A lonely retiree finally settles into his new life of gardening. But will he be able to get just the right amount of salt in his stock?
I mean, that’s one way of describing Avengers: Endgame, a film designed to be all things to all people.
Neither as focussed nor as surprising as Infinity War, the 22nd outing for Marvel still manages to get the emotions largely right, whilst just about keeping on the less cloying side of that fine line between victory lap and the kind of outright fan service that blows a raspberry at any notions of logic.
Starting with a small scene that reintroduces a character missing since the living splash panel theatrics of Civil War’s showpiece airport brawl, the first fifteen minutes here spectacularly take a bold turn in giving the audience a little hope before taking it all away. The fact that a further two hours and forty five minutes are still to run on the clock should clue anyone into the fact there’s a lot more movie to come – after all, there are threads hanging loose from Thor: Ragnarok, Civil War, Ant Man And The Wasp and last month’s Captain Marvel to tie up. No spoilers yet, but not all of these issues ever fully get a bow stuck on them, instead being glossed over to get to that most convenient of plot devices: time travel.
An early revelation means the team have to come up with what one member describes as “a time heist”, and this means a trip back to some of the more memorable moments in the Marvel back catalogue. This does bring the film close to the feel of a clip show, albeit with a considerably larger budget. Yet it also allows for some fun involving cameos from the rogues gallery, and one scene that doubly serves as a callback to The Winter Soldier’s most iconic moment whilst providing Marvel with a chance to give a wink to a notorious twist from one character’s source material. It’s a riot, and is the most fun the film has with itself.
Yet it also serves to undercut the larger whole, which as a piece seems more disjointed than Infinity War. Where the big bad there was given a character progression that meant the film could be interpreted as their hero’s journey, here there is no such focus, the same nemesis absent for long stretches until reappearing in a past form that mitigates their previous arc.
One focus not discarded, thankfully, are the buddy dynamics built up over a decade – Cap and Tony get a chance to settle their differences and resolve some long-gestating regrets – and the time travel story allows for a new spin on the Search For Spock formula, as past characters reset to first position, which presumably is also to introduce the next phase of movies rather neatly – or conveniently, depending on how cynically you want to approach a franchise whose main emotional core partly stems from the relationship between a sentient tree and a talking raccoon. It’s this focus on personal stakes that drive the film – until the very end.
You’ll never truly understand the phrase “everything but the kitchen sink”, until you’ve seen the size of the kitchen sink Marvel throws at the screen in the final half hour. Pegasus’ fly, missiles land, Hulks smash, and one character concludes a journey they’ve been on since the very start of this whole crazy endeavour to create a series of living comics. Endings and new beginnings follow – which might undermine all the supposed finality on show, but at least fans get to see who’s truly worthy of Mjolnir.
Which seems as good a time as any to reflect on what has been a reasonably solid eleven years of cinematic moments. I moaned earlier about the lack of focus in Endgame, and by that I mean it doesn’t have as much story focus as its immediate predecessor, but in truth the MCU itself has occasionally suffered from a lack of this focus. Thinking about the films in retrospect, they seemingly congeal into a mass of CGI action scenes, quips, and post-credits teasers for whatever was next on the conveyor belt. Is this fair? Probably not. Any franchise that contains the elevator scene from The Winter Soldier, Michael Keaton switching gears from jovially protective father to sinister crime overlord in a heartbeat in Homecoming, the imperial critique of Black Panther, and this shot can’t be all bad. Yet its unintentional overall legacy has caused almost every one of their competitors – and Marvel’s owners – to double down on what they used to say old Bond flicks were made from: kiss kiss, bang bang – nothing more, nothing less. Star Wars has gone from the studied revisionism of The Last Jedi to the safer wham-bam antics of JJ Abrams’ usual oeuvre. DC has stepped away from trying to make Frank Miller’s psychotic Batman work as a Happy Meal tie-in and seems poised to return its core franchises back to day-glo simplifications (remember when Aquaman was a running gag on Entourage?), and über-studio Disney has decided to stretch the limits of the words “live action adaptation” by revisiting their old works as CGI-infused nostalgia fests.
This movie contains some beautiful pay-offs (such as the callback to Iron Man’s brash final line, and the sight of two people enjoying a slow dance in their living room), but maybe the curtain coming down on this era may mean it’s time for cinematic pastures new for some movie fans. There’s no longer investment in the meta-arc of Robert Downey Jr.’s career resuscitation, or Chris Evans’ take on an already conflicted WWII propaganda creation flung into the contemporary (and less binary) geopolitical landscape, or even how Marvel will waste Scarlett Johansson this time. Some will forever care, but as Marvel is now part of the Disney Industrial Complex, others will perhaps have less emotional connection to a post-Stan Lee comic book movie landscape.
One caveat: you will totally watch the s**t out of the teased Asgardians Of The Galaxy.