While this review avoids major plot points be wary of minor spoilers.
Following the defeat that led to the death of half of the universe, Earth’s mightiest heroes are scattered, bewildered and broken, clutching at straws for a solution to Thanos’ (Josh Brolin) terrible decimation. While Disney’s troubling takeover of the entertainment industry continues apace, Marvel’s conclusion to its touted Infinity Saga is indulgent, exhausting and deeply satisfying.
When terrible things happen, how do we move past them? Is it even possible? And if it is, do we always want to? These are the questions that Avengers: Endgame, the most audacious and bombastic of Marvel’s mega-series to date, ambitiously seeks to answer. Like most of the studio’s films, those questions are ultimately more interesting than the answers. Still, the film’s central thesis – that if we can’t go back then we must move forward – is a compelling and resonant thematic underpinning to the film as both a self-contained narrative and as the last chapter of a 22-film saga.
The MCU’s ability to connect with audiences through character has always been its winning hand. And here it cashes in its chips, taking the heroes that audiences have lived with for over ten years and putting them through the wringer. Particularly harrowing is Tony’s emaciated figure on his return to Earth, and while Hawkeye’s neon-infused bout of Yakuza slaughtering and Thor’s fall to drunken idleness are wildly different in tone and visuals, both signal a deep pain sitting far beneath the surface – a pain fed by their inability to accept the past and move on.
Endgame takes its time with its characters, dedicating a full hour to our heroes’ working through their depression. Fortunately, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s solid writing ensures that pushing up from rock bottom is never less than compelling. And once we do emerge from the pit, the payoff is all the more cathartic for the time it took to reach that point. Endgame’s more conventionally-structured plot means there is nothing of the gut punch of Infinity War’s snap, or indeed of the fresh pleasure in seeing those early MCU films punching above their weight – yet in really exploring the ways that grief expresses itself, Endgame’s emotional resonance strikes a deeper chord than most other MCU films.
Still, there’s no denying the indulgent fun of the film’s final act, an epic, Lord of the Rings-style showdown: this is the stuff of which fanboys’ dreams are made. Brimming with wonderful character moments and emotional catharsis, the action sadly lacks the elegance of the big moments of either of Joss Whedon’s Avengers films, its pace and energy sometimes dizzying to the point of exhaustion. Yet it is also exhilarating, with one air-punchingly ludicrous, laugh-out-loud moment of glee after another. Kevin Feige’s ambitious claim that together these twenty-two films form one grand, coherent story remains somewhat dubious, yet somehow Endgame really does feel like a conclusion to the whole thing. This is fan service elevated into an art form, transcending winking self-aggrandisement to become something of a reflection on the past eleven years, a chugging, tooting, spectacular train of a franchise, careering indefinitely forward.
Avengers: Endgame is now in IMAX cinemas nationwide. odeon.co.uk
Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell