The latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe Avengers: Endgame works both as a superhero film and as a celebration of one of Cinema’s biggest gambles.
Looking back at eleven years of Marvel movies, starting with the original Iron Man in 2008, it’s hard to believe that the step the studio took — uniting a series of stand-alone films by continuity — was considered a monumental risk at the time. In fact, I suspect even the most positive of fan would be surprised at just far Marvel was able to take the idea — changing the face of cinema forever in the process.
Avengers: Endgame is very much a celebration of that idea and its success. The film, which contains a time-travel element — revels in taking both its audience and its characters on a journey through its past successes.
It’s quite remarkable that a major film studio can create what is essentially a tribute to a decade of its own work and know it will become one of the biggest blockbusters of the year — perhaps of all-time if pre-ticket sales are to be used as a gauge.
But before you get the impression Avengers: Endgame is just a back-slapping tribute to previous successes — like a sitcom clip show that cursed 80s and 90s US comedy series — there is plenty of plot and new developments to be had here.
Fans, essentially everyone at this point, will remember that the previous film — chronologically at least — Infinity War saw the Mad Titan, Thanos succeed in his goal to ‘rebalance the Universe’ by wiping out half of all life with a snap of his massive purple fingers.
This film picks up with the regrouped Avengers, those that are left at least, on a mission to undo the finger snap that caused this ultimate genocide by capturing the all-powerful Infinity Stones from Thanos.
The mission quickly turns to one of vengeance alone as the team are forced to face the idea that some losses can’t be recouped. Said vengeance is delivered quickly and brutally–the moniker Avengers has never been so apt. The heroes are then left to cope with their grief and loss, not knowing they still have an extremely small ace up their sleeve.
What impressed me most about Endgame was the character development on display for a clutch of main characters. They are required to stare at their individual pasts, even forced to overcome what they were — sometimes literally — to succeed.
It’s satisfying to really see the effects of these eleven years on some of the main characters. Black Widow, portrayed by Scarlett Johansson, especially comes to realise that being an Avenger has made her a much better person than she ever thought she could be. Her relationship with the returning Hawkeye, Jeremy Renner, who has perhaps lost more than the rest is one of the highlights of the film and its emotional anchor. Beyond a simple love-interest–these are friends who respect and understand each other, one who will do anything to give the other their life back.
Other Avengers are less motivated to help. Tony Stark, Robert Downey Jnr, who returns to Earth bitter and twisted by his losses, somehow manages to build a perfect life after ‘the snap’ and has to choose if he should risk that second chance at life for a second chance at victory.
Unfortunately, I don’t think the Russo brothers, returning as directors for their fourth outing in the Marvel Universe, expand on this inner-conflict much. After Tony makes his decision he doesn’t much reference it again. Before considering this as a criticism, it’s worth considering that the directors have a lot of things to juggle here and they do it well.
The Russos’ love for Steve Rogers, Captain America, portrayed by Chris Evans, is evident and the character gets to become the inspirational leader that he has always been in the comics. The Russos make some great nods to their first film Captain America: Winter Soldier, especially that film’s stand out action-scene — the elevator fight.
Evans is clearly having great fun here. Whilst Downey Jnr may have the meaty character stuff — Evans gets to let his hair down a little at last–it almost seems as if the responsibility of portraying a character with such gravitas has lifted somewhat allowing Evans to enjoy the role.
Fans of some of the other core Avengers may be a little disappointed by their roles in the film. Thor’s transformation to deadpan comedy foil that began in the marvellous Taika Waititi’s Thor: Ragnarok is completed here. Whilst it is quite amazing Marvel have taken what was perhaps their weakest lead character and made him someone audiences want to see more of — some might be disappointed that he doesn’t get the same kind of stand-out moment that he was gifted at the conclusion of Infinity War.
Likewise, Bruce Banner has undergone a major transformation — but this happens off-screen and we never really get to see the resolution in his relationship with the raging monster that lurks within him. That’s somewhat disappointing and the resulting Hulk-persona works well at times — not at others.
Like some other members of the audience, I was curious about how Guardians of the Galaxy crewmembers Rocket Raccoon and Nebula would fit amongst the Avengers. Happily, I found Rocket — voiced by Bradly Walsh, to be something of a highlight in the film. As well as providing a lot of the humour and building on his rapport with Thor, established in Infinity War — the completely CGI animal also portrays a great deal of pathos — especially when greeting Nebula on Earth at the beginning of the film.
A real special mention should go to the CGI animators, not only for making a grown man empathise with a talking Raccoon but who also have three completely CGI main-characters to animate and succeed in making us ‘see’ them as real people.
Of course, the third of this triumvirate of characters is Thanos — portrayed by Josh Brolin. Thanos is more of a pure villain in this film than he was in Infinity War. Fortunately, this is no bad thing.
Despite not being as unassailable, Brolin’s performance and the Russos’ direction show us that Thanos is crueller and more dangerous when his back is against the wall. The threat of having his destiny rewritten makes Thanos a far more brutal character than before — no longer is he simply doing what he feels must be done. He’s having sadistic fun doing it.
Avengers: Endgame is far from a perfect film. Whilst it’s narrative is more traditional than Infinity Wars was, it still has a lot to force in, maybe too much. Like that aforementioned film, it’s something of a miracle that the Russos make it work.
This is also, very much an ending to that eleven years of MCU films. It feels at points, like an epic season finale of a long-running television show. Unfortunately, the final battle doesn’t quite have the impact of the battle of New York that we saw way back in the JossWhedon helmed Avengers (2012).
Whilst the scale of the conflict is much grander, the CGI backdrop isn’t as vibrant and exciting as the destruction seen on living, breathing city streets. The fact that there are so many uplifting and inspiring moments in the final conflict means that few people will find this element of it particularly distracting.
Avengers: Endgame is ultimately a funny, exciting, uplifting and emotionally draining experience for Marvel fans. And whilst it certainly serves as an ending to eleven years of the MCU it also reshuffles the deck and gives some interesting hints at the future of that film series.
Avengers: Endgame is released on 25 April