Avengers: Endgame review: 'There’s a frantic busyness to the whole thing that wearied me but may well delight Marvel nuts'
About two hours into Endgame, as sundry beefed up superheroes and villains prepared to batter the tar out of one another again, I found myself yearning for whatever is the cinematic opposite of this bold, bright, thundering item of thermonuclear Hollywood nonsense.
One of those black and white Italian films of the 1960s perhaps, by Antonioni or someone similarly ponderous, in which everyone looks depressed and beautiful and nothing much ever happens. I was yearning, dear reader, for inconsequence, peace: then I realised I still had an hour to go.
The makers of Avengers: Endgame will argue, with some justification, that three hours and one minute was barely enough time to sort out all the various dangling plotlines built up over the course of the three Avengers films and 18 related spin-offs that have preceded this concluding instalment. Because while there will of course be more Marvel films, this we are promised is the last we’ll hear from the supergroup involving Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America and sundry backing heroes. In other words, the Avengers, who begin this movie with a right mess on their hands.
At the end of Avengers: Infinity War Thanos (Josh Brolin), a supervillain so grandly nihilistic that Adolf Hitler might have taken his correspondence course, had unleashed his ghastly master plan. Using the massed power of six infinity stones, Thanos wiped out half of all life across the Universe (it is apparently quite populous), including some of the Avengers’ nearest and dearest - Drax, Quill, Stephen Strange, Peter Parker, T’Challa, Groot, Mantis, Maria Hill, even S.H.I.E.L.D. boss Nick Fury.
The worst has happened, and followed a brief and botched revenge mission, the Avengers sunder amid sulks and recriminations. And that, it seems, is that.
**Mild spoilers ahead**
It’s not of course (there’s still two-and-a-half hours to go for God’s sake!), and five years later Scott Lang, aka Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), emerges from the quantum realm with a headache, and a bright idea. Though he’s been missing for years, and was a presumed victim of Thanos’ intergalactic cull, Scott has experienced his absence as a matter of a few hours. If a person, he reasons, could use this quantum realm as a medium for time travel, the infinity stones could be quickly gathered in the past and used to undo all the damage.
What now?, most of the remaining Avengers mutter, but Tony Stark (Robert Downey) understands, and dreams up a natty wristwatch-sized gismo that will allow the heroes to flitter back in time to grab the stones before Thanos does. They’ll have to do that simultaneously in several different time zones, and are not in the best of shape. Tony is terrified that in changing the past he’ll lose the young daughter he’s had with Pepper Potts, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) has become a vengeful mercenary following the loss of his family, Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) has managed to reconcile his split personality and become a worryingly urbane version of the Hulk. And as for Thor, well he’s just a mess.
In one of the film’s funniest scenes, Hulk and Ant-Man track down Thor (Chris Hemsworth) on the Scandinavian coast and find him fat, drunk and addicted to computer games. He wants nothing to do with this time travelling wheeze, and meanwhile Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) has a bad feeling about the whole thing, and may have a point.
Sounds complicated, doesn’t it. That’s because it is, and in attempting to make sense of it all, directors Joe and Anthony Russo and their writers Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus have set themselves a headache of a challenge. They certainly gave me one, especially after the time-travelling kicks off and heroes start bumping into their earlier selves and creating chronological quandaries I haven’t the wit or patience to test the veracity of.
There’s much to enjoy in there, especially early on in Endgame’s soulful establishing scenes. At this stage the jokes are sharp, and Messrs. Downey, Ruffalo and Hemsworth know just what to do with them, as indeed does Paul Rudd, whose contribution here is as winning as ever. Back in 2008, it must have seemed like a goop idea, I mean a good idea to cast Gwyneth Paltrow as Tony Stark’s prissy love Pepper Potts. Now they’re stuck with her, and she shuffles around the edges of this film looking smug and I told you so-ish.
At least there’s not much of her, but there’s so, so much of everything else. And at the two-hour mark, competing storylines collapse to into a semi-coherent whole as the inevitable last stand battle kicks off. There’s a frantic busyness to the whole thing that wearied me but may well delight Marvel nuts - and possibly even you. I staggered from the cinema blinking, bewildered, in desperate need of Italian neorealism.Watch all 21 Marvel Cinematic Universe post-credit sequences ahead of Avengers: Endgame