Avengers: Endgame Is A Fanboy Extravaganza
It would have been easy to fail with this after last year’s stirring first part, Avengers: Infinity War - a kinetic, clockwork-perfect piece of blockbuster cinema. Infinity War ran to some 149 minutes, but never felt like it. The cast was enormous, yet it somehow managed to move all of its IMDB pieces around the board in ways that felt both natural and intimate. Yes, there were huge battles, notably the war in Wakanda, but it was no mindless action film.
In fact, it was remarkably intimate – and occasionally shocking.
Two people were tortured. One person – villain Thanos, played by Josh Brolin – sacrificed his own daughter. Another – Benedict Cumberbatch’s Dr Strange – sacrificed half the population of the universe. And Chris Pratt’s Star Lord and Elizabeth Olsen’s Scarlett Witch both tried their level best to sacrifice their own partners. Aquaman, it was not. And, at the end, they all got to watch as everyone they loved turned to dust. How about that for a happy blockbuster ending?
Of course, that was only possible with a genuine two-parter, where the audience only had a year to wait. And we pick up - as expected from the trailers we’ve seen – almost exactly where we left off.
Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), along with Nebula (Karen Gillan) are left adrift in space, far from earth and with food and water having run out. The remaining Avengers are on earth, trying to figure out what they can do about the half of the universe that’s now missing. As we also know from the trailers, it’s not long before Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel shows up and helps point the way. They’ll take on Thanos again, with her – the most powerful among them – now helping out. Does it work? Let’s just say this takes place in the first 15 minutes and leave it at that.
That much you’ll know from the trailers anyway. At this point the internet is virtually full with YouTube preview and prediction videos on the subject, and... they're mostly right. I won't say which, but the dedicated fanboys will already know the story beats here.
The “Infinity Stones” were always the classic MacGuffins of the Marvel universe: something to fight and lust and war over, but not genuinely care about.
And yet here, they become the story for the first time.
Without giving much away, Endgame becomes a celebration of previous Marvel films, a Marvel theme park ride of sorts. The result? Thrilling, for sure, with endless call-backs and the occasional unlikely match-up. But Infinity War was brilliant for its genuine emotional resonance. This sometimes feels like a riff through the comic book version of a film that was supposed to be made for adults.
The theme of sacrifice was front and centre in the first film, but does, as expected, go deeper here. If Infinity War was kinetic and precision-tooled, then Endgame is a tragedy masquerading as a superhero CGI-fest. It was no secret some contracts of the original Avengers cast are up with this film.
Like fairground rides, Marvel films have always been fun but they haven’t always been satisfying. The early Iron Man (2008), Thor (2011) and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) movies were well done but also fodder for those who simply don’t like the genre: films with funny lines but that took their comic-book myth-making a little too seriously, films where heroes can be hurt (around act two) but can never be killed (by act three), films where everything is fantastical and yet nothing is consequential.
And yet, slowly but surely, consequences started to seep in. Captain America: Civil War dealt with the fall-out from the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron – the civilians that died, the city that was destroyed, the accord signed as a result. Death – genuine death, of a character we cared about – started to creep in too, with the defacto father of Peter Quill dying at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Films like Ant Man and the Wasp started with their main character under house arrest for what he’d done in a previous film. Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk went missing at the end of one film, and it wasn’t until two years later we found out what the big green guy at been up to (on a planet at the far reaches of the galaxy with Jeff Goldblum, since you ask).
The Russo brothers picked that up and ran with it with Infinity War. And the shocking deaths in that film – Idris Elba’s Heimdall and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki copped it in the first five minutes alone – utterly changed the experience of watching Endgame. Everything was on the table now. Except, it turned out, not so much.
It’s often parroted that Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy was the first to transform a comic-book source into the adult mainstream. It was so much darker than what had gone before. Sure, the films were great – and the lights were certainly low – but it adhered to every hackneyed superhero cliche. Our hero always won. No-one beloved ever died. We even got a happy-ever-after.
With Avengers: Endgame, it some ways they've made the most adult superhero film yet. Because there are consequences. And things matter.
The problem for the Marvel Cinematic Universe is, they now also don't. And there is an end sequence that is beyond thrilling - the fans will lose it.
But personally, I loved the likes of Guardians of the Galaxy because it introduced me into a world that felt real, or at least bounded by its own reality. A genuine reality, not a Reddit thread made dialogue. That no matter how fantastic it was, the battles in Infinity War were rooted in something.
As the credits rolled, I thought back to a scene at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron, where Ultron, our metal bad guy, is chastising Vision (played by Paul Bettany) for siding with the humans.
“They’re doomed,” Ultron tells him.
“Maybe,” says Vision. “But a thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.”
It's both true of this film and not. Not everyone lasts. And not often in the way you'd imagine. But that line spoke of something beautiful and melancholy that this film never quite arrives at.