The HBO television series Game of Thrones, which began in 2011, will make its final trip to the crypt next month. The first Avengers movie appeared in 2012, assembling Marvel comics characters who had already been in standalone blockbusters as well as new characters who would soon get their own movie spin-offs.
Game of Thrones recently acquired a touch of the Avengers, with all its major characters banding together for a potentially life-threatening standoff against a formidable enemy. In the world of the Avengers, meanwhile, there is regret for deeds undone, tears shed and hugs exchanged as the superheroes take a final stand against their shared nemesis.
Fans have been advised to keep their hankies handy as they watch Avengers: Endgame, directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and written by Marvel Cinematic Universe veterans Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Some strong coffee is advised too, to navigate the 181-minute narrative, which is prologue for over an hour before settling into the kinetic action and incredibly smooth visual effects extravaganza.
The movie is a direct sequel to Avengers: Infinity War (2018). The supervillain Thanos (voiced by Josh Brolin) had gained possession of six infinity stones that gave him untrammelled power over space and time, using it to destroy half of Earth and most of the Avengers. The ones who remain seemed to be looking down the rabbithole. Some, such as Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr), are coping badly. Others, such as Captain America (Chris Evans) and Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), are soldiering on. One of them is a caricature and the other is a strange hybrid between the real self and the alter ego. The former supplies some moments of limp humour; the latter proves impossible to process.
The narrative device that allows the surviving Avengers to take on Thanos is barely convincing, and conveniently takes the movie into the meta-realm. (Had one of the Avengers who was vapourised in the previous production survived, this movie would have been wrapped up in no time.) The hat-tips and self-referencing allow beloved characters to make unexpected comebacks, while links are made with the Marvel franchises that will survive this final installment in the Avengers adventure.
There is more sentimentality than the franchise usually allows for, and some of it is purely mawkish. More compelling than the tear-stained cheeks and group hugs, which slow down the film ever so often, is the suggestion that we are in a philosophy class rather than a superhero reunion. “I am inevitable,” Thanos declares, and at least some of the self-referencing creates clever tensions between the past and the present.
The rewrites of characters with deeply entrenched mythologies and the selective use of jaw-dropping spectacle allow Avengers: Endgame to achieve, on occasion, genuine moments of tenderness. Is another world possible, one in which conversations about family and friendships take precedence over the biff-bang-kapowing of the average superhero outing?
Among the actors who benefits from the slower pace, frequent use of intimate close-ups, and focus on emotions is Robert Downey Jr. Stark snark is swapped for greater vulnerability, and Downey Jr delivers the movie’s standout performance. Jeremy Renner gets more screen space than in previous films, and Paul Rudd makes his mark as Ant-Man.
The movie reserves its firepower for a climactic display of pyrotechnics, and the visual effects showcase is a relief from the puffy eyes and forlorn speeches. Thanos may be inevitable, but what’s an Avengers movie without showboating?
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