Robert Downey Jr. in Avengers: Endgame
As Marvel has announced that Avengers: Endgame is the endpoint of their current “phase” (a concept that seemingly everyone has accepted as being a thing that commonly happens in movies, even though ultimately it just means more superhero movies at the end of it all), I did something that I quite honestly rarely do: I went back and read my reviews of all the previous Marvel movies that I ever wrote about. Having only a casual acquaintance with comic books in general before they started unleashing this 22-film behemoth, I came into it rather blind — and while I’ve seen and mostly enjoyed all 50-some hours of superhero movies I’ve currently consumed, I cannot say that I am now more of a fan than I was back in 2008.
Just saying that to certain rabid Marvel fans is enough to trigger your own execution; the idea that the MCU films are “for the fans” and not the critics has been bandied about from the beginning, but these movies are so omnipresent and wildly popular that it’s statistically impossible that only people who read comic books with ravenous glee are going out and supporting them. Re-reading my old reviews, I came to a couple of conclusions: one, they tend to talk about the same shit over and over again and two, in retrospect, I hardly agree with any of them. Some ratings seem dubiously high, others low; some points I made seem petty, while I seem to have completely missed the intention of other aspects. Ultimately, that kind of shit doesn’t really matter — the reviews are meant to be a snapshot of how I felt (x) amount of time after seeing the movie, after all — but it’s made something crystal clear to me: to think of the Marvel movies as specific, separate experiences is meaningless because that’s not how they’re meant to be taken.
All of my reviews, in retrospect, seem weirdly disconnected from each other. It’s as if every time I watch a new Marvel movie I have to get my bearings back and work from there. When I was a little kid, my parents would let me and my brother ride our bikes as soon as it was nice out, but we always had to ride them in the driveway for an hour or so beforehand, lest we forget how to bike over the winter and crash into the side of a semi the second I leave the driveway. Every Marvel movie has felt, to me, like I’m in that driveway circling around, waiting until I figure it out enough to take it to the streets.
Case in point: while you could make the argument that lots of Marvel movies can be seen without prior knowledge of most things in the universe, anyone who steps into Endgame with no prior experience in the Marvel universe is likely to develop a splitting headache and nausea within minutes. Endgame makes no conceit for amateurs, dropping us essentially in media res for something that has literally taken dozens of movies to set up. Endgame is so thoroughly convoluted and filled with stuff both literal and metaphorical that it seems rather pointless to even attempt to summarize it.
Suffice to say that it begins right where the other one left off, with half of Earth’s population being completely erased by a flick of Thanos’s Infinity-Gloved fingers. Those who remain on Earth try to soldier on; things are going okay, in the grand scheme of things (the environment certainly seems to be thriving) but the spectre of grief looms too heavily.
It’s hard to fault the craft of the thing, even if it’s easy to isolate dozens of flaws, inconsistencies and leaps of logic. The thing is a three-hour behemoth spread across multiple timelines and galaxies with something like 20 main characters and yet it’s only somewhat impenetrable. Fan service certainly makes a concerted effort to be noticed, but generally speaking, Endgame doesn’t diverge too much from what we’ve come to expect: wisecracks, CGI battles, complicated fiddling with the time-space continuum, more wisecracks, characters travelling from one place to another to convince the guy from the previous movie to come back, characters switching allegiances and heartfelt feelings. This last part comes up, perhaps, more often in this iteration. Theories and suppositions that Endgame is a transitory work in the grand scheme of things weren’t wrong. People who are out there tweeting about how much they cried at this movie at least have something to hang on to, even if your mileage may certainly vary.
Ultimately, I don’t know how much anything I can say matters. Avengers: Endgame for all of its portentous doomsaying and clean breaks (to the film’s credit, it’s a sign of Marvel starting to embrace old-fashioned stakes — no takesies-backsies, no rip in the space-time continuum) remains yet another chapter in an ongoing serialized saga. Even if all these movies have been made by different filmmakers and look (in retrospect, at least) different from each other, the greatest feat the MCU has pulled is almost certainly the fact that it has managed to remain this consistent for this long.
Tons of shit doesn’t make sense, some of the jokes are corny as hell, there are so many characters that I’m pretty sure I spotted characters who get a title card in the credits and don’t even actually show up in the film, but does any of it matter? Isn’t that kind of the point? Isn’t that kind of the way comic books work? I enjoyed Endgame, even if I hardly found myself moved by it; like all of its predecessors, it’s likely to become a bunch of new elements in a factual, narrative gumbo that I’ll find myself going back to to understand the next one. Maybe the problem is expecting this to be a regular moviegoing experience. In any case, it could be worse. ■
Avengers: Endgame opens in theatres on Friday, April 26. Watch the trailer here: