You don’t need to be reminded that Avengers: Endgame is the biggest movie of the year, and the biggest comic book movie of all time.
Note: This is a spoiler-free review, minor plot points are discussed
What makes this different is that the marketing team are probably right – and that’s the problem. Endgame isn’t trying to sell you on it’s plot, or anything it does, but simply for being the biggest movie that you and everyone you know is going to see.
No movie, ever, has simply been good by being larger than life and all that came before it; Avatar being but one case in point. Endgame, as rollickingly great as it is in stretches, like Game of Thrones’ latest has mistaken scale (and the amount of money you can throw at something) for grandeur and epic. Sure, a lot of that money sticks, but it’s little use having stars in something if they’re not afforded even a single line.
A sheer not so humble brag for the breadth of it’s own conception, Marvel Cinematic Universe outing #22 features several big name performers who get to do little more than look soulfully in the direction of the camera. Sure you can’t give everyone a consummate arc in even a three-hour movie, but they are nonetheless shoehorned in to drive home the point that a cast like this has never, forgive me, been assembled.
The commercial rather than creative brazenness of this deployment aside, it is something to see the canvas with which this stage of the MCU reaches a note of finality. While it is no doubt something in and of itself to experience such a venture, no less so among a thronging crowd of fans, Endgame should never have relied on it’s being simply too big not to be loved yet so does.
The final hour or so, a constant deluge of CGI amid some of the franchise’s most poorly staged and best group shots, induces the interminable sense of frustration many no doubt bear with these movies following the introduction of yet another disposable CGI army. The title promising a step away from this, endgame literally connotes those final moves in chess when there are few pieces left on the board. Had fewer characters assembled and actually exploited their chosen abilities against each other rather than just punching, as was better handled in the likes of series highlights Infinity War and Civil War, the conclusion could have been that much more engaging; no such luck.
Moreover, the sense of stakes so firmly established by Infinity War wanes at the key moment when the myriad of characters drawn together should be presented with their greatest sense of danger. One fan-favourite, among several taking a volley of very airborne explosives head on and by no means established as superhuman or invulnerable, not only survives but is miraculously unscathed.
The best stretches of Endgame, and they are very enjoyable, involve the remaining team assembling to go on, in the series’ most classic style, a mission, here utilising an uncommon spin on a tried and tested trope of comic lore when jetting off every which way. Involving heist strands, some of the mission components are frustratingly and inconceivably undemanding, while others are thrillingly fun and endearing throwbacks, as might be expected, to much that came before.
One dramatic sequence shared between Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is a stand-out, as is the superb, stylistically standalone encounter between Renner’s archer and the Japanese underworld. Making good use of subtitles and, uncommon for MCU flicks, action both in and outside of the frame as one might recall fondly from Spider-Man: Into The Spider-verse, these are the only moments rendered in a traditional comic style and not as if we’re trying to capture every moment, intimate or grand, with as wide and encompassing a lens as possible.
Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) come to the fore of refreshingly interesting arcs, as do other mainstays. The key dramatic moments for the series’ most iconic characters, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America (Chris Evans) are thankfully not overdrawn nor overstated, something that can too here be said for the MCU’s less significant hallmarks.
Continuing to draw on the more morally curious ethos of Infinity War villain Thanos (Josh Brolin) in part, the film later reneges on this most interesting and core concept to again up the scale of dread even further to a stage, if yet more consequential, lacking the import which so rendered Endgame’s precursor a cut above the rest. To this matter, the fallout from the events of Infinity War are not keenly felt. While we see the impact on our heroes we spend precious moments in the regular world or with any of its inhabitants whose presence we could so relate to and benefit from ala Civil War or Iron Man 3. Ever more necessary this time around given the stated impact of Thanos’ actions, it’s a wonder there’s no real sense of the breadth of their impact on the universe.
What there is however is a sense of finality, something absent from any other MCU flick and welcomely novel. Weighed down by misgivings more numerous than it’s cast, the scale and sweep of this epic (its own surety aside) while not recommending Endgame unto itself is nevertheless, together with much the heroes we have so come to know reckon with, a sight to behold.
Endgame is in cinemas now