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And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.  John 15:13

Avengers: End Game (2019)

Directors:  Anthony and Joe Russo

Screenplay:  Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely

For the entire cast and crew, go here to IMDb.

As innumerable critics have noted, Avenger’s: End Gameis a rambling mess of sometimes conflicting imagery and colliding plot threads.  It does indeed begin to feel long after the first two hours (it’s three hours long), but the payoff is worth it.  Whatever its flaws, it continues to set new, and impressive, box office records at a time when more and more Americans are fleeing the painfully politically correct cinema.

I’ll not stick to my normal critical format in reviewing this movie, primarily because this is not, in any way, a normal movie.  I’ll also provide some spoilers, but I’ve waited more than a week since the initial release.  There are few sentient beings that have a desire to know what happens that don’t by now.

How does one resolve multiple plot lines, potentially ending the stories of characters viewers have come to love over the years, while fundamentally altering those threads for the future, or in some cases, killing characters, potentially forever?  The movie maintains trademark Marvel elements of humor, style, irony, self-deprecation, quirkiness, self-sacrifice, duty, honor, friendship, loyalty and heroism. That, ultimately, is why Americans see Marvel movies, to see our better selves, to see people willing to die for the mission, because it’s a good and necessary mission, and because some things are more important than the continuation of an individual life.  In these woke times, where too many mindlessly embrace totalitarian dictatorship, and abandon American Constitutionalism, we need that kind of emotional release, and thus far, Marvel has provided it.  It may not in the future. 

So.  The plot.  It all begins five years after Thanos has obliterated half the universe, including many of the Avengers.  Marvel characters have always had a tendency toward resurrection, but after this movie, perhaps not so much.  Ant Man, who was thought dead, suddenly shows up at the Avenger’s compound, to the amazement of Captain America and Black Widow, and suddenly, there’s hope they can travel in time and reverse the damage Thanos caused.

Tony Stark, of course, discovers not only how to travel in time, but how to pick and chose when and where, and most importantly, how to get back to the present.  Assisted by Bruce Banner, who has now fused with the Hulk and is a big, green amiable sort all the time, the Avengers whiz off on missions to find the individual Infinity Stones so they can snap their collective fingers and undo what Thanos has done.

Multiple time travel paradoxes fly fast and thick.  Trying to make scientific sense of what is going on is useless, but in true Marvel style, there are multiple wild rides, plenty of combat scenes, and above all, actual character development, which is usually put aside in favor of action and visual spectacle.

The movie is full of references to the movies that preceded it.  For example, Captain America gazes with longing at a photo of Peggy Carter in the cover of a compass he’s had since WWII.  If one had never seen Captain America: The First Avenger, all they’d be able to surmise is she was somehow important to him, or perhaps confusing to him, or perhaps only “what’s he holding and who is she?”  This doesn’t mean people who have seen none of the preceding movies can’t appreciate End Game, they’ll just be missing much of the context, and more particularly, the understanding of many of the emotional cues supported by the script and the music.

The production values are, as usual, state of the art. The final battle scene is one for the ages, or at least worthy of ending the various plot threads.  The combination of live actions and CGI inherent in that, and the entire movie, is outstanding.  We’ve come to be so accustomed to such things, we tend to lose our sense of wonder for the achievement.

Captain America/Chris Evans:  As always, he’s willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good, but this time, he gets to live, with Peggy Carter, the seventy years he lost, and returns, but won’t be back as Captain America—at least not as we know him—because…

Falcon/Anthony Mackie:   Cap gives him his shield, so it appears Captain America will gain a new plot line, and will be Black. Being Black is no problem–witness the success of Black Panther–but we still have no idea how that’s going to work, as Falcon is not an enhanced warrior like Steve Rogers.  In Captain America: The Winter Soldier  he got his rear end handed to him by a single Hydra thug.  Does he get Roger’s abilities?  Does he keep his wings?  Details, details.

Iron Man/Robert Downey Jr.:  A continuing plot line is Tony’s personal growth, from a brilliant, but selfish, irresponsible playboy, to a tormented, but more honorable adult, largely shamed/taught by example, by Steve Rogers.  Tony gets to resolve his issues with his father.  Tony finally understands that he has to give his life to save the universe, and with a snap of the fingers, does.  Viewers will appreciate his pre-snap comment. His death is one of the most emotional moments in a movie rife with them.  But Pepper Pots has her own suit of armor, and Tony now has a daughter, so perhaps Iron Man will become Iron Woman?

Captain Marvel/Brie Larson:  A new character with a new plot line, she’ll continue, but she gets a butch haircut.  Might she be going gay?  There was no additional character development for this character.

Black Widow/Scarlett Johansson:  She dies, nobly, saving not only Hawkeye, but making the restoration of the universe possible.  Marvel characters, as I’ve noted, tend to resurrect, but it looks like she’s gone gone.

Hulk/Mark Ruffalo:  Bruce Banner’s transformation into a Hulk-sized/powered version of Banner who gets Banner’s face and intellect, but all the Hulk’s physical attributes, apparently rendered the Black Widow/Banner romance impossible; there was no real hint of it in the movie, but Hulk/Banner live, and offer interesting possibilities for the future.

Thor/Chris Hemsworth:  He’s something of comic relief in this movie, a trick of dubious value begun in Thor: Ragnarok, but by the end of the movie, tells us he’s going to try to find himself.  Whatever that means, he’s available for the future.

The Avengers: Their headquarters is obliterated, and any new group is going to be substantially different.  Vision/Paul Bettany has no role in this movie, and since Captain America returned the Infinity Stones to where they’re supposed to be, and since one of those essentially powered Vision, he appears to be gone too.  But again, Marvel resurrection…

The rest of the cast is not dead, or otherwise precluded from future movies.  Most, in fact, lived pretty much happily ever after, particularly Hawkeye, who readers will recall did not figure in  Avengers: Infinity War.At the beginning of this movie, he, living happily in retirement, loses his entire family when Thanos snaps his fingers.  He gets them back; he gets himself back.

Much as been suggested in recent days about the path of future Marvel movies.  Conventional wisdom seems to suggest Marvel is going to become seriously woke.  That didn’t work out well for Marvel Comics, so it’s difficult to imagine why it will work for the movies, but this is Hollywood, so reason apparently need not apply.

credit: poster cat

Brie Larson, a stereotypically Leftist Hollywood lightweight, has recently complained about a supposed lack of diversity in Marvel movies.  There just aren’t enough heroes of color, of gender, of varies sexuality, etc. As is usual, the Left has turned on her—they always eat their own when they’re not sufficiently woke at the moment–demanding she step down to allow a Captain Marvel of color, perhaps trans, whatever, take her place.  How to satisfy these woke demands?  Keep Larson, but make her a sort of cosmic lesbian?  She is, after all, an immigrant—to the planet–so those two rungs on the woke ladder might counterbalance her being a blonde white girl.

The Marvel movies have been so successful, and Captain America, the leader of the Avengers, because he embodies the American spirit.  In these tiring times, Heinlein’s crazy times, normal Americans long for the American, practical, spiritual values that won WII and the Cold War, and that have held the world together since.  But these are not exclusively American values.

The best stories, myths if you will, encompass the archetypes that animate all epic literature: the journey, adventure, the trials and triumphs of the hero, and normal men and women, through strength of character and dogged determination overcoming impossible odds,  good defeating evil, honor, duty, loyalty, kindness, compassion, and love.  Above all else, Avengers: End Game is the triumph of love, as it must always triumph if humanity is to survive.

As strong as they are, as skilled as they are, every Avenger is mortal; as in Adam, all die.  Yet they, time and again, risk it all.  This time, some didn’t beat the odds, but their sacrifice can inspire us, and it reminds us that, as Charles DeGaulle said, the graveyards are full of indispensable men. Fortunately, Americans have always risen to the occasion when necessary.

Ultimately, the Marvel universe works because the philosophy underlying it is distinctly Christian/American, evolved from the Western tradition.  Even if those involved in production don’t fully understand or embrace Christian theology, and think America/Americans nothing special, they have been smart enough to embrace the ancient, self-sacrificing values of true heroism, or at least have an appreciation of the profits reaped by giving the deplorables what they want.

By threatening to prioritize Leftist ideology over story telling, by abandoning the timeless characteristics that have turned the Marvel franchise into arguably the most profitable in history, Marvel and Disney may well kill more than a few beloved characters.  The Left’s demands never end.  They are perpetually aggrieved and miserable.  How many “of color,” female, Muslim, immigrant, LGBTQWERTY, and whatever other temporarily useful victim group characteristics can one combine in one Marvel hero, or many Marvel heroes?  How many will the Left demand?  For how long? Normal Americans don’t mind a hero who happens to be gay, etc., but they find heroes, and people in general, who define themselves by such things, and who demand others praise them for those things rather than their character and accomplishments to be, at the least, tiresome.

There is a line Normal Americans will not cross, and Marvel appears tempted to cross it.

In the meantime, Avenger’s: End Game, considering its purpose as a transition point in the Marvel Universe, may well be as good a movie as one could make.  It’s full of emotional moments, but portrays them honestly, not via manipulation.  As a stand alone movie, people that have not seen all the preceding films may be a bit confused, or at the least, will lose a great deal of context, still, it’s worth seeing in the theater, and absolutely worth having on DVD.