Monday 19 August 2019

Paul Whitington: Avengers' long goodbye is an endurance test

Smart, funny and complicated, this superhero finale is entertaining in parts but drags on, says Paul Whitington

Chris Hemsworth as Thor is involved in one of the funniest scenes in Avengers Endgame
Chris Hemsworth as Thor is involved in one of the funniest scenes in Avengers Endgame
The Avengers must undo the destruction Thanos has caused
Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

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 Michelangelo Antonioni or someone similarly ponderous, in which everyone looks depressed and beautiful and nothing much ever happens. I was yearning, dear reader, for peace, inconsequence: 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 plot lines 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 and Captain America.

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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, including some of the Avengers' nearest and dearest - Drax, Quill, Stephen Strange, Peter Parker, T'Challa, Groot, Mantis, Nick Fury.

The worst has happened, and following a brief and botched revenge mission, the Avengers sunder amid sulks and recriminations. And that, it seems, is that.

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' 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 Jr) 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 his young daughter, Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) has become a vengeful mercenary following the loss of his family, and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) has managed to reconcile his split personality and become a worryingly urbane version of the Hulk.

As for Thor (Chris Hemsworth), well he's just a mess and one of the film's funniest scenes is when Hulk and Ant-Man track him down on the Scandinavian coast. Meanwhile, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) has a bad feeling about the whole thing, and may have a point.

In attempting to make sense of all this, directors Joe and Anthony Russo, and their writers, have set themselves a headache of a challenge. They certainly gave me one, especially once the time-travelling kicks off and heroes start bumping into their earlier selves and creating chronological quandaries I hadn't the wit 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 Downey Jr, Ruffalo and Hemsworth know just what to do with them, as indeed does Rudd, whose contribution here is as winning as ever. Back in 2008, it must have seemed like 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 into a deafening, semi-coherent whole as the inevitable last 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.

Films coming soon...

Tolkien (Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Derek Jacobi, Colm Meaney); Long Shot (Seth Rogen, Charlize Theron, Andy Serkis); The Curse Of La Llorona (Linda Cardellini, Patricia Velasquez); Vox Lux (Natalie Portman, Jude Law, Jennifer Ehle).

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The Dig (15A, 97mins)

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Ash Is Purest White (No Cert, IFI, 150mins)

You can't fault the ambition of Jia Zhangke's brooding Chinese epic, which uses the gangster genre to explore the dizzying changes that country has experienced. In 2001, Bin (Liao Fan) is an up-and-coming hoodlum in the northern city of Datong, but when he's attacked by rivals, his girlfriend Qiao (Zhao Tao) fires a gun to scare them off. Qiao is sent to jail and emerges seven years later to find her country and circumstances greatly changed. Through Qiao's eyes, we see the giddy speed with which China rushed towards laissez faire consumerism, and witness the depressing consequences. An enthralling film.

Donbass (No Cert, IFI, 110mins)

Winner of the Un Certain Regard award at Cannes, Sergei Loznitsa's angry drama is inspired by the war that broke out in 2014 between the Ukraine and Russian-backed insurgents. Actors grumble and gossip as they're made up for a scene in what seems like a war film. But as they're led across a scarily realistic-looking combat zone, we realise they're taking part in a carefully crafted piece of fake news. And once their work is done, the actors become eminently expendable. Corrupt officials and vicious ultra-nationalists abound in this furious, funny, absurd film, which casts a caustic gaze on a senseless ongoing war.

Irish Independent

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