For better or worse, Marvel are never going to make a movie this big ever again.
Like, we can feel the movie straining under the weight of its nightmare logistics production process. The narrative burden they’ve inherited stacked so heavy it’s basically impossible to know where to start. When the film makes the eternally irritating move to start its action before any of the title cards does so with a fitting nervous energy, we’re catching up with Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye picnicking with his family right before the climactic action of Infinity War and when things start to happen it’s depicted with a depiction of confusion and horror more honestly human than anything we saw in the two and a half hours of mania that led up to it.
It’s strange that after the all the spectacle and setup of the last film, this one chooses not to engage in a dialogue with it at all. The opening minutes rush us through the much anticipated arrival of Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel, and their unsuccessful attempt to retrieve the stones of power from Josh Brolin’s Thanos. Then we cut to five years later.
In keeping with the three hour runtime of this joint, the title announcing that is revealed excruciatingly — one word at at a time — over the course of about twenty seconds. We are introduced to a world that has become small and sad and which is largely bereft of its heroes. There’s almost a subversive pleasure that comes out of seeing Chris Evans’ Captain America run a support group for those struggling to cope with having woke up to changed world or seeing Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, Nat, slicing herself the world’s saddest looking PB&J. Even the most openly comic member of the team, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor’s antics take on a sombre mood as he drinks his days away playing video games.
With all the expectation laid upon it, the film decides to turn inward, and become about the nature of legacy. And it starts by asking us what the ramifications of failure look like. As a direct sequel to a film that seemed allergic to twenty minutes passing without another outlandish action scene, a refreshingly minor key is played for much of the running time. These people have changed, and it seems like it really wants for us to understand how. Most notably, its two most historically tortured players — Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, and Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk — seem to have found personal peace in a world broken beyond their help.
It takes Paul Rudd’s Ant-Man returning from the (presumed) dead to spur the main thrust of the plot. Maybe everyone lost can still be saved, through the careful application of some patented time travel bullshit. I don’t wanna spoil the mechanics of how all of this is gonna work, I’ve already gone far too deep into that territory anyway (though it’s not like anybody with any sense would read this before catching the film) but suffice to say that it’s gonna involve many of our heroes taking a sideways trip down memory lane.
I suppose it does its best in this regard, but it’s hard to build emotional resolution that feels specific when the closure that our characters get comes in response to moments scattered so liberally across ten years worth of movies. Sure, we can narrow it down to a few specifics, and I’m not saying that you need perfect recall of Thor: The Dark World to understand what the movie’s getting at but… It would help. Everything feels tied up within vagueries. Forgiveness, redemption, the symbolic importance of a longing fulfilled.
The film carries it off because it’s resting upon the shoulders of actors who have long since transcended the need for talent. Their appearance here is iconic. News has been rife with interviews about how even on set actors received minimal direction in order to keep a lid on leaks, but really when all that is required is just casting the right light on a lead’s face while they gaze soulfully, maybe it’s not required. The most interesting moments get to go to the lesser players. Their insecurities are more keenly felt because, as everyone else’s sidekicks, they’ve only really had to be furnished with one each.
Karen Gillen’s Nebula gets another chance at reckoning with her father’s abuse, Bradley Cooper’s Rocket with his acceptance issues, Don Cheadle’s War Machine with the physical toll superheroism impacted upon his body. It is so nice to see all these characters talk about the things that got discarded so readily before.
Until finally, we get to that closing battle. And it’s still ridiculous, and nonsensical, and overstuffed and with far far far too many moving parts. But here it feels earned, it comes at the expense of a few hours emotional labour and a literal year’s worth of anxious suspense on the part of its fans.
I’m not sure that it matters that this is good. I think it is, even if it’s not going to give everyone everything they want. Even if finally reducing all of ten years of cinematic output into a single ultimate authorial statement reveals that there’s actually not that much been said.
It just matters that it exists. That it got done. That it is something that you can watch as eternal testament to this thing that producer Kevin Feige, directors Anthony and Joe Russo, and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely managed to pull off.
The thing is, what made me cry watching this wasn’t any of the stuff I’d expect to. That plucks sentimentally at the heartstrings of someone who watched Iron Man from a pillow on the floor at a friend’s birthday party. It was this one shot during the final battle that sorta existed as a statement, the possibility of something that these films could become.
These Marvel films are gonna keep going I guess, but we just witnessed their apex. There’s a conversation that runs through this film between various characters, is it better to just put things back the way they were, or accept the consequences and keep moving forward. It honestly feels like the franchise has commits to its conclusion here.
For a while, I’m gonna forget that we’ve got anything coming up next and enjoy at last that sense of an ending.
Avengers: Endgame releases in UK cinemas April 25th.
Image courtesy of Marvel Studios