This is a freaking movie, in every sense of the word, with spectacle and humour and emotion and when the audience started applauding as the end credits rolled, I felt like I had been part of a collective experience and I felt part of the magic that made people dress up to go to the movies back in the 30s. And I’m not even a Marvel fan.
This was a huge achievement, and it could have gone so badly wrong. The filmmakers had to somehow service every hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, satisfy the fans who know the characters and comics inside out, make it appealing for those who haven’t got a working knowledge of it all, deliver upon certain expectations while subverting others, balance comic relief with proper emotional payoffs, provide impressive action sequences and CGI and still make the whole thing somehow human.
Probably don’t read anything further if you haven’t seen it yet, I don’t want to ruin anything. Like I said before, I’m not a huge Marvel fan. I’ve seen a handful of the movies, I reckon they’re good fun but I didn’t know all the backstory to everything leading up to Avengers Endgame. Would I have enjoyed the film more if I had? Potentially, there are definite moments throughout which I think went right over my head but I don’t think it would have changed the experience all that much.
Avengers Endgame picks up after Avengers: Infinity War. In a nutshell, super villain Thanos has collected all the “Infinity Stones” which control the universe, snapped his fingers and half the beings in existence have gone up in smoke to bring balance to the galaxy. A whole bunch of Marvel heroes have been smoked away, including Black Panther, Dr Strange, Scarlet Witch, Star-Lord, and Spiderman. The remaining heroes understandably want to seek out Thanos, use the stones to unsmoke everybody and kill the baddie. And this is what I anticipated the whole movie was going to be based around.
When Captain America, Thor, Hulk, War Machine, Black Widow and Rocket track down Thanos (who has become Amish or something and is busy enjoying the country lifestyle), and he tells them that the stones have been destroyed, Thor chops his head off in anger and I was genuinely surprised. In the first ten minutes the film had already subverted expectations of where the audience (well me at least) thought it was going and I was genuinely excited.
The film then jumps to five years since the remaining Avengers confronted Thanos and the world is grey and sad. Antman returns from being trapped in quantum limbo, Ironman figures out how to travel through time and the rest of the film is basically the Avengers travelling back in time to retrieve each of the Infinity Stones, bring back the “vanished” and defeat Thanos.
Even though on paper the plot device of time travel seems cliche and unimaginative, for me it was the perfect way of going about it. What it allowed the filmmakers to do, and this I imagine would have been a real treat for the die hard fans, was explore worlds and characters from previous films that simply didn’t exist anymore on the MCU timeline. It allowed for some fun, caper-esque moments as the heroes try and sneak around without being seen (the pairing of Rocket and Fat Thor together was genius) and some genuinely poignant moments as well (notably when Tony Stark speaks with his own father back in the 1960s).
What was incredible about the film was that at 3 hours and one minute, it didn’t feel long to me; it was so action packed and the pacing worked so well that I barely even registered that two hours had flown by. The only time when things felt a little slow for me was the scene between Black Widow and Hawkeye as they fight over who is going to sacrifice themselves for the Soul Stone.
Out of all the characters, these two for me are by far the dullest and I didn’t see the merit in having one, pretty average Avenger die when Tony Stark was due to die at the end and deliver the requisite big wallop of emotion. I found Black Widow’s death more of a distraction than anything else and a strange thing to have done in the middle of the film.
The final act though, was as epic and exciting as it possibly could have been. The battle itself was freaking awesome and on an unbelievable scale. Again, I have no real connection with any of the Marvel characters, but even I got a little teary when all the “vanished” heroes appeared again. It was inevitable that these characters were all going to be brought back at some point so it wasn’t necessarily surprising, but holy dooly what a moment. The music swelled and they all appeared in their cool superhero poses and I was grinning from ear to ear. Even the shot of all the women superheroes advancing towards Thanos, though without a hint of subtlety, was exciting. There’s a time for subtlety in film; the final act of a superhero film which encompasses over ten years and 23 films is not one of them.
The death of Tony Stark to me was an appropriate one; it’s argued often that the original Iron Man (2008) reignited superhero films, not just for Marvel, but for Hollywood. The Infinity Saga started with Tony Stark and it finished with Tony Stark, and there’s a nice sense of completion there. The funeral sequence was nicely handled, and the shot of all the Avengers standing in black was a nice way of acknowledging them all in the one moment.
For me, that’s where it should have ended. The final little moments with Captain America going back in time to live his life as a regular man were nice I suppose, but I found it strange that they decided to single out one specific Avenger for the film to end upon. I understand that they needed to wrap up his storyline, but surely that could have come before Tony Stark’s funeral so that the saga would end with all the Avengers together? To go from such a surging moment to the final shot of the film being Steve Austin dancing with his girlfriend seemed a strange tonal choice to me.
But that’s a small quibble. For a movie with such huge expectations piled upon it, with such an incredible amount to somehow cram into the one film and with so much propensity for it to have collapsed in on itself, this was a real achievement, and even now when I think about that final act, I get tingles.
Proper movie magic.
By Jock Lehman