It’s testament to the success of the Avengers movies, and their actors, that the high points of Endgame are down to the characters, not to the bangs and crashes. The quirks and quips have built up steadily over the years into a real audience rapport. Fusing the single movies into a veritable assembly was always a risky proposition, but it paid off. Whip-smart scripts and interweaving stories, kept fresh by distinctively new additions, all led nicely to the ashes-to-ashes cliff-hanger of Avengers: Infinity War.
Thanks to Thanos’ drastic approach to sustainability, half the population – including a swathe of Avengers – was wiped out at the snap of his superpowered fingers. Years later… Iron Man is in denial, a family man now, out in the sticks. Thor is a pot-bellied slacker, beer and bad living making him look like the Big Lebowski. David Banner has come to terms with his alter ego, the Hulk. And Captain America is channelling his old-world positivity into self-help groups. But with Ant Man newly escaped from the downsized quantum realm, and Captain Marvel arriving with new hair and superpowers to spare, the question is – is it game over, or game on? Time will tell.
At three hours, Endgame is aiming for epic. It’s earned that right over 11 years and 22 films. And it does so more deftly than the clunky series-closer Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, and the soggy Titanic, each of which felt self-indulgent, tried the patience, and took longer to do it. But directors Anthony and Joe Russo - and the team of writers steeped in the Marvel universe – bring this run of movies to a fitting end.
At times, the films seemed to lack jeopardy: when you’re a superhero all you need is the right power and surely you can raise the dead and turn back time? That changed with Infinity War and thankfully Endgame stays true to that downbeat ending and picks up in similarly sombre fashion. And it sticks with the rules of its game as the scattered Avengers seek to reassemble themselves and restore Thanos’ purged world. A convoluted story of time travel, underpinned with sci-fi logic, is laced with wit, sight gags and the trippy fun of characters inserted back into pivotal timelines from their previous movies.
It’s also surprisingly touching – with Iron Man and Cap both getting moments of well-judged connection - or not - with parts of their past. And it’s no spoiler to say that it doesn’t end well for all of the Avengers. Some characters won’t be returning.
The Hulk’s new persona is great fun and oddly believable. Thor’s is just overplayed. From Norse God to slob is a good visual joke; but to run it through the film does the character a disservice. Sure, Chris Hemsworth has great comic ability; but sad to say his Thor is wasted in Endgame and doesn’t get to let rip, in the way that every other character does. But watch out for Captain America’s moment of glory – you’ll know when. It makes cheerleaders of us all.
And while jokes about Cap’s physique – ‘that’s America’s ass’ – poke fun at the genre’s superhero costuming, it’s Ant Man’s Paul Rudd who proves the heart and soul of the film, as well as its plot driver. His time-travel test-run mishap is the comic highlight and a sweet family moment one of the most powerful, both brilliantly acted. And the directors wisely take their time over both scenes.
Odd, then, that, at three hours, some of it should feel so rushed. After a stately opening third, the unfolding of the fightback time-trip gets more zest than juice from the set-up, moving on too quickly and none too clearly. And as for the inevitable final battle, it’s a blurry mash-up of absolutely no consequence or cohesion, one of the worst in the cannon – not as epic as Infinity War’s, nor yet as woeful as Black Panther’s.
This is an intelligent film that scores big time on the simple relationships of the characters and – surprisingly for a superhero set-up - their sheer believability. You’re sad to leave their company.