(Tortuously spoiler free)
Let’s assume for the sake of this article that Avengers: Endgame is terrific entertainment and take it from there, shall we? Normal likes/ dislikes can be resumed after.
You either know the stats by now or don’t care. ‘Avengers: Endgame’ is over 3 hours long, cost $400,000,000 to make and covered its cost in the first day of release. It has characters that date back around 70 years and is the closing chapter of a 22-film storyline that started in the sixties, featuring dozens of superheroes and sidekicks. About half of all recognisable Hollywood faces are in it, and its locations are different planets rather than cities.
These planets generally fall into two types; Las Vegas / Cheddar Gorge. Of the superheroes, only Dr Bruce Banner is allowed relaxed clothing. Everyone else lives in blue, silver, purple or black condoms. Their powers usually consist of a. being able to survive having a skyscraper thrown on top of them, b. firing different coloured beams from their hands that push things back, the way magnets work. Many characters’ powers are unguessable; these ones I put down to general ‘superness’.
So, going to the movies the other night with my neighbour, who had never seen a single frame of any of the films, might have been a mistake. He says he enjoyed it despite not having a clue about what was going on, so that when Pegasus and a talking tree arrived he could simply shrug. So I guess it was a bit like going in cold to a Bollywood musical. At least he stayed awake.
‘Avengers Endgame’ reaches the ne plus ultra of a certain kind of fantasy, representing the culmination of creator Stan Lee’s vision. The comic books maven hit his peak in the 1960s and found his natural fit as a Hollywood producer with old-school smarts, a world-builder with two brilliant artists, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. His cataclysmic global approach to superhero storytelling peaked with the Fantastic Four, characters owned by Fox, who ruined that franchise. As a result Marvel made do with the B-team leftovers (minus characters like Submariner) yet turned them into something interesting. DC knows to its cost that the principal character in a drama is often the most boring, so Marvel concentrates on the fun also-rans.
The trick with the MCU is to make everything appear baroque and complex while actually being very simple. The plot could have been written on a fag packet (every other person in the world, including half the Avengers, has been turned into leaf mulch, and the remnants must restore balance) but the sheer overwhelming number of performers trading emotions, action set pieces and quickfire dialogue, grind most criticism into dust. Let no-one dare raise their head and say it’s all, well, very silly, because so are Sherlock Holmes and Alice in Wonderland.
Despite sporting a villain, the talkative Thanos, with a genuinely philosophical reason for destroying the universe, what the film doesn’t really have is any depth. This ain’t Shakespeare (and neither is GoT). A stroll through the oceans of these souls wouldn’t get your feet wet.
There’s a book to be written about the Avengers’ hair, though. Perhaps the Sunday Times’s Camilla Long could write it, as she seems to review all films from a hair perspective. Thor’s do moved from Asgardian (lanky, dry) to Manhattan (cropped, gelled) to thug (razor lines, high ‘n’ tight) to slob (lanky and greasy) while Captain America appears to have borrowed one of Nic Cage’s wigs, strange creatures that live independently from their wearers.
The MCU is unique in that it acknowledges our surrounding pop culture. When Iron Many elaborates on quantum universes in order to explain why the concept of time travel is flawed he is met with the response; ‘So Back To The Future is a bunch of shit, then.’ The humour works because it taps into our own cynical approach. While DC’s universe is busy being lofty, aloof and largely patrician (not to mention offensive, cf. Wonder Woman’s plot about wartime gassing) Marvel is cheekily irreverent and self-aware.
The plot hook, nonsense about a giant oven-glove inset with jewels that control the universe, is there to hang emotional beats on, in this case a surprising amount of mourning and loss that strives for gravitas. The pleasures come from many different quarters; the set-pieces that perfectly recreate comic book frames, the on-the-nose dialogue that dares you to find it ridiculous, the bizarre clash of characters and performances. Does it seem odd that the god of thunder is arguing with a talking raccoon, or that a floating cloak should follow a conversation between a world-eater and a superhero? If so, maybe fantasy is not for you. I grew up with the Ray Harryhausen films and we bought into everything from cave girls fighting dinosaurs to clockwork owls, just as Harry Potter’s fans believe in posh British boarding schools for wizards.
But the absence of any appetite for real news has led the press to employ an insane number of pundits to pontificate on what it all means, as if a very expensive children’s film was a story of international importance.
With grim inevitability, the Guardian employed someone called Lacey Jade Christie to have a heart attack about the film’s failure to include a trigger warning because it features a fat person. Her headline; ‘Avengers: Endgame was brilliant – but the fat shaming broke my heart’ – brought tears (of laughter) in our household. I thought, gosh, If Lacey Jade is that sensitive she’d better stay away from Barnsley.
Now that Hollywood is for kids and TV is for adults, the Avengers reaches an endpoint of juvenile excess that leaves you sugar-rushed and elated despite closing with a lachrymose and sentimental funeral. Each of the minor characters could yield their own universe of stories; such was the richness of these 1960s-bred imaginings, when everything seemed possible. This is the blockbuster as geology; the deeper you’ve dug, the more you’ll get out of the new stuff you’ve found.
After 22 films I still get Scarlet Witch and Black Widow muddled, have no idea who that woman with the antennae is, keep calling Hawkeye Green Arrow, and still feel that Guardians of the Galaxy shouldn’t really be there, but it was all great fun while it lasted. The saga might even be missed in years to come, when films just consist of cartoon characters firing guns.