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Schultz reviews: “Avengers: Endgame” and “High Life”

Schultz reviews: “Avengers: Endgame” and “High Life”

“Avengers: Endgame” Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 181 Minutes, Rated PG-13, Released April 26:

 

Well, after just short of a year of breathless anticipation — ever since the April 27 release of “Avengers: Infinity War” — the sequel “Avengers: Endgame” has finally lumbered and swooped into movie auditoriums the world over, preceded by a salvo of publicity, brand name placements, commercial advertising and product tie-ins the likes of which we’ve seldom seen since Walt Disney first sketched an image of a mouse.

 

The 23rd picture overall in what’s become known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe — that is, the series of superhero movies based on Marvel Comics — ”Endgame” is the culmination, but pointedly not the conclusion, of the 22 movie saga which began in 2008 with the release of “Iron Man.” And since the release of “Endgame” in the early morning hours of April 26, box office records have been tumbling like dominoes on steroids.

 

The question on the lips of seemingly everyone in the western world seems to be this: Is the picture really worth all the excitement?

 

The short answer: Yes, it is.

 

Clocking in at a whopping 181 minutes, “Endgame” seemingly leaves no previous plotline unconcluded, no question unanswered, and no Infinity Stone unturned. A motion picture epic filled with intimate moments, “Endgame” will leave fans of both comic book movies and science fiction allegories satisfied and fulfilled, with a cinematic quality unmatched in the genre since the 1980 release of the Star Wars picture “The Empire Strikes Back” in 1989. “Endgame” might even be the best motion picture sequel since 1974’s “The Godfather Part II.”

 

Briefly, in “Avengers: Endgame” the surviving members of the Avengers team of Marvel superhero all-stars band together again in an attempt to reverse the cataclysmic damage caused by the intergalactic warlord Thanos five years earlier, when his mortality snap eradicated half the galaxy’s population. Without giving away too much of the plot, the older and wiser Avengers find that the solution to backpedaling the global catastrophe might lie in time travel.

 

Mixing a sly sense of humor and a healthy dose of self-parody with exhilarating pacing and eye-popping special visual effects, “Endgame” shows us once again that Marvel’s the brand to reach for when a viewer wants to see the human behind the superhero. Among the more memorable smaller moments, a dissipated, bleary-eyed and pot-bellied Thor tries to drown his sense of loss and self-doubt in New Asgard-vintage lager, Tony Stark is given an opportunity to interact with the father he never knew, and a kindler, gentler Hulk cringes in

embarrassment while viewing a replay of his younger antics.

 

The picture even has the wisdom to admit at long last that the science which lies within the science fiction is less accurate than we might expect from, say, Stephen Hawking, or even Sheldon Cooper: At one point, Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man asks the others, “Any of you guys ever study quantum physics?” And Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow replies, “Only to make conversation.”

 

At times it seems almost that there are more Hollywood superstars in “Avengers: Endgame” than there are lines of dialogue for them to speak. And that’s nominally a good thing — many of the thespians inhabiting the characters became celebrities in the first place through their appearances in Marvel-based pictures. But an inevitable result of casting megastars in even the smallest roles is a sort of disorientation — the audience begins to expect John Wayne to gallop in on a space horse, or Marilyn Monroe to step onto an intergalactic subway vent.

 

But in a cast of equals, the scenes with Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man, seem to contain a special warmth, almost a sense of homecoming, partly because Downey’s character’s been around the longest ... but also perhaps because it seems we’ve all been through so much together over the years. One of our very best actors, Downey Jr. has also become something like America’s favorite success story, after having lived much of his life on the front pages of the supermarket tabloids. “Avengers: Endgame” marks something of a career valedictory for the actor.

 

Still, when almost the entirety of the Marvel Universe appears at the climax of the picture to unite in battle, it seems that not only all of comic book history but also all of science fiction, and maybe even all of cinematic history, comes to bear and travels full circle. And even later, when many of the principals gather again in sadness to bid farewell to one of their own, it’s a powerful and affecting moment, and the Marvel team as always carries it off with dignity, humor and a sense of belonging unknown to their rivals in the DC Comics universe.

 

Although there’s something awfully self-congratulatory about referencing a host of past Marvel-based pictures to reveal previously-undetected clues, and therefore show us once again how insufferably clever they’ve been over the years, those who fear a shortage of future chapters in the “Avengers” saga need not despair: After “Endgame,” we’ll be spending years poring over the 22 previous installments in the saga, and arguing with each other over who knew what, and when.

 

Directed by brothers Anthony Russo and Joe Russo from a screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely — all of whom are Marvel veterans themselves, returning from “Avengers: Infinity War” — ”Avengers:Endgame” opened on April 26 in 4,474 theaters across the United States alone, some 408 of which are displaying the picture in the IMAX format. This represents the widest release in history for a picture from the Walt Disney studios.

 

By the end of its second full day in release, “Avengers: Endgame” had earned over $643 million worldwide, and had already become the third highest grossing film of 2019, globally. By the end of the weekend, the picture had earned an unprecedented global total of $1.2 billion. In the words of Paul Dergarabedian, the senior media analyst the Comscore media science company, “Marvel has literally rewritten the rule book, and in the process has made box office history.”

 

In China, more than 3 million people packed movie theaters across the nation on Wednesday for special midnight screenings of the picture, earning a presale total of some $115 million in dollars, 85% more than last year’s “Avengers: Infinity War,” and generating an astounding $329 million in earnings over its five-day launch weekend. In its first 24 hours of release, China was expected to be the site of some 220,000 individual screenings of “Avengers: Endgame,” the equivalent of the picture running four times in every solitary movie auditorium in the United States.

 

And the picture is faring almost as well with the critics, earning an approval rating of 96% from Rotten Tomatoes and 77% from Metacritic. Rotten Tomatoes exults, “Exciting, entertaining, and emotionally impactful, ‘Avengers: Endgame’ does whatever it takes to deliver a satisfying finale to Marvel’s epic Infinity Saga.” Exit audiences polled by CinemaScore have awarded “Endgame” the rare grade of A-plus.

 

There’s no mid- or post-credit scene following “Endgame,” the first time in memory that’s happened in a Marvel-based picture ... although some viewers claim to perceive a metallic clang simultaneous with the appearance of the Marvel logo at the very end of the picture. The clang might or might not be the sound of Tony Stark assembling his very first Iron Man outfit years ago. 

 

Watch for the traditional cameo appearance of Marvel’s late founding genius Stan Lee, his last, as a hippie driving past Iron Man and Captain America as they arrive in New Jersey. Hawk-eyed viewers will notice Clint Barton wearing a glowing ankle bracelet during the picture’s opening scene, a holdover from his house arrest in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War.” And cybernauts performing a Google search on the name “Thanos” will enjoy interesting results.

 

“Avengers: Endgame” is rated PG-13 for sequences of science fiction action and violence, and some language concerns.

 

“High Life” Distributed by A24 Films, 110 Minutes, Rated R, Released April 5:

 

There is a great disturbance in the Force.

 

If “The Dirty Dozen” had been re-written as a science fiction epic by existential French author Jean-Paul Sartre and directed by Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali, it might’ve looked something like “High Life,” the new European import from the independent entertainment company A24 Films. 

 

The first English-language picture from acclaimed French filmmaker Claire Denis, “High Life” focuses on a group of condemned criminals persuaded by promises of clemency to participate in a hazardous space mission to investigate a source of alternative energy within an interstellar black hole, while simultaneously submitting themselves to sexual experimentation.

 

Written by the director herself with her longtime collaborator Jean-Pol Fargeau, “High Life” manages to accomplish the almost astonishing feat of taking an ambitious and lurid plot line and rendering it ... well, not so much boring as tedious, obscure, distasteful and frequently even offensive. That might actually be the picture’s point.

 

In case you’ve ever found yourself wondering what’s been going on with actor Robert Pattinson since the blockbuster “Twilight” series of films wrapped up in 2012, this is your big chance to find out. Once listed among the most highly-paid and bankable actors in the world, named by Time magazine in 2010 as one of the most influential people in the world, Pattinson in “High Life” plays Monte, the only celibate prisoner aboard a spaceship devoted to sex research. And the picture isn’t even a comedy. Go figure.

 

Also appearing in “High Life” is actress Juliette Binoche. An Academy Award winner for her appearance in 1996’s “The English Patient,” Binoche in “High Life” plays a scientist obsessed with creating a child in space through artificial insemination. She naturally sets her sights on Pattinson, despite his emphatic lack of interest in her lascivious experimentation. If you’ve ever been a fan of Binoche, you should probably forget you ever heard of this picture. She might even thank you later.

 

“High Life” is likely the first motion picture in history, science fiction or otherwise, to incorporate into its narrative the physical concept of “spaghettification.” An actual term in applied physics, spaghettification is pretty much what it sounds like — the compression and stretching of objects into long, thin shapes when subjected to a strong gravitational field such as an interstellar black hole.  

 

Although spaghettification sounds like something Wile E. Coyote might experience if he’d chase the Road Runner into space, physicists from the late Stephen Hawking on down swear it could really happen to us under certain enormously unlikely circumstances. “High Life” not only puts that idea into our heads, but also has the audacity to depict it happening onscreen to actress Mia Goth. So no matter what we think about the rest of Denis’ picture, we at least have to thank her for that.

 

A surprising number of critics are praising “High Life.” Rotten Tomatoes in delivering an approval rating of 83% exults that the picture is “as visually arresting as it is challenging, confounding and ultimately rewarding — which is to say it’s everything film fans expect from Claire Denis.” Kate McNamara at Common Sense Media disagrees, saying, “No matter what anyone might say, there’s not one good reason to see ‘High Life,’ and a thousand reasons not to.”

 

Most of the actors in the picture report that they placed their careers on hold or even passed up other movies as a means of earning an opportunity to work with director Denis. But “High Life” ends up containing a sort of ... well, a Tyrone Power in “Nightmare Alley” kind of vibe, a hint of desperation, the lowest common denominator in contemporary show business entertainment.  

 

Obscure, depressing, tawdry, confusing and even occasionally obscene, “High Life” is anything but. If you happen to run across a movie theater showing this picture, it’s probably in your best interest to keep running.

 

“High Life” is rated R for disturbing sexual and violent content, including graphic nudity and assault, and for objectionable language.

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