Film critic Scott Wilson reviews a little-known independent film you probably won’t have heard of called Avengers: Endgame
Avengers: Endgame – ★★★★★
When cinema goes big, there’s nothing in any other medium that can compete. Lord of the Rings is an epic literary series, but its sense of scale has been immortalised on the silver screen by Peter Jackson. Its fight scenes in particular are already the stuff of film legend. After what feels like an eternity carrying the burden of the ring, the audience feels just as worn out as Frodo does, determined to make it to the end, desperate for everyone else to play their part and fend off hordes of baddies.
Hope drives Lord of the Rings. In the fallout from Avengers: Infinity War, those who remain are left to find their own drive. There is hope in Avengers: Endgame too, but there is also this dreaded sense of the inevitable. Rarely do the good guys lose, so rarely do we see the effects such an outcome has on these moral guardians. Each film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe up until now sees a superhero confront something supposedly much greater than them only to find a way to overcome. Infinity War ended with a cataclysmic loss despite the collective power of a group of heroes who had reliably saved civilisation time and again.
There’s a sense of scale only afforded by time. Endgame is the culmination of every Marvel movie, across 11 years, up until this point, and there is no denying the storytelling skill required to pull off such a feat.
The question of “what now?” hangs in the air. With the villainous Thanos considering his job done, he’s no longer an active threat, but the world continues to hurt from his actions. For the 50 per cent of people he didn’t wipe from existence, there is an omnipresent grief, knowing nothing could have stopped him. Collateral damage is not new to the Marvel films – Avengers: Age of Ultron addresses the harm accrued over all the city-levelling fights and the regular citizens affected by them – but Endgame is the first in which we hear their stories, as well as see Captain America et al as a part of that society. Everyone is hurting because everyone lost someone.
This being a three-hour, genre-pushing monolith, there is more than just the sense of contemplating grief, mortality, and what cannot be changed. When faced with this scale of tragedy – losing loved ones and inhabitants of a planet the Avengers had sworn to protect – motivation is everything. How do we go on? When do we begin dating after the death of a partner? Does the feeling of failure ever go away? Is it wrong to accept this new version of ‘normal’?
Despite the existential sadness – and in some cases in spite of it – this is still a Marvel film, and the characters have not lost their sense of self completely. It’s as funny as it is emotional. Having spent so long with so many of these faces, we share their inside jokes, know what’s in a look, and why it’s so comical that that character is behaving in a certain way. And although it is an epic climax to a run of 22 films, it has the heart of a heist film underneath the melee.
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More than anything else this year apart from Game of Thrones, Endgame deserves to be seen spoiler-free. What can be said is this: watching it at a sold-out midnight premiere was a spectacle of the sorts which makes cinema so utterly amazing. People applauded jokes, whooped for heroic moments, and gasped at all the right bits. More than once, my friend grabbed my arm because of some mixture of panic and excitement. The sense of investment audiences have given this series over the years cannot be understated nor taken for granted. For fans, this is a huge cultural moment, and it plays out with virtuosity, swaying between emotional beats, suphero moments, and trademark jokes with ease. It would be a shame for genre snobbishness to get in the way of acknowledging just how significant Endgame is in terms of storytelling and providing closure for millions.
Game of Thrones is an apt comparison. Approaching its final few episodes, the stakes are huge and the characters familiar. There’s a sense of scale only afforded by time. Endgame is the culmination of every Marvel movie, across 11 years, up until this point, and there is no denying the storytelling skill required to pull off such a feat. What could have been a competent three-hour battle movie is anything but, the film instead going where it needs to go. Cinema affords us the privilege of reimagining what has happened, giving us the chance to reclaim our control of situations. There is a profundity in knowing that such a thing is possible, but also in accepting that it can’t always be so.
So while it delivers everything Hollywood blockbusters ought to, at its heart is a character-driven story about looking for peace. To what extent will people push themselves to find what they are looking for? And when is it best to accept simply what is? What does it take to find the permission within yourself to come to a rest?
The ethics of box-office dominance and cinema-screen-hogging aside, good on Marvel for delivering the movie it had to, but not necessarily the one we expected. It’s an undeniably momentous achievement, upon which there is no greater compliment to bestow than to say, after all of this, it is satisfying in every way.