Watch: Spotlight

We arrive at yet another entry into the Academy Awards derby from the Venice and Telluride Film Festivals (a theme on the blog this weekend) and it’s Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight. The pic is a journalistic expose on the Catholic Church sex scandals from a few years ago and centers on the Boston Globe reporters who broke the story. After its festival rollout, some critics have compared it to All the President’s Men. High praise indeed.

Spotlight boasts a truly impressive ensemble that includes Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci and Liev Schreiber. Early reviews suggest it could be a contender in Best Picture, though I didn’t include it in my initial round of predictions from yesterday. It’s certainly one to keep an eye on though when it debuts November 6. It also doesn’t hurt that director McCarthy is well liked in the critical community with indie darlings like The Station Agent and The Visitor to his credit.

As for acting races, most write ups have focused on Michael Keaton and it’s certainly possible he could find himself as a player in Supporting Actor. This may hold especially true considering he had a remarkable comeback role in last year’s Picture winner Birdman. He was nominated for Best Actor, but lost out to Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything. The other performers are unlikely to receive much attention.

Once again, as with Steve Jobs and The Danish Girl and Beasts of No Nation, the festival circuit has shined Oscar attention on another picture. As of this weekend, it’s Spotlight.