The previous Avengers movie, Infinity War, stunned believers and unbelievers alike with its sheer stupendous scale, and that devastating ending in which the evil Thanos appeared to have gained victory by getting hold of all six of the Infinity Stones, causing a crumbling-to-dust of many key players: a terrible cosmic loss, irreparable, irreversible, surely?
We were of course promised wild new surprises with this colossal climactic movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directed by the Russo brothers, Joe and Anthony. But would these surprises be .... new ways of coming to terms with the unchangeable disaster? Unexpected coping strategies? Novel means of simply accepting the Avengers’ stunningly permanent defeat?
Or could it be … something else? Paul Rudd, who plays Ant-Man, was challenged on TV about the possibility of his character shrinking to a tiny size, flying into some convenient orifice of the evil Thanos, and then grossly enlarging himself to make the great villain go splat like Mr Creosote. Rudd declined to be drawn.
Well, I won’t disclose how things progress here, other than to say it allows the main players to revisit some of the scenes of their most spectacular franchise triumphs. And I have to admit, in all its surreal grandiosity, in all its delirious absurdity, there is a huge sugar rush of excitement to this mighty finale, finally interchanging with euphoric emotion and allowing us to say poignant farewells.
In chess, an “endgame” sees relatively few pieces on the board – but of course, this film is much more heavily populated. Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr) is floating, desolately, in space, staring extinction in the face. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) confronts the loss of his family – a rather eerie, challengingly downbeat opening scene. Steve Rogers, formerly Captain America (Chris Evans) is helping others deal with their awful sense of cosmic grief. Rhodey (Don Cheadle) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are grimly getting on things. Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) is a vivid new presence in everyone’s lives.
And change is the keynote. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) has found a way to co-exist as a gentle human intellectual and a green monster. He is now half-man, half-hulk (mulk?) and is now reconciled to a new twilight of celebrity, accepting selfie opportunities with kids.
But Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is a worry. The great catastrophe has caused him to retreat to New Asgard, where he has put on an enormous amount of weight and morosely obsessed with beer and video games. It is a very funny performance from Hemsworth, emphasising that he is first among equals with the Avengers when it comes to comedy. Other people get funny lines as well, and the words “Mungo Jerry” gets one of the biggest laughs of the film.
But part of this movie is about how Thor comes to terms with the memory of his mother, Frigga (Rene Russo), and also in fact how Tony Stark achieves closure on the subject of his dad, Howard (John Slattery). And there are many more characters and subordinate narrative arcs to absorb. The poster is not an infallible guide. It is, as ever, a huge intricately detailed and interlocking mosaic of figures within that strange Avengers universe, which uniquely (and bizarrely) combines both the mythic and the contemporary – and which is here the stage for a Tolkienian quest.
Avengers: Endgame is entirely preposterous and, yes, the central plot device here does not, in itself, deliver the shock of the new. But the sheer enjoyment and fun that it delivers, the pure exotic spectacle, are irresistible, as is its insouciant way of combining the serious and the comic. Without the comedy, the drama would not be palatable. Yet without the earnest, almost childlike belief in the seriousness of what is at stake, the funny stuff would not work either. As an artificial creation, the Avengers have been triumphant, and as entertainment, they have been unconquerable.