In 2014’s “Godzilla,” scientist Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) acknowledged out loud what most of the film’s audience had gathered to see in the reboot of the legendary monster: “Let them fight.” Five years later, “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” delivers on the promise of epic fights among its titular kaiju and his famous foes.
The thrilling third film in Legendary and Warner Bros.’ MonsterVerse, released two years after the excellent “Kong: Skull Island,” roars to life in a spectacular feast for the senses. The popcorn flick abandons the serious tone of its 2014 predecessor and embraces the campiness of the classic Godzilla films. But as fun as it is, “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” prioritizes its kaiju battles ahead of its convoluted story and thinly drawn human characters.
The destruction of San Francisco in “Godzilla” awakened the world to the existence of giant mythological beasts, called Titans. Keeping track of them is the crypto-zoological organization Monarch, including Dr. Emma Russell, a scientist who has developed a device to communicate with the monsters. When terrorists kidnap Emma and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) for the invention, Monarch pulls Emma’s estranged husband and grieving scientist Mark (Kyle Chandler) back into the fray.
As the terrorists use the invention to wake up more Titans, the magnificent monsters look to reclaim their rule over the Earth. One thing can stand in their way: Godzilla, who last protected the planet five years ago. The King of Monsters must face off against Mothra, a psychic moth; Rodan, a flying prehistoric reptile; and King Ghidorah, a three-headed dragon and Godzilla’s ultimate nemesis. As the Titans forge a path of destruction, Monarch and Godzilla must work together to save the world from total decimation.
“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” is a response to the biggest criticism of its predecessor: There wasn’t enough Godzilla. Gareth Edwards’ 2014 effort teased the appearance of the radioactive monster for most of the film before unleashing him in the final act. Under director Michael Dougherty, “King of the Monsters” doesn’t keep audiences waiting for the main attraction.
Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah go head-to-head in their gigantic glory in plenty of face-offs throughout the film. The triumphant action jumps around the world, from a Mexican village to an underwater city to the fiery finale in Fenway Park in Boston.
The film looks breathtaking, with awe-inspiring special effects and masterful cinematography. Scenes are bathed in blue, yellow and orange as Godzilla lets loose his atomic breath, Mothra raises her enormous wings and King Ghidorah rains down fire. The film even incorporates traditional musical cues for the monsters and clever nods to their lore, which franchise fans will appreciate.
While “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” thrives on its monster vs. monster action, its tangled plot needs a chart to keep track of it. The story gets messy as the movie needs a reason to move around the action. Some character motivations are questionable, and one character’s logic is full of holes. The film favors its monsters over its characters, who are underdeveloped.
Still, the likable cast delivers solid performances. The terrific Watanabe, who along with Sally Hawkins returns from the 2014 film, elicits the most emotional moment in the movie. Chandler, Farmiga and Brown capably convey the dynamic of a broken family still reeling from tragedy, even if the script doesn’t give them a lot to work with. As a Monarch employee, Bradley Whitford revels in the film’s campiness, spouting his lines with glee.
Let them fight, and fight they do. “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” satisfies moviegoers’ itch for kaiju battles, though at the cost of a muddled story. Despite its flaws, the latest film in the MonserVerse succeeds in setting the stage for the franchise’s next monster match-up, “Godzilla vs. Kong.”
3.5 out of 5 stars
In 2014, Warner Bros. released a Godzilla reboot, which split audiences. Many believed the film teased Godzilla too much, saving him for the end battle. The film worked with its “Jaws” approach, but watching the trailer for “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” it was clear the franchise would cater to its fans who criticized the 2014 movie. More monsters, more action and more screen time for its title character.
Things go wrong for Warner Bros. when it tries to course correct after fan criticism. That’s how it ended up with movies like “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “Suicide Squad” and “Justice League.”
“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” worked to increase its entertainment value, but it should have learned from “Game of Thrones.” The visuals may look cool, but when the script lacks the movie or show fails. With an aggressively bad script, “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” was dead on arrival.
The sequel throws two handfuls of strong actors Into the film, including Millie Bobby Brown, Vera Farmiga, Kyle Chandler, Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins, Bradley Whitford, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Charles Dance and Thomas Middleditch, only to give them nothing to work with. The dialogue brought on eye rolls, character motivations proved baffling and the predictable plot failed to hold the audience’s interest. Nobody acts well because how can they with such an embarrassing script?
“Godzilla” (2014) wasn’t known for its great human characters and the plot wasn’t anything elaborate. It was the weakest part of the film, especially when it underutilized its best actor, Bryan Cranston. But it also knew the audience needed a few central figures to follow throughout the film before giving way to the spectacle of the climax. With all those additions to the cast and new characters, it was difficult to care about anybody.
“Godzilla” (2014) also had a number of phenomenal set pieces, such as the HALO jump, Godzilla’s tail smash, Godzilla’s roar, Godzilla’s first use of his atomic breath and especially the last use of his atomic breath. “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” lacked creativity when it came to the action sequences. It’s difficult to recall more than two good set pieces. Godzilla just had more atomic breath this time around.
The sequel did have breathtaking visuals and a nice callback to a few classic Godzilla themes that do their very best to try to save this film. Mothra’s character design is stunning. That effort also should have gone into other parts of the film.
Once again, Warner Bros. failed when it tried to cater to its fans instead of remaining confident in its product. It dumbed down its material to please the moviegoer who will simply complain more about this film. “Godzilla” (2014) is a good movie weighed down by unnecessary criticism. The studio fell into the trap just like it did with “Man of Steel” in 2013. Warner Bros. needs to stop taking criticism so personally and just make good movies.
“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” has dazzling visual effects and a beautiful score, but they are wasted with a laughable script and a lack of creativity.
1.5 out of 5 stars
This year’s summer movie season is packed with a variety of offerings. The highly anticipated “Toy Story 4” and “The Lion King” are likely to stir up nostalgia from our childhoods. Action flicks such as “Anna” and “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw” promise to kick up our adrenaline. And a bunch of reboots and sequels bring back characters from popular franchises, including the X-Men’s “Dark Phoenix” and “Spider-Man: Far From Home.”
Our movie critics Joe Baress and Rebecca Kivak run down which films they’re keeping an eye on this summer. Watch below as they sort through the blockbusters, thrillers, comedies and more coming soon to a theater near you.
Hello, everyone. I’m Joe Baress, the newest member of the Take 2 Blog who will take over for the great Tamara Dunn. I’ve already been working with Rebecca Kivak for a couple years with our Oscar column in The Times-Tribune and videos, which include summer movie previews, fall movie previews and Oscar previews. So I’m excited to join her on this platform. Let’s get to know each other.
Allow myself to introduce…myself
I’m a page designer and writer for the sports department of The Times-Tribune. I also created the Oscar column in 2016.
I always enjoyed movies since I was a kid, but I developed a love for them around 2007-08. I couldn’t wait for the summer of 2007, watching the trailers for “Spider-Man 3,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” and “The Bourne Ultimatum.” Obviously a few of those disappointed, but that’s when I started going to the theater once a week.
Transcendent films, including “The Dark Knight” and “Iron Man,” came out in 2008 and reinforced my love for the comic book genre. Also in 2008, “Slumdog Millionaire,” which won best picture, became one of my favorite films.
Christopher Nolan helped me discover my passion for film. He is my favorite director and one of the few who I have seen his entire movie catalog from “Following” (1998) to “Dunkirk” (2017). “The Dark Knight” is my favorite movie-going experience. My friends and I saw it at midnight and dressed up as DC characters. This was three years after he somehow resurrected the Batman franchise with “Batman Begins” eight years after the abysmal “Batman and Robin.”
His run of “Batman Begins” (2005), “The Prestige” (2006), “The Dark Knight” (2008) and “Inception” (2010) rivals the greatest by any director. Nothing beats the anticipation for a Nolan film because he’ll give the audience original content.
Aaron Sorkin is my favorite writer. He’s known best for his work on one of the greatest TV shows of all-time, “The West Wing,” but his efforts in film can’t be overlooked. He wrote the screenplay for two of my favorite films (“A Few Good Men” and “The Social Network”). Throw in “The American President” (1995), “Moneyball”
(2011), “Steve Jobs” (2015) and “Molly’s Game” (2017) and Sorkin is among the greatest screenwriters of all-time.
Comic books/graphic novels
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the greatest movie franchise of all-time. It’s difficult to find people who don’t like the MCU, so saying I’m a big fan of the franchise doesn’t reveal much about me. However, a short run of graphic novel adaptations helped catapult this genre into one of my favorites.
“V for Vendetta” (2005) and “Watchmen” (2009) brought us great political commentaries while “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (2010) is simply one of the funniest movies I’ve seen and helped solidify Edgar Wright as one of the great directors. The Alan Moore adaptations, “V for Vendetta” and “Watchmen,” are still relevant today. “Watchmen,” while met with mixed reception, is beautifully directed by Zack Snyder and stands as one of my favorite movies with a few of my favorite characters in film.
I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
I could go on and on through every genre and all of my favorite movies. I love many dramas and can’t wait to share some hidden gems. I adore many sports movies and still greatly enjoy the nostalgia of 90s movies, such as “Space Jam” and “Independence Day.” But let’s save that for next time. We’re just getting started.
I’ll be back.
This marks my final post at Take 2. I am leaving the Standard-Speaker and Times-Shamrock for a new adventure. Five years ago, Rebecca Kivak and I started this blog as an extension of our print column of movie reviews, lists and Academy Awards coverage, and it became an outlet where I can share my love for cinema. I had the chance to share how much I enjoy drive-in movies, my need to chronicle every week of awards season, and how personal movies can be.
Most of all, I have enjoyed discussing films and actors with the readers. I loved running into people at the cinema or on social media to share my recommendations and find out about films I hadn’t considered. Rebecca has been a great writing partner and friend, and I wish her luck in continuing this space. Joe Baress of the Times-Tribune will take over my duties as he has been a good part of the blog, joining us for our Oscar forecasts and summer and fall movie previews.
Below are my favorite posts and reviews over the years:
I end this post with something I recently saw on the social media platform Letterbox. As I have previously profiled, Letterbox runs a Letterboxd Showdown that includes lists following a chosen theme. The most recent theme is best film ending. Here are some of my favorite farewells on film that are available on YouTube.
Thank you for letting me share my cinematic world with all of you.
The 72nd Cannes Film Festival wrapped up a fortnight of film and glamour Saturday, the South Korean dramedy “Parasite” walked away with the festival’s top prize, the Palme d’Or. And while Times-Shamrock did not send Take 2 to France to cover the festival and rub elbows with the rich and beautiful, there was enough news coverage out there for us to make some observations as to what came out of it and what lies ahead for the other film festivals in the late summer and fall.
American movies make big splash
The festival opened with the zombie film “The Dead Don’t Die,” starring Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton and Selena Gomez. Directed by festival favorite Jim Jarmusch, the movie received mixed reviews, with Screen Rant calling it “a hodgepodge of interesting concepts and ideas that fail to come together to form a cohesive whole” to Time applauding it as “an amiable picture that happily and quite obviously borrows from the zombie canon.”
In what could be seen as having an even bigger presence was the premiere of “Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood.” Starring Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie, it was Quentin Taratino’s highly anticipated return to Cannes, particularly when the first round of announced festival picks excluded the movie. Set in 1969 during the time of the Manson family murders, a washed-up actor and his stunt double witness the changing times of Hollywood.
A who’s who of acting and modeling attended the premiere. It was also the 25th anniversary of Tarantino’s Palme d’Or-winning work “Pulp Fiction” debuting on La Croisette. So far, the reviews are just s golden as the time period demonstrated in the film, currently sitting at 95% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.
On the financial side, Terrence Malick scored the biggest film deal. His latest, a return to linear storytelling with “A Hidden Life,” was acquired by Fox Searchlight.
Film is truly international
For the second year in a row, a family-centered film from Asia won the Palme d’Or. The jury, led by Oscar-winning director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” won by an unanimous decision. “Parasite” is the first South Korean film to win the top honor. With the growth of Korean cinema in recent decades, it’s hard to believe that this historic moment is happening now. The jury, which only had one American as a member (Elle Fanning), also awarded films from Senegal, Spain, Great Britain and more. American films were left out of the awards.
Antonio Banderas won best actor for his role in Pedro Almodovar’s semi-biographical drama “Pain and Glory,” and Emily Beecham won best actress for “Little Joe.”
Women make strides
Cannes organizers have been criticized in the past for its lack of female directors in the main competition over the years. In 2019, there were four women in the main competition, tying a record. One included Mati Diop, a French-Senegalese director making her debut with “Atlantics.” Diop is the first black woman to be part of the main competition, and she won the festival’s second highest award, the Grand Prix. This was the same prize that Spike Lee won last year for “BlacKkKlansman,” which also yielded Lee’s first Oscar win. In fact, three of these women were behind award-winning work this year, from Jessica Hausner’s “Little Joe” and Celine Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Young Lady on Fire,” which won best screenplay.
Fanning is fashion
Fanning has been a staple on the Cannes red carpet in recent years, and as a jury member, she has glowed in fantastic choices for every photocall.
Last week, it was widely reported that Robert Pattinson would be the next Batman in DC Comics’ latest reincarnation of the Caped Crusader. Pattinson will replace Ben Affleck after the actor appeared in three movies as the superhero. But to many, Pattinson will always be the vampire teen Edward in the “Twilight” series. That has brought out the Twi-hards (the triology’s superfans) and the Twi-haters (no explanation needed), flooding social media with mixed reactions about the casting.
I'm gonna love ironically hating on Robert Pattinson's Batman but secretly enjoy the movies as I did with Twilight
— Gabriel (@gcmaela) May 24, 2019
— Hunter (@Astralsaurus) May 24, 2019
let robert pattinson be batman
let robert pattinson be batman
let robert pattinson be batman
— millie (@melia_selina) May 24, 2019
robert pattinson wearing a batman shirt. everybody say yes pic.twitter.com/jRwE2CElGV
— gulsah (@drisleys) May 24, 2019
There are multiple petitions circulating online to get director Matt Reeves and the producers to reconsider Pattinson for the lead. On Twitter, #SparklyBatman was trending, referring to Pattinson’s “Twilight” role where vampires sparkle when exposed to daylight. But for every batch of angry fans’ signatures, there are hundreds of fan art in anticipation for Pattinson’s batty debut.
As a person who has not seen a single “Twilight” movie, I haven’t witness Pattinson as a teen heartthrob or a pop culture figure. However, I’m a big Batman fan, having seen all the movies at least twice and watched most of the animated series (the one in the early 1990s is my favorite Batman of all time).
Batman has taken on many forms, and it’s a difficult role for any actor to do the character justice. In its most recent forms, either Batman/billionaire Bruce Wayne can’t play well with others (“The Lego Batman Movie”) or he wants things his way (“Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “Justice League.”). All have found some success among fans, but they don’t have the impact of the Tim Burton series with Michael Keaton or the Christopher Nolan trilogy with Christian Bale.
For Pattinson, he has little to worry about outside of fan reaction. His post-”Twilight” career has prepared him for this iconic role. Here’s how:
He has played a billionaire before
Bruce Wayne is the billionaire with a heart of gold who hides behind a cape, a mask and an array of toys to fight crime. Pattinson has practice in the billionaire department in “Cosmopolis.” Directed by David Cronenberg, Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a young rich guy who is traveling through Manhattan in a limo to get a haircut. His financial and personal worlds deteriorate over the course of the movie, as Packer confronts a changing society and his own shortcomings. Audiences didn’t care much for the film, but critics applauded Pattinson’s appearance as he was branching away from “Twilight.”
He has worked with top-notch directors
In addition to Cronenberg, Pattinson has worked in starring roles for some of the most respected directors. He also appeared in Cronenberg’s “Map to the Stars” as a limo driver, Werner Herzog’s “Queen of the Desert,” James Gray’s “The Lost City of Z” and recently Claire Denis’ “High Life.” Reeves, who started as a television director and has gone on to direct “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and “Cloverfield,” is best known for action and fantasy. Pattinson worked in these genres early in his career and should work well with Reeves.
He gets better with age
Pattinson’s performance in 2017’s “Good Time,” a drama about a Queens criminal who robs a bank with his brother and is on the run, was one for the ages. He takes an unexpected turn from likable heartthrob to despicable scum. It’s like he took Edward and threw that YA character into the trash. And as he has gotten older, Pattinson has mapped out a stable career for himself for years to come, including a role in Nolan’s upcoming spy film “Tenet.”
The previous Batmans weren’t all gold
Back in late 1980s, not everyone was happy when Michael Keaton was picked as Batman. Keaton’s casting came after his turns in “Beetlejuice,” “Gung Ho” and “Johnny Dangerously.” However, he proved audiences wrong with the success of “Batman” and “Batman Returns.” Val Kilmer and George Clooney did not do well in their outings, but director Joel Schumacher should get most of the blame for “Batman Forever” and “Batman & Robin.” It also created a carousel of actors filling this iconic role, leaving little room for an actor to define it. Even Bale criticized his take on Batman, despite playing the role in all three Nolan films. In an interview, Bale said he wished he explored more of the “very, very dark, messed-up character.” And then there’s Affleck. The reactions around Hollywood were hilarious, positive or downright mean.
“The Batman” is slated for release June 25, 2021, and more casting news is expected in the coming days and weeks. But for all those Twi-haters, there is already one sparkly Batman.
“Terminator: Dark Fate”
Sarah Connor is one of the most iconic female action heroines in movie history. Played by Linda Hamilton in 1984’s “The Terminator” and 1991’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” Sarah evolved from a mousy waitress into a hardened warrior as the mother of humanity’s savior, John Connor, in the War Against the Machines.
After a 28-year absence from the “Terminator” franchise, Hamilton returns to the role in “Terminator: Dark Fate.” The sixth movie in the series disregards all but the first two installments, picking up some time after “T2: Judgment Day.”
Despite the passage of time, the new trailer shows Sarah as strong as ever. Sarah handily brandishes a bazooka as she emerges to take on a new Terminator (Gabriel Luna). Like the plot of the first film, this latest Terminator is hunting down another expectant mother (Natalia Reyes), who is carrying a potential savior. This time, a human/Terminator hybrid (Mackenzie Davis) is protecting the young mother. The three women will work together to protect humanity in the War Against the Machines – and it looks like they’ll have some help from an old friend, the T-800 himself (Arnold Schwarzenegger reprising his classic role).
In the last decade, so many aging actors have successfully taken on action franchises, such as Liam Neeson in “Taken” and Denzel Washington in “The Equalizer.” It’s exciting to see a veteran actress get that same chance, and nothing beats seeing Linda Hamilton back in the groundbreaking role of Sarah Connor. With its trio of female leads, “Dark Fate” emphasizes a female-empowered twist on the franchise’s future.
James Cameron, the visionary mastermind and director of the first two “Terminator” films, returns to the franchise as a producer and writer of “Dark Fate.” The film also brings on Tim Miller, who won raves for his handling of the action in “Deadpool,” as director. The first two installments of the series are film classics, so Cameron’s involvement is promising after the disappointing “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” and “Terminator: Salvation,” as well as the underperforming “Terminator: Genisys,” which attempted to reboot the series. Here’s hoping the newest Terminator film puts the franchise back on track.
“Terminator: Dark Fate” fire backs Nov. 1 in theaters.
May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, and as efforts to increase diversity are being made on screen, more is also being accomplished behind the camera. Before director John M. Chu made box office history last year when he helmed “Crazy Rich Asians” with an all-Asian cast for a major studio, there was Ang Lee winning Academy Awards in directing for “Brokeback Mountain” and “Life of Pi.” And while not all movies find their way in wide release, there are some lurking in streaming and rental land waiting for the right audience. To celebrate Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, here are hidden gems you should check out throughout the year.
Mira Nair, “Mississippi Masala”
More than a decade before the India-born, New York-based director made “Monsoon Wedding,” “Vanity Fair” and “Queen of Katwe,” Nair arrived on the scene in 1991 with “Mississippi Masala.” Starring Denzel Washington, Sarita Choudhury, Charles S. Dutton and Sarita Choudhury, an Indian family moves to Mississippi after leaving Uganda during political turmoil. As the family grows into their new home, Meena (Choudhury) falls for Demetrius (Washington), a carpet cleaner. Tension between their families raises over their romance.
Cary Joji Fukunaga, “Sin Nombre”
The first American to direct a James Bond film made his debut with the Spanish language film, “Sin Nombre.” With a cast of relative unknowns, the movie features a Honduran girl attempting to enter the United States to be reunited with her family and a Mexican gang member who is caught up in the violence of that life. Their paths cross in this action-thriller.
Jennifer Phang, “Advantageous”
Female directors are rarely seen behind the camera in science fiction, let allow Asian American women, and Phang wowed the film festival circuit with “Advantageous.” With Jacqueline Kim, Freya Adams, Samantha Kim and Ken Jeong, the movie takes place in the near future, where women are loving their fertility and aging and race can be done away with science. Gwen (Jacqueline Kim) loses her job and must find a way to make money. She decides to sign up for a procedure that would swipe her consciousness into a new body.
Justin Lin, “Shopping for Fangs”
He’s one of the directors in the “Fast & the Furious” franchise and took on “Star Trek Beyond,” but Lin was also a mainstay in the indie film world. What got him noticed was the MTV-backed “Better Luck Tomorrow,” about a group of overachieving Asian teens who get into crime. Before this teen drama was “Shopping for Fangs,” a Lynchian look at the lives of Asian Americans in Los Angeles. It involves a blond wig-wearing waitress, a man who think he’s a werewolf and a young John Cho.
Meera Menon, “Equity”
Movies set in the financial world breathe men in power suits, slicked-back hair and scrolls of market numbers. Rarely does a female-fronted film in this genre make an impact, but Menon’s “Equity” does more than that. Anna Gunn is an investment banker whose career is about to go down in flames. She’s the subject of a federal investigation for insider trading, she is being disrespected by her colleagues and her boyfriend is in trouble.
Ann Biller, “The Love Witch”
Biller delivered one of 2016’s most surprising hits in the retro-outfitted romantic horror flick “The Love Witch.” Samantha Robinson stars as Elaine, a love-crazed witch who seduces men until they die. Her seductive ways meet their match, but her spells and crazy ways catch up with her. Set in the modern day, the film pays tribute to the cult classics of the 1960s and 1970s with its wonderful costumes, staging and cinematography. Biller puts a feminist twist into her storytelling, and her Twitter feed is worth following for insight on gender inequality in the industry.
“If we can’t protect the Earth, you can be damn well sure we’ll avenge it.” Iron Man/Tony Stark, “The Avengers” (2012)
After building a sprawling franchise unlike anything before it, the Marvel Cinematic Universe wraps up 11 years of storytelling with its 22nd movie, “Avengers: Endgame.” As much spectacle as it is heart, the epic follow-up to last year’s masterpiece “Avengers: Infinity War” is a love letter to fans. It’s a funny and emotional journey that provides a satisfying conclusion for the beloved characters who have become ingrained in pop culture.
For the first time in the MCU, Earth’s mightiest heroes lost the fight. In “Infinity War,” Marvel’s superheroes were brought to their knees when the Mad Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) snapped half of the universe out of existence, including turning many of their fellow Avengers to dust.
Left to put the pieces together are the six original Avengers, who are determined to undo the damage from the Decimation. Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is stranded in space, desperate to make it back to Earth. Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) are looking at every available option. Thor, the God of Thunder (Chris Hemsworth) is struggling with the fact that he failed to stop Thanos one-on-one. Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) has embarked upon a dark path of revenge.
When the missing Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) appears, the remaining Avengers have hope they can restore the universe to its proper order, including bringing back their fellow comrades. It’s a big risk for which they’re willing to put their own lives on the line.
“Avengers: Endgame” pulls on your heartstrings, with moments that will make you laugh, cheer and cry. The movie includes several callbacks to other MCU films and the return of some familiar faces, a reward for fans who have stuck with the franchise since 2008’s “Iron Man.” The final act, with its eye-popping climactic battle, packs an emotional punch that is only possible because of the extraordinary care given to the stories and characters over the last 22 films.
Under returning “Infinity War” directors Anthony and Joe Russo, the film covers a lot of ground, switching back and forth between a variety of locations on Earth and in space. At its three-hour runtime, “Endgame” never feels overstuffed, giving its storylines and characters enough room to breathe. But the film isn’t as tightly executed as “Infinity War.” “Endgame” is slow-paced in its first hour, as it reintroduces moviegoers to its characters and sets up their plan to defeat Thanos. But the film picks up the pace in its second and third acts.
For more than a decade, the MCU has introduced characters with whom audiences have fallen in love. “Avengers: Endgame” focuses on the OG Avengers and makes sure to give moviegoers plenty of time with them. For fans who liked the party scene in 2015’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” where the Avengers attempt to see which of them is worthy enough to pick up Thor’s hammer, “Avengers: Endgame” loads up on the interactions between its characters.
All the remaining Avengers get their time to shine. The phenomenal Downey, the father of the MCU, continues to bring new layers to Tony Stark. Iron Man has evolved from a reckless playboy to a redemption-seeking hero who puts the greater good above his own self-interest. Evans has captured moviegoers’ hearts as Captain America transformed from an idealistic patriot into a world-wise vigilante fighting for civil freedoms. Evans knows how to balance Cap’s sense of duty with the inescapable feeling that he’s a man out of time. Apart from “Age of Ultron,” this is Renner’s best outing as Hawkeye as the film explores the loss driving the archer-turned-katana-wielding warrior known as Ronin.
But it’s Thor and Nebula (Karen Gillan) who are the film’s standouts. The excellent Hemsworth navigates a range of emotions as Thor drowns in his feelings of grief and failure. It’s a very human portrayal that makes the hammer-wielding god more relatable. As Thanos’ conflicted daughter, Nebula has grown from the hardened villain in 2014’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” to become one of the good guys. Throughout “Endgame,” Gillan reaches deep into the character to show the cyborg at her most human yet.
As “Endgame” showcases the OG Avengers, fans may feel let down by the lack of screen time given to the group’s newest member. After receiving her own solo film earlier this year, Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers (Brie Larson) barely appears in the movie. If Carol is to be the future face of the Avengers, Marvel needs to do a better job of developing the character in future movies.
“Avengers: Endgame” accomplishes the monumental task of tying together the sweeping Infinity Saga of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a way that will please most fans. Moviegoers are witnessing the end of a very special era in cinema history. At the same time, the spectacle still provides a foundation for the cultural juggernaut to move forward. As we say goodbye to some characters, there are still more superheroes to follow as the franchise opens the door to new adventures.
4.5 out of 5 stars
The Avengers have enjoyed a decade-long run in the winner’s circle. A problem pops up within the first 10 minutes of the movie or stand-alone adventure, a superhero solves and prepares for the sequel. The villainous Thanos had been lurking in the background most of the time, but his wrath was on full display in “Infinity War.” For the depleted heroes, losing half of the world’s population in a snap was the biggest defeat they ever suffered, and “Avengers: Endgame” is the long path back to save what Earth lost and dealing with the aftermath of not being heroic for once.
Directors Anthony and Joe Russo return with the same sense of doom and gloom with which “Infinity War” concluded after Thanos (Josh Brolin) completed his Infinity Stone gauntlet and divided Earth between the vanished and those left behind. Unlike the action-heavy outfit that began “Infinity War,” “Endgame” starts with the long form of failure the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s team has committed in stopping Thanos’ snap, the five-year search for redemption and the crazy idea of a “forgotten” hero that may just achieve what they seek.
That “forgotten” hero is Scott Lang, aka “Ant-Man” (Paul Rudd). To execute that plan, that means getting Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans) to work together again. The goal: Get back all those who turned into dust among the “not-dusted.” Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), War Machine/James Rhodes (Don Cheadle) and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) compose the core/reserve hybrid team.
If “Infinity War” is an NBA all-star game of Marvel movies, “Endgame” is the 1990s New York Knicks — strong defense of the Russo brothers’ MCU hits. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” perhaps the studio’s best of its 22 movies, is at the forefront of the hit parade, with throwbacks to the three “Thor” movies, “Guardians of the Galaxy” and even “Captain America: Civil War.” Any of the major stars who were left out of “Infinity War” are seen here, like the return of Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner). While many in the crew, particularly Thor, carry heroic grief with them post-Thanos’ snap, Hawkeye and Ant-Man maintain it twice-fold on personal and global levels.
But topping them all is Nebula (Karen Gillan), Thanos’ daughter who joined the good guys. While Nebula’s arc had been told through the tug of war between her and her sister Gamora (Zoe Saldana) to be their father’s favorite, she is finally treated to a storyline where her own actions and growth matter.
“Endgame,” no matter its 181-minute runtime and the price of movie tickets these days, is critic proof. There is nothing that the Russo brothers could do with it that would make fans who have invested years into this franchise decide to step away from it. There is an attachment into what happens with these characters, so when some characters turned into dust in “Infinity War,’ there was grief among its audience. “Endgame” is no different on an emotional level, thanks to Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s screenplay.
However, points should be deducted on the technical side. Execution-wise, “Endgame” mirrored its direct prequel, going as far as its final scene having the bad guys on the opposite side of the battlefield as in “Infinity War.” Plus, with Marvel shooting its films on the same Atlanta studio lot, the epic battles are starting to look the same. “Infinity War” was nominated for an Academy Award for visual effects, and “Endgame” feels like a copy-and-paste job from that.
“Endgame” is the fitting conclusion for the team that saved New York in 2012 but lost half the planet last year. If only it wasn’t as rubber-stamped and bloated.
3.5 out of 5 stars
As “Avengers: Endgame” wraps up 11 years of storytelling over 22 movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) – one of the six original Avengers – has emerged as one of the most enduring characters in the franchise.
The red-haired Russian assassin turned SHIELD super-spy first stepped onto the scene in 2010’s “Iron Man 2.” As the MCU’s first female superhero, Black Widow carried the mantle for years, paving the way for others like Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen), Wasp (Evangeline Lily), Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Captain Marvel (Brie Larson). Intelligent, strong and always in control, Black Widow set the bar for female superheroes in and outside the MCU.
Black Widow wasn’t the first female superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to headline her own solo movie – that went to “Captain Marvel” earlier this year. But whatever the character’s fate may be in “Avengers: Endgame,” Black Widow is set to finally get her own film. The standalone, speculated to be a prequel about Natasha’s spy training, could go into production as early as this summer.
Throughout her six appearances in the MCU so far, Black Widow has grown tremendously as a character. Let’s look back at how the character has evolved over time.
“Iron Man 2”
When moviegoers first met Natasha, she was a “sexy secretary with a skill set on the side,” according to Johansson. Indeed, the film initially focuses more on Black Widow’s looks than her spy skills. Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) hires Natasha to be Tony Stark/Iron Man’s (Robert Downey Jr.’s) assistant. The genius/billionaire/playboy/philanthropist openly ogles his attractive employee, which makes for some cringe-worthy scenes.
It’s only when SHIELD Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) appears that Tony learns Natasha is more than a pretty face. One of the highlights in the often-criticized sequel is Black Widow’s stunning action sequence in the Hammer Industries building. Wearing her now-familiar black catsuit, the spy somersaults, kicks and fights her way through a group of security guards. Black Widow, welcome to the MCU!
From the moment Black Widow comes onscreen in the epic 2012 teamup, the character shows she’s in control of any situation. Though she may be tied down to a chair during her opening interrogation scene, Natasha makes it clear that she’s the one doing the interrogating.
But the film also reveals the internal struggle driving Black Widow. Throughout “Avengers,” Natasha is working to make up for the bad things she’s done in her past. “I’ve got red in my ledger – I’d like to wipe it out,” she says. First, she saves a mind-controlled Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) from the grasp of villainous trickster Loki (Tom Hiddleston), paying back the SHIELD archer who once spared her life. Then she tricks Loki into revealing that unleashing Bruce Banner’s Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is the linchpin of his plan. And during the Battle of New York, Black Widow uses Loki’s scepter to close the portal he opened to allow the Chitauri aliens to invade the city.
Every Avenger has their role to play in the film. With her smarts and stealth, Black Widow secured her spot as a vital member of the team – and got some red out of her ledger.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”
The 2014 political thriller brings together two of the most unlikely Avengers – the idealistic Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) and the morally gray Black Widow. In the process, the film gives us one of the best friendships in the MCU as the two learn to trust each other.
The revelation that Hydra infiltrated SHIELD for decades rocks Natasha. In her quest for redemption, Natasha realizes she traded in her blood-stained KGB past not for an honorable agency like SHIELD, but for another corrupt organization. It’s a valuable insight into the motivation of the hardened warrior we’ve come to root for. And it’s a blow that Cap – with his eyes now open to the compromised government he once pledged to serve – can understand.
As the two bond to take down Hydra, Black Widow and Cap form a partnership that stretches into future MCU films, up to and including last year’s “Avengers: Infinity War.”
“Avengers: Age of Ultron”
The 2015 superhero teamup delves into Natasha’s past and psyche more than any of her MCU appearances. As the superhero attempts a romance with Bruce Banner/Hulk, Black Widow is haunted by flashbacks of her super-spy training, brought on by Scarlet Witch.
During the flashbacks, Natasha relives the “Red Room” training and its “graduation ceremony.” This is a sterilization procedure that all female recruits must go through, in order to “make everything easier, including killing,” she explains. In order to complete her training, Natasha was forced to have the procedure, depriving her of the choice of motherhood. During her moving soliloquy to Bruce at Hawkeye’s farm, Natasha mourns losing this choice to decide her future. The bold storytelling allows Natasha to be vulnerable without taking away an ounce of her strength.
“Captain America: Civil War”
After the massive devastation from the Sokovia incident in “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” the Sokovia accords are proposed to keep Earth’s mightiest heroes in check. As the heroes take sides over the accords in the 2016 film, Black Widow finds herself in the middle of Iron Man, who supports government supervision over the superheroes, and her good friend Captain America, who believes the heroes’ judgment is more trustworthy than the government’s.
At first, Natasha joins Iron Man’s side. “If we have one hand on the wheel, we can still steer,” she says. But throughout the film, she looks out for Cap, warning him not to go after his childhood friend, unstable assassin the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). As the divided superheroes face off in an iconic airport battle, Black Widow chooses loyalty and friendship over the accords as she helps Cap and the Winter Soldier escape. The last we see of Natasha is the super-spy going into exile.
“Avengers: Infinity War”
As the Mad Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) works to collect all of the Infinity Stones to wipe out half of the universe, Black Widow is called back into action. The fearless spy, now sporting blond hair after being in exile, returns with Captain America and Falcon (Anthony Mackie) – the same team setup established in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” – to assist Vision (Paul Bettany) and Scarlet Witch during an attack from Thanos’ minions.
Black Widow doesn’t see much character development in “Infinity War” as the superheroes are preoccupied with saving the universe from Thanos’ snap, which does not go as planned. But as one of the surviving Avengers, Black Widow is determined to undo the damage from the Decimation. She will play a key role with her fellow OG Avengers – Cap, Iron Man, Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hawkeye/Ronin and the Hulk – to restore their fallen comrades in “Avengers: Endgame,” ready to accept whatever fate befalls her.
We’ll learn what happens to Black Widow and her character arc as “Avengers: Endgame” storms theaters this weekend.