They say that part of the journey is the end. And so, here we are folks. Eleven years in the making. Twenty-one films in the lead-up. And half a universe to save. Honestly, there are plenty of ways one can describe the epic concluding chapter that is Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame (2019). Astonishing. Heart-breaking. Mind-boggling. Emotional. A masterful moment in cinematic history. All of these are true. And yet none of them feel quite right. Because for fans of the series – the ones who cheered with glee as Tony Stark announced he was Iron Man back in 2008, and who felt their hearts sink as Steve Rogers dropped his shield almost a decade later – there aren’t really words to sum up a film like this. I mean, what do you say about a movie that is the perfect end to an era? So, sitting down to write this review, it’s hard not to feel a little like I’m delivering a eulogy at a close friend’s funeral (and don’t kid yourselves here people, you better prepare for this film like it is one). Because like most of us tasked with the impossible job of compiling something so grand into nothing more than a few snapshots and anecdotes, I’ll always be left wondering whether it will be enough. Or if there’s simply no way to describe how a series of fictional characters can become our family, and their story, ultimately, break our hearts.
It must be said, therefore, that there’s no playing by the rules when it comes to this critique. Those expecting a juicy, spoiler-filled breakdown will be sorely disappointed. You see, part of what makes Avengers: Endgame (2019) so powerful and moving, is going into it as blind as possible. Directing duo, Joe and Anthony Russo, have worked painstakingly hard to achieve this – releasing notes calling on fans not to ruin it for others and composing the trend-worthy hashtag #dontspoiltheendgame to nail the point home. But perhaps the biggest argument comes from the studio itself, with the behemoth having ensured that ninety per cent of the footage used in the marketing material and trailers is from just the first half-hour of the film. They want the surprises to fall thick and fast. And they want it to hurt when they do. So, all you can do is buckle in for the ride and try and stay content in the knowledge that it will be worth it in the end. Three-thousand times over.
Not that it will be a short trip, mind you, with the final cut of the film coming in at just over three hours. It’s a doozy, for sure, but one that manages to pace itself rather well. Unlike its predecessor – Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – this picture works off the theory of thirds, with the first hour delving into the aftermath of the decimation and the toll it takes on those left behind, the second focusing on formulating a plan to reverse it, and the last, and arguably best portion, seeing the team enact their strategy in one final blockbuster brawl. Unsurprisingly, time travel plays a significant role in this master design. However, its best not to look to deeply at it, lest you unravel the many plot-holes that abound. Simply enjoy it for the plot device it is, and the hilarious Back To The Future (1985) references it inspires.
Character-wise, there’s no denying this is the original six’s story, and it’s wonderfully fitting to see them finally come full-circle. Hawkeye, who has been MIA since Captain America: Civil War (2016), is at last given his dues as an integral member of the team, while his secret-spy counterpart and best-friend Black Widow is on top form, crushing fans hearts in even her smallest, peanut-butter-sandwich-eating moments. In contrast, Bruce Banner manages to somewhat reconcile his dual personality, as Thor (and his new look) delightfully settles into his niche as the comic relief. But who would the Avengers be without their leader, Captain America, and their founding father, Iron Man? So, if it’s anyone’s film, it’s theirs. The two play wonderfully off each other, as they have in every other outing, bringing truckloads of heart, humour and humanity to the piece. Sure, it’s a delight to see Captain Marvel in full heroic swing, and Ant-Man laying down quips left, right and centre. But you’ll never quite get another dynamic, like these six have shared, again.
As for the spectacle of the film, it’s hard to knock it, especially as the rousing final act begins. But there’s nothing really new about explosions and battles, regardless of their scale and ferocity. The true mark of Avengers: Endgame (2019) therefore is in reminding us that a hero isn’t made by defeating bad-guys, but from being willing to lose everything in the process. Captain America can say he can ‘do this all day’, but if he really did, there’d never be any stakes to fight for, right? And Iron Man can be a genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, but what use are all those titles if he doesn’t do something good with them? Aren’t all heroes, somewhat human? And isn’t that the thing that connects them to us? The reason we keep coming back, time and time again? Not the action. And not the spectacle. Even if it the latter includes the most badass scene of women running into a blazing field to support each other, that’s ever been put to camera.
So, how do you do a film like this justice then? Pay dutiful homage to the hundreds of moving parts that went into it, while simultaneously safeguarding a ‘spoiler free’ experience for others? Honestly, no reviewer will. Because, quite simply, Avengers: Endgame (2019) is more than just a bunch of actors reciting lines as CGI battles blast across screens. It is an event. An experience. A feeling. One that rises from deep within and makes you wonder how you’ve never seen it before. All the eloquence in the world can’t explain that. It can’t describe why when we talk of the film’s fallen character’s we’ll call them our brothers in arms. Or why when we speak of its villain, he will be our mutual enemy. It can’t explain why the blood, sweat and tears that were poured into this franchise don’t seem to just belong to the cast and crew. And why the years of anticipation weren’t simply designed to bring in billions at the box office. It’s the long-goodbye you wish you didn’t have to say. But are so damn happy you got.
Rating: 6 Original Avengers out of 6
Movies based on books are nothing new. Neither are teen romances. Or stories about the fragility of life. Even after rolling all three categories into one, at least a dozen recent titles still spring to mind. So, going into Five Feet Apart (2019), the latest addition to this ever-growing subgenre, it’s easy to wonder what else it could possibly offer. Unfortunately, aside from a quirky hook about its leads being unable to get close enough to touch each other, the answer is, quite frankly, not that much. Sure, there’s sparks of humour here and there. And a decidedly heart-wrenching finale. But it is incredibly frustrating to see the film’s key takeaway, of humanising a genetic condition that affects more than 70,000 people worldwide, come through in little more than sparse moments interspersed between a clunky start and a rushed, soap-opera style third act.
In saying that, those looking for a stock standard teenage romance, full of pretty protagonists and just enough hints at a terrible tragedy ready to befall them, will find Five Feet Apart (2019) a figurative goldmine. The story follows young cystic fibrosis sufferer Stella Grant as she navigates both her disease and a newfound friendship with fellow CF patient Will Newman. Because of their sickness, the pair must always stay six feet apart, lest they inadvertently share their bacteria and infect one another. But despite the fact that Will is infected with B. cepacia, a drug-resistant strain that, should it be transferred to Stella, could risk her chance at any potential lung transplants, the pair soon fall for each other. Because what sort of movie would it be if everyone played by the rules, right? So, the pair bond over medicine-taking techniques, gym sessions and late-night swims, with Stella eventually deciding the only way for her to take back some control and any chance at connection, is to steal back as many inches between them as she can. But when every moment is borrowed time, it’s not long before the couple are made to question whether a relationship built to fail can survive in the long run.
As far as the acting goes, Haley Lu Richardson and Cole Sprouse do their best to bring warmth and authenticity to their characters. And for the most part they seem to cultivate a genuine connection. But despite such efforts, it is hard to read Stella and Will as anything other than stuck, running down the clock on an ending most audience members can see a mile off. It’s not all doom and gloom though, with some of the film’s more touching moments coming across in the depiction of regular CF life – such Stella’s blogging and room decorating – which not only raise awareness of the titular disease but also emphasize the loneliness it begets. Rarely do deliveries of such medical issues remain thoughtful rather than sanctimonious. Similarly, an understated performance from former Hannah Montana (2006) star Moises Arias as Stella’s best-bud Poe helps ground things, especially as the music montages kick in.
A glossy young adult production, realism is the true detractor for Five Feet Apart (2019). For example, while we are given the opportunity to meet Will and Stella’s parents (albeit briefly and not by name), there’s never any significant inclination into how they, or for that matter the doctors and nurses too, cope with the children’s sicknesses. Where are all the visitors coming to see them? The forms needing to be filled in? Or the hospital-run programs providing them with something productive to do during their stay, like homework? No, instead, the teens are apparently given free reign through-out the hospital, jetting about on skateboards, hosting frivolous dinners in the back rooms of the cafeteria, and literally walking around on the roof’s edge. Then again, it’s hard to expect anything better from scriptwriters who somehow think regular teen talk includes profound and poetic dialogue, along with plenty of ‘staring into the distance’ moments.
Now, there’s been a lot of talk about the film’s use of Cystic Fibrosis as little more than a plot point. And while I can’t say it’s not true, it’s hard to argue that this is something new for Hollywood. How many times have we seen cancer trotted out in the same vein to bring two stricken teens together a la The Fault In Our Stars (2014), Now Is Good (2012) and My Sister’s Keeper (2009). But unlike the pictures that have come before it, there is a danger that lurks below the surface of Five Feet Apart (2019). Because any patient with CF knows that pushing the boundaries and ‘stealing back just a few inches’ can be deadly. So yes, we must agree that, at best, it’s romanticising of this idea seems inherently wrong, and at worst, it might even present perilous consequences. But then again, treating movies like documentaries doesn’t do anyone any good. Otherwise you could claim there’s risk in showing anything on screen.
Above all else, Five Feet Apart (2019) is a portrait in intimacy between two people who can’t touch. And as intriguing as that concept sounds, it’s also infuriating. Because as much as you want to sit there and say that there is nothing romantic in stealing someone’s future away from them, the fact still remains that you can’t choose who you love. Is this a new concept? Not really. But an exciting one to explore? Sure. The true deciding vote though lies in whether such a picture is worthy enough to dedicate two hours of your life too. And for us, as formulaic and annoying as it is, it is still somewhat of a breathe of fresh air.
Rating: 3 Lungs out of 5
As soon as the MCU’s famed opening banner hits the screen, it’s easy to tell that Captain Marvel (2019) is an important film. It would be naive to say this feeling comes simply from the movie being the megalith’s first female-led flick. Or because its protagonist is widely considered to be the billion-dollar franchise’s most powerful character. No, it’s more than that. Because despite the labels, expectations and agendas at play behind the scenes here, there’s one thing Marvel couldn’t predict about this blockbuster. And that is the legacy this picture upholds, innately though that may be, as the studio’s first film shown following the passing of comic-book creator Stan Lee. It is important because of all the features that could have found themselves in this position, it wound up being this one. A movie about a young woman who gets knocked down, time and time again, and refuses to give up. A woman who’s resolve is to go higher, further and faster. A woman who represents exactly what Mr Lee’s motto Excelsior means – upward and onward to greater glory.
That being said, a lot of what Captain Marvel (2019) delivers isn’t exactly original. Plot-wise we have a soldier sacrificing themselves. An underdog obtaining special powers. A superhero losing their memory. And a classic good-guy, bad-guy twist dominating the entirety of act three. Repetition is an unfortunate by-product of comic books (Carol Danvers has been appearing in issues since the 1960s, after all) but that doesn’t mean cinemagoers are willing to accept the same thing. I mean, there’s a reason Rotten Tomatoes makes it’s living off what’s considered “fresh”. Furthermore, it’s hard to get past the fact that the entire first half of the film meanders through unnecessary exposition and chase scenes, all-the-while stumbling over what little humour it does bother delivering. However, when the movie finally does takes off in part three, boy does it fly. There’s explosions and quick-witted quips aplenty, giving the filmmakers some sort of attempt at redemption before the credits roll. And in a praise-worthy move that is rarely seen in blockbuster’s these days, there’s no love story being shoved down audiences’ throats. Not even a hint of one.
It also needs to be noted that while Marvel are great at taking chances with their properties and filmmakers, such as with Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Thor: Ragnarok (2017), it is painful to see them turn down an opportunity to make this – such a prominent piece in their portfolio – less than the kick-ass, all-female-driven production it could have been. Yes, the writer’s team is largely made up of women. And yes, Anna Boden is one half of the team in the director’s chair. But part of what made DC’s first female film, Wonder Woman (2017), so exquisitely good was that it was helmed solely by Patty Jenkins. There’s power in a decision like that, whether you admit it or not. And, perhaps if Marvel had stuck with a single director their latest offering would have wound up less disjointed too, with everything from its humour to its timing always coming across just a little off. Because while its script may be dotted with Easter eggs for the fans, there’s little fun to be had from it.
As for the casting, Brie Larson’s selection has been a contentious one ever since the early days of production, with concerns she lacks the emotional depth needed to make Danvers superhero sympathetic. And despite her Academy Award-winning talent it’s a fair assessment, with the actress struggling throughout the film’s first hour before finally finding her footing just the curtain’s about to fall. It’s telling, though, that Marvel don’t seem too concerned about her ability to carry the Avengers films moving forward, with the studio going so far as to provide their own tongue-in-cheek reference to those who asked why she was “not smiling” enough, in a sardonic moment at around the thirty-minute mark. As for the others, Samuel L. Jackson gives a dynamic performance as a young Nick Fury, but after nine appearances in the role you’d expect nothing less. And Ben Mendelsohn is equally as fantastic in his part as antagonist Talos, providing one of the best additions to the series in years. There’s great humanity and humour to be found under his colossal make-up and costuming. As far as scene-stealer’s go though, there’s no passing Goose, a cat whose powers extend well-beyond simply being the cutest of the cast members.
The retro-stylings of the film are something critics have also been hotly debating and interestingly on this issue it’s harder to come down on one side or the other. Marvel pitched the movie as a nineties-centric piece and it’s certainly that, with pointed references to the horrendously slow systems of Windows 95 computers and the dead artform that was VHS. But it almost feels like we’re always on the periphery of what that era was. There’s dribs-and-drabs of pop culture littered throughout, from mentions of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990) to classic grunge fashion (leather and plaid anyone…) But there’s not a lot of emphasis on other, bigger issues, like woman taking their first-steps forward in male-centric fields. And don’t even get me started on the lack of slang from that time (where’s the hey dude’s and the that’s so fly’s?) Fans can take solace in the musical choices, however, because there’s plenty of top nineties tracks to go around. Nirvana’s Come As You Are makes its mark, as does a well-timed dose of Just A Girl from No Doubt.
While it may be a boring production for the first 60 minutes and a busy one for the second, it would be amiss to label Captain Marvel (2019) flat or a failure. It’s simply a superhero film that is a little off kilter. Unlike the origin flicks that have come before, the filmmakers are beginning to be wary of showing us all the insecurities and personal problems of our protagonists, less they give away too much for future instalments. And while we would love to know more about why Carol hated her father or what the full extent of her powers are, this is not and never was going to be the film for those questions. Instead, this picture is the one designed to tell girls to believe in themselves. To remind them it’s okay to stop looking for approval. To push themselves onwards and upwards to greater glory, regardless of the damn naysayers. And we think Stan would be proud.
Rating: 3.5 Gooses out of 5
Glass Review - M. Night Shyamalan shatters his superhero universe by trying to bring out the good in all of us
There’s no arguing that superhero films are practically a dime-a-dozen these days. Whether it be the ever-increasing instalments from the sweeping Marvel Cinematic universe, DC’s attempts to forge-ahead with their own dramatically dark cosmos, or Fox’s sometimes lacklustre yet sometimes hilarious offerings. We certainly aren’t short of flicks that tread the same, familiar ground of awesome action sequences and climactic CGI battles. But every now and then though we get an offering like Glass (2019). A film that delves a little deeper into the genre. Behind the lens of good versus evil and right versus wrong. A movie that questions how the genre itself came to be born. And one that asks us to consider whether we’re all heroes, albeit in our own stories.
The conclusion of a trilogy that began with Unbreakable (2000) and was tenuously held together by Split (2016), M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass (2019) picks up right where its predecessor left off – with Kevin Wendell Crumb and his personalities, including The Beast – on the run. This time four young girls have gone missing, and it’s up to David Dunn, aided by his now grown-up son Joseph, to save the day - the former guard having thrown off the reluctance of his younger years and turned full-blown vigilante. After a showdown in an old factory the pair wind-up in a psychiatric facility, where the mysterious Doctor Ellie Staple tries to convince them, as well as fellow patient Elijah Price, that their ‘powers’ are no more than easily-explained trauma, illness or delusion. But this is Shyamalan, so expect things to get weird and twisty before the credits start rolling.
To a degree the movie is somewhat worthy of the praise enamoured fans have been bestowing upon it. However, it is clearly not without its flaws. For starters it tends to drag. While the first and last quarters of the film gallop along in a wave of adrenaline and tension, popping between personalities in the fun and chaotic way Split (2016) did, the entire middle section seems to pay unnecessary homage to the stylings of Unbreakable (2000). There are never-ending long, pensive looks from Bruce Willis, piles of pointless dialogue telling us things we can clearly already see, and too much time spent keeping the character’s separated instead of using the incredible talents of its A-list ensemble. Honestly, if Shyamalan’s point was to make us, the audience, feel like we too were trapped in the psych ward, then he certainly made it. Because after spending more than two-hours waiting for a goddamn pay-off, by the time it comes around we’re too tired to really care.
Stylistically it’s a knock-out though. We’re back to the straightforward yet stylish colour co-ordination of characters. Green for David Dunn’s Overseer, yellow for The Beast and purple for Mr Glass. Even the homes, workplaces and supporting characters imbue the same tones throughout, emphasising that everything, through to the finest of details, has been carefully considered and planned. Similarly, unlike Marvel and DC’s offerings, when the heroes and villains flex and fight here, it’s impossible to tell which moments are CGI and which are simple practical effects. It’s seamless and points to why, even after so many flops, Shyamalan is still going strong. After all, this is a man who managed to convince two of the biggest competing studios in Hollywood – Disney and Universal – to bring their separate properties of Unbreakable (2000) and Split (2000) together.
The glue that holds the film together though isn’t Shyamalan, but rather the impressive and outstanding work of James McAvoy. Pushing the boundaries even further on his Dissociative Identity Disorder character of Kevin Wendell Crumb, the Scot presents us with 20 different personalities this time round, each with distinct voices, movements, facial expressions and backstories. It would be a lot for any actor, but he pulls it off with aplomb, providing majority of the film’s light-hearted, tension-breaking moments. He is backed by a solid cast too, including veterans Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson. While the former is his same surly self, the latter is disappointingly utilised, barely uttering a line or a facial twitch for first half the film. What is nice though, is to see the return of three prominent supporting characters and how their relationships have evolved in respect to the ‘main three’. Spencer Treat Clark’s Joseph has developed an endearing and often times comedic connection with his father, while Charlayne Woodard still brings the same sympathy and strength to Elijah’s mother. Anya Taylor Joy too brings much needed emotion in connecting with The Beast. The only one to truly falter is Sarah Paulson’s doctor, thanks to a limited backstory and mountains of meandering dialogue.
So, is Glass (2019) a great film? No. Not by a long shot. Frankly, it feels somewhat akin to the literal train wreck that opened the trilogy. But, just like that moment, it is also hard to look away. Because we want answers. We want twists. And we want to hope that superhero movies can be thought-provoking pieces as well as CGI smash-ups. And while Glass (2019) probably isn’t the one to provide it, if the closing moments are anything to go by though, it certainly sets to the scene for such future endeavours. Because sometimes the villain is good. Sometimes the monster is a protector. And sometimes the hero is the inspiration for someone to believe in themselves.
Rating: 2.5 Head Tilts out of 5
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