Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Avengers: Endgame

The commemorative plate conclusion to the Robert Downey Jr era of Marvel movies, Avengers: Endgame plays like three wildly different, tonally incompatible passes at an Avengers: Infinity War sequel, knitted together then blasted out into the world. The first, and best, sequence sees our punch-drunk heroes palling up with Brie Larson's golden space God to plot an intergalactic home invasion with the express intention of, basically, making themselves feel better. The scene that follows is not unlike Lee Van Cleef's cold-blooded introduction in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly with computer animated Hulkbuster armour standing in for the grinning, evil Sentenza. Like Angel Eyes before them, our heroes swoop on a farmer, find they don't like what he's selling, then murder him.

This haphazard jab at wet work continues Infinity War's con of consequences in the Marvel Universe, threatening viewers with broader, emotionally upsetting horizons that steer the series away from pop superheroics to something closer to speculative science fantasy. Endgame's Earth is fundamentally different from our own. Half the population are gone and with them any sense of hustle or bustle - sports stadiums lie destitute while seafaring shanty towns throb around iconic American monuments. Endgame briefly posits a distressed world spun out by The Snap. Organised crime, having barely missed a step, has seemingly reorganised around what's-left-of-people trafficking forcing the cosmically powered Avengers to intervene.

These details may be scant and tossed off, essentially used to check in on Jeremy Renner's hollowed-out Hawkeye, but there's something in this idea of post-apocalyptic policing that not only works but demands interrogation, especially since Scarlett Johansson's terminally rootless Black Widow has bagged herself the worried brow of a leader. This bubble is popped once the upbeat, ageless Paul Rudd wriggles his way out of his sub-atomic prison, derailing the misery for a time travel heist that lifts our current, maudlin heroes out of their dreadful future, placing them into a variety of situations hand-picked from previous instalments. Despite the towering, terrifying stakes, this section is a lark. A Back to the Future Part II style victory lap that frames the older blockbusters as sacrosanct legend to be scurried around rather than gleefully vandalised.

This lightness becomes a course correction for Endgame, steering us away from not only the depressive seriousness established in the first act but also a lot of the character writing and acting that seemed to be so important upfront. Black Widow, a pre-Stark Avenger no less, suffers a death so perfunctory that her exit actually grows into a bizarre sticking point the further into the film we are, particularly when latter casualties prompt such extreme fanfare. Likewise Karen Gillan's Nebula is established, in this episode, as a victim of abuse learning to trust and process basic human connections. Scenes of her rattling around a shipwrecked space-fighter selflessly forgoing food and rest to attend to an increasingly skeletal Tony Stark seem, at the very least, to indicate a personality who should be a bit more important than the disassembled captive we end up with.

Structural speaking the film absolutely does pivot on her physical involvement with the Earthling's time burglary but Endgame never really finds a way to express that significance with any action determined by Nebula herself. The cyborg pirate's story peters out altogether after she blows a hole through her fanatical past - an act that also fails to invite any temporal consequences for our Nebula. As the rousing conclusion to the story begun in Infinity War, Endgame is content to strive for excess. The film brings together Marvel's entire action figure line to battle Thanos' techno-organic hordes in a multi-tiered server seizure that, unfortunately, has more in common with the noise that capped Ready Player One than Infinity War's Sturm und Drang.

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