Stoned And Dethroned
Tripwire’s senior editor Andrew Colman reviews Avengers: Endgame, out in UK cinemas on Thursday 25 April and the day after 26 April in the US…
Directors: Anthony And Joe Russo
Stars: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Brie Larson, Josh Brolin, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Jeremy Renner
N.B. There are some (non-specific) spoilers here. I can’t very well write about the film without mentioning what it’s about. See the film then read this. Otherwise the Russos will get mad. And you wouldn’t like them when etc. etc.
The Russo boys have been keeping fifty something men (like me) on tenterhooks for quite some time waiting for the MCU Grand Finale, but the most-hyped moment in cinema ever (since the last one) has arrived, as usual fortified with the usual precious noises about not revealing the plot and stuff cause fifty something men (like me) might have our lives ruined as a result. Once again the aim here is to preface everything with the time-honoured catch-all indemnification – that this is a “popcorn” movie. But it’s also a popcorn movie with rather silly pretensions. But to be equivocal, despite the elephantine running time and the fact that this movie is so ludicrously self-referential and in love with itself, it plays, at times well.
As we all recall, the Big Bad (Thanos, played with lugubrious relish by Josh Brolin) has killed half the life in the universe. The surviving members, which include polar opposites Captain America (Chris Evans, wholesome, immaculate, a bit boring) and Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr, unkempt, bearded, glib, beginning to get on my nerves) are defeated. There’s only one way to reverse this axiomatic mess – time travel (like there was any other way), and thanks to Scott Lang (Paul Rudd)’s deus ex machina presence, it’s doable. Groups of surviving Avengers are deployed separately into the near past to retrieve and repair matters, while also getting the chance to revisit key scenes from MCU movies of yore.
Unlike Infinity War, which seemed to develop organically as a feature, Endgame attempts to cram myriad plotlines into the narrative while also trying to maintain character arcs – the three hours passes by pleasantly enough, but it’s a whistle stop tour that rarely pauses for breath, allowing any real or sophisticated drama to appear kitsch and tacked on. If the threat of extinction was so serious, it certainly doesn’t come across due to the Russo’s insistence on shoehorning inane or cheesy comedy as much as the theme of the film will permit – and bear in mind that none of the contrived hilarity contains gallows humour. Everything is light and jolly, until it suddenly isn’t, robbing pivotal scenes of their drama, while turning framing devices (that top and tail the movie) into half-baked, cloying schmaltz.
Where the movie scores is that some of the space-time traveling sections work reasonably well – there are some witty and occasionally touching moments that are handled with remarkable deftness, as the Marvel heroes either relive their yesterdays or (far too coincidentally) bump into key figures from their lives, or indeed themselves. I can forgive all of this simply because this “heist” section captures the essence of the comic medium. Even if characters aren’t allowed the screen time to ruminate on the ramifications of what just occurred to them, it doesn’t matter. This isn’t high art, and all the plot holes (and there are plenty) mean little compared to what the MCU has evoked here. And the CGI throughout these sequences is pretty impressive.
The majority of the characters, through necessity, were only given cameos, but of those who had more of a role to play, the standouts would be Jeremy Renner’s Clint Barton (a more psychotically focused turn than before, but still not getting enough lines), Don Cheadle’s War Machine, Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and of course Chris Hemsworth’s Thor, the Thunder God transformed into the film’s chief laughing stock.
As for the remainder of the film, it’s basically the cinematic equivalent of 1980s event comic Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars – an irony-free stream of heady, superannuated, expertly produced, overcrowded, overcooked cynical fluff that will be an absolute whale at the box office, with apparently human characters allegedly experiencing real world problems in a film that has no connection to them. And that’s the MCU, folks. I admit that there is some disappointment here, as the filmmakers threatened to bypass formula in Infinity War but felt that convention had to be acknowledged on this occasion. That’s not to say that the film is bad – it has lofty ambitions, but seldom seems inspired – if anything if there had been less plot and more time for the characters to explore shifting and fluid realities, it might’ve had inspiration in abundance. Ultimately, what suffers in the film above all else is the style of acting, which has to be reined in, in service to genre – which is a shame considering the heavyweight cast.
And where were certain cast members? Samuel L Jackson’s Nick Fury, so important in the earlier MCU flicks, gets ten seconds, while Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel is the plot device I said she was a month ago. And then there are the extras – John Slattery, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Natalie Portman – there’s a lot of talent on that screen that doesn’t get to shine. In the end Downey Jr is the lynchpin, and the only character in the project to pontificate eloquently about the Avengers’ predicament. But despite his somewhat detached effort, he holds the movie together. Avengers Endgame is a worthy, watchable entry – a bit of a let-down at times, but then I may have expected too much after Infinity War. One wonders where the franchise can go next, and whether audiences need a break from it.