Thursday, May 9, 2019

“Avengers…” *Spoilers* Layer 1

There’s really no way to talk about this film without spoiling it. (Click here for last week’s post for an attempt)

Much like everyone else who has seen it, after the emotional strain has subsided, I really need to talk about it.  Therefore, after this final warning, the Avengers: Endgame spoilers will start flying.

To avoid confusion, and because it's silly, I shall refer to the Thanos that was victorious in Infinity War as "Thanos Mark 1."

As a comic book fan, and father of a daughter, I might as well start with the one really big complaint I had about this movie.

Black Widow’s death.

Oddly, in and of itself, it worked. It fit her story arc, it fit her character development and it fit her goal of “clearing the red from her ledger.” Sacrificing herself to save the universe, and more importantly to save her new family, and her closest friend who redeemed her aligned correctly with everything we’ve seen.

However, outside of Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson is the actor with the longest history of being a super hero in the Marvel Universe.  She first appeared in Iron Man 2 and was established before Rhodey got the War Machine armor.  The Edward Norton Incredible Hulk came out first, but with the switch to Ruffalo she holds that spot.

Aside question: am I the only one who pictures a big green Art Carney every time I see “Ed Norton Hulk?” 
“You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry, Ralphie boy…hey-ey-ey-ey!”

As the only female member of the original Avengers, there is NO WAY she should have been left out of that final battle, especially with it featuring that astounding assembly of all the women superheroes she paved the way for.

But this is a meta-complaint, it’s wrong for non-story related reasons.

And honestly, being dead in comics is one of the slightest inconveniences:

“As current chair, I Wonder Woman call this Justice League meeting to order. 
Where is everyone? Superman have you seen The Atom?”
“Shrunk and trapped in another dimension.”
“Oh he’ll be gone a while, how about Batman?”
“Broken spine.”
“We’ll see him in a couple months after mystic healing then.  Flash?”
“The Rogues cut him off from the speed force, he’s completely powerless.”
“He’ll be OK in a few weeks.  Green Lantern?
“Caught the flu after a late night party at the bar outside the base.”
“Oh let him rest. What about Hawkman?”
“He died.”
“What!!  AGAIN!!  He has monitor duty tonight, tell him to hurry up and get back here!”

In story, Natasha’s character arc worked as designed.  Her self-sacrifice allowed the completion of the total victory over “Thanos Mark 1” after a stint as team leader and succeeding at it for her whole “family.” If her solo origin film does well in a couple of years, I'm sure she’ll be back in time for the A-Force movie that that all Super-Woman charge should inspire.     

The reason for her sacrifice being tied to the reversal of the loss against “Thanos Mark 1” was the story was told in layers.  The general focus of Endgame was the original movie Avengers, but the specific focus was on the Big Three of characters whose three individual movies each have created the most of this universe. They’re also the traditional Big Three of the Avengers in comics, Iron Man, Thor and Captain America.  

Overall the movie was a phenomenal call back filled capstone to the Infinity Stones / Avengers Age of Marvel films, where each layer was represented.

Captain Marvel was part of the indication of the future of the franchise, which was also a feature of all the returning heroes in the final battle.  She was used in ways to show her unprecedented power levels without detracting from the spotlight on the original Avengers.  Why wasn't she around during various crises?  The same reason Superman doesn’t swoop into Gotham every time some nut in themed pajamas robs a museum.  They trust the heroes already protecting that place.  (Note: That picture has nothing to do with the movie, but my daughter got a letter printed in issue four of that current run of Captain Marvel and I'm thunderously proud!)

Also, showing Younger n Crazier Thanos being smart and skilled enough to pull out the Power Stone to stop her and slam her into a mountain mid fight, and his handling of everyone else he fought in that end battle showed that we can’t hang his win on Star Lord’s freak out in Infinity War. Even if they got the gauntlet off, no one there had the strength to use it, and Thanos’s combat ability without it in Endgame showed he would have gotten it back rather easily.

Much of the “future tier” such as Wanda, Spidey, T’challa and so forth had their big showings in the last film, with “curtain calls” in the final battle of Endgame as a nod towards things to come.  But the set up for that battle, and the key points of it, were connected to the core Avengers.

Other characters that had a larger presence in this ending chapter were needed for plot reasons. 

That is:  Rocket- for familiarity with space travel and tech, Nebula for the connection to Thanos and Gamora, Scott for quantum tech (and for being missing in the last film, but wasn't his valued role an outstanding affirmation that the silly parts of the Marvel Universe are important too?).  Even Carol’s primary role was to find and rescue Tony and Nebula.  

War Machine is a special exemption, because the character crosses over with being Big Three supporting cast and he has been there since the start of the franchise.

There was a fan desire for the Hulk to return and lay a major trouncing on Thanos.  That would be fine for a Hulk centered ongoing serialized fiction, as the comic books are.  However, much like the Nolan Batman trilogy, these films are working under the guise of finite (yet still interconnected) storytelling.  A green fisted knuckle sandwich wouldn’t follow the character arc they’ve been showing us for Bruce, nor would becoming a Worldbreaker rage monster be a satisfying conclusion to his story.   Basically, it wouldn’t be a conclusion, as it’s similar to the ending of Age of Ultron, it would be another stage of the sequential art.

Bruce’s story throughout the MCU adventures has been the battle between his personalities, reaching a head in Ragnarok where Hulk took control and Bruce finally accepted he needed him in times of trouble afterwards.  This was paid off in Infinity War, where Hulk refused to come out to be used only in battle.  Both sides of his personality felt underappreciated and incomplete.

Endgame showed the conclusion of the arc with both of them reaching acceptance that they are the same person in the formation of the "Professor Hulk."  While I’m not as interested in that character in the comics, it's a fantastic ending to the arc for Doctor Banner they’ve been setting up.  Not only is he a combination of powerful, smart and beloved, he is also the only one who could end the “layer” of the conflict represented by “Thanos Mark I's” victory in Infinity War.  Without the blend of the Hulk’s toughness and Banner’s intellect, there would have been no one to undo Thanos’s snap.  Reversing his universe changing plan is a much greater victory against the reality shattering villain than pummeling him would have been.  We saw that type of “victory” in the opening of the film, and while “Thanos Mark 1” died, it was incredibly hollow, did not help any of the heroes move on, and also didn’t reverse anything.

Another aside:  Watching Professor Hulk try to imitate Savage Hulk during the Battle of New York was one of the best laughs of the film.  It was further evidence that motion capture truly is a projection of acting abilities and not a special effect.

Bruce’s triumph was subtle and subdued, but critical.  The film showed Tony Stark, arguably the smartest and strongest willed of all the heroes, unable to survive the after effect of a snap that “only” destroyed one space army.  The Hulk returned half the universe to existence…that’s trillions of lives. Directly afterwards, he was still strong enough to hold up a mountain, Secret Wars like to save his friends. (Woo! says the old geek who started collecting Marvel seriously in the mid-Eighties.)

Using the power of the Hulk to create and protect on a scale that no other hero could accomplish rather than destroy is the perfect success moment for the character’s arc as it has been established in the films.  That is the moment that ends the layer of the film that initiated with the previous movie.  The epic final conflict is more about ending this entire eleven year arc of the franchise.

But first, there’s the remaining original, non-top tier hero. Hawkeye’s movie version is all about the dichotomy between being a family man, and a being a super-secret assassin of villains.  The loss of that family drove him all the way to the other side.  Clint as Ronin, tearing through the remains of Earth’s underworld, showed why his insane skill levels made him physically worthy of being an Avenger all this time.  His interactions with his family, his willingness to dive whole heartedly into the “Time Heist” testing and execution, and his mentoring of newer Avengers shows why he’s even more mentally and emotionally worthy of the spot on the team.  Lastly, his connections to Natasha were a key part of both of their overall journey. I hope we see more of them together in her origin film in 2020.

I'm sure he’ll be excellent in passing the torch to Kate Bishop on the proposed TV series.  Dang, I'm really going to have to get that Disney Streaming service aren’t I?

However, before we get to the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we need to look at the three tent poles of that franchise, who brought us to this Endgame.

And even before that, we need to address the Marvel Method of Time Travel if anything I say next week is going to make sense.  The film, through the Hulk and the Ancient One, explained it perfectly. This is exactly how time travel works in Marvel comics. You can’t change your own present by travelling to the past; you can only generate an alternate timeline.  However, the other big thing about the Marvel alternate pasts and futures (not mentioned in the film) is that characters show up from them all the time and hang around in the “real” present, often in swarms.
They didn’t have to explain that because they showed it directly with Gamora. The 2014 version is running around in “now” Marvel Cinematic Universe time, ready for her close up in Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3. 

The Avengers created several alternate streams in the “time heist” whether or not Cap returns all the stones and Mjolnir properly.  Including Gamora, there’s an extra Loki running around with a Tesseract in 2012, there’s a 2014 with a missing Younger n Crazier Thanos, and there’s a 1940's with Captain America alive and dancing.

It is something to think about the next time a writer or director says a character’s death is “irreversible.” There are an infinite number of other versions that look just like them, and an equal number who might look different.  All it would take is some new and creative writers and directors... and possibly a school bus full of cash.

Speaking of which, (actors who got school buses full of cash that is) come back next week for the spoilerific farewell to the big three.

Thanx for the ride, gang!

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