Dir: Joe Russo, Anthony Russo; Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, Brie Larson, Karen Gillan, Danai Gurira, Bradley Cooper, Josh Brolin. Cert 12A, 181 mins
The Avengers cycle comes to a rich and very satisfying conclusion with Endgame, surely the most complex and emotional superhero movie in Marvel history. At 181 minutes, this is a veritable epic, but with so many characters and plot strands, it fully warrants its lengthy running time.
The wonder here is the very dexterous way the film deals with such intricate subject matter. This is an extraordinary feat of planning and logistics. The Russo brothers, working from another screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, are dealing with death, bereavement and separation but show remarkable lightness of touch and humour in the way they do so. One of the most impressive elements is the ease with which the film switches back and forth in time, seamlessly changing storytelling styles.
Although there is plenty of action, the moments that invariably register the most strongly are the intimate ones in which we see the heroes’ faces in huge close-up, expressing their loss and bewilderment. The galactic scenes are combined with moments celebrating folksy, old-fashioned Americana. Most of the actors are seen as much in civilian clothes as in their superhero costumes and there are many fine performances here.
This is the sequel to last year’s Avengers: Infinity War. It opens with a very eerie sequence in which one of the heroes is enjoying an idyllic picnic on the farm he shares with his family. One moment he is asking the kids whether they prefer mustard or mayonnaise and the next he is confronted with cosmic despair and devastation. Thanos (Josh Brolin) has laid waste of much of civilisation on earth, wiping out 50 per cent of all living creatures. The Avengers themselves are in a state of despair over their failure to stop him.
Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man is first seen close to death in a space ship far above the world, floating in a most peculiar way and with his oxygen about to run out. It looks, for a few minutes at least, as if he and the rest of the team are well and truly licked. As he sardonically tells Captain America, “guess what Cap, we lost and you weren’t there”.
The basic plot here is close to sci-fi hokum. The Avengers plot a “time heist”. Using the experiences of Ant Man in the so-called Quantum Realm, they plot to head back in time in pursuit of the six infinity stones. If they can get hold of them, they can reverse the damage wrought by Thanos. The hitch, as one puts it, is that, “if you mess with time, it tends to mess back”.
There are mind-bending scenes in which characters come face to face with their past selves or with loved ones they thought they had lost. As always, the more portentous moments are leavened with plenty of humour. Many of the jokes come at the expense of Paul Rudd’s Ant Man, a blue-collar everyman who can sometimes behave in a very dumb fashion. Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk has changed and matured in ways that few fans will have anticipated. Chris Hemsworth’s Thor has turned into a beer drinking, paunchy slob with more than a passing resemblance to the Dude in the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowksi. There is plenty of joshing about Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel, one of the newest and most self-reliant members of the team.
Inevitably, not all the heroes get the same amount of screen time. Some are barely seen at all. Robert Downey Jr is the dominant figure in the film, playing Tony Stark/Iron Man with his usual cynicism and irony but also bringing extra pathos to the role. Karen Gillan also registers very strongly as Nebula, Thanos’s fiery and deadly daughter, a character with an unexpected streak of decency.
For all their backbiting and competitiveness, the old comrades can’t hide their affection for one another. At times, they’re trying in almost comical fashion to out-do each other with their selflessness and desire to put themselves first in the face of danger. The final-reel battle is a little perfunctory, even if it is on the biggest scale imaginable. For all its ingenuity, the film sometimes feels like a roll call in which every figure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is mentioned or seen at least once. Nonetheless, this is a movie that dazzles you with its spectacle, provides plenty of irreverent slapstick and gags along the way and yet still ends with a huge emotional kick.
‘Avengers: Endgame’ is out in UK cinemas on 25 April
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