By John H. Foote
First some housekeeping: SPOILERS AHEAD. HUGE SPOILERS AHEAD!
That said, this film has grossed more than a billion dollars and if you are a movie fan, comic book fan or super hero film nut who has not seen it, shame on you.
Now, could and should Avengers: Endgame be a Best Picture nominee?
To answer the first question, yes, it could.
After the maelstrom of rage that greeted The Dark Knight (2008) not being up for Best Picture and Best Director despite eight nominations and a DGA nomination for Nolan, one would think more than just Black Panther (2018) would be a Best Picture nominee! There was genuine hope Wonder Woman (2017) might earn a nomination, but it did not happen. Even when the Academy changed the number of Best Picture nominees from five to up to 10, it did not help despite the fact the change came because of The Dark Knight. In truth The Dark Knight was an exception, a stunning work of art that was derived from super hero comics. Nolan created a dark film with an extraordinary villain that delighted audiences and awed critics. Wonder Woman was another outstanding film with a comic book background. Casting was so much for this film and Gal Gadot was perfect as Wonder Woman, and I mean perfect. The film was superbly directed by Patty Jenkins, and spoke to female empowerment but at its core it was a great story and a terrific film, well acted and directed with confidence and muscle.
So could the epic finale of The Avengers saga, subtitled Endgame be in the Best Picture race? Like The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) which tied the record of 11 Academy Awards, Endgame is a finale and very well done, not to mention emotional. More than once I saw audience members dabbing at their eyes. Audiences had connected to the characters very strongly, which I had not expected. In the same way Peter Jackson allowed us to care for Frodo, Sam, Aragorn, Bilbo and Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, so have the creators of the Marvel films done with their films. Be it Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Black Widower, Spider Man, Captain Marvel or Hawkeye, the actors portraying them invested a great deal in their character, which allowed audiences to be deeply immersed in their story. For 11 years and many films, the story jumped from film to film, character to character, culminating in this epic finale. If this was the plan from the very beginning, and it might have been, then Bravo to Marvel for a bold, far reaching move that will be discussed in the annals of film history for a very long time.
It is a solid entertainment, great action and drama, one of the greatest super hero films made, which could help it get the nomination. That said, 2019 is shaping up to be a very strong year, with great films from outstanding Oscar nominated directors, some of them Academy Award winners. Can a super hero film be among the nominated films in such a strong year?
If nominated it will likely be up against Todd Phillips masterful film Joker, another film with super hero roots as the Joker character is quite possibly the most infamous of all super villains. That would make the first time two super hero connected films would be among the Best Picture nominees! For me Joker is the greater film, by far, but the inherent greatness of Endgame cannot be denied.
Loose ends are tied up, major characters are brought back from the previous film that saw Thanos kill half the population on earth, including Black Panther, Nick Fury and, most tragically, Spider Man who realizes what is happening and collapses in Iron Man’s arms. Shockingly, in Endgame, Iron Man, the most iconic of the Avengers dies after saving the world, leaving behind his beloved little girl. Later the Avengers gather for his funeral to say goodbye, populating his home in the woods with grief and sadness.
What struck me was the emotion in the story, the truly deep bond audiences had made with these characters. Looking around the cinema when Spider Man was grabbed into a bear hug by Iron Man, cheeks and eyes were glistening with tears, sniffles echoed through the theatre. But when Iron Man saves the world at the cost of his life, my God, there was open weeping! I was stunned that audiences had invested so much in these comic book characters. Just when the eyes are dried, Captain America turns up an old man, having chosen to stay in the past with his lady love and live the life taken from him. More tears, and again, the realization of what these characters mean to millions of movie goers began to sink in.
So, if I did not get it, I do now.
I have been very vocal about being tired of super hero films, and no question I am, but I think I now have a greater understanding of what these characters and films mean to their fans. After watching The Avengers: Endgame in the cinema, I went back a second time and then watched all the films in order of release that brought us to this grand finale. It became clear how the actors made the characters unique and it was easy to understand how audiences could come to care for them so much. The obvious chemistry between the actors was great fun to watch, making the comic moments within the films all the more hysterical. Fat Thor? The beer guzzling god of thunder? I laughed out loud. And we feel how much the Avengers team miss their fallen colleagues because we miss them too.
Robert Downey Jr. anchored the franchise with his performance as the brilliant Tony Stark, who is Iron Man, quick with a sarcastic quip, his mind always whirring, always thinking. At the beginning of The Avengers: Endgame, his Tony Stark has married Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and together they have a beautiful little girl who adores her doting father. Burdened with soul crushing guilt of losing Peter Parker/ Spider Man, and the other Avengers lost when Thanos snapped his fingers, he fears trying to help them and killing more innocents. Most of all, he fears trying to do something about it and failing, or losing what he has. Only his child and wife truly bring him joy, but he knows bringing back “the kid” would lighten his guilt. The scene where he has defeated Thanos and brings back the millions who had been reduced to ash, including motor mouth Spider Man, Iron Man cannot speak, instead grabbing the younger man into an intense bear hug. It might be the single most emotional scene in the entire The Avengers franchise. But more, it might be the scene that gets Downey Jr. nominated for an Academy Award for Supporting Actor. Though the competition in that category is ferocious, he could get in and if he does it is a nomination I would champion.
If Black Panther (2018) was good enough to earn a Best Picture nomination last year, certainly Avengers: Endgame, a better film, deserves to be there. So yes it could, but depending on the great unknowns, the films we have not seen yet, should it? That remains to be seen.
I remain … conflicted.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.