HERE BE SPOILERS. Avengers: Endgame is not a film you can talk about in detail without spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, so please don’t read on if you get upset by spoilers.
I MEAN IT.
I don’t yet know if I liked the whole film or not. I was very bored in at least two sections, because I realised that I am so OVER massive explosions, and superhero fisticuffs above all. I asked on Twitter recently, name me a superhero film that doesn’t involve characters with immense technically-advanced superhero powers reduced to sparring in combat like homo sapiens meeting the Neanderthals? Superman (1978) was the only offering, and that’s probably right. Sometime in the 1980s exuberant, noisy, bloody physical violence was ratcheted up in films to such a degree that conflict now can’t be seen to be solved without it.
It is so silly seeing superheroes with all their amped-up tech and modern science at their disposal throwing small mountains at each other, reduced by their equal might to behaving like children in a sandpit. Superman was about great responsibility tempering and managing the great powers. Watchmen managed to nuance the logic, by making Jon the most mighty creature on earth or our galaxy (haven’t read it for some years), and also the most logical, so he had to address questions of responsibility and tyranny without throwing mountains around. The Russo Brothers made Endgame a powerful film about the grieving process and what would like be like for the survivors after an instant depopulation without corpses to bury and mourn, but the inevitable fisticuffs were the release of the inner toddler again.
I wept at the death but not the funeral, because I was gobsmacked at the decision to make all the costumes black. The civilians and Earth humans looked perfectly fine and respectful in their (designer) suits, though a bit overdoing it, since nobody’s grandmother was there to be affronted if 100% black was not worn. But black versions of Nebula’s outfit, Peter’s outfit, Drax and Mantis too, and was Groot wearing a black leaf? A misguided goofy tribute, trying to fit in with Earth norms? They looked ridiculous. Where did these shiny new costumes come from? (I’m going to assume that the Avengers have a mighty fine costume generator in a basement, because the sewing requirements they get through are impressive.)
Then I wondered, where was the other funeral, for Natasha who died earlier and only received a few elegantly trailing tears on Cap’s face and some sad looks from Bruce? Clint was rightly distraught, but did no-one have a memorial service for her? (Maybe it was edited out, maybe they’re keeping it for the five-hour director’s cut.) Tony was the genius and the mastermind, but Natasha held it all together, and they owed the Avengers’ continuation as a group to her skills and emotional intelligence. It makes sense that the Avengers will dissolve after Endgame, since Nat isn’t there any more to hold the manbabies together. Not even a burning spaceship of glory, just a splayed broken body on a rock, just like Gamora, looking like a victim, not a willing sacrifice. (Two women die so two men get the stones: once is coincidence, but is two really happenstance?)
The plot holes and logic interruptions have been given some useful coverings: this article in Slate was pretty good on the theories. I think the Russos tried to cover themselves with not one but two time travel / time stream splitting tutorials, from Tony & Nebula and from The Ancient One (I preferred hers), in that it’s all about new streams of time splitting off so it doesn’t matter about meeting yourself à la Back to the Future. This, I think, is a cop-out, since it removes necessary time-sensitive peril from the plot, and is an annoyingly self-indulgent, blatant fan-pleasing approach. By re-running favoured scenes from the past, you can enjoy the spectacle of Cap beating himself up and pretending to be Hydra, Loki disappearing with the Tesseract (did anyone check with Madeleine l’Engle about copyright on that, by the way?) while still in chains, and generally make the past stories so damn unreliable that no-one will ever know what to believe in again. Yes, this is how the comic books run their stories (I cannot now find the online article I read that pointed this out), but these are films, and leapfrogging across character arcs in film is cheating, an unsatisfactory Groundhog Day because time is manipulated to make sure the crowd-pleasing result is achieved, but people don’t change when they should. Into the Spiderverse was a superb, fantastic work of art because it was an animated comic book. It doesn’t work so well with live action people.
My case in point: Cap deservedly gets the girl. It was delightful, very pleasing to see him and Peggy dancing together back when cars were real cars, all chrome and nice design. But how does that fit with Peggy’s death scene in an early Captain America film, when Cap is still in his ?twenties? Did she think she was having delusions? Did she think ‘Oh god, it’s this bit, Steve told me this would happen, now what have I got to say again?’ To make the devoted MCU fan go through those plot hiccups is unnecessary, and does away with the suspension of disbelief. I know, if you’ll believe a man can fly you’ll believe he can also turn back time by spinning the world on its axis the wrong way, but you do have to believe in some things, like knowing when and where you are with your husband, even on your deathbed.
Finally, we have what Helen O’Hara calls the clumsy grrl power scene. God, that was annoying. The men who made the film clearly agreed that, ‘we have to show the girls that we think they’re just as good as men so let’s give them, ooh, three seconds of all the women superheroes in one shot’. We are PEOPLE. Fellow humans and sentient beings. We don’t need to be condescended to. It was pretty good realising that it wasn’t odd to see a woman in a superhero suit doing fisticuffs and throwing fire about; it felt normal. That’s what superheroes do and this one does this and that one does that: we don’t need to think about their sex at all, even if costume designers insist on curvy spandex for some of them. But no, the Russos went and blew it by setting up the girls’ moment, to show us how much they care.
I did like the film a lot in parts. The scenes of how the survivors were coping. Tony discovering whatever it was he discovered how to do. The beady suspicious eyes of the nice lady in the 1970s lift. I really liked Natasha’s ‘ombre’ hair, because that’s what you do when you’re too depressed to keep the bleach up, you revert to natural red. I loved the lighting on her face when she kicked herself to her death, sad though it was. Captain Marvel is magnificent, all the time, even in the new quiff which isn’t as good as it is in the comics. I loved the Japanese gangster being allowed to yell his lines in his own language. Paul Rudd diluted the burgeoning masculine pomposity very effectively and could cope well with being scorned by almost everyone. Peter the spiderpuppy was charming. I laughed and was happy when the big set-piece jokes were delivered, and I liked very much Thor getting his mojo back after a nice chat with his much wiser mother. I actually whooped when Dr Strange’s big spinning discs delivered the cavalry, showing that the whole MCU is based on the western.
I would have liked to have known how other countries were coping after the Snapture, because the world does not revolve around the USA. How did the penguin colonies get on? Are there any kakapos left? Will the House of Commons have achieved agreement on anything even when depopulated by 50%? Probably not.
Will I see Endgame again? I might, if only to patch the holes in my memory with stuff I know I missed the first time round, it was a LOT to take in on one viewing. The fifteen or so very polite but quite rowdy English schoolboys who surrounded my seat in the cinema loved it. I hope I may grow to that position.