Personal Post: First Footage from Cameron Cloutier’s Queen of Hearts

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At this point, the making of Cameron Cloutier’s Twin Peaks fan film (Queen of Hearts) would rival the sharpest tangents that the third season of the famous show took. From broken promises to persistent attempts to obtain money for little work, Queen of Hearts has seen it all. However, a rare spot of good news came in the form of the first footage being unveiled. Lasting over two minutes in length, the sneak peek sees Annie seemingly dropped from the Black Lodge. As she wakes up, she looks around the mystical woods and feels compelled to approach Jackrabbit’s Palace. Once there, the young woman repeatedly asks to be taken. The clip ends with Annie being swallowed up by a swelling vortex.

The sneak peek is dripping with atmosphere, courtesy of some excellently framed and edited point of view shots. In their stillness, they have the quality of the vast woods being like a faux reality where higher powers are indulging in a game much like a child playing with a doll’s house. The middle eastern sounding music by Peter Gabriel further entrenches us in a feeling of surreality, creating an odd juxtaposition between place and context, much like a dream that paints an odd reality that never quite feels right. The final images of Annie’s left behind heels and one of them tipping over, feels like a homage to Wizard of Oz with a black comic note. The moment would not feel out of place in any David Lynch film.

Like the best teasers, the footage tantalises and asks questions that would have us all chatting for days on end at the Roadhouse. It’s well worth your time and you can watch it at the below link.

If you would like more information on Queen of Hearts then you can do the following:

You can like the Queen of Hearts’ Facebook page for all the latest news:

https://www.facebook.com/QueenofHeartsATwinPeaksFanFilm/

And subscribe to the Obnoxious and Anonymous YouTube channel for further media updates:

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Review: Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

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In retrospect, it’s hard not to view Spider-Man: Homecoming as a perfunctory footnote in the ongoing Marvel cinematic saga. Coasting on the charm of its cast and high school setting: the film was an uninvolving and annoyingly light affair that presented its central character without his neurotic charm and had little going on under the bonnet (subtextually). By comparison, Spider-Man: Far From Home is a sombre and endearing film that has a lot on its mind.

Picking up directly after the events of Avengers: Endgame, Far From Home sees Peter Parker (Tom Holland) going on a European school trip, where he hopes to impress MJ (Zendaya) and relax by leaving his superhero persona at home. However, he soon finds himself recruited by Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) to stop four creatures (The Elementals) who have come from another dimension. Along the way, Spidey teams up with a being from an alternate Earth- Quenton Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), who has previously fought the elemental foes.

Far From Home is engaging as an exploration of Iron Man’s legacy. The death of Tony Stark looms over the film like a spectre. The result is some of the characters wondering if they can live up to his image, much like the Marvel cinematic universe is asking itself the same question, in the aftermath of Robert Downey Jr’s contribution to the series.

With this in mind, it’s hard not to view the final battle as a postmodern conflict between the chosen heir to the Marvel cinematic universe (Spider-Man, with original Iron Man director- Jon Favreau on hand as Happy Hogan in a producer role) and a pretender- (Quentin Beck) who is using inherited Stark technology to create a faux-hero. Mysterio is interesting insofar as his ultimate reveal swims in the same subtextual pool as the Nolan Batman films, a heroic persona being a social construct as opposed to a sole creation.

Jake Gyllenhaal is excellent as the green-suited and fishbowl wearing Beck. He turns the theatricality of the original Stan Lee and Steve Ditko character into a hyperactive director who often feels like he is commenting on the creation of a Marvel Studios film.

The film is marred by a few too many instances of contrived comedy, some less than thrilling action sequences that are usually awkwardly staged and put too much emphasis on comic gags. Though one sequence involving Mysterio is quite spectacular. The striking comic images of John Romita Sr’s era of the villain is filtered through the horrific dream logic of the Nightmare on Elm Street series.

Far From Home does have its heart in the right place. The instances of Spidey balancing his double life: from picking up a harlequin mask to hide his identity during a fight sequence to contriving a reason to escape a night at the opera are well portrayed. Plus his romance with MJ is genuinely charming and interesting in its emphasis and trajectory. But the film can’t escape the problem that the character’s neurosis is a result of Tony Stark; choosing him as a surrogate son and heir, as opposed to an irresponsible moment he can never repay. I hope future instalments no longer feel the need for Spider-Man to live in Iron Man’s shadow. 

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Review: Toy Story 4 (2019)

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Even by Pixar’s high standards, Toy Story 4 seems like a daunting prospect. Not only was the trilogy responsible for the animation studio becoming a household name, but the films had become like a cherished memory. Viewed through the prism of a growing boy and his toy collection; the films tapped into our existential angst and a simpler time when our imaginations roamed free, courtesy of some inspired set pieces and sight gags. Toy Story 4 manages to retain these qualities in an emotional, persistently amusing and thematically rich sequel.

The film is about Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) and their various friends dealing with a new toy that their owner (Bonnie) has created. Appropriately referred to as Forky, the new toy has an identity crisis. He’s a handcrafted plastic spork who believes that he’s meant to fulfil his purpose as a disposable utensil. While on a family road trip, Forky (Tony Hale) becomes lost and it’s up to Woody to find him. Along the way, the resilient cowboy becomes caught up in an adventure involving a quaint antique shop, creepy ventriloquist dolls and old friend- Bo Peep (Annie Potts).

Rather than having an insular focus on one kid and the relationship they have with their toys, Toy Story 4 instead widens its lens to examine the notion of toy individuality. Having now experienced the full cycle of a toy (wonderfully illustrated in a touching montage) with Andy, Woody is challenged with the idea of not being attached to a kid. This results in an interesting inversion of the “lost toy” fear that permeated the trilogy.

When exposed to the light, the notion becomes an empowering way of life to pursue personal goals to a greater degree. Rather than be tethered to the role of being responsible for one kid’s happiness, Woody can now help toys to find a home and in the process make more people content.

In the film’s most striking cinematic moment, Bo Peep and Woody are standing up atop a stone structure overlooking a bustling fair. The sheriff looks at Peep with love-struck admiration and the sheep wrangler says to him, “look”. Peep refers to the park as we get a full view of it in a sumptuous 360-degree shot. The moment is important for illustrating that Woody’s attachment to people is so absolute that he does not stop to consider the larger world around him. Toy Story 4 is at its best conveying these visual epiphanies.

Equally as compelling is Forky. In a film series that’s had toys come out of their boxes with fully developed personalities, it’s refreshing to see an innocent and docile character. His existential turmoil carries on the themes of purpose from the trilogy in a funny and quaint way. Tony Hale brings sweet naivety within his vocal performance. In a potentially last appearance as Woody; Tom Hanks adds a world-weariness and sense of age to Woody. He comes across as a parent who has seen their child grow up and must repeat the process again. But Christina Hendricks steals the show in an adorable and touching vocal performance as Gabby Gabby.

The Toy Story films have always played in sub-genre sandboxes with ease. Toy Story 4 is no exception. Born with a defective voice box and left in an old antique shop; Gabby Gabby longs for a cherished memory with a kid she frequently sees (Harmony). The character’s story is framed like a tragic Gothic story where she’s cursed to decay into obscurity. Some of Toy Story 4’s most interesting writing is in subverting the Gothic ascetic set up of Gabby’s storyline into something that feels emotionally true and resonating.

Less successful is the film’s use of most of the vintage toys. Since the original picture, the films have varied in their success of the comedic shades that they’ve drawn Buzz with. The character encountering a mirror image of himself in Toy Story 2 was unremarkable at best. The joke of Spanish Buzz in Toy Story 3 enlivened proceedings because it functioned as a hilarious commentary on the relationships the character had with the rest of the crew.

In 4, Buzz is saddled with a one-note joke that sees him believing that his action commands are a stand-in for his conscience. The joke seeks to make the character feel quite dumb. It also makes less sense as it goes on due to this Buzz being a vintage variant who’s limited to only so many action phrases.

The rest of the crew shine less in their personalities as the previous instalments. And in some instances, the film seems to have even forgotten some of the dynamics they had, i.e Buzz and Jessie. Consequently, the old set can’t help but feel like pawns in the context of the narrative. But for all its minor blemishes, Toy Story 4 necessitates its existence by opening up its narrative to the alluded aspects of the previous films. In this way, the film is like an old toy that you rediscover and find that it has more features than you initially thought.

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Editorial: My Top Five Toy Story Scenes (Inspired by Filmspotting)

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In an act that would even make the slowest snail rolls their eyes in disbelief, I’ve not yet seen Toy Story 4. Part of this is due to time and the desire to save this cinematic gift from Pixar as something to unwrap on my birthday. I also wanted to properly revisit the celebrated animated trilogy.

Much like getting out an old family album and viewing each photo with a mixture of fondness and melancholy: the Toy Story movies have become a precious cultural touchstone. They remind us of an innocent time when imagination and playing seemed like the most important thing in the world. This is a theme that recurs throughout my top five scenes.

5) An Adventurous Space Opening

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The cold open for Toy Story 2 feels like the stabilisers have been removed from the filmmakers’ bike. The scene sees Buzz Lightyear on an exploratory mission in Sector 4 of the Gamma Quadrant. As much as the Toy Story films depict the sheer thrill and wonder of playing with toys, this sequence is a cinematic play session of the tent-pole movies that have inspired the series.

At the same time, it’s an interesting showcasing of Buzz Lightyear in his element. His various abilities are no longer flashy features on a product, but effective tools in combating his various foes. In this way, the sequence is an interesting riff on the central irony of the first film, elevated by Randy Newman’s rousing and adventurous score. 

4) The Original Playtime Sequence

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In many ways, the opening of Toy Story is an important sequence. Not only does it efficiently introduce all the main characters of the narrative, but it also sparks some of the philosophical questions that permeate the series. How does a toy have to be played with? Are the toy’s identity and purpose attached to the roles assigned by the kid that plays with them?

But above all, the sequence is imaginatively staged and sincere in its depiction of a young boy’s play session. In particular, the medium shots, framing and homemade production design wonderfully convey the looming size of the environment that Andy has created.

3) I Will Go Sailing No More

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As much as Toy Story is about Woody attempting to reassert his relevance in his group’s hierarchy and Andy’s affections; (akin to the Western genre attempting to find relevance after the American space age), it’s equally about Buzz coming to terms with his identity as a toy. The previous scene involving Buzz at a make-believe tea party was an amusing riff on a drunk scene in a serious drama.

But this sequence is a sobering depiction of suicide, with Buzz believing he can fly to reach an open window across the stairway. Randy Newman’s vocal performance conducts the scene’s emotions. His voice swells with perpetual hope as Buzz prepares to fly and his melancholic, pause-filled reading of I Will Go Sailing No More, gives the scene it’s sombre power. 

2) A Silent Escape

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Much like the opening for Toy Story 2, this scene coasts on the charm of its boundless cinematic imagination. The sequence is a great homage to the silent era comedies with its physical stunts and Woody’s series of worried facial expressions. It could have easily have been a Pixar short but in its relevance to the story, it’s invaluable in illustrating the stakes of escaping from Sunnyside.

1) A Final Playtime

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Andy handing down of all of his toys to Bonnie is a tearful and bittersweet scene. It singlehandedly justifies Pixar’s choice to allow the Toy Story films to grow with its audience. Aside from the obvious tinge of nostalgia that engulfs proceedings, (via Andy briefly describing each toy), the scene also functions as a Rorschach test. Depending on the viewer, it will either represent a flood of childhood playtime memories or a sobering reminder that this simple time in their life is over and is never coming back.

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Review: Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

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In American hands, the Godzilla franchise has gone through as much devastation as any of the metropolitan cities, that the iconic monster has laid waste to. Roland Emmerich’s attempt was an awkwardly stitched patchwork of better movies. Gareth Edward split the difference with a respectful remake; filtering the bleakness of the 1954 Japanese original, through a flickering documentary aesthetic. The result was an international Spielberg esque picture, favouring harrowing monster encounters over exciting action sequences. The 2019 follow-up is a majestic, bombastic symphony of Kaiju thrills that lives up to its royal subtitle.

In the wake of the San Francisco Godzilla/Muto confrontation, Monarch (the central aspect that connects Legendary’s MonsterVerse together.) continues its search and observation mission of vast creatures, that were once believed to have dominated the planet. They do this amid growing pressure from the American government, who want the company to reveal the exact number of known creatures, so they can be destroyed.

In response, Monarch’s notable Paleobiologist, Dr Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) comes up with a device called the “ORCA.” It’s capable of communicating with the monsters via sonic frequency rays. When Dr Russel and her daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) are kidnapped by an eco-terrorist group, Monarch enlists the help of Emma’s ex-husband- Mark (Kyle Chandler). In a race against time, the organisation have to track them down before terrorist leader, Alan Jonah (Charles Dance) uses the invention to unleash the much feared Monster Zero (King Ghidorah).

Like the best movies in the Kaiju sub-genre, King of the Monsters effortlessly blends its human story with its monster mayhem. Despite the sheer amount of destruction and carnage, the movie never feels numbing or devoid of humanity. In fact, the film’s central theme of whether or not humans can co-exist with these monsters (dubbed titans throughout the movie.) becomes a grand stage for how Emma and Mark are dealing with the loss of their son. Emma chooses to soothe her pain by building a device that enables humanity and one of its oldest creations to speak to one another. Whereas Mark wants to completely eliminate his pain by getting rid of Godzilla and his fellow titans.

Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga’s performances are authentic and resonating. They play their parts as though they’re in an independent film that happens to feature giant monsters. Aside from one sardonic line delivery, Charles Dance is a surprisingly muted presence. Likewise, Millie Bobby Brown only registers in one moment in the tail end of the film but proves to be otherwise serviceable.

In contrast to cursory glimpses of the creatures in Godzilla (2014), director Michael Dougherty chooses to fully show the legendary cinematic creations in their full glory. With persistent use of low angle and static master shots, the film is directed with awe and wonder of its beastly subjects. At times, it feels as though the filmmakers have stumbled upon an imaginative child’s Kaiju play session, and decided to give it a hefty budget. The film’s most astounding visual moments are King Ghidorah and Mothra entrances. They look like Hokusai and Turner paintings in motion with their detail and dynamic weather.

The film is not without its problems. The secondary characters range from sketchily developed to broadly drawn comic puppets. As one vocal audience member remarked in the lobby after the screening, “I’m not sure the filmmakers know how nuclear weapons work.” I’m inclined to agree. Most problematic is the number of times that characters miraculously survive against a torrent of beastly rage. It’s the stuff of drinking games on a Saturday night. Despite all this, Godzilla: King of the Monsters excels in being a near pitch-perfect monster movie with weight. The fact that it owes more to Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla then Ishirō Honda’s original film is not a bad thing at all.

 

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Review: Aladdin (2019)

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A good case can be made that Disney’s Aladdin was the first postmodern animated film. It was fully aware of its universal love story of a poor street urchin attempting to win the affections of a fair princess but decided to dress it up with playful irreverence. It was like a manic magician had taken over the film, became bored with its earnestness and had decided to fill it with a series of amusing, fourth wall breaking tangents.

This quality was embodied in the character of the Genie, who filtered the entire story through the prism of a Robin Williams stand up routine; complete with impressions, erratic mood swings and sobering declarations. While some later animated features would keep this postmodern edge, often at the expense of their heart: Aladdin commendably retains a rousing sense of adventure and romance- enlivened by captivating imagery and Alan Menken’s beautifully touching score. The film was pure wish fulfilment with a raised eyebrow.

By comparison, Guy Ritchie’s live-action remake proves to be something of a mixed blessing. While it delivers on the qualities that made the original film so enchanting, it can’t help but feel aesthetically shackled by the live action medium and clumsy directorial choices.

Much like the 1992 animated film, the live-action remake has a young male street urchin called Aladdin (Mena Massoud) attempting to win the heart of Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). By royal decree, she can only marry a prince and must put up with a slew of royal suitors. When the Grand Vizier of Agrabah, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) offers Aladdin a chance to do this by retrieving an ancient lamp from a magical cave, the boisterous youth leaps in headfirst. Through duplicitous actions by Jafar, Aladdin is presumed dead but has the lamp in his possession. Once he rubs it, a blue Genie (Will Smith) awakens with the promise of three wishes.

Although sharing an identical plot as the original movie, there are some interesting diamonds within the new film’s rough screenplay. There’s a persistent attempt to emphasise the role of politics in the narrative. Agrabah is no longer an isolated kingdom and is instead part of a larger world with political allies and enemies. While the attempt to inject the story with political intrigue is alluring, it never ceases to feel hollow as the other kingdoms and their points of view (in the narrative) are abstract at best.

Despite this, it does result in some fascinating reinvention for some of the characters. Jasmine now aspires for leadership. Her frustration with being wrapped in perpetual palace protection comes from thinking that she can’t understand her people if she’s not allowed to walk among them. As Jasmine, Naomi Scott’s performance is impressive in showing the frustration of her societal role and the inherent good qualities she has a potential Sultan. Both aspects are illustrated in a barnstorming third act speech.

Rather than being a delicious post Tim Curry invention, Jafar is now a political climber in the vein of Petyr Baelish from Game of Thrones. He also exists as a dark mirror to Aladdin. Emerging from nothing on the streets of Agrabah, Jafar seeks power to be the most important person in the room, as opposed to seeking fame and fortune to escape an impoverished existence. Kenzari occasionally retains some of the dry wit that made the character so indelible, while also portraying righteous indignation.

As the title character, Mena Massoud brings a relatable sense of inner doubt, most evident in his scenes as Prince Ali, where he portrays a palpable sense of alienation. He also wonderfully conveys this quality in his singing, particularly in the reprise of One Jump Ahead where he sings the first few lines with a sense of hesitancy. Despite being awkward in delivering period authentic dialogue in his first scene, Will Smith is an often-enjoyable motor-mouthed presence as the Genie, particularly in reacting to Aladdin’s cringe-worthy attempts to impress the Sultan (Navid Negahban) and Jasmine.

The live-action remake often excels in the moments where it’s a stumbling comedy of errors, often balancing the awkward humour from wrong utterances and the pure jubilation from romantic encounters. In particular, Princess Jasmine’s handmaiden- Dalia (Nasim Pedrad) gets a lot of comedic mileage in her courtship with Smith’s Genie. At the same time, the film is effortlessly sweeping in its central romance, courtesy of the chemistry of its two leads, who lend the proceedings with a sweet and sincere casualness.

Despite being swept up in its romance, the same could not be said in the film’s direction. Guy Ritchie’s directorial tendencies tend to clash with the material and make some of the musical sequences quite awkward. In particular, the staging of One Jump Ahead makes for some jarring watching. Ritchie attempts to make it like a sequence from Sherlock Holmes where Aladdin is slowing down the sequence to become an omniscient narrator of his surroundings to demonstrate how he can get past the guards. But this directorial flourish clashes with the fast nature of the song that’s meant to illustrate Aladdin’s desperate and dangerous existence.

To compound matters, the song is broken up severely for dialogue sequences that could have been moved elsewhere. The original musical number was a breathlessly delivered 1950s show tune that existed within the confines of a Jackie Chan esque action sequence. In Ritchie’s hands, it’s a sloppy and jerky mess.

In other instances, Ritchie’s slow motion use, which did wonders for his Sherlock Holmes’ action sequences tend to come across as mockable indulgence. Even the opening tracking shot that travels the lengths of the Agrabah marketplace to the Cave of Wonders is marred by an attempt to wedge an early plot point where it does not belong.

The only sequence that benefits from his directorial hand are the film’s new musical number- Speechless. Ritchie freezes the sequence and allows Jasmine to powerfully vent to every person who has spoken down to her and how she’s no longer going to accept it.

Ultimately, the live action remake of Aladdin is a strange dance that balances heartfelt romanticism with limiting direction. While it does expand the depth of the characters, it does not rise to the occasion of the alluded large scope in its screenplay and ends up feeling lesser for it.

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Review: Avengers: Endgame (2019)

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The Marvel Cinematic Universe has glistened as much as any of the Infinity Stones in its eleven-year existence on the blockbuster scene. However, its Achilles heel comes from replication of its source material in being an ever-expanding bubble, that with each passing year, steamrolls into inaccessibility with a seemingly never-ending narrative. Despite not being as thematically rich as some of the previous instalments, Avengers: Endgame does what few of its genre brethren have dared or even hope to accomplish, which is providing a satisfying sense of finality to its overarching story.

Picking up immediately after the events of Avengers: Infinity War, Endgame is about how our scattered heroes deal with the aftermath of half the universe being wiped out. When a previously thought dead Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) returns to present day, via the Quantum Realm, the remaining Avengers hatch a plan to collect the six Infinity Stones (elemental gems that grant its wearer various abilities, such as turning back time and manipulating the environment) from the past and place them within a newly constructed Infinity gauntlet, once they do this, everyone who had previously crumbled into dust will come back.

As much as Endgame has been hyped as a culmination to a decade long storyline, it also represents an ending to the Russo Brothers’ tenure as Marvel directors. Starting with Captain America: The Winter Soldier: the directing duo introduced a real-world political thriller ascetic, amidst the backdrop of a serious and earnest hero whose optimism shone with the brightness of a full moon.

As their films have worn on, they’ve become much more fantastical space-faring adventures, balancing genuine dramatic pathos with comic book inspired action sequences. In Endgame, there is an attempt to bridge the gap between the intimate stakes that graced Winter Soldier and Civil War with the universe-spanning consequences of Infinity War.

These two facets come together in the first quarter of Endgame that feels like a riff on Watchmen. The who watches the Watchmen theme is illustrated through a ghostly existence for many of the heroes, whose lives have become empty, due to the nature of the changing world that they could not prevent. At the same time, the deliberately paced section engages as a counterexample to Thanos’ belief that wiping out half of life would mean that the remaining people would prosper, due to easier access to resources. Instead, the depiction of a post-snap world shows people leading timid lives. Standard choices that were once taken for granted now become life-affirming moments, akin to steps people take when processing and attempting to get over the death of a loved one.

In this stretch of the film, Scarlett Johansson particularly impresses in a performance that subverts how we usually see Natasha Romanoff. Johansson has always played Natasha like a poker player whose constantly focused on adopting a neutral emotional state for pure survival. In Endgame, Johansson embodies the broken spirit of the team, with a subtle emotional performance, that still hints at the former spy, working to portray a sense of light relief in the face of utter hopelessness. Equally, as captivating is Mark Ruffalo, who injects Bruce Banner’s new form with the comedic import of the jolly green giant and an encouraging football coach.

Despite containing many jokes that riff on the nature of time travel, Endgame does morph into Back to the Future Part II for much of its running time. The present-day Avengers have to shadow their past selves in moments from previous Marvel movies. The funniest of which is a silent point of view of Peter Quill’s dancing entrance in Guardians of the Galaxy that culminates in an amusing physical comedy gag that would make the Three Stooges proud.

At worst, these sequences feel like the film is indulging in an elongated victory lap. Most of the moments of the past are rubber-stamped in neon pink with- remember this great moment, although some of the scenes have a sly sense of irony. A mundane scene that takes places in the aftermath of the first Avengers film frames an elevator scene with Captain America and Shield bosses as ascetically similar to a tense scene in The Winter Soldier. The sequence is amusing in its diffusion of this set up ascetic tension with a fast-talking Steve Rogers, who has to retrieve a briefcase with one of the MacGuffins.

Ascetically, the film has some beautiful moments, particularly one extended scene with Ronin (Jeremy Renner) that feels like it’s been lifted from a Japanese cop drama with its mixture of moody atmosphere and natural light of Toyko’s nightlife. But Endgame’s direction is at its best with small camera movements that speak volumes. One such scene comes at the end which pans from a message written on a box to every person amongst a large gathering of people. The shot feels like it belongs in a Wes Anderson film. It speaks to a community that was touched and united by one soul. But, in a metatextual sense, it acknowledges the legacy of said character who is the architect for the tone, comedic sensibility, and brand of heroism that defines the entire Marvel cinematic universe.

And the closing moments with its nostalgically warm and radiating natural light imbues a simple gesture with an emotional pathos that has come to define the entire project. At its best, superhero fiction makes our striving for normalcy all the more resonating because it’s filtered through the prism of extraordinary beings, whose responsibility and personal hangups make it hard for them to achieve a semblance of ordinariness. The fact that Avengers: Endgame understands this idea, as well as any movie within the genre, is why it soars.

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