Avengers: Endgame – As Vast and Empty as Space Itself
I have avoided including spoilers in this review. There are one or two things which could be possibly considered minor spoilers depending on how much of a lunatic you are, so if you want to go into Avengers: Endgame completely blind, don’t read this.
What is ‘fan service’? You could argue that Zack Snyder’s Watchmen is ‘fan service’ – because it remains accurate to the source material, despite the fact that diversions would make it more understandable to a general audience. Endgame also features a lot of ‘fan service’ – in fact, that’s pretty much all it has to offer – but not in the same way as Watchmen. The Endgame version of ‘fan service’ consists of a seemingly endless string of pointless, impactless references to previous Marvel films roughly moulded into a nonsensical, shapeless plot designed to extract ‘oohs’, ‘ahhs’, and (most importantly) a metric shit-ton of cash from an audience blinded by their dedication to the source material. It feels as utterly vast and completely empty as space itself.
Everything that Infinity War did right: the fatalism, the real sense of risk, the feeling that this was ‘the end’, is completely (and ironically) lost in Endgame. We’re dragged straight back to the bland, tacky and saccharine days of the Joss Whedon-helmed Avengers and Age of Ultron with no attempt to comprehend or gain closure on Thanos’ snap, which has left such a mark on blockbuster cinema over the past year. As soon as the Russo brothers’ film begins, we’re thrust into a ‘let’s reverse Infinity War by doing x’ plan that instantly shifts the tone to one of zero stakes. It marks such a startling lack of tact and unwillingness to engage with actual consequences that I almost laughed.
The script also seems to be insecure about how it plans to do this, and so features frequent exposition dumps that attempt to explain why the Avengers’ plan is ‘the only option’, but there’s one problem: it’s absolutely nonsensical. If the movie just went for its own schtick and decided to be completely incoherent in what we might describe as an ‘innocent’ sense, then it’d be easy to suspend disbelief. But by incessantly dropping fake-science and nonsense-logic for the first hour, the audience’s attention is repeatedly, relentlessly drawn to the glaring plot holes that litter the film’s surface, making it impossible to just ‘accept’ what is going on.
It’s not that there aren’t great moments. Without spoiling anything, the central conceit of Endgame throws up a number of scenes that can be funny, clever, or even emotional. Particularly in its frankly stunning final shot, which almost threatens to reframe the disastrous experience of the film as net positive, the Russo brothers understand how to exploit and subvert the last 10 years of Marvel to create wonderful, ephemeral moments. But in a 3-hour film, this conceit takes up around 30 minutes to an hour, leaving us with a whole (long) film’s worth of mess.
And when the final battle comes, which of course it does, it should be something spectacular: pitting scores of heroes against legions of villains in what is probably the most expansive fight scene envisioned for the big screen. But what actually transpires is a brown and grey, motion-blurred CGI sludge. Iron Man gets thrown against a rock by Thanos, groans, and gets back up. Captain America is thrown against a rock by Thanos, groans, and gets back up. Likewise for character upon character, again and again, ad infinitum. It should be colourful, fun, and intense; instead, it’s just exhausting and dull.
In many ways, this does feel like the endgame. It feels like the logical conclusion to a decade of increasingly corporate, meaningless shells pumped out by a system that seems to be run off an algorithm. Its fitting then, that in the year Disney (who own Marvel) claim a legally dubious stronghold over the entertainment industry, that the system shits out this: an incoherent, shoddy hack-job of a CGI mess that aims to chuck every money-making cultural property at the screen at one time solely to make a ton of money and be swiftly forgotten about. And, you know what, it’s worked. Here’s a film on track to make $1bn, that will look like a poorly-conceived videogame cutscene in a decade and will be lost to history by the mid-century: Disney doesn’t care. They’re raking in the cash.
People pour their hearts and souls into cinema: they bare all and sacrifice everything for pieces of work that often don’t even get to a mainstream screen. They care. They have passion. What has always surprised me about the legions of fans who clamour to be the first in line to watch ‘The New Marvel Movie’ is that they shore-up their hopes and passion (and all too often ‘meaning’ or ‘purpose’) to something that’s so soulless and totally devoid of passion. When bad things happen in Endgame to key characters, you can feel the mathematical calculations going on behind the screen: just this amount of sad music and this volume of tears rolling down people’s faces will artificially stimulate the audience’s emotions. If nothing else, in its cold, meaningless fan-service-as-corporate-product, Endgame reminded me why I love cinema, by virtue of being exactly the opposite.