It has cost billions of dollars to make and has brought in even more billions of dollars for
Marvel’s present owning company Disney. Undoubtedly Avengers – Endgame is a film of the year if not actually the decade, and now that the film has received such a positive response from many other commentators, film critic Barry Normal asks ‘exactly what are we watching ?’
Films that feature superheroes are a lot more than a dime a dozen nowadays. There was a time when Superman and Batman films would have what were just sequels, an idea that has spiralled into that of cinematic universes where every film that features characters from either DC or Marvel has to fit seamlessly with every other film that features those characters, some of which are more widely known than others. At the same time, the actual comic books that those characters originate from have also undergone significant changes. There are now about a half a dozen different versions of Spiderman, for example, while a slew of parallel universes and time travel plots make it easier for the writers to revamp characters at will.
As long as there has been anything that could be described as Pop Culture, these Superheroes have figured largely within it, from the 1950s collages of a recently graduated Peter Blake to the enduring appeal of Batman, who can appear as anything from a recognisable caped crusader to the protagonist of a horror story to an animated Lego figurine. Other superpowered individuals might remain entrapped within glossy comic pages, but as every year brings even more cinematic spectacle involving people that can fly without an aircraft and blow things up with their fingers, and as these are films designed to present a coherent storyline from one cinema release to the
next, there are obviously significant designs laid out for the benefit of audiences.
Basically, if you haven’t seen any of the films that precede ‘Avengers – Endgame’ in the sequence of Marvel-based films (that began with, er, The Hulk? The Fantastic Four? The first Iron Man film?) then you are going to find ‘Avengers – Endgame’ a bit bewildering and even if you have seen some of those films you’ll find it a bit challenging. At just over three hours in length, the need to cram insufficient plot and character references drags on the already complex script and while everything is where it should be for any actual fans of the Marvel universe, the need for the film makers to broaden the film’s appeal gets overstretched to near if not actual breaking point.
Inevitably, at just over 180 minutes screentime it seems like watching more than one film. One of these films is a quite acceptable Superhero epic. One of them is a sci-fi blockbuster. One of them, and this is where the joins are definitely on display, is a psychological horror centred on the most morally ambivalent of our heroes, bow and arrow marksman Hawkeye. Another is an in-house big screen remake of ‘Friends’, with the wisecracks flowing unremittingly even in the depths of cold coffee and alien annihilation despair. And yet another is a just plain weird film about a
One minute we’re seeing moments of Hitchockian tension, the next we’re watching a drunkenThor playing video games. Annoyingly everyone and I do mean everyone, in ‘Avengers – Endgame’ can do time travel as easily as you or I can nip down to the Co Op.
The bad guy is just too sympathetic and gets killed in the films opening sequence before
returning, enormous purple jaw intact, to wreck everyone’s day all over again. Then as even more of the characters from the preceding 20 films that Marvel/Disney has made since 2003 or thereabouts turn up to add their presence to the already jumbled narrative, I began to think that the $4bn dollars that were supposedly spent making ‘Avengers – Endgame’ definitely weren’t wasted, although by this time a significant part of the audience probably are.
The climatic fight scene isn’t the actual end of the film, and it’s here that I decided something just wasn’t as it should. The seriously outnumbered Avengers are facing an entire invading alien army complete with gigantic spaceship, heavily armed flying woodlice and any number of laser missiles when suddenly, every Marvel character that has ever appeared on screen reappears through one of those time wormholes that the plot has a lot of. During this spectacular sequence, someone flies across the screen on a winged horse. A winged horse? What have those aliens got a problem with, I found myself asking. And that felt wrong.
It felt wrong because for a film like ‘Avengers – Endgame’ to work, you need to like the
characters. The writers go a long way towards humanising their creations, giving them depth and clarity as individuals, only for that to go by the wayside as the effects become ever more overwhelming and the plot itself leaves orbit. Usually this works in films such as this although here, the blend of fantasy and drama turns into an awkward sludgefest and the dramatic element begins to falter, partly because it seems very unlikely that any of the films’ casualties – two of its main characters don’t actually make it to the end credits – have indeed passed away as, given the elaborate machinations at work, they’re very likely to turn up again through one of those time wormholes or have cloned themselves before the climactic fight sequence began. Or both. Or something equally far fetched. But this is the Marvel universe, and anything can and does happen.
Such as guaranteed sequels to even the supposed final chapter of a 21 film cycle.
Hanging over ‘Avengers – Endgame’ somewhere is the recent passing of Marvel creator Stan Lee, who definitely won’t be reappearing. His is undoubtedly an important cultural legacy for all sorts of reasons, and I’ve read more comics that had his signature attached to them than I can actually count. Had ‘Avengers – Endgame’ been made twenty years ago, and with actually Lee at the helm in some capacity, would it have had a less confusing narrative thread and actually been more enjoyable?
Somehow I don’t doubt that.