Friday, 26 April 2019

Avengers: Endgame:
All's well that ends well

April 14th, 2010. Who among us can forget that day? The day that one man, with unshakeable self confidence and almost supernatural foresight, logged on to Twitter and announced the following to his couple of dozen followers:
As it turned out, that man (I won't name him to avoid embarrassment) was a little wide of the mark. Nine years later, almost to the day, that anonymous man sat in a cinema and watched the fourth film that brought together the Avengers, the twenty-second in the series, the nerdgasmic climax that he would have once thought as likely as Donald Trump becoming president. Anything is possible these days, it seems (except for a slick, satisfying James Bond reveal), and if you think you know what's going to happen you should keep it to yourself because if you put it out there then nine years later you will look like a complete prick.

The chief nerds at MCU HQ know full well that you think you know what's going to happen, and they are black belts in proving you wrong. They've been baiting traps and pulling rugs for so long now that a Marvel film without any surprises would be like a bag of Jelly Belly without any disgusting chocolate flavoured beans: apparently unthinkable. And Avengers: Endgame opens with perhaps the biggest surprise of the action-packed, effects-laden, speaker-threatening franchise so far: an entire hour of superheroes moping about in the gloom as if Kenneth Lonergan had accidentally wandered onto the set and started directing.
"Looks like rain again"
"I'll put the kettle on"

This is, of course, a direct consequence of the less-than-cheery cliffhanger ending of last year's Avengers: Infinity War, in which unpleasant things happened to a lot of people. It's a bold choice - the kind of thing we've probably all joked about at some point in an attempt to think of a different approach to cape movies: "how about if they all just sat around in poorly-lit rooms discussing existentialism while Thanos whipped up breakfast wearing ripped jeans and a scruffy old t-shirt?" Turns out not only does that happen, but it's actually not boring. Two surprises for the price of one, and there are probably half a dozen more still to come in this first act alone.

It's not boring because we've spent over ten years with these guys. We know them, we love them, we want to share their grief and their fears. They're family to each other and not far off to us, and when that family suffers we feel for the poor superbuggers. It's all a minor miracle; imagine a similar hour of the X-Men, or Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman doing the same thing without wanting to pluck your own eyes out. And we care because many of them have been severely affected by the intervening time period: Black Widow, Captain Marvel and Hawkeye have all had dramatic haircuts, Thor is twice the man he used to be, and Bruce Banner is one and a half times the man he used to be.
This guy still looks like a shaved scrotum though

But we also know that Avengers: Endgame is three hours long, meaning we can afford an hour of introspection because, woven into it, is the setup for the film's middle act, which will surely get the old pulse racing again, right? Well, not quite. The main thrust of the Avengers' plan to right Thanos' whopping wrongs is almost as low-key as the first hour, just in slightly brighter locations. That's not to say it isn't crowd-pleasing though: writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directors the Russo brothers take the chance to celebrate the last decade in winning style, treating us to a parade of witty callbacks to the franchise's history and a number of surprise returning cast members - some of whom you never thought you'd see in the MCU again, some of whom you never thought you'd see in any films again.

There's plenty of fun to be had (an early experiment to see if the plan will work is essentially live-action Futurama), some heart-soaring moments (Captain America dealing with his own pomposity is priceless) and enough unexpected - and heartbreaking - developments to satisfy, but the thrilling set-pieces you feel like you were promised aren't forthcoming. Again, though, it hardly matters, because the MCU has fully earned the right to just let us spend a few more minutes hanging out with our superpals before the inevitable. And here it comes, in a finale that delivers spine-tingling, tear-jerking and air-punching wonder with relentless frequency. The enormity of what's come before and what must now happen is overwhelming, and it's perfectly executed at almost every level.
Tony had bashed his helmet once too often

Nitpicks are unavoidable, of course: the plot mechanics upon which much of the film relies are almost insultingly shonky; certain characters are conspicuous by their disappointing and poorly-explained absence, and an ostensibly tremendous moment for the female contingent of the MCU is tarnished by the realisation that 97% of Avengers: Endgame is a total sausagefest, rendering that moment hollow and tokenistic. Plus I still have no idea what each of the magic gems are or do.

None of that is enough to ruin the experience though. Here we are, at the end of all things, with a Lord Of The Rings-esque handful of endings to boot, and any flaws are crushed by the sheer weight of cultural significance the MCU has brought us. An astonishing technical and storytelling achievement, this series of films has pushed the limits of popcorn cinema through time and space into another dimension where mediocrity is no longer an option. My relationship with the franchise has had its ups and downs, but it won me over by simply getting better and better, and by repeatedly knowing exactly what I thought I was expecting and then showing me something completely different. Whoever that idiot on Twitter was, I imagine he's rarely been happier to have been proved wrong.

2 comments :

  1. Hi Mr Suit. Being a film nerd like myself I wondered if you picked up on the little homage to Back to the Future when Tony was knocked out by the Hulk opening the stairway door when they were stealing the stone? I seem to recall Marty doing the same to his alternate self when trying to retrieve the Sports Almanac during BTTF2. Tony even says 'we blew it' just like Marty did.

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